Why are we becoming dumber?

I previously agreed with the contention of the book At Our Wits End that people in general–especially in the “Western” parts of the world–are becoming dumber, and I have reached the part of the book where the authors try to explain WHY. Some of their major conclusions, backed by studies, are: intelligence is heritable; it is negatively correlated with fertility, impulsivity, materialism, and selfishness; it is positively correlated with delaying gratification, openness to new ideas and information, broadness of vocabulary, physical reaction time and altruism. A correlation does not explain cause and effect, however. Some of the correlative factors are causes of intelligence, some are effects, and some are indirectly related.

Heritability: “In twin studies, researchers test identical twins, meaning that the only variable causing them to diverge is the environment. Intelligence is seemingly 80% heritable—meaning that 80% of the variation among individuals is due to genetic factors and overwhelmingly, therefore, people resemble their parents in terms of intelligence. Those with higher intelligence will tend to create a more intellectually stimulating environment for themselves when they grow up, surrounding themselves with other highly intelligent people, for example. For this reason, among others, the heritability of IQ during childhood is not very high, as the child’s environment will be a reflection of factors that are beyond its control. Only as the child becomes an adult will its environment start to reflect its own intelligence.”

They explain the negative correlation between fertility and intelligence: “Simply having the genes that make you smart does not necessarily make you less fertile. Instead, the negative association is driven to a substantial degree by the fact that smart people choose to trade time spent in education against fertility. Education is therefore one key factor that creates selection against the genes responsible for cognitive ability, which indicates that intelligence will decline over time.” The negative correlations with impulsivity, materialism and selfishness are borne out in testing, but they may come down to the degree of ability to visualize possible consequences of actions, and then to control actions which are likely to produce unwanted results.

The positive correlation with delaying gratification is related to the same idea: If I can associate putting off what I want now with having more of something I want later, I can guesstimate the relative odds of my investment of time or money now bearing fruit rather than being wasted. The more intelligent people have faith that what they plant now will bear disproportionately more fruits later, whereas the less intelligent are afraid to risk what they want or have now, due to lack of faith in the idea of investing or lack of patience. I would suppose that makes farmers among the most intelligent people. Of the other positive correlations–openness to new ideas and information, broadness of vocabulary, physical reaction time and altruism–three are obvious, physical reaction time is the least intuitive, but all are borne out by studies.

Correlations are not explanations though. Why are we getting less intelligent? I am about to make the same assumptions about my readers as they make about theirs, that my readers are intelligent enough to weigh evidence objectively without getting upset about the implications of that evidence; if you didn’t want to think rather than just emote, you wouldn’t be reading this. The reasons they list for western societies getting less intelligent are (and I challenge you to go through the reasoning before getting offended):

  1. Less intelligent people having more children than they can properly raise, due to welfare and reduced shaming for out of wedlock birth, and improper use of contraceptives.
  2. More intelligent women having fewer children (or delaying them), due to feminism and more educational and employment opportunities;
  3. Immigration from parts of the world with the least education or poorest health;
  4. Failure of education to select for intelligence rather than conformity!

If our nation IS becoming less intelligent, and if intelligence is heritable to a large extent, then it stands to reason that greater numbers of less intelligent people are coming from somewhere, and fewer numbers of more intelligent people are procreating. They explain each of those reasons groups. 1. Welfare and lack of shaming for out of wedlock births remove barriers to having children for the more impulsive (and least likely to use contraceptives or use them properly); 2. This is obvious. The later women start having children, the fewer they will have; 3. There are lots of reasons people want to live in this country, but most immigrants come for a better life than they had. They may be choosing to brave the rigors and uncertainty of emigrating over what they have at home (which must be pretty bad), or may not be intelligent enough to think through the difficulties. 4. I personally think this is the biggest reason, and the most self-perpetuating. Universities and colleges used to select for and encourage thinking; now thinking is discouraged and conformity to mostly stupid ideas of “equality” of outcome is selected for. The authors believe, therefore, that intelligence will continue to be lost until a survival crisis changes the direction.

I agree with that conclusion, and want to add some personal experience that might be helpful for those wanting to enhance their own intelligence. Take what you can use: Intelligence being expressed as problem solving ability, it should be negatively correlated with the tendency to ask for answers rather than to figure out or research answers, positively correlated with map reading and trip planning rather than depending on GPS. Maybe the latter is my prejudice rather than factual, but I would much rather do the work of studying and memorizing the map, planning the route and visualizing where I am on the map (as I drive) than to use a GPS device, mainly because I consciously choose activities which develop the most neural connections. Visualization practice is a huge aid to intelligence, and map reading is a great way to improve visualization. Many times I have driven with people who are GPS dependent. I often quiz them on what direction we are driving (at midday) and in what direction our destination lies. They usually don’t know either.

I might be an outlier, but if not, then my personal experience is relevant to others. When I was felled at age 70 by a hemorrhagic stroke in 2016, I spent two months in the two best rehabilitation facilities in Spokane. One, St. Luke’s, is world class. About a third of my rehab was cognitive testing, which consisted of all kinds of problem solving–logical, spacial, mathematical, word problems–both on paper and electronic media. The goal of this rehab was to challenge me with harder and harder tasks until I reached the limit of my problem-solving ability. They ran out of tests before I reached my limit. The therapist at St. Luke’s said that I tested higher than anyone he has ever tested in any setting, including non-rehab.

That was surprising for me to hear. He and his colleagues tried to account for this. The stroke should have caused some cognitive falloff, but I strongly suspected that I had become more intelligent, rather than less. The explanation we settled on was neuroplasticity. It is well known that human brains have far more neurons than are being used, and that loss of certain functions is often compensated for by enhancing others. I have averaged reading a book a week, every week since 1970. I still do. I won’t allow myself to watch videos until I have read for at least 4 hours. When I was in 6th grade, I asked my parents to buy me a set of Worldbook Encyclopedias, and I read through the entire set three times, which was more interesting to me than TV. My parents didn’t encourage me one way or the other, and my mother was more concerned with my sociability than my intellectual achievement. Little did I realize that more than 60 years later, I would reap the benefits in cognitive functioning after a stroke. There is little we, as individuals, can do about our societal loss of intelligence, but there’s lots we can do for ourselves and hopefully, for our children. Substitute reading for tv and social media, map every destination before you drive and turn off the GPS, find intelligent blogs and follow them, and best, start writing your own, find debating partners and be willing to admit when you are wrong. Hello geniuses.

If you believe we aren’t dumber, have I got an invitation for you.

If you’re a white woman, assuming you identify with your biological characteristics, and you need more guilt in your life, Race 2 Dinner has an invitation for you. This is actually a brilliant idea by the organizers—how better to raise money than raising guilt while berating the givers? The dumber people are any white women who would go to it. I am tempted to sneak a dinner in by claiming to be a woman who “transitioned” to a male appearance, but I presume that the invitation is only to “cisgender” women, because trans women by definition are at least even with women of color on the intersectionality score. The actual invitation is on their website.

Dear white women, you have caused immeasurable pain and damage to Brown and Black women. We are here to sit down with you to candidly explain how you caused this pain and damage. We are not here to change anything. We are here to express the pain you have caused, white women. What you do after you leave the dinner is up to you. WE don’t care about your feelings. SIT WITH THAT FOR A MINUTE. Your feelings pale in comparison to the violence you have caused Black and Brown women.


Regina Jackson & Saira Rao

From their website: It all started with Saira’s run for Congress in 2018. When Regina joined the campaign, she noticed the throngs of white women anxious to meet Saira with the sole intent to tell her that they weren’t racist. There was a whole lot of “not me” and “not all white women”. Saira accommodated these meetings for a long time. Then one day Regina mentioned how a white friend of hers “really needed to talk to Saira about this race stuff”. Saira mentioned she was done getting berated by white women and declared, “how about this, I’ll do a dinner to talk to several white women at once as long as you are there”.

Thus, Race 2 Dinner was born.

Now, the online application: Change starts with you. So you are willing to set aside your white woman tears? To start the process of hosting a Race 2 Dinner, fill out the form below.

The form is just a normal straightforward personal information request. But even being the unsympathetic, lacking in empathy lout that I am, I really need to talk about this race stuff too. Can I have a safe space, even a virtual hug, to present my quiz, Am I racist?

Choose the more racist statement from each pair:

1. Anyone can improve given enough opportunity. 2. Achievement and merit are white concepts for oppressing people of color.

1. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. 2. Your feelings pale in comparison to the violence you have caused Black and Brown women.

1. You accept color differences, affirm them, celebrate them, but don’t allow them to become a barrier to human community. 2. Dear white women, you have caused immeasurable pain and damage to Brown and Black women.

1. The fundamental problem, I believe, is that at every level we are giving too much attention to the external, material aspects of life while neglecting moral ethics and inner values. 2. Thoughtful white people know they are inferior to black people. Anyone who has studied the genetic phase of biology knows that white is considered recessive and black is considered dominant. When you want strong coffee, you ask for black coffee.

1. “Hating people because of their color is wrong and it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just wrong.” 2. No, there is plenty wrong with Negroes. They have no society. They’re robots, automatons. No minds of their own. I hate to say that about us, but it’s the truth. They are a black body with a white brain.”

The first pair are general statements made by many people. The second pair is the famous quote by MLK from his I Have A Dream speech along with an excerpt from the R2D website. The third pair are a quote from a black writer and the R2D invitation. The fourth pair are quotes from the Dalai Lama and Malcolm X. The fifth pair are from Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, respectively, both self described Muslims.