Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring; There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.”
I was listening to a panel discussion the other day and one of the panelists said that it seems there are way more stupid people than ever before. I started to nod my head in agreement, but then I stopped to think about it.
IQ tests are designed so that the average score will be 100. I remember reading that to maintain that 100 average, the professionals who make up these IQ tests have had to make them a little bit harder every year, because people, in general, are getting smarter. It doesn’t seem that way at times, like when I watch an old “Jaywalking” video, or other shows like that where they ask people on the street very easy questions that they can’t answer. They make us all look stupid, but, as a species, we are really getting smarter.
Way more people can read than ever before. I think that the illiteracy rate is close to 0%. Here’s a chart showing the steady progress we have made since 1870.
The percentage of people graduating college is going up.
All the metrics indicate that people are getting smarter. So, why did I reflexively start to nod my head in agreement with the panelist who stated bluntly that there were more stupid people today?
There was a time when most of us Americans thought that most of us were talented and smart. When we weren’t screaming “U.S.A., U.SA., U.S.A.,” we we’re chanting “We’re #1. We’re #1.” We’re a proud people, and we have a lot of reasons to be proud. We were the first people in the history of the entire world to put men on the moon, and we brought them back alive. Years ago, we Americans prided ourselves and our neighbors as being the best at everything, except maybe hurling or soccer. Now, we’re still number one in Military Spending and Beef Production, but we’re way behind in other areas. We’re not even rated #1 overall anymore. According to U.S. News and World Report we’re #6. In many areas, we’re not even in the top 10 anymore.
When we look at America’s report card today, it’s not one my parents would sign willingly. Today, we’re obviously not the best at everything. Our comparative rating against the rest of the world is steadily going down, but we’re not getting dumber. The rest of the world is just improving faster.
We only think that Americans are getting dumber because we see so many dumb posts on the Internet. We forget that this is not really a reflection of us as a whole. “Empty barrels make the most noise,” and the Internet is ground zero for empty barrels. You can post almost anything. It doesn’t have to be factual, or peer reviewed. It could be something as completely ridiculous as Nicki Minaj’s friend of a friend’s testicle size after getting a Covid vaccine tweet. Nobody has to back up or prove anything they say. (Present company included.)
Professional writers produce novels, non-fiction books, plays, screenplays, newspaper and magazine articles. Social media is just batting practice for anybody who wants to take a swing at writing. So, there will naturally be plenty of unedited and stupid posts on the Internet. There may be a few clever things written on social media, but the rocket scientists are busy writing for peer-reviewed journals of Rocket Science. The Brain Surgeons are also busy elsewhere. So, if you’re looking for really intelligent stuff, you’ll probably have to venture beyond social media. You’re not going to find the most factual information on the Internet. You’ll have to read a book, or Kindle a book, or do something like that. You know what the old Elton John song says, “You can’t find gold in a silver mine, and you can’t drink whiskey from a bottle of wine.”
So, despite what it looks like on Facebook, we are getting smarter. The bad news is that as much as we tend to underestimate the intelligence level of others, we also tend to overestimate our own intelligence level. Once again, the blame goes to the Internet.
Google and Wikipedia put an incredible amount of knowledge at our fingertips, which gives us the illusion of knowing more. We start to feel like we know things, just because we’re able to look them up, and the faster we can look something up, the more we assume that we know it.
So, you may not be as intelligent as you think you are, but, at least the people you know aren’t nearly as stupid as you thought they were. According to the statistics I’ve shown and the people who make up IQ tests, the country is definitely getting smarter. We only look stupid on the Internet.
“U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A.”
Peace & Love, and all of the above,