The Showdown between Smart and Stupid

If you have been wondering how the hell Dr. Anthony Fauci or Dr. Deborah Brix continues to function in the environment they find themselves in, you have company. I too have had my WTF moments and have been pondering, “Is it just me, or has the entire world become dumber?”

In answer to this question, I don’t think the average IQ of the population has slipped, but it certainly seems so. Especially in the White House.

Now, I meant the above as a rhetorical question. There is evidence that we are – on average – getting smarter. It’s called the Flynn Effect. There is also evidence we’re getting dumber. It probably nets out to zero, or at least to an insignificant move in either direction. I suspect recent signs of stupidity are more a factor of availability bias, as I’ve talked about before. Thanks to our news feeds, the is ample evidence of “Stupid is as stupid does.”

What is true is that dumb people have a voice they’ve never had before, thanks to all types of media, but most especially social media. The current populist political climate has also enshrined stupidity as an unfortunate side effect of democracy and free speech. Ignorance is running rampant across the heartlands of America and many other countries – including my own.

There are some frightening network effects that come from this. As stupidity gums up the gears of the governmental machinery that should be protecting us, we’re starting to see smart people making an end run around it. As the level of public discourse continually gets dumbed down, the really smart people are just avoiding it all together and are quietly reinventing the world according to their own rules.

For example, according to the Brookings Institute, there has been an 86% turn over in Trump’s top advisors since he took office. Based on statistical probability alone, at least a few of these had be to smart people.

This is not surprising. Smart people tend to avoid other people in general. At least one study has found that they are happiest when they’re alone. And this is especially true when they’re surrounded by stupid people. All the smart people I know do not suffer fools gladly. So, what we’re seeing is a polarization of intelligence, with a growing divide between the smart and the stupid.

Unfortunately, this is also polarizing our attitudes towards science. When I was growing up in the Sixties, we revered science and respected smart people. And when I say “we” I mean the greater collective “we.” Maybe it was because science was giving us hope at the time. We were literally shooting for the Moon. But if you listen to scientists today, you are quickly swamped under a tsunami of scary-as-shit bad news. It’s painful to be smart. For the last decade or so, ignorance did appear to be bliss.

That brings us to COVID-19.

One thing that the current pandemic has done has suddenly made the world very interested in things they never cared about before – like the science of epidemiology and the bureaucracy of pharmaceutical clinical trials. It has created a worldwide Venn diagram where the circles of stupidity and science are forced to overlap.

In this sudden focusing of the world’s attention on a single topic, it has also made us realize the price of stupidity. What was before an irritant is now deadly.

The danger here is that we will probably find an intellitocracy emerge. But we won’t realize it, because it will be hidden from most of us. And it will be hidden because smart people are going to get exasperated and avoid stupid people. We don’t want that to happen.

We need science – and smart people – in the public domain. We can’t afford to have them withdraw in order to save themselves from having to deal with stupidity. And more than anything, we mustn’t let science go from being publicly funded to privately funded because it’s the path of least resistance. We need our public domains fully staffed with smart people.

Intelligence will ultimately prevail over ignorance. In the arms race of evolution, stupid people are bringing a knife to a gun fight. It may not seem like that now, but eventually the smart will be the victors. This means that smart people are going to define what our lives and society look like. And we need to know what they’re thinking about. We need as much of that as possible happening in a public forum, not in a private research lab somewhere in Silicon Valley.

Here’s just one example of why we need to be paying attention to what smart people are thinking about. Author and social activist Naomi Klein – who has previously warned us about unbridled capitalism, unethical marketing and other apocalyptical trends – is now warning us about a potential coup against personal privacy that’s taking shape under the cover of the pandemic.

Klein’s latest piece in theintercept.com reveals how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is assembling a super-smart SWAT team of billionaires including Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt and others to help him put a “high-tech dystopia” together as a new post-pandemic future:

“It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the “Screen New Deal.” Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.”

We are balanced on a precipice between smart and stupid. Smart will ultimately prevail. When it does, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. Ideally, we should have some say in the formation of our collective future.

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