Thursday, November 10, 2011

Slouching towards Idiocracy?

Narrator: "As the 21st century began, human evolution was at a turning point. Natural selection, the process by which the strongest, the smartest, the fastest, reproduced in greater numbers than the rest ... now began to favor different traits. [Science] predicted a future that was more civilized and more intelligent. But as time went on, things seemed to be heading in the opposite direction. A dumbing down. How did this happen? With no natural predators to thin the herd, evolution began to simply reward those who reproduced the most, and left the intelligent to become an endangered species. The years passed, mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes the genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution, but sadly the greatest minds and resources where focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections."
Those were the opening lines of the movie Idiocracy (2006), a really, really bad comedy set in a preposterously dumbed-down America 500 years from now. This all came to mind as I read the observations of Pete Wehner, a writer for Commentary:
"Has any recent major presidential candidate shown as little mastery of the basics, when it comes to policy matters, as Cain? ... Yet some defenders of Cain actually celebrate his lack of knowledge, portraying it as a virtue, a sign that he’s an outsider, a non-establishment figure, authentic, the appealing anti-politician. ... In the 1980s, one of the Republican Party’s main sources of attraction to younger conservatives like myself was its growing reputation for intellectual seriousness. ... The way such things happen is by rewarding intellectual excellence among those vying for the presidency rather than making excuses for their lack of knowledge."
Indeed. I'm sure conservative high priests like William F. Buckley are spinning in their graves. Heck, I suspect even Ronald Reagan would be shocked. I mean, last night's GOP debate was a stark, shocking display of epistemic closure and platitudinous posturing. Not a single candidate (save the irrelevant Jon Huntsman) even bothered to seriously address the issues put before them by the moderators. The more bromidic a candidate became, the louder the applause. Folks were nearly dancing in the endzone when, out of the blue, Herman Cain slimed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as "Princess Nancy." (He was forced to apologize today.) Rick Perry's epic meltdown of course is the talk of the town today. But it provided the perfect metaphor for this sham.

The scariest part of this rush to dumbitude is that it might not be confined just to the Republican Party fringe (or those very odd people who attend GOP debates). This smacks of a larger cultural problem, one borne of a society seemingly more interested in Kim Kardashian's divorce than the fate of the nation. (And it doesn't help when media coverage devolves into reporting like this: "Has Mitt Romney’s Hair Lost Its Swagger?" asks New York magazine.) Yes, I am surely overstating things. But, at times, it still feels like we're slouching inexorably towards Idiocracy.

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