Friday 23 November 2012

The over-promoted society


I am now pretty much convinced that average and peak general intelligence (g) has been declining in the West for at least the past 200 years - and the rate of decline is at least half a standard deviation (circa 8 IQ points) per fifty years.

I have recently become aware of further evidence that the above is pretty much correct - but this is not yet published.


What this means is that we are living in an over-promoted society.

We have inherited social structures from earlier generations, with social roles dependent upon certain minimal cognitive capacities - but we lack sufficient people with the requisite cognitive capacity to fill these social functions, therefore although people can do their jobs and functions, they do not and cannot understand these functions.

Therefore when anything goes wrong or when any change is required, people will necessarily wreck what they have inherited.


It has been like giving a bunch of ten year old kids modern guns, tanks and aircraft - they can certainly shoot guns, many could drive tanks, and a few could fly aircraft - but they cannot maintain or repair the stuff - and certainly they cannot replace it.

They simply cannot do this - whether they wanted to or not (and mostly they can't be bothered, and would rather do other things anyway). 


Modern people are the same with their cultural inheritance. Not just technology but religion, science, the education system, politics, administration and management, literature, music, fine arts... you name it, we have wrecked it.

We wreck it because the majority of people who do these things cannot understand them; therefore necessarily cannot maintain, repair or replace them.


Compared with (say) 100 years ago - our premier intellectuals are like their school teachers, our school teachers are like their foremen, our skilled workers like their semi-skilled, our semi-skilled workers are like their peasants, and our unskilled workers are unable (and unwilling) to do anything useful at all.

(I mean they cannot do anything useful in the modern society which we have inherited - in other societies they might perform valuable work.)


And this continues.

There is no reasoning with these people - they cannot follow reason - they are over-promoted, they just cannot understand.


What is to be done?

Start again, simplify, build-up from the ground.

But that will happen anyway, willy nilly...


Note on the phrase 'willy nilly'. From Christopher Tolkien's glossary to Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale: Medieval English possessed special negative forms of some common verbs; see nys, nas, nere, noot [ nys from ne is, is not; nas from ne was, was not; nere from ne were, were it not; noot from ne woot, I do not know]... The phrase 'willy nilly' still contains one: 'will I, nill I' or whether I wish it or wish it not. 



Boethius said...

If average IQ was much higher 200 years ago the proportion of "clever sillies" would be also much higher right?

As the IQ declined we would be seeing society reverting to more commonsensical view of the world;that doesn't seem to be the case,we are more abstract than ever.Why is that?

stephens said...

Explains a lot. They don't hold back on ambitious projects though.
I hope the Hadron Collider is in safe hands!
The "Universal Benefit" system is sure to be a disaster but at least that is only a danger to the diminishing minority of net contributing taxpayers.

Imnobody said...

I don't know if this thing has happened for the last two centuries but it certainly happens for this generation.

I have been high school teacher and now I am an University teacher in my country.

The new generation that the education system of my country is producing IS NOT ABLE to maintain the infrastructure inherited from our parents AT ALL.

They lack capacity of abstraction (everything seems complex to them), they lack domain of the language, they lack concentration, their attention span is tiny, they don't like to read and write, they are only interested in Facebook and their mobile devices (and mind you, I am a Computer Scientist so I am not against these things at all). They only think of having fun.

I have seen young University teachers that are not able to write a document without spelling errors (and the spelling of my language is very easy, unlike the English spelling).

These will be the people who are going to inherit Western civilization.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Boethius - By this account (based on information I did not know when I wrote the CS article) Clever Sillies are in fact those who have been over-promoted - from the school teacher/ middle management level and into the intellectual elite.

George Goerlich said...

I think the remaining intelligence is usually not fully used.

For example: when it comes to a career or making money an individual may push themselves, but outside that specific circumstance their higher intelligence turns off.

Especially in socialization. Perhaps to avoid offending anyway? Perhaps to not make anyone feel inferior? Perhaps because all opinions (even the stupidest) are now equally true?

I have seen very intelligent people say very stupid things, act extremely stupid. People I know are capable of much more. I know that I have even done it myself, often. It makes people uncomfortable to even mention higher-level topics. Even at a masters-level Philosophy course - it seemed few were willing to really digest and argue the material (just talking Kuhn here, nothing very difficult).

This is not because of my intelligence. Even my siblings and parents - the closest genetic relations - rarely is anything intelligent heard. Perhaps even never? Only opinions and very basic politically-correct observations. Perhaps it is not just that people are stupider in general, but they certainly act much stupider.

dearieme said...

It was only towards the end of my career that it I began to wonder why so many people with no intellectual interests sought lectureships in the best universities. Perhaps you have contributed towards an explanation, Bruce.

Bruce Charlton said...

I should make clear I don't regard people of superior intelligence as intrinsically superior - very far from it!

But when so many people, at so many levels, are cognitively incapable of understanding what they are doing, it is a recipe for disaster - and the problem is perhaps worst at the highest levels.

Modern intellectuals are almost all pseudo-intellectuals - pretend intellectuals; and this is most obvious among the elite. They believe that ignorant confusion and fashionable glibness are complexity and originality of discourse - and there is no way that I know of, of dis-illusioning them.

I can imagine that, for example, if I became convinced that I was a truly profound mathematical thinker, my very incompetence might shield me from recognizing my delusional state.

George Goerlich said...

I think you're speaking of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

JP said...

Is the decline in IQ in the West the product of mass immigration of low-IQ Third Worlders? Or also among the native population?

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - the decline long precedes mass immigration; presumably it is due to the 'dysgenic' factors first noticed by Galton - in other words, the transition to a world where reproductive success was defined by fertility, not mortality; and fertility was dropping among the more intelligent while remaining higher among the less intelligence.

See the linked posts for further discussion.

ajb said...

Are you saying that only genotypic IQ has declined, or that phenotypic IQ has also declined, contrary to the findings of Flynn et al.?

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

I found this article depressing at first, but on afterthought I think the general worldview, mainly religion, has a most important influence on social organization and education than IQ.

David Warren said yesterday that decent people are what we need, not geniuses. (

I also remembered what André Frossard wrote about one of his first confessors, a remarkable and saintly priest who was an anonymous vicar in a populous city parish: The Church has in common with the Army that it is not impressed by talents.

I think holiness, not IQ, will determine the future. If holiness rises, intelligence will rise at the same time. It is one of the Holy Spirit's gifts, after all and I think it includes natural human intelligence.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SDR - I agree.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - look at the links.

It is genotypic IQ which has declined - as shown by the reaction time data, but phenotypic IQ and g are not the same thing.

The Lynn-Flynn effect is non-g - (as a generalization) it is a rise in test scores, test performance and specific aptitudes; not in g.

ajb said...

SDR said "The Church has in common with the Army that it is not impressed by talents."

The U.S. Army has IQ cut offs. Average IQ impacts the efficacy of an army, as it does pretty much any organization.

bgc said "The Lynn-Flynn effect is non-g - (as a generalization) it is a rise in test scores, test performance and specific aptitudes; not in g."

What I'm trying to get at is, what then do you think accounts for the Flynn effect?

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - I expect there are many factors, not one - but it doesn't seem to have much significance except as having misled people.

Many people who do not even know approximately what g is, think they know that it is increasing due to the Lynn-Flynn effect - but that is an observation, not an explanation.

My personal hunch is that it was (it stopped some time ago) related to the decline in infectious disease - in the past many people were ill a lot of the time and this presumably reduced test performance.

Nowadays, there is probably quite a lot of illness due to drug side effects and other iatrogenic (medically caused) problems - since so many people are dependent on prescribed drugs or are being given 'preventive' agents like statins (which probably damage IQ test performance).

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

I agree that the level of intelligence impacts any organization. André Frossard, who was in the French Navy during World War II, would probably agree to. But I think what he meant was that people in the Army and in the Church did not get necessarily promoted according to their talent.