Recent studies have shown that our children score better than we and our grandchildren better still on IQ tests yet the broadcast media are being dumbed down to attract a younger audience.
This begs the question: Are the young really smarter than we geezers?
The top two definitions of intelligence from Thesaurus.com may shed some relevant light on this puzzle:
1. capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.
2. manifestation of a high mental capacity: e.g. He writes with intelligence and wit.
Capacity: In terms of the capacity to grasp principles and make connections, the IQ evidence may indeed be pointing to a real improvement. Part of this improvement may be due to the experience the young have had with computer games and technological improvements. Modern education also probably deserves some of the credit. Education in my day was beaten into all of us, and information was repeated ad nauseum until the slowest achieved a minimum standard of achievement. The top third is now better served by our newer, more varied education system, but the rest are not reaching their full potential. The middle third muddles through, learning less than they might if there was some stricter demand made on their achievement. The bottom third is allowed to finish school without mastering the three r’s to the extent that they would have been forced to in the old, punitive system.
So I will grant that the overall average capacity may have considerably improved, but wonder if there is now a greater spread in the capacity for thinking between the top and the bottom.
Manifestation: I am not certain that the improved capacity of modern humans to learn is manifested in the decisions we make in the important spheres of human activity, such as politics. Freedoms are being taken away and government institutional actors, such as parliamentarians or congressmen/women, are behaving as if they think they can easily pull the wool over our eyes. The spectacle of Mitt Romney mouthing dovelike words in Monday’s debate was farcical. Obama exposed this by ridiculing some of his arguments, yet our local radio station suggested that Romney’s main goal of appearing less hawk-like might have been achieved. If, indeed, Romney won some support by such cynical, flip-floppy arguments, one must wonder whether the capacity of the voters to recognize hypocrisy has improved over recent decades. Certainly the strategy in using tactics like this leads me to conclude that Romney’s (or Harper’s in the case of Canada) handlers believe that, at the very least, the manifestation of voter intelligence is compromised due to laziness and/or selfishness and clouded by partisanship. The Canadian electorate is just as lazy and, I fear, a good deal more docile than our American neighbours.
Regardless of the above speculations, truly intelligent and careful observation of what is said and done in our domestic politics would seem to show that democracy is seriously at risk. According to Neil Postman, the typical American citizen was capable of understanding and remembering the essential text of a long Abraham Lincoln speech and of debating its concepts with others in coming to an electoral choice. If we are capable today of consuming such intellectual fare, it is certainly not on the menu.
My opinion is that if we truly have a better capacity for reasoning and analyzing a problem, we had better start manifesting it before the whole system of democracy collapses into something less. We need to start showing that we deserve to choose our leaders.