Random AsidesScience


Over the Newtonmas holiday, my fiance and I visited my parents. While at my parents’ house, we watched a hilarious movie called “Idiocracy” where everyone in the future has become incredibly dumb. Well, at least in America where the movie is set.

The basic premise of the movie is explained in this clip:

I’m not an expert on evolution and biology, so I wanted to put this out there to see what you think. I laughed off the premise at first, but then I began to wonder. Is this something the world has to worry about? Should skepchicks and other smart people start breeding as fast as possible? Is there any truth to this premise at all or is it complete garbage? If so, why? Please direct me to further reading.

Whatever the future of the human race– idiocracy or smartskeptocracy– having children is something that I wonder about. I haven’t quite figured out when I’m going to have kids. In a few days I will turn– gasp– 27. I am becoming quite old, and my eggs and uterus are aging. My mom had me when she was 23, so I should have a 4-year-old if I were following in her breeding footsteps. I am engaged, and I want children. However, I am nowhere near ready. Currently, my fiance and I live on different continents. I have a year of my PhD left, then I’m moving to South Africa for at least a year, and then there’s that fellowship to live abroad (in yet another country) that I hope to obtain.

After all this- at age 31 or so- I’ll probably have kids. But I can’t wait too much longer than that. I don’t want to. Sure, these days many older women do have children, but it is harder to become pregnant and all sorts of risks increase. Also, I want to be somewhat young when my children grow up. A scientist I know just had his second child at age 51 (his wife was 45). That means that he’ll be pushing 70 when his kid graduates from high school! Sure, people are living longer these days, but I don’t want to be an old mother. I want to be a hot skepchick momma.

Actually, for a long time I didn’t want biological children at all. I thought– and still do think– that a responsible choice is to adopt children. The world is already incredibly overpopulated, and I feel that I could provide an excellent home for an adopted child. Also, pregnancy frightens me. I mean, come on, you have a little parasite inside you for 9 months and then it comes out and you still have to feed it every few hours. It’s a good thing little babies are so cute. My fiance wants at least one biological child, so we’ll probably have at least one of our own children. After watching the “Idiocracy” movie, my fiance said, “See? We owe it to humanity to produce biological children. We’re both smart, so chances are our children will be smarter than average.”

Right. I guess we’ll get on that… right after I finish my PhD and we have a wedding and travel the world and live abroad for a year for that fellowship… oh dear…

Edited to add:
Thanks for all the comments. A link to this comic was put in the comments, and I like it so much I decided to add it to my post:
You can see the original comic at xkcd here.


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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  1. I’d be freaking out if I DID have kids by age 27. There’s no way I’m reproducing before I get my PhD, and that’ll be right before I turn 28, most likely. That still seems so early to me, though. My mom had me at 34 and my sister-in-law had my nephews are 30… Reproductive issues like an increased likelihood of Down Syndrome don’t really start until around 36. Your ovaries still have plenty of years left in them!

  2. Personally, I found that movie horrifically ignorant, fearful, and anti-modernity. The basic point seemed to be “Hey you kids, get off my lawn! Modern things are scary! Why can’t everything be like it used to be?!” I’m not a biologist, but just I’m pretty sure just having certain technology and pop culture isn’t going to make people dumber. An actual drop in intelligence would have to be caused by an actual change to the brain, which I think would have to be genetic.

    It seems to me to be a fallacy that culture is dumber now than it used to be, and continuing on that trajectory. Have you ever watched TV from the ’60s? It’s painfully dumb and patronizing to its audience. Compare I Dream of Jeanie to Community, or 30 Rock for example. How many more people are literate now than were a hundred years ago, and communicate by writing every day? Look at how much more complex popular music is now than it was 50 years ago. We just have more choices and more access to an audience, so there’s more to criticize. People tend to look at a dumb video on YouTube or a teenager writing in textspeak and assume that signals the end of civilization, just as every generation of the past has.

  3. Thank you Evelyn ;)

    I think there’s a couple of issues to consider here:
    1) It’s true that income and fertility are negatively correlated. So a long as income and IQ are positively correlated (and they are) you would expect sexual selection to cut against intelligence, however;

    2) The Flynn effect. For generations humanity has been getting smarter, at least along some cognitive dimensions. That counts against the Ideocracy Hypothesis.

    3) Advances in reproductive technology mean people can have children later, which helps offset the tendency of richer people (who, as I noted above are higher IQ on average) to start having children later

    4) In a matter of decades I would expect humanity to develop technology that can increase human intelligence. Once we have that capability any natural declines (if any) shouldn’t be a huge problem.

  4. Sorry, I typed that based on my impression of the movie when I saw it, not the clip that you posted. As for what the clip says, I’d like to know if there’s any evidence to show that “dumb” people are outbreeding “smart” people, and how much bearing that would have on future generations.

  5. As far as I have read in various studies, we should be more concerned about the wealth of the respective families than the IQ of the parents. That is a greater indicator of how well they’ll be educated and how successful they’ll be in life. If people living in poverty have many children and people in middle/upper classes have few children, there’s a greater chance of the imbalanced distribution of wealth harming our future society. But as MarianLibrarian mentioned, we also need proof that smarter/wealthier people will continue to have fewer children over enough generations for it to matter.

  6. The apparent link between fertility and wealth is a fallacy, exposed when one of Mrs Thatcher’s ministers tried to base policy on it. Parents tend to have children early in their lives, and those who become wealthy often don’t do so until later.

  7. PZ posted about this a million internet-years ago. I can’t be bothered to find the post, but the executive summary is that we have no reason to believe that “intelligence” is a discrete trait passed on through Mendelian inheritance (which is the base assumption of the Idiocracy Hypothesis, also known as the “Marching Morons”).

    What we do have are a huge set of correlations, most of which suggest that intelligence is associated heavily with environmental factors like family income or what school district you live in. That’s not what you’d expect under the assumption that intelligence is determined primarily by genetics, and if intelligence is not primarily genetic then the Idiocracy Hypothesis is not something worth worrying about.

    By the way, Idiocracy is hardly the first place these ideas have shown up. There’s a much earlier instance in a scifi story called “The Marching Morons”, which shares other similarities with Idiocracy as well.

  8. Haha, my mom had me when she was 42, so I’ve always felt like I have plenty of time. For me having kids before I’m at 31 (at least) seems extremely unlikely. Also I agree with the comments that said there is no reason to believe our culture is stupider than previous ones, and that it’s unlikely intelligence is a discrete enough genetic unit for it to be that simple.

  9. Actually, this is a much more difficult question than it sounds like, starting with how we define intelligence. We still don’t know exactly what that means, which means we can’t measure it in a significant manner. But let’s assume for a moment that your average IQ test, as given by a psychologist, is an accurate measure of intelligence, whatever that means exactly. The trend has been that each generation has scored higher than the last, so that the average IQ score has been inching up every few years. However, as a teacher, I’m sorry to say I think that may be changing soon. And the reason I think it’s going to change is that the focus and the attitute towards learning has changed, and not for the better. Technology is being used in the worst possible way in too many places. Questions are discouraged. Thinking is discouraged. I’ve seen 4th graders who did not know that they needed to read the directions in the math text before they could answer the questions, and I’ve seen 10th graders who don’t question the calculator, no matter how absurd the answer they get is. And while these kinds of things have always happened, it seems to be more prevalent than it used to be. I fear we’re going to see those IQ scores moving in the opposite direction shortly.

  10. The biggest and most difficult issue is how to designate stupid vs smart. There are many ways to be smart but is there similar variation in being stupid? Is stupidity irredeemable or is it simply gross ignorance lacking the will or opportunity to learn? While individuals do seem to have characters that define their limit of intellectual ability (patience, memory, problem solving, etc…), incorporating and applying these skills on a regular basis are largely learned. A large feature of intelligence testing is based on cultural integration. Non-human examples can be seen in the traditionally stubborn animals (e.g. willful dog breeds, mules/donkeys). Supposedly, they’re extremely intelligent… so much so that they won’t simply obey but need to decide for themselves. That was the failing of the Galton-inspired eugenics programs that strongly influenced many of the social programs of the 1900’s: assuming there were simple, discrete, heritable traits that defined a “proper” citizen. While our genotype has a more profound influence than many are comfortable to admit, we have extreme plasticity in our mental abilities and can learn and adapt more than we often realize. Simply outbreeding will neither cause nor resolve the issue. To draw from my favorite essay, “there is no technical solution” (Hardin, 1968).

  11. I watched this movie a while ago and liked it and laughed. But watching the clip now has really made me angry. I grew up in a trailer park and for a short period of time the only solid meal I got was the free school lunch. I now have two masters degrees the first in my family to graduate from college.

    I guess I am upset because this film perpetuates the idea that poor=ugly and stupid. That is my personal reaction at least. sorry a bit OT

  12. I don’t think Idiocracy is meant as a cautionary tale of how we need to breed to prevent the future depicted int he story. That’s just the setup for the story. Rather, I think it’s meant as a parody of our current society. The things Idiocracy complains about are already happening: we idolize people for the wrong reasons (people are famous simply for being famous, rather than for achieving anything), we don’t bother to understand the technology we use (creationists decry science, yet use computers to post their creeds), we would rather be entertained than informed, everything is plastered in ads, etc.

  13. Your blog was the next in my inbox after this one:


    Which is a totally stupid article and was roundly demolished in the comments. I don’t think it matters a jot who breeds, not even religionists. There will always be smart kids who get the most out of their education and free thought.

    Both my kids went through Catholic schools and are both firm atheists BTW.

  14. There’s still plenty of time for you, honestly. My first child was due on my 34th birthday (he came 2 weeks early – I went into labour on my way home from my last day of work, but that’s another story). I was 37 when I had my 2nd (who kicked his way out a week and a half early – again, another story).
    With the risks – it all depends on you, and your body, and your eggs at the time. My first was border-line high risk for Downs (1:250 – high risk is 1:200. At the high risk mark is when they start recommending an amniocentesis, as the risk of miscarry from the procedure is also 1:200). We went ahead with the amnio, and found out at 16 weeks that it was a healthy boy. With my second, I had no such risk, although I did get swine flu while pregnant – but that is a whole different set of complications!

  15. You know, if biologically more “intelligent” people (whatever that means) had the same number of children, but had them later, and intelligence was inherited, then the evolutionary trend would still favor the less intelligent, as those who had children earlier (and presumably their children) would still reproduce faster.

    Also consider number of children.

  16. Amusing, but it does rather remind me of British Victorian middle class people worrying about the working classes outbreeding them and making the country a nation of illiterate drunks. That didn’t happen then, so maybe it won’t happen now for much the same reasons.

    How about some data? On the BBC radio’s excellent More or Less program about stats in the news they had a review of the past year, and one stat coming out was how the number of unplanned teenage pregnancies in the UK had halved over the past 10 years. Also how young people around the world in countries from Iran to Brazil were now using contraception routinely, and having ~2 children.

    One obvious thing that wealthy people could do is outsource child production to poorer (and younger) people. There is something of a surrogate mother business in India now. You basically can fertilise an embryo and freeze it when in late 20s, then get someone else to carry the child to birth when you are ~45. This is currently a repugnant transaction, but I don’t see why that shouldn’t change.

  17. “Should skepchicks and other smart people start breeding as fast as possible?”

    This line just rubbed me the wrong way. A bit self serving and arrogant maybe?

  18. Firstly, that movie was pretty awful. That clip you posted was the good/interesting part, but the rest… blegh.

    That aside, I went through this “breeding crisis” after reading Kathryn Joyce’s _Quiverfull_. There are groups among the religious right who have explicitly taken this movie’s message to heart and decided to do a little social engineering. My first reaction to learning this was to think “oh noes! I must socially engineer the world in my own vision! We must breeeeed!”

    My husband, who tends to be a bit more level-headed, pointed out that we don’t actually need to have lots of kids to compete. All we have to do is deconvert their kids. Becoming a teacher, adopting kids, or just getting into atheism/skepticism outreach are all better solutions than contributing to the world’s overpopulation problem. Let the religious be our broodmares, creating all the little Atheist Larvae we can harvest later, once the hard part is over with.

  19. @Lukas, You’ve nailed it right on the head. In fact I have a niggling impression the the creators of the film must have thought that to be self evident. But then again, we have a really bad track record of scoping this kind of allegory out. 1984 wasn’t a cautionary tale either, it was about the England Orwell found himself in at the time.

    I think it’s too bad that this “bad but fun” film has to carry so much water for peoples agenda’s.

  20. This is an old idea, very popular, as John Ellis mentions, in Victorian times (GB Shaw was a big proponent, and wrote plays about it) and right up through World War II. The idea that smarter people, and people of better character, which was also thought to be heritable, should breed more was called “eugenics.” It went out of fashion when the Nazis showed what carrying that kind of reasoning too far could lead too. It’s becoming acceptable again under new names.

    The problem is it is really hard to accept this premise without drawing really racist conclusions, considering the different performance of different races on IQ tests. But scientifically, there is also very little evidence for this. I’m currently re-reading “What’s Going on In There” by Lise Elliot, which is about brain development in gestation and infancy, and discusses in detail the importance of environment and what we know about the role of genes. I also know, though I haven’t read it, that much of Stephen J. Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man” is about the scientific problems with this idea.

    But okay, genes aside, those of us who are educated and have the resources to raise children well may still feel some obligation to do that. Plus, you know, we’re human, and that comes with a drive to procreate.

    I am thirty, finished my PhD in 2009, and my first child is sitting next to me in her baby swing, six weeks old as of yesterday. I am still debating whether or not to have a second, probably wouldn’t have more than that.

    Besides the risk of Down Syndrome, there is the risk of infertility, and the physical toll on your body, to consider. It may take up to a year for even a normally fertile couple to conceive, and then it takes 9 months to carry the child, and I personally don’t feel I will be ready to be pregnant again for at least two years after this experience — I want my daughter to be out of diapers first, for one thing. And I want to give my body, and my career, a chance to recover. So if you’re planning on having more than one, I do not recommend waiting until you’re 34 or older.

    So far I have found this about parenting: it demands everything you have to give. I feel guilty about leaving my daughter in her swing to type this instead of holding her right now! And breastfeeding is a feminist’s nightmare, by the way, but the science says it is best…

    I am already seeing that this is going to be much harder on my ability to do my job than I had imagined. Great scientists do not work eight hour days. Good parents do not ignore their children.

    That said, I have absolutely no regrets. I had already more or less accepted that I am unlikely to win any Nobel prizes or revolutionize my field, and short of that, my research job is just a job. My daughter is going to be my real legacy, and she is worth the sacrifices.

  21. Intelligence is a property of a phenotype, not a genotype. There are no genes for intelligence. They may be genes that facilitate the production of a brain that can support intelligence, but that is a different story.

    There are no genes that code for a specific brain architecture. The genes code for a process to make a brain, and the architecture is an emergent property of the processes those genes code for as influenced by the environment. The most important environment probably is the in utero environment. The processes that produce a brain are extremely complicated, extremely sensitive, are non-linear with hysteresis and feedback. They exhibit the “butterfly” effect, where differentially small influences can have macroscopic effects.

    You can have an infant at birth with a brain that can support being intelligent (I think that most infants do have this). But if you fill that brain with nonsense, you will get a smart person who thinks in nonsense.

    Being a skeptic doesn’t require being smart or intelligent, it just requires not believing in nonsense.

  22. Adoption isn’t as easy as having a baby, but I’m with you that it’s a way better way to go. There are hundreds of thousands of children each year who need a stable, loving home and don’t have one.

    When I wanted children, we’d discussed it and decided if I wanted more than one, then we’d adopt more, but one was the most I’d give birth to. When we found I was infertile, it wasn’t such a difficult leap from there to adoption. We’d been putting it all off until we were ready and in a financial position to handle all the difficulties of raising children. Contrary to popular opinion, there are better times for having children.

    (as an aside) In the end, I finally realized that I really didn’t want to raise children. All the reasons for raising them were coming from outside of me. I wasn’t driven by some desire to have/raise a child. I don’t generally react hormonally to children (even pretty, sweet smelling freshly washed babies get about the same cute reaction from me as baby wallabies). Frankly, seeing the few kids I run into these days basically reaffirms how wise it was that we have chosen not to raise children at all. I’ve only regretted this decision on a micro scale a few times over the last 18 years. Usually when it comes to thinking about our wills because I’d -like- there to be someone for whom some of my possessions have sentimental meaning. But that’s just the whole desire for immortality bubbling up, I think.

    As to the movie Idiocracy, I think the real danger is the glorification of stupid in US culture right now. The whole anti-intellectual madness, and the fact that there are TEA PARTIERS in the CONGRESS. People actually VOTED them IN for crysakes. How is that -not- just one more step closer to the government of Idiocracy? I know they set the premise about intelligent people not breeding as a root cause, but that’s just a Macguffin for the movie.

    There is, though, a -real- danger in the loss of education. The loss of people going to college. Fewer people are attending college and graduating. The numbers are starting to fall for the first time. Education is what gets people out of poverty, helps them earn a decent living, and helps them make better decisions.

    Failure of eduction is what makes people more likely to be superstitious, more gullible, more likely to be taken in by slick talkers, and more likely to elect government officials who just babble what the voters want to hear, rather than people who will actually do the job that’s the best for everyone.

    You don’t need to breed smarter children. For the most part, people are plenty smart enough. We need more people to be more/better educated. It isn’t really genetics that are the issue, it’s educating people and teaching them to be skeptical that’s the issue.

    Any child you have you’re going to teach to be skeptical and how to learn. If you adopt children and teach them that, then you’re giving them a gift they might not otherwise have. Thus adding +N to the population of educated skeptics. If you give birth and educate your children, you’re not having the same impact on the potentially ignorant population. :)

  23. Thanks for all the comments on this one! I appreciate the insights from people who know more about biology/genes/evolution than I do.

    I apologize if this most rubbed some of the wrong way. I certainly don’t believe that “better” people should be breeding more than “less better” people. As some of you pointed out, that generally leads to horrible persecution. I just wanted to put this premise out there (in a kind of ridiculous way, as the “Idiocracy” movie does) to see if there’s any science behind it at all or if it’s- as I said- just garbage. Sounds like garbage, but please keep your comments & insights coming.

    And thanks to all the skepwomen who are providing me with advice on having children. I appreciate it!

  24. @Lukas: Yes, that’s pretty much exactly how I see I the movie. It is a Mike Judge film after all.

    The thing that worries me is the trend in politics in recent years towards idiocy. Bush, Palin, Beck, that one witch, etc. There are people in congress decrying science. And the ever increasing push to get creationism taught in schools. If you come off too smart, a high percentage of the voters reject you. That should be a cause for concern for all of us.

  25. @WhatPaleBlueDot: I’ve heard this from other people before, and I know several people who had one or more children in grad school. However, I don’t fancy being a single parent and as I mentioned my significant other currently lives on another continent…

  26. I think our gene pool is harder to change than the “marching morons” hypothesis implies. I’m not worried.

    About the movie, however, I have rarely liked one less. It is a peeve of mine when particularly good authors, usually Philip K. Dick, get their wonderful stories turned into idiotic films. In this case, as @Joshua pointed out, it was Cyril M. Kornbluth’s much better story that was used as the inspiration. “The Marching Morons” had the distinct advantage of making sense.

  27. http://xkcd.com/603/

    I enjoyed the movie too, but the idea that we should breed more or more frequently is very flawed, for many reasons already outlined in the comments.

    I also had a “I have too much to do with my life and I can’t be pregnant during TAM! And I’m going to travel around the world…” but finally came to the conclusion that if you continue waiting for the perfect time there will never be a perfect time. I’m now 33 and 14 weeks pregnant and I realize that it will be a sacrifice to have this child but it’s one I’m more than willing to make. Not for the world, though, but for myself and my family. And despite the fact that my partner and I both have an IQ over 160, I recognize that my child is just as likely to have an average or below average IQ and we’re prepared for that.

  28. @Evelyn: Sorry. “The Marching Morons” is a short story written by Cyril M. Kornbluth around 1950 or so. AFAIK, it has not been made into a movie, but it is findable in a number of anthologies. It’s a good story.

  29. @daedalus2u: The analogy I like to use is your brain is a vessel and intelligence is the stuff you put in it. You can use a Lemoges vase or a Taco Bell take out cup and (as long as it has no damage) it will serve the purpose what it really important is whether you fill it with San Pellegrino or swamp water. Some vessels are more prone to problems and once they are filled (or are being filled) the contents can be purified and/or contaminated and there are a large number of different contaminations to worry about. There are different straws you can…….

    On second thought, this analogy sucks.

    Never mind :)

  30. @MorgannaLeFey:
    The whole anti-intellectual madness, and the fact that there are TEA PARTIERS in the CONGRESS. People actually VOTED them IN for crysakes. How is that -not- just one more step closer to the government of Idiocracy?

    Other wise intelligent humans (or not) voting against their own interests to help the rich stay rich. Sounds like a good start. Unfortunately.

  31. @mrmisconception: Totally OT, but I have a really cool pirate cup (from our SitP holiday swap), but it’s plastic and made in China, so I’m afraid to drink anything out of it, especially anything solvent based. Anyone got a mass spec I could borrow? Meanwhile I’ll stick with the Taco Bell cup.

    @MadLogician: could you be more specific? What link are you talking about? I thought it was well established that wealth correlates with intelligence. (Not that one causes the other, correlation is not causation, but that wealthy people can afford better education for their children, parents who have the time and energy to read to their younger children give them a huge leg up educationally, and a million other reasons.) Also that there is an inverse correlation between wealth (and hence intelligence) and family size. I also thought it was well-established that as third-world nations gradually improve the financial status of their citizens, their population growth declines, quite drastically with even modest improvements. (IIRC, this is why world population estimates peak sometime later this century and gradually start to decline.) Incidentally, I think the strongest correlates are with girls’ and women’s education.

    Or are you disputing some sort of naive Galtonian eugenics that the Thatcherites attempted to impose on Britain as recently as the 1980s or 90s?

    Or literally the contention that the poor are more fertile than the rich? I don’t think there is any biological basis for this. It is social and cultural, i.e. rich people choose to have fewer children. If anything, rich people, with better nutrition and health care, are probably slightly more fertile, but it’s most likely lost in the noise.

    Could you explain or provide some links?

  32. Thanks for the hit of nostalgia!
    My grandfather used to get all riled up about how society was being ruined by stupid people who were dragging civilization back to the stone age.
    Those were always great rants. Really entertaining.
    I liked that evil rock’n’roll music, so I was considered part of the problem, but otherwise salvageable.
    -sigh- I miss the old man. He was fun.

  33. I remember “The Marching Morons” — nice story. (And I remember the related story, “The Little Black Bag” — good too. ;-)

    (see Wikipedia articles for plot summaries of both stories)

  34. Yes, you should start breeding as soon as possible.

    The funny thing is, this has already happened. Have you seen the tea party?

    But seriously folks, there has been a decrease in brain size in humans since the end of the paleolithic in most areas, and large relative brain sizes have been retained mainly in forager groups. And they’re smart, believe me.

    First, crops. You plant ’em, later, you eats ’em. That requires some brains but not as much as foraging.

    Then, the industrial revolution and we only needed a handful of smart engineers and everything else is increasingly automated.

    The microwave and the TV remote are finishing us off as we speak.

  35. as your mom I say HAVE KIDS NOW!

    I will say that in our family, there is a history of OB/GYN problems that means maybe no baby after your early 30s. Both your namesake great grandmother, your grandmother and myself had surgery in our early 30s that mean no more kids.

    However, I am a big supporter of adoption. So if you end up not able to have a child after your early 30’s (and looking at our family medical history that will probably be true) adoption is still a wonderful option. If you want to make sure you have a biological child… I suggest go for it by 30 (you may remember I had my surgery when I was 30).

    So, everyone should look at their family health history. And remember adoption is wonderful. I also should note that my aunt had TRIPLETS at age 50! (I’m not kidding!!) Now that they are 5 she is still pretty exhausted (she has enough money that she has a LOT of help… she lives in PA and hires Amish girls to help out). One she was ready for, but THREE, invitro gone nuts!

  36. I agree that the ease of modern life has diminished natural selection, resulting in a dilution of genetic traits that contribute to intelligence. Natural selection was diminished during the Industrial Revolution when we cured major epidemic diseases, developed hygiene, and invented guns, so that physical size was no longer an advantage in fighting. What isn’t selected for tends to dilute over time. But I think this dilution of intelligence progresses slowly, and will take many more centuries to be detectable, so I don’t think that average IQ has dropped as much as the intro to Idiocracy says.

    What is happening is that the people who are more self-disciplined, who value quality of life, who better understand personal responsibility, and who value intellectualism and feminism, and who are less religious / more skeptical are being outbred by those who don’t possess these personality traits. I believe this is an unintended consequence of the introduction of birth control in the 60’s. It’s not IQ that’s being diluted, it’s these very important beliefs and values which are. These beliefs and values are passed on by example, not by genetics. The dilution of these is what the intro to Idiocracy is picking up on.

    Before the 60’s, pretty much everyone had children, end of story. Now, the people with the traits and values I mentioned have fewer or no children.

    I have five siblings – I’m the only atheist, the only one who lives in a large city (which I moved to to get away from all the racism and religiosity of the rural area where I grew up, and to get a job making lots of money), one of two with a college degree, the only Democrat, and the only one with fewer than three children (because I felt my quality of life would be better without children). I know my IQ is no higher than that of my siblings – it’s my values and beliefs which are different.

  37. Them/us pishaw.
    I work with some social workers who refer to their clients as breeders. These are intelligent educated ass wipes and the world is not made a better place as a result of their presence or the apparent efforts of their educated intelligent parents. I’ll take common decency and manners over intelligence most days.

  38. MarianLibrarian, your comparison of I Dream Of Jeanie with 30 Rock is the most hopeful thought I’ve encountered in months. Thank you.

    Evelyn, genetics isn’t the only factor for sure. Having kids is not a time-saving occupation either. Mine are all grown up and moved away. They turned out fine though it’s been a mix of triumph and heartbreak. You want so much for them to be happy, and as the Buddhists say, desire is the cause of suffering.

    Don’t let Idiocracy rattle you. Keep writing interesting, engaging things, speak in public when you can, and you’ll lure lots of people into using their minds. Including your own kids, should you ever decide to have any.

  39. High IQ parents should expect “regression to the mean” in their children — particularly if IQ is not heavily determined by genetics.

    There have been some crazy ideas circulating that nerdy parents tend to produce Asperger syndrome children. Not clear if it’s nature (genetics) or nurture (socially challenged busy parents), of it really happens at all.

  40. Ummm… it’s just a movie. Relax.

    I don’t think anyone should be taking it in any way seriously, or using confirmation bias to say it’s coming true, or be offended by it, etc. You either enjoy the film (which I did) or you don’t, it’s up to you.

    Of course the premise is flawed, for all the reasons mentioned above, but the biggest reason it’s flawed? Because it’s a piece of entertainment. Nothing more.

  41. Everyone here seems to be saying that natural selection has slowed since the advance of medicine, or the industrial revolution, or the invention of the computer.

    Am I missing something? Isn’t natural selection always the same “strength”? Are we not making the old fallacy of assuming we are moving toward “perfection”?

    Natural selection hasn’t slowed; the direction is not the same as it was before because the environment has changed and therefore the pressures being exerted has changed. But then I’m not an evolutionary biologist so I may be wrong.

    Changes in the environment can create some strange unintended effects; some good (for the organism) like MRSA, some bad like extinction, and some that are unintended like the environmental pollution changing the color of peppered moths in England. The case of the peppered moth being interesting because it is not really good or bad just different.

    The Case of the Peppered Moth; sounds like a lost Sherlock Holmes story.

  42. @ Zapski

    Ummm… it’s just a movie. Relax.

    I know right?

    I was just discussing with my brother how crazy some movies are for submiting a premise that simply couldn’t happen; like “The Voice” in Field of Dreams, or “Little Audrey” in Little Shop of Horrors, or that “women are good drivers” in Speed, all implausible but necessary to further some terrific movies.

    As my wife likes to say; unclench. ;)

  43. @Zapski:
    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with critiquing elements of pop culture, because a lot of people are influenced by them, which can eventually affect all of us — just look at the Left Behind series. People are definitely “supposed to” not take them totally seriously but it seems like people do anyway.
    Pop culture also reflects overall cultural trends, so it’s interesting to take a look at them in my opinion.

  44. @erikakharada: I’m not saying it’s bad to critique, but reading through the comments, it seems that it’s being taken way too seriously for what is essentially a farce.

    Ever watch Mystery Science Theater 3000? The opening song has a bit of wisdom that I recite from time to time: If you’re wondering how he eats and sleeps / And other science facts / Repeat to yourself / “It’s just a show, I should really just relax.”

  45. @Zapski — the problem comes when people watch things and then use it to fuel sexism, racism, classism, etc.

    I’ve seen a lot of people hold Idiocracy up to be truth-speaking about how Stupid People are going to take over the world, usually with a large dose of classism thrown in there.

    I used to be a bit guilty of this view myself, so I’m particularly sensitive to it now. I’ve sworn off eugenics, and it’s hard to hear other people subscribe to it. It makes me itch with unhappiness. But it’s just a movie! Relax!

  46. @mac

    While agree that some people take these things to seriously you have to ask how seriously do we take someone who uses a satire to arrive at their conclusions?

    “I’ve been worried about the shrinking of humans ever since I read Gulliver’s Travels”, is not a statement you want to hear from someone you might want to respect. Unless, of course, it’s said in jest.

  47. @mac: the problem comes when people watch things and then use it to fuel sexism, racism, classism, etc.

    People will find anything they can to “fuel sexism, racism, classism, etc.” if not by Idiocracy then by something else. It doesn’t matter, since it’s all confirmation bias anyway. People see what they want to see, and will confirm their biases by any means possible.

    I too have my “Idiocracy Moments” when I see a reflection of the film happening in real life, but I smile and laugh at the absurdity of it.

    @mrmisconception: …you have to ask how seriously do we take someone who uses a satire to arrive at their conclusions?


    My intention here is just to remind people that this is a movie made by the creator of Bevis and Butthead. That’s all. If people want to invest emotions and energy into treating it as some kind of deep treatise on human nature, well, that’s their business, I suppose. I won’t be taking it seriously, I’ll be laughing at the dick and fart jokes.

  48. Well, I personally think that media of all kinds shapes people, so I prefer the problematic parts to be called out so people might think a bit more critically.

    I’m not saying Idiocracy is something that only a handful of irrational people believe to be true. I’m saying that it has a narrative, one that is prevalent through our society, that should be discussed.

    Think about, say, Gone With The Wind. Considered a classic, and that’s fine. But I don’t think it’s amiss to point out that it’s also racist. It’s not that there are just a handful of super racist people who watch it and are like “Yeah! Slavery is awesomesauce!”

    Idiocracy feeds into a narrative found throughout society that stupid people should not be allowed to breed. I think that should be pointed out, even if it’s just a movie.

  49. @mac

    I’m not saying it shouldn’t be called out, for comment at least, I’m just saying that we can’t ascribe too much power to the makers of pop culture, at least not individually. As last week’s Black Swan discussion points to body image questions it is more a collective problem rather than the problem of one piece of work; but then the collective is made up of the pieces so where do you begin?

    So yeah let’s talk about it but as we do keep in mind it’s just a movie.

  50. Mrmisconception, saying, “it’s just a movie”, without addressing the its points is a weak argument, as if movies are incapable of saying anything serious. Zapiski doesn’t seem to get the point that the fart jokes are there to portray the average future person, not to make the audience of Idiocracy laugh.

    In my family, the most dysfunctional member has had the most children. In the family of a former girlfriend, the alcoholic brother had the most children. Their children have gone on to have more children early in life. Most of their children seem to lack direction in their lives so far, as their parents did (the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree). My personal experience supports the intro to Idiocracy. I still think it’s a dilution of the values of personal responsibility, hard work, and self-discipline due the the unintended consequences of birth control (see my earlier post).

  51. @Zapski:
    That’s my point though. While you personally (and a lot of other folks, I’m sure) can just take something at face value, many people claim to be able to but cannot.

    Sure, there is confirmation bias (like how the message that some people took away from Dave Chapelle’s work was that it’s fine to think that black stereotypes are okay), but sometimes that has nothing to do with it. If you’re exposed to the same media images over and over and over, some of the stereotypes and cliches will likely stick in your psyche.

    In the past, they were blackface minstrel shows. Now, they’re less blatant but are still around in the form of “reality” tv shows, etc.


    I agree with your point (it is more a collective problem rather than the problem of one piece of work) but disagree with your conclusion. It’s possible to deconstruct individual problems to make a point about the overall issue.

  52. @JamesV

    You are right, I did not refute the points made in the movie and it would have indeed been a very weak argument to try to refute them with “it’s only a movie.” That wasn’t the point I was making though, if you will notice I made no claims, pro or con, as to the validity of the premise of the movie. The point I was making was that individual pieces of pop culture do not have much power on their own but rather collectively are something to worry about. That is why I bolded the “a” in “it’s only a movie”, to point out that I was speaking of a singular piece of entertainment. Movies can indeed say something profound, just that most of them don’t.

    BTW the argument you made was all anecdote, just saying.

  53. @erikakharada

    I agree with your point (it is more a collective problem rather than the problem of one piece of work) but disagree with your conclusion. It’s possible to deconstruct individual problems to make a point about the overall issue.

    We don’t disagree at all. It is, of course, possible (and occasionally necessary) to deconstruct individual problems to make a point about the overall issue. My point was just that prescribing too much weight to an individual movie, unless it has created its own cultural phenomenon, is pointless by itself; not that it shouldn’t be done.

  54. Zapiski, is that postmodernism I detect in your posts? Are you a fan of Stanley Fish by any chance? Ever heard about the Sokal Affair?

  55. In my previous post, I meant to say, “Mrmisconception, is that postmodernism I detect in your posts?”

  56. @JamesV

    If there is any postmodern thought in my post it is purely accidental. I am not up on philosophy but from what I know of postmodernism (the belief that one’s point of view creates one’s reality) I would have to disagree with it. I don’t think that reality is subjective at all; opinions are subjective, feelings are subjective, but there is an objective truth that is merely colored by our experience. How well we can ever know that objective truth is another story.

    As for Stanley Fish, I know of him but have never read his works.

    I am curious as to what made you see postmodernism in my post for I fear I have not made my point well.

  57. Just the part about deconstructing individual problems to make a point about the overall issue. I’m no expert on postmodernism, it just sounded like phrases I’ve read from Fish from time to time. Sounds like it was just coincidental. I understand your explanation of your emphasis on “a” movie.

  58. @JamesV

    I am sitting here with the biggest ironic grin.
    The sentance that you quoted was one that I was echoing back to @erikakharada in a response to her comment. It makes me grin because you heard the echo of a thought that I somewhat agree with said in a way, that might have been influenced by Stanley Fish, that I would have phased in an entirely different way.

    Ok, so it’s not that funny, but I did say that emotions and opinions (and appearantly humor) were subjective. :P

  59. I realize this could divert the discussion entirely and/or get me flamed, but please do a lot of reading and thinking about adoption before you actually start the process of it. International adoption, in particular, still suffers from some serious ethical problems, as you might associate with any enterprise in which tens of thousands of dollars change hands so people can obtain a human. One who will probably never have a chance to meet his or her family of origin or know the story around his or her birth.

    Children born in the United States cannot be adopted to strangers in other countries through agencies. If you stop and think why that is, you might consider this issue quite differently.

    I just had my first baby at 31. It’s a good age, as far as I’m concerned. And I see no need to worry about my genetic impact, even if my daughter is my only child and/or doesn’t decide to have children. We aren’t fruit flies, we’re humans. Our legacy comes from our actions and their impact, not our genetic material.

    So have your own biological kids, or don’t, but I wouldn’t get all hung up on chromosomes per se. You’ve already done more to perpetuate skepticism by writing for this blog than you probably ever would by having a child.

    I also believe, as others have mentioned, that the idea that our society is going down the tubes is complete bunk. You’re a woman– would you have liked to been born half a century before you were? Me either.

  60. The narrator’s description of Natural Selection is false and a common misconception. Reproductive success does not necessarily entail being the “strongest, smartest, or fastest.”

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