[Question] Is Stupidity Expanding? Some Hypotheses.

To be ex­plained: It feels to me that in re­cent years, peo­ple have got­ten stupi­der, or that stupid has got­ten big­ger, or that the parts of peo­ple that were always stupid have got­ten louder, or some­thing like that.

I’ve come up with a suite of hy­pothe­ses to ex­plain this (with a lit­tle help from my friends). I thought I’d throw them out here to see which ones the wise crowd here think are most likely. Bonus points if you come up with some new ones. Gold stars if you can rule some out based on ex­ist­ing data or can pro­pose tests by which they might be ren­dered more or less plau­si­ble.

The hy­pothe­ses come in two broad fam­i­lies: 1) my feel­ing that stupid is ex­pand­ing is an illu­sion or mis­per­cep­tion, and 2) stupid is ex­pand­ing and here is why:

A: I Am Misper­ceiv­ing an Ex­pand­ing Stu­pidity And Here’s Why

  1. I have be­come more at­tuned to stu­pidity for [rea­sons], so even though there is no more of it than usual, it stands out more to me. (Baader-Mein­hof phe­nomenon)

  2. What used to look like non-stu­pidity was ac­tu­ally wide­spread con­for­mity to a com­mon menu of fool­ish­nesses. To­day the cul­tural bea­cons of re­spectable idiocy have been over­thrown and there is in­creas­ing di­ver­sity in fool­ish­ness. Diver­gent fools seem more fool­ish to each other when in fact we’re all just as stupid as we’ve always been.

  3. I’m run­ning in stupi­der cir­cles than I used to for some rea­son, while in gen­eral things haven’t changed much.

  4. I am the one get­ting stupi­der, or was stupid all along, and so I don’t have the cog­ni­tive strength to ac­cu­rately judge the stu­pidity level around me, and just hap­pen to be think­ing it is get­ting worse be­cause I don’t know any bet­ter. (Dun­ning-Kruger effect)

  5. Peo­ple aren’t get­ting any stupi­der, it’s just that the ar­tifi­cial in­tel­li­gence of the bots I’m mis­tak­ing for peo­ple on-line isn’t all that good yet.

  6. They’re not get­ting stupi­der; I’m just get­ting more con­ceited.

  7. Peo­ple or­di­nar­ily use differ­ent modes of think­ing in differ­ent com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­texts. In some, find­ing the truth is im­por­tant and so they use ra­tio­nal in­tel­li­gence. In oth­ers, dec­o­ra­tive dis­play, rit­ual, as­sert­ing dom­i­nance or sub­mis­sion, dis­play­ing tribal alle­giances, etc. are more im­por­tant and so they use modes more ap­pro­pri­ate to those things. It’s not that peo­ple are get­ting stupi­der, but that these non-in­tel­li­gent forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion (a) are more am­plified than they used to be, (b) more com­monly prac­ticed than they used to be, or (c) are more promi­nent where I hap­pen to be train­ing my at­ten­tion.

  8. I am ac­quiring greater wis­dom with age as I ought, but the av­er­age age of the typ­i­cal per­son I en­counter stays the same so they can­not keep up. I’m notic­ing the con­trast in­creas­ing but mis­at­tribut­ing it. (David Wood­er­son effect)

  9. Peo­ple use in­tel­li­gence for differ­ent things in differ­ent eras. Just as lan­guage, mu­sic, art changes over time, so does think­ing. I’m just not keep­ing up, and as­sum­ing be­cause kids these days can’t dance the men­tal Charleston that they can’t dance at all.

  10. We were just as stupid back in the day, and I just don’t re­mem­ber it that way. (Rosy ret­ro­spec­tion)

  11. There is no truth, only power. What I’ve been in­ter­pret­ing as truth and ra­tio­nal­ity has been my own at­tempt to al­ign my think­ing with the poli­ti­cal clique that was in power when I was be­ing ed­u­cated. What I’m in­ter­pret­ing as ris­ing stu­pidity has been the col­lapse in power and sta­tus of that clique and the poli­ti­cal ob­so­les­cence of the va­ri­ety of “truth” and “ra­tio­nal­ity” I in­ter­nal­ized as a child. Those pomo philoso­phers were right all along.

  12. Stu­pidity doesn’t have stay­ing power, rel­a­tive to non-stu­pidity: there’s a sort of sur­vival of the fittest in which vast amounts of ex­pres­sions are be­ing pro­duced all the time, most of which are stupid and fall away, but the ones that aren’t stupid are more likely to sur­vive in mem­ory and to be main­tained in the his­tor­i­cal record. This bi­ases things to make it ap­pear that the pro­por­tion of non-stupid ex­pres­sions was lower in the past than it re­ally was.

  13. Poli­tics and con­sumer cap­i­tal­ism are mo­ti­vated to iden­tify and tar­get stupid peo­ple so as to take ad­van­tage of them, so they have cre­ated sys­tems that en­courage stupid peo­ple to self-iden­tify and make them­selves promi­nent so that they can be picked off; that I’m notic­ing this is just a side effect.

B: Ex­pand­ing Stu­pidity Is Real and This Ex­plains It

  1. Peo­ple have given up try­ing to un­der­stand things in this messed-up timeline and are just rol­ling with it; it’s a sort of in­tel­lec­tual learned hel­pless­ness that ap­pears as ex­pand­ing stu­pidity.

  2. Stu­pidity has its fash­ions, and the lat­est fash­ions are more in-your-face than they used to be.

  3. Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals that have be­come pop­u­lar in re­cent decades have cog­ni­tive side effects that are difficult to mea­sure in the in­di­vi­d­ual but cause no­tice­able effects in the ag­gre­gate.

  4. It’s real, and it’s prob­a­bly some­thing in our diet, for ex­am­ple…

  5. It’s real, and it’s prob­a­bly all that ex­tra CO2 in the at­mo­sphere.

  6. It’s real, and it’s prob­a­bly tox­o­plas­mo­sis meow.

  7. It’s real, and it’s prob­a­bly some other sort of change in our ma­te­rial en­vi­ron­ment (ex­clud­ing cul­tural changes).

  8. Back in the day, when a per­son had a stupid idea, they would be re­luc­tant to put it for­ward as their own. Rather, they would wait to see if some­one else would voice the idea so they could just agree with it. This used to be rel­a­tively rare, but now you just have to google “[my stupid idea]” to find that some­one or other has said it first, and then you’re off to the races.

  9. If you have a smart idea, you may also be smart enough to re­al­ize that it’s not use­ful right now /​ has already been bet­ter said /​ is in­ap­pro­pri­ate in con­text. If you have a dumb idea, such thoughts may be less likely to oc­cur to you due to the aura of dumbth that sur­rounds the dumb idea and re­pels sen­si­ble con­sid­er­a­tions. Back when ex­pres­sions of stu­pidity were mostly ephemeral, this didn’t mat­ter much, but now that they ac­quire in­stant per­ma­nence and global reach, they ap­pear to swamp ev­ery­thing else.

  10. Stupid choices used to re­li­ably have un­de­sir­able re­sults; now there is more of a dis­con­nect where peo­ple are shielded from the re­sults of their stupid choices, or even re­warded for them (man lights him­self on fire in an eas­ily-forsee­able mis­ad­ven­ture, be­comes YouTube leg­end). So peo­ple may be ap­pear­ing stupid not as a re­sult of be­ing stupid but as the re­sult of a per­verse cost-benefit anal­y­sis. Peo­ple are no dumber than they used to be, but for [rea­sons] it has be­come ad­van­ta­geous to dis­play stu­pidity and so smart peo­ple some­times mimic idiocy so as to reap such ad­van­tages. The smarter they are, the quicker they caught on to this and the bet­ter mimics they are, so this makes it look as though the smart peo­ple are be­ing re­placed by mo­rons, when re­ally it’s more a mat­ter of cam­ou­flage.

  11. The way we ed­u­cate chil­dren went se­ri­ously side­ways a while back, and so, yeah, stupid hap­pened.

  12. Newly-pop­u­lar me­dia and/​or its con­tent is some­how di­rectly dam­ag­ing to men­tal fac­ul­ties.

  13. Changes in me­dia/​com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy al­low stupid peo­ple to be much more promi­nent than they used to be and/​or com­par­a­tively muffle smarter peo­ple.

  14. So­cial me­dia dy­nam­ics erode rea­son­ing and truth-seek­ing while re­ward­ing cog­ni­tive bi­ases.

  15. The news me­dia were do­ing a bet­ter job than we re­al­ized in fil­ter­ing out crap and con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing new in­for­ma­tion in­tel­li­gently for us, and as the in­ter­net de­stroyed the busi­ness model be­hind in­tel­li­gent re­port­ing, we failed to come up with a sub­sti­tute in time to pre­vent idiocy from filling the void and it’s too big a job for in­di­vi­d­u­als to do with­out in­sti­tu­tional as­sis­tance.