Monday, November 10, 2014

Idiocracy: a glimmer of hope

From Mike Judge’s film "Idiocracy" (2006):
 “Most science fiction of the day predicted a future that was more civilized and more intelligent. But as time went on things seemed to be heading in the opposite direction. The years passed and mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes that genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution. But sadly, the greatest minds and resources were focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections.”
'Idiocracy' portrayed a society where the left-hand side of the bell curve (those with IQ less than 100, lack of conscientiousness, lack of impulse control, .etc, etc) had reproduced uncontrollably while those folk with the smarts hadn't bothered. In the quantitative genetics literature, this would be called truncation selection, in this case breeding for stupidity.

The results were that nothing worked. The complex infrastructure of logistics, power, water, sanitation - even keeping the streets clean - had broken down. People lived in decaying hovels and lived on scraps. The other, less obvious, feature of 'Idiocracy' was that innovation was now impossible: the extremely bright people who drive innovation either didn't exist, or lacked an infrastructure to do anything with their ideas.

The mean IQ of "Idiocracy" society was pretty low, I would guess well south of 90, but there are societies around today which are not dissimilar. Turn on the News.

Well-meaning people - which is most of us - typically have three main responses to these continuing human tragedies:
  • Hope for some unspecified 'development' which will fix things - a sadly illusory prospect.
  • Rely on a discredited neo-colonialism from outside to fix/run things (Ebola care is the latest manifestation of this).
  • Hope for future genetic engineering to increase the cognitive capabilities of these populations (as in the quote above). Good luck with that.
Yes, it looks hopeless.

You're may think I'm referring to the societies of sub-Saharan Africa but even in advanced western countries we have our areas of 'Idiocracy' - our bleak, welfare-ridden estates.

So what would an answer look like?

The low-IQ societies of today and of the past were (and in some cases, still are) equatorial hunter-gatherers, operating in a relatively non-seasonal environment, in smallish groups and mostly in the here-and-now*. In that environment they didn't experience any 'cognitive limitations' - they were adapted. We can't go back to that situation, which was hardly ideal in terms of lifestyle difficulty anyway. Besides which, the numbers are now too great and we've largely lost the ecological environment which made that lifestyle possible.

No, we have to create a simulated environment which pushes similar ecological buttons, but which operates at much higher population densities. It may sound ridiculous, but the model which comes to mind is that of a very-robust, highly-automated and free theme park.
  • The activities there would permit a variety of inter-personal relationship types including, for example, status-contests for the males (e.g. sports competitions).
  • Basic human requirements such as food, shelter, entertainment and medical care would be provided free-of-charge.
  • The mil-spec automated systems would fulfill a social role of 'slaves' - something we couldn't do with real, technically-competent people.**
I would guess we're less than a hundred years from being able to create such an effective and affordable infrastructure***. In that time we're not going to lose the many very smart people we need to create and maintain it. Let's get on with it.

* Sub-Saharan agricultural and pastoralism is fairly recent (cf the Bantu) in evolutionary terms.

** As last seen with the Romans and their Hellenic slaves.

*** You may be thinking 'zoo' but this would not be for the benefit of spectators: such a competent social environment would be pretty utopian for all of us.