December 13, 2018

The Great Endumbening

“In November, the European TV channel Arte aired an hourlong documentary, Demain, tous crétins?—Tomorrow, everyone’s an idiot?—on a topic that would seem to be of great importance. It starts with a London-based researcher, Edward Dutton, who has documented decades-long declines in average IQs across several Western countries, including France and Germany. “We are becoming stupider,” announces Dutton at the program’s start. “This is happening. It’s not going to go away, and we have to try to think about what we’re going to do about it.”

The same documentary has also been released in the U.S., with the less provocative title Brains in Danger?. (It’s now available for streaming on Amazon Prime.) American consumers have long shown interest in the claim that our mental skills are shrinking over time, from the internet or phones or television; from having sex or not having sex; from eating vegetables or getting fat; or from whatever other ills of modern life happen to be on our minds. We’re just as drawn to other signs and symptoms of human degeneration, as expressed in trendlines pointing straight to hell. The latest example of this genre came out just last week in the form a much-shared feature story from GQ, on the gradual diminution of Western men and Western semen, toward a forecast state of “Sperm Count Zero”—that is, a world in which there are “no more naturally conceived babies and potentially … no babies at all.”

Given all this appetite for news of our destruction, you’d think the Great Endumbening described in that European special would’ve become a source of fascination over here (or at least a source of nervous Facebook posts). Instead, it’s been pretty much invisible. Across the Atlantic, one can find some real concern about a downward slide in measures of intelligence, amid confusing and disturbing arguments over what those changes, if they’re real, could really mean. In the United States, no one seems to care. We might be grateful for this fact—that for whatever reason we’ve been spared another gloom-and-doom prediction. But the latest science about these dropping scores suggests the worries aren’t altogether fake, and that they may deserve more attention than they’ve gotten.”

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