books book reviews

books in iq

reviewed by T. Nelson


At Our Wits' End:
Why We're Becoming Less Intelligent and What It Means For the Future

by E. Dutton and M. Woodley of Menie
Imprint Academic, 2018, 210 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

B y way of introduction, the graph below is a simple calculation showing how IQ can evolve. Let's assume IQ is 100% heritable. At the start, the population has an average IQ of 100. One third of the population has an IQ of 120, high enough to write decent novels and design airplanes that don't crash. One third has an IQ of 100 and one third is 80. Now suppose the people with 80 increase by 50% in each generation, the ones with 100 increase by 20%, and the ones with an IQ of 120 remain constant.

Demographics of IQ Demographics of IQ

Within three generations, the average IQ drops to 92. After twelve genera­tions—a little over two cent­ur­ies— the average IQ is 81. Even though the number with IQs of 120 has not changed, their relative numbers have have declined by 46.5 fold. After 20 generations they have declined over 1000-fold and are virtually extinct. This is Darwin­ian evolu­tion: con­trary to popu­lar opinion, no muta­tions are needed, only genetic divers­ity. Evolution is all about numbers. Dar­win­ian fitness doesn't mean stronger or smarter. It simply means more offspring.

That is the theme of this very readable, nicely written, and refreshingly non-political book. It is something people simply do not want to hear: it is elitist, they will say, and it sounds like a justification for eugenics. And like everything else people don't like, it will be called racist. But whether we want to hear it or not, it is also true: IQ is real and measurable, and science has shown without reasonable doubt that whatever else IQ may be, it is 70–80% heritable.

The authors say this is a serious problem for our civiliz­ation: our ability to invent new technology and create inspiring culture is rapidly disappearing. Unless something changes, they say, our civilization will suffer the same fate as the Roman Empire.

There is no doubt that people with high IQ are reproducing at much lower rates. Everyone recognizes the potential consequences. But proving that the average IQ has dropped is not easy. Because IQ tests are a 20th century invention, the authors are forced to rely on proxies like interest rates, literacy rates, homicide rates, and the rise and recent fall of democratic political systems. For modern times, they point to declining rates of scientific and technological innovation, fewer per capita geniuses, and psychological signs such as declines in working memory and high-difficulty word usage. None of these really nail their case. And then there's the mysterious Flynn effect, which stopped in the 1990s, and no one knows why.

Even if it's all true, what to do about it? Imagine our government in charge of sex and reproduction: dating would be like a trip to the DMV (which, now that I think about it, would be a distinct improvement). For women, having children and having a successful career are often mutually exclusive. Telling women that delaying childbirth is leading to our inexorable extinction—not that anyone would ever suggest such a terrible, terrible thing—would start them wearing those unfashionable pink hats again. And if we told feminists to lie back and think of America, the noise would be deafening.

One doesn't need a degree in psychology to realize that the decline in standards on our campuses is being driven by a decline in collective intelligence. Discussing the topic already offends many people. If the trend continues, that will only continue.

So if it's really happening and no one wants to listen, we must conclude that it's what people want. Maybe, as I've argued before, humans really are evolving into sea slugs. If so, it would make the environ­mentalists and the voluntary extinction nuts happy. As H.L. Mencken would say: give 'em what they want, and give it to 'em good and hard.

When they get it, infant mortality and disease and mass slaughter will shoot up again. There will be no more Internet, no more cell phones, and no democracy. People will wander around wondering whether it was space aliens who built those blackened skyscrapers and wrote those strange indecipherable symbols and crafted the few mangled statues that remain. That is, when they're not trying to claw their way back to the top of the food chain again, and maybe failing this time.

The authors really are channeling Spengler here, but maybe all that's needed is to convince the elites that fixing it is in their best interest. Then they'll find a way to rationalize it into their ideology. It's human nature to deny the problem, attack those who warn about it, wait until it's impossible to fix, and then blame somebody else. A biologist would probably say we'll keep experiencing disasters until we expunge that trait. But at least a few are hoping we can overcome it with reason. That means Dutton and Woodley of Menie are really the optimistic ones here.

dec 24, 2020