Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Why the world is going to Hell

with 2 comments

As the world appears to go to Hell faster and faster, and as problems that I complained about ten years ago appear to go from a Swedish phenomenon to a world-wide disaster, it might be time to reflect on the causes. How can it, e.g., be that group A brings factual arguments, reasoning, statistics, whatnot, that group B brings ad hominem and other unethical rhetorical tricks, sloganeering, pseudo-arguments and -reasoning that fall apart when prodded with a stick, etc., and that group B wins? How can the virtual astrologers defeat the astronomers? The virtual homeopaths defeat the “allopaths’?

A dominance in media might contribute, certainly. (But how did that dominance arise?) Ditto less stringent schooling. Ditto less exposure to history. Ditto less exposure to past thinkers. Ditto this and ditto that.

The core problem is something else, however, namely that most humans are very bad at thinking (or choose not to think, in the first place).

In particular, someone of “average” intellectual/cognitive abilities, IQ, g, whatnot, is deeply stupid.

I am sorry, but it really, really has to be said:

The average human is deeply stupid.

More than that, even humans a fair bit above average are usually far from ideal. For instance, my main tour at university was at a program* widely considered one the most challenging in Sweden, loaded with math and physics—the type of program where the (in U.S. terms) average AP math A-scorer has problems keeping up. Even here, I saw plenty of students unable to follow not-too-complicated arguments or who preferred to ask for help instead of thinking for themselves—students who were not just less smart than I was, but who were depressingly far behind.

*Civilingenjör in “teknisk fysik” at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.

In parallel, I took roughly two semesters of business classes at one of the hardest-to-get-into programs* in Sweden—where (again, in U.S. terms) a near perfect GPA and/or SAT score is needed to get in. My impression of most students was not one of awe (certainly, not compared to the above), many were more leg-workers than head-workers, and the tests usually checked more for rote-learning and ability to replicate from memory than for understanding and ability to apply knowledge independently. Still, this might have been second brainiest “peer group” that I ever had.

*Civilekonom at the Stockholm School of Economics. I interrupted my studies when I moved to Germany as an exchange student within my main program. (I deliberately leave out my studies in Germany from the discussion, as issues like my own language deficits made it hard to judge the level of the students.)

Go back to “year nine” of school, where brain-development was at an almost adult level and I last interacted with students who had not been strongly pre-filtered* for intelligence—and most were deeply stupid. So stupid, in fact, that I consider it a joke that they, a few years later, gained the right to vote by dint of turning eighteen.

*Years ten-through-twelve, the Swedish “gymnasiet” is voluntary, with many of the dumbest dropping out, and with a self-filtering into different programs, some academic, some vocational. I went to the the usually-considered-hardest academic program (natural science). Compared to year nine, almost everyone in my new class would have rated in the upper half or better.

Before I switched to writing, I worked in different software positions over twenty years. Most of my colleagues have likely had Master-level STEM-degrees. If not, most have definitely had at least Bachelor-level STEM-degrees. Very few have been smart enough to make good software developers; about half so dumb* that they should have been kept away from the profession entirely. Looking at other departments, (e.g. HR, product management, project management), the standard has been far lower, even though most of these have had some type of university level qualification, often undergraduate degrees in some business or administration topic.

*But, to avoid misunderstandings, a clear majority of these were still above the population average.

Looking at other people that I have interacted with over the years, including roughly half of my pre-college teachers*, most-or-almost-all civil servants, most-or-almost-all customer-service workers, most-or-almost-all social contacts (outside work), there is a clear dominance of “deeply stupid” and “has no business voting” (among those that I have seen enough of to form an impression). Then we have my impressions of most journalists, many elected politicians, whatnot—-just depressing.

*I left for university in 1994. In my impression, the quality has dropped even further since then.

The simple truth is that most activities that humans engage in, even most post-school activities that many have ever encountered, require very little “higher” intelligence—but that tasks like software development, politics, and voting do.* Holding a conversation, e.g., requires comparatively little, because humans come with a tremendous amount of built-in “circuitry” for conversation and what is not built-in can be trained simply through talking a few hours a day. Children and people with an I.Q. of 80 can do it—as long as the topics include the weather, who has a crush on whom, and what team won the game last Saturday. Performing simple routine tasks after a bit of instruction is not that intellectually straining. Etc.

*To do well, that is: Just getting a position as a software developer is far, far easier than becoming a good software developer, some complete idiots have managed to be elected, and the right to vote is usually handed out in a blanket manner to those who turn eighteen.

But: let the intellectual demands increase and most fall of the map fairly rapidly. Disturbingly many have problems with so elementary concepts as fractions, even when explained. Fewer yet could be told the concept and come up, on their own, with simply arithmetic laws for fractions. Most of the population appears unable to learn non-trivial matters from books. Think critically, see through a flawed argument, make abstractions, understand cause and consequence, create new knowledge, understand a math proof, …? Now we are down to a small minority.

One way or another, almost all modern problems boil down to human stupidity and irrationality. For instance, is it really reasonable that someone is allowed a say in politics who wrecks a child’s math score for illustrating “3 x 8” by adding 3 eight times instead of adding 8 three times?* Someone who does not understand that causality and correlation are different things? Someone who believes that if X implies Y then not-X necessarily implies not-Y? Someone who fails to understand that a difference in incentives can alter human behavior? Someone who hears “First they came …” and fails to see how it could apply to any other group than the Nazis (or, on the outside, other members of pseudo-category “Right”)? Someone who cannot understand the point of the previous questions without examples?

*A real example that I encountered on the Internet a few months ago (with reservations for the exact details). Even posing the question is disputable, as it does little to test the child. Picking the one over the other is idiotic, on this level, because both points of view are arithmetically equivalent, and a significant difference will only be relevant when we start to think about math in terms of operators—which is not productive for small children and somewhat arbitrary in general.

Also see e.g. [1] for previous discussions.

Excursion on IQ, etc.:
A more extensive and slightly quantified attempt to classify IQ and capabilities is found in a text by James Thompson. Comparing his speculation with my personal experiences and observations, I believe that he errs on the side of optimism in some cases. I suspect that at least some readers will be tempted to use flawed arguments like “Michael speaks of IQ, IQ is this-and-that; ergo, everything above is nonsense”. To this I add that the value of IQ as measure is well established, contrary to PC propaganda, and that none of the above requires IQ to be valid. (Neither does it require e.g. that I.Q. is heritable.)

Excursion on my second Master:
I earned a second Master in Germany, a few years after my original studies. As this was a distance program, my interactions with other students were to small for me to form an impression, but I have written very unfavorably about the quality of the university in the past ([2]).

Excursion on “Civil”-degrees:
Swedish degrees that start with “Civil” are usually broadly equivalent to a U.S. Bachelor immediately followed by a U.S. Master, thesis included. I compare the progress of my own studies with a U.S. J.D in an older text ([3]), which might be a useful illustration.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 21, 2020 at 11:46 am

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] last text dealt with human stupidity, and left me pondering, for the umpteenth time, the fact that even many highly educated (and often […]

  2. […] free to decide as long as the negative consequences only or mostly hit ourselves. At the same time, most humans are idiots and consequences often extend to others (cf. footnote […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s