The “Flynn Effect” is the phenomenon identified by intelligence researcher James Flynn. He found that average intelligence quotients, or IQ’s, as measured by standardized tests were steadily increasing through the course of the 20th century.
That sounds quite natural because, after all, each generation gets better nurturing. They get better health, improved medical care, more nutritious food and greater schooling.
But IQ is supposed to be mainly about nature, not nurture. Nurturing can certainly affect a person’s well-being, but in theory it doesn’t change a person’s IQ much (except of course when the nurturing is so bad that it produces negative neurological effects).
Flynn and other scientists puzzled for years over the reasons we kept getting smarter. Even as scientists themselves along with everyone else got smarter and smarter, they still never managed to figure out why.
Now they have a reverse Flynn Effect to figure out. In recent decades, average IQ’s have gone down, not up. For those of you who are personally experiencing this reverse effect, I’ll put it in simple terms: People are getting stupider.
As when people were getting smarter, we don’t know why. Even worse, it stands to reason that it’ll be even harder to figure out why people are getting stupider than it was to figure out why they were getting smarter, since the people doing the figuring are themselves getting stupider in their ability to figure. It’s quite possible that we’ll get too stupid too fast to figure out why and how to stop it.
But I can speculate about the reasons.
Students used to be taught how to think. Some learned how to think better than others, and that made the ones who learned poorly feel badly. Poor students feeling badly about their lousy learning is something Western Civilization used to accept. We were running a civilization, not a pep club. Sometimes society even reveled in it. (I went to law school back when professors reduced students to tears.)
But then it became apparent that a disproportionate number of poor students fell into identifiable demographic groups, and a disproportionate number of good students fell into different demographic groups.
Without much analysis or debate or even consciousness of our decision, society decided that this outcome was unacceptable. Tests were designed to improve the scores of the poorly performing groups, and reduce the scores of the well performing groups.
No matter. They were unable to concoct any tests that achieved their desired equitable results. The best they could do was to concoct tests where all groups performed equally badly. But those tests were gibberish – they were simply games of chance – and had no actual testing value.
Now, schools are abandoning tests altogether. The standard college admissions test – the SAT – has been dropped at many schools including schools that used to pride themselves on their high educational standards. Better not to test applicants, went the thinking, than to get results that disfavor a favored group and favor a disfavored group.
But if individual applicants are not tested, how is a school supposed to decide among them? The answer is that the school decides on the basis of their group. And they do it exactly backwards of how you might expect a successful society to do it. They don’t favor the high-performing groups. No, they favor the low-performing groups.
You ask, what happens to the students when they graduate and enter the workforce? Ah, but workplaces are going down the same path. Increasingly, career advancement is tied not to merit but to membership in favored groups.
In politics, they call this “identity politics.” In education, it’s the abolition of merit. In the workplace, it’s the triumph of mediocrity.
We are raising a generation that has been indoctrinated into the notion that thinking is bad because it’s a dead white European male trait that leads to oppression, racism, misogyny and misery. Nobody with a brain really believes that, of course, but they need an excuse to discredit the concept of thinking so that the poor performance of favored groups and good performance of disfavored groups can be hidden.
Even though we stop thinking about causes and effects, however, that doesn’t stop causes from having effects. The effect of discontinuing rigorous thinking has been a decline in our ability to do so. The average IQ – a measure of thinking and not demographics – is declining for the first time since we developed ways to measure it.
Once merit is abolished as a measure for individuals, those individuals become less productive. A society where “bad” is judged no worse than “good” produces less good and more bad. We now have a full generation or two that have been rewarded for their demographic and penalized for their brain.
We’re on the brink of a slow-motion apocalypse. A generation or two from now, humans may live in a world where they still have access to amazing old machines left over from a smarter civilization, but lack the brains to make new ones or even service the old ones. A generation or two later, after all the old miracle machines have worn out, feral humans may wander the burnt-out ruins of the civilization we left them, like barbarians gawking at the wonders of Rome.
From those ruins, merit will be rise again. Because merit rewards the meritorious. In the meantime, welcome to the new Dark Ages.