Idiocracy: is the decline in human intelligence undermining democracy?

Julian Cribb | February 24, 2022 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

The original version of this article was published at Surviving C21 on October 7, 2021

The early 21st Century has been noteworthy for a marked increase in the number of governments willing to act against the interests of their electors – and the number of electors prepared to vote against their own best interests and choose such governments.

Since an educated, thoughtful and responsible electorate is indispensable to any democracy that wishes to choose a safe, rational and, healthy future for itself it is fair to conclude that, if this trend persists, the three-century-long worldwide democratic experiment will fail.

Whether the failure is attributable to large-scale corruption of the democratic process by global corporates of rising wealth and power, to increased selfishness in politics and society, or to rising stupidity on the part of 21st Century Homo sapiens both in politics and in the general community is still open to debate.

In Earth Detox, (Cambridge University Press 2021) I explore evidence for the latter hypothesis – that humans are, in fact, becoming progressively less intelligent. So dumb, in fact, that most do not grasp we are in mortal danger from ten vast, interconnected mega threats.  

Consequently, voters now frequently choose governments that either increase these threats – or which are too slothful or corrupt to abate them.

The missing piece of information is that all humanity is now engulfed, 24/7, in a flooding tide of toxic chemistry – a tide five or six times larger than our climate emissions, and more deadly than any previous threat to human existence. An environmental threat that, according to WHO, kills over thirteen million people every year – the worst death toll from a single cause in human history – and disables 600 million more. Why electors should vote for such an outcome for themselves and their children demands explanation.

One explanation may be that our intelligence, the quality that humans have most prided themselves on down the ages, is in decline.

After a marked increase in human intelligence during the first three-quarters of the twentieth century – a phenomenon known as the Flynn Effect, after the NZ psychologist who discovered it – recent scientific research points to a clear downturn in human brainpower since 1975.

The average rate of decline has been around three IQ points a decade, amounting to the loss of about 13.5 percent in average intelligence between 1975 and 2020. Results from separate studies carried out in seven different countries describe a general loss of intelligence. So far, researchers have been unable to confidently assign a cause to this noteworthy decline, saying only that it is not genetic and must therefore be due to something in society’s living environment.  

The great question is: what has changed so much in society’s living conditions as to cause such extensive brain damage during the past 45 years in particular?

Increasingly, science suspects the 2.3 billion tonnes per year of man-made chemicals – many of them nerve poisons – which industrial society has unleashed on itself during this period and which now permeate our air, our food, our water, our homes, workplaces, our bodies, and our genes on a daily basis. Substances to which, such is their universal distribution around the planet, almost all humans are now exposed every moment of their existence from conception to expiry and which are, for the most part, unavoidable. 

The impact of these nerve poisons is compounded by a second, related, chemical flood – the endocrine disruptors (EDCs), industrial chemicals which affect basic processes like our growth, development, gender, ability to reproduce, obesity, and cancer risk. 

Nerve poisons are now thought by medical scientists to play a significant role in the pandemic of brain diseases that have become more prevalent in recent decades – conditions such as autism and ADHD, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, depression, and other mental disorders, retarded development and the loss of intelligence. According to various studies, mental conditions now affect 800 million human beings – one in ten – imposing a vast and growing cost on the world economy for the care of the disabled. 

Brain damage caused by nerve poisons has been known since ancient Rome and well understood by science for decades. Lead and mercury used to be the chief offenders, but in recent times they have been supplanted by certain pesticides and domestic chemicals, such as flame retardants and plastics. These are now found in the blood and brains of unborn babies as well as much of the population.

A decline of seven IQ points translates the average citizen to the intelligence level of the average juvenile delinquent. It is therefore probable that the decline in human intelligence is being accompanied by an increase in rates of murder, rape, and violent assault – as well as a lack of forethought at the ballot box.

Proving that nerve poisons are responsible for the decline in democracy is no easier than proving that cigarettes cause cancer – but the connections are now evident for all who care to look. William of Occam would note that human IQ is falling at the same time as the toxic load on society is redoubling – and we are witnessing tens of millions of voters without the ability to grasp their responsibility, the needs of their society, or even themselves. Voters who may, on occasion, incoherently seek to overthrow or sabotage through misinformation the very system they do not comprehend. Voters who are increasingly susceptible to the misinformation circulated by vested interests, such as the petro lobby.  

Occam would advise us to look a lot more carefully at the most likely explanation, first – a task that science has yet to undertake.

Democracies have long asserted a moral as well as governmental superiority over autocracies, but with the decay in voter intelligence, that advantage is becoming far less clear. If democracy is to endure as a form of self-governance, then the need to remedy the dumbing-down of democracy by ceasing to poison the minds that uphold it is both imperative and urgent.

Julian Cribb AM FRSA FTSE is an Australian science writer and author of Earth Detox: how and why we must clean up the Earth, UCP 2021. He is a founder of the Council for the Human Future.

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