Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sliding Toward Idiocracy

On the recommendation of some friends we rented “Idiocracy,” the story of “the most average soldier” of very average intelligence in the US Army who is chosen by the Army for a secret year-long cryogenics experiment. He is perfect for the role because his parents have died, he is an only child, and he is not married or seeing anyone, and if he disappears for a year, no one will notice. Something goes wrong, of course, and Corporal Joe Bauers and the other participant are forgotten about, and only come out of their sleep 500 years later, in the year 2505. Obviously, things have changed dramatically over 500 years.

The point of the movie is that while even back in 2005 when Joe entered into this experiment the average intelligence of the human race was sliding downward, and when Joe wakes up, things have deteriorated to a truly ridiculous level. The synopsis from Wikipedia describes it thusly: “The movie begins with an introduction, accompanied by a voiceover, that explains the concept of unintelligent people enthusiastically outbreeding competent people, creating a future society which is irreversibly less functional. Demographic superiority now favors those least likely to advance the interests of society. Consequently, the children of educated elites become overwhelmed in a sea of promiscuous, illiterate, beer-swilling, jet ski-crashing peers.” That, believe it or not, is putting a positive spin on the way the movie portrays things.

In the hands of a master like Mel Brooks such a plot line could be a scream, but unfortunately someone else made this one, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone over the age of 19.

While recommending this film to us our friends made the point that there is a lot more truth to the plot than maybe people would like to admit, that mankind, or perhaps just the US, has already drifted further toward idiocy than the movie’s introduction implies. After watching some of “Idiocracy” (I couldn’t stand much more than 20 minutes), I tend to agree. What often passes for entertainment these days is so dramatically low-brow: Rap “music’s” violent and filthy lyrics; comedians who can’t be funny without using four-letter words and other intellectually vapid language and symbols; rampant pornographic images and inappropriate situations on television, even during “family time;” athletes who take illegal drugs to make themselves “better;” “reality” shows where people confess infidelity in front of their spouse simultaneously with a live studio audience and millions of TV viewers, for money; what seems to be an increase in horribly violent crimes … the list goes on. Such symbols of cultural devolution do indeed reflect a society in decline, not just intellectually, buy morally and ethically, as well.

Researchers tell us the US education system, once one of the best in the world, is now out-performed by eleven other countries, including South Korea, Japan, and Hungary. War and oppression weren’t enough to keep those countries down, but the high standard of living in the US apparently is. And, one study ranked the US 18th out of the 24 nations it looked at.

Frankly, at the rate we are moving right now, I don’t think it will take 500 years for the United States to become a nation of dumb-as-rocks, self-absorbed, pleasure addicts that can’t add two and two, speak intelligible English (or Spanish), or solve problems. And whether we really are less smart, or whether we’re just addicted to our own selfish desires, the result will be the same.

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