The War on Stupid People

The War on Stupid People, by David H. Freedman.

As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”

The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s-bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.

The rise of political correctness has a lot to do with this, because a major unifying force behind the politically correct is their shared belief that they are morally superior people — smarter than us rednecks, racists etc. who unlike them are not smart enough to believe PC ideas.

Ironically enough, given their high opinions of themselves, the PC crew largish consist of people who are bright but not too bright — smart enough to understand the ideas of political correctness and to have some claim to being above average, but not so smart that the disparities with reality and a pedantic requirement for truth compel one to protest the sillier PC notions (which of course gets you thrown out of the PC pack).

So PC people tend to hang out in packs of mediocrity, scorning those these perceive as dumber and while ganging up to silence those renegades whom they suspect might be smarter (but just wrong for some reason, must be a moral failing or something).

The PC crew have largely taken over the Australian public service in my experience, forcing the brighter people out and leading to a steady degradation in the ability of government departments. A major factor enabling this trend is that public servants often sit on the committees to hire new people — and most public servants simply refuse to recommend hiring anyone who might out-compete them for the scarce promotions and plum positions.

Another factor is the rise of tech, which exposed the huge differences between the abilities of people to say program a computer quickly and without mistakes. Tech companies routinely administer IQ-ish tests to sort through people, and have an insatiable appetite for the best students from the best tech universities. For most jobs however, particularly in the older economy, personal qualities like persistence, honesty and conscientiousness are generally more important then IQ.