People Be Getting Dumber
Daniel J. Flynn
by

Something stupid this way comes.

If the proliferation of neck tattoos does not convince, then consider the research of Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg. A study by the two Norwegians shows a decline in IQ, a reversal of the Flynn Effect that witnessed scores on intelligence-measuring tests consistently increasing for much of the 20th century.

“For the 1962–1975 Flynn increase period, the model estimates a 0.20 (95% uncertainty bound: 0.11, 0.29) average annual IQ point increase within families and a 0.18 (0.14, 0.21) increase across families,” the study explains. “For the 1975–1991 decrease period, we estimate a 0.33 (0.26, 0.40) annual IQ point decline within families and a 0.34 (0.30, 0.38) decline across families.” Considering that the numbers indicate an IQ point drop every three years or so, the decline appears precipitous rather than glacial.

Though the article appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences limits its focus to Norwegian males, it points out similar results occurring within other populations in the industrialized world. The decline of IQs within families indicates an environmental culprit rather than a genetic one, but the researchers do not reveal any specific malefactor, e.g., the premiere of The Gong Show suspiciously occurring right as scores began to decline.

Stupid is the new smart.

Observe the habits of travelers. In subway cars, on airplanes, and on buses, passengers once passed the time by reading newspapers, magazines, and books. Now they check social media, play video games, and text. SMH. The percentage of Americans reading — Gallup now counts “listening” to a book as reading and an unfinished book as reading a book — not a single book in a year doubled from 8 to 16 percent from when Gallup first polled Americans on their reading habits in 1978 to the last time they did so in 2016. Gallup spun its findings as “Rumors of the Demise of Books Greatly Exaggerated” largely on the bases of older Americans reading more.

Even citadels of the book glean the wrong message from Fahrenheit 451, with educators and librarians finding it more as inspiration than cautionary tale.

Schools around the country replace libraries with media centers featuring screens instead of books. The principal of Manhattan’s Life Sciences Secondary School destroyed the books in her school. “They made an announcement that they were getting rid of the books because they were antiquated and outdated, and we should be using new technology,” a teacher told the New York Post in 2017. “I hid some of my books to prevent them being taken.”

The American Library Association (ALA) hosts National Gaming Day, one of the world’s largest video game tournaments, every fall. The ALA reasons that “libraries are about much more than books.” To that end, libraries increasingly lend video games, and become much less about books.

Culturally, the regress appears literal. Time travel through the channels and watch reboots of Dynasty and Hawaii Five-O. This week, ABC aired classic episodes of All in the Family and The Jeffersons reenacted by “celebrities” (a word that surely captures the stupidity zeitgeist better than most). The silver screen, heretofore the more highbrow of the two media, dives more deeply in the shallows. Remakes, sequels, and films based on old comic-book characters represent all but one of last year’s top-grossing films. Hollywood relies on brands rather than originality.

The way people amass knowledge takes on a Cliff Notes quality. We search internet indexes for information devoid of context. We amass facts but not knowledge — and certainly not wisdom. The way we gather information tends to anesthetize rather than stimulate thought and the imagination. Apart from increasingly using passive media, we favor, in ways far more dramatic than in the past, sources that reinforce rather than challenge our beliefs.

This environment reflects a less literate, intellectually-curious population. In many ways, it also makes for one.

If only we were smarter we would know that we are dumb.

Daniel J. Flynn
Daniel J. Flynn
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Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, is the author of Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books, 2018), The War on Football (Regnery, 2013), Blue Collar Intellectuals (ISI Books, 2011), A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Post, City Journal, National Review, and his own website, www.flynnfiles.com.   
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