Sadly, the Flynn Effect is working now in reverse. If you didn’t know, for decades the collective IQ of the United States has been increasing. People have been getting smarter. Improvements in education, health care, and diet had been making it possible for each succeeding class year to score better by a significant and steady amount every year over the students of the previous year. Apparently, according to recent data analysis, it kept going up through the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and the 80’s.
And then, in about 1991, people began to be born who were destined to do worse than their predecessors. People stopped getting smarter. In fact, they not only leveled out, they began to get dumber. Bummer. As a teacher who taught during that time period, I have to pause and wonder… was it my fault?
I want to be clear about my use of illustrations here. Not all of the faces I used in the collage above are actually stupid people. I am told Rowan Atkinson (who plays an idiot character named Mr. Bean) is actually a genius with a very high IQ. And some of the faces are not even from actual people. They are cartoon characters or animals or Donald Trump. And none of them actually caused the decline of IQ scores. (Although I can’t prove the actor Brendan Fraser didn’t cause it by making the movie George of the Jungle.)
Economic factors brought about by the Reagan Revolution probably caused the wheel of life to turn back towards the stupid end of the cycle. Rich people began sucking up and keeping every dollar possible, making themselves impossibly rich, and leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King turned the poorer suburbs into virtual food deserts of no nutritional value in every major urban area. Schools across the nation have been forced to teach to tests whose main and sometimes only purpose is to prove schools undeserving of their funding so States can shift that funding towards private and for-profit schools. Starved for proper funding, it is only natural that schools turned from learning institutions into baby-sitting services and uniformity indoctrination centers. Schools now put out only average and poor students because that was the goal of education reform all along in conservative minds.
So what, exactly, should we do about it? Well, the wheel will still turn. And as all wheels do, the part that is on the bottom will return to the top, and stupid will return to bottom as it obviously has before.
The next century is rife with problems that threaten human life on Earth. Those problems, like income inequality, climate change through corporate abuse of the environment, the nuclear threat, and Donald Trump, will have to be solved by the next generation’s smart people. When they do solve all those problems, the world will be better for it… or destroyed. One of those.
And don’t mistake my meaning. Stupid people have their own value. Clowns like John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, and Seth Meyers are doing a far better job of helping us understand the issues of today than the nightly news is. There is a great deal of fun to be had in watching the cat-and-mouse game of Robert Mueller and Donald Trump (where Trump is not the mouse so much as the cheese the mouse ate to start all the slapstick brouhaha).
And people who are not particularly smart can have great value in an infinite number of other ways. Simple people may never be able to do calculus, but they can make you smile and feel loved better than some of the sharpest intellects (who often tend towards cynicism and bitterness).
The wheels of the Stupidity Cycle will continue to turn because that is the very nature of wheels. We will eventually be smart again. We can’t keep getting dumber forever (though we did elect Trump). And this is a pessimist telling you this. So if this is completely wrong and off base, remember, I am also trying to be positive about the future.