Because they’re stupid, that’s why. That’s why everybody does everything. ~ Homer Simpson
Domestication typically leads to less-cunning creatures. While far more sociable, dogs are no match to their wild cousins when it comes to wiles. So too with humans, who are often naturally lazy-minded.
Humans are cognitive misers. When we approach a problem, our natural default is to tap the least tiring cognitive process. ~ Canadian psychologist Keith Stanovich
A slow species decline picked up pace in post-industrial times. It can be witnessed on any day, watching people waddle on the sidewalk or through shopping malls; a much different sight than even 30 years previous. The news media, and even science magazines, are filled with vacuous fluff. Many of the Collective in middle age – the restless energy of youth spent – have acquired a cow-eyed look on their faces.
Meaningful sociality in young Americans is on the wane. College students in 2010 were much less empathic than they were in 1980, with an especially steep drop since the 21st century began. Self-reported narcissism has also reached new heights.
Even when a trait is hardwired, social context can exert a profound effect, changing even our most basic emotional responses. ~ American psychologist Jamil Zaki
Generally, people today are considerably dimmer than their ancestors. This not merely a cognitive loss from less demanding circumstances, though there is that.
Americans have abandoned reading in droves. ~ Jamil Zaki
Over 450,000 Facebook users have joined a “I hate reading” group: fewer than 45,000 joined the “I love reading” group.
Reading long-form texts like books and magazine articles is really important for understanding complex ideas and for developing critical thinking skills. ~ American psychologist Jean Twenge
While the current crop of American adults are not the avid readers of earlier generations, those growing up in the 21st-century are assuring themselves functional illiteracy and the lowered brain wattage that goes with it. In the 1970s, ~60% of high school seniors read a book, magazine, or newspaper every day. In 2016, only 16% did.
Instead of reading, American adolescents are glued to their social media devices. The decline in reading began in the early 1980s (the MTV generation) and accelerated swiftly in the mid-2000s, as ‘smartphones’ became widely available.
There is no such thing as an underestimate of average intelligence. ~ American historian Henry Adams
Dumbing down has spelled a further infantilization in American society.
Visiting America in 1946, French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss commented on the endearingly infantile traits of American culture. He especially noted adults’ childish adulation of baseball, their passionate approach to toy-like cars and the amount of time they invested in hobbies. This “infantilist ethos” has become less charming – and more pervasive.
Like individuals, a society can also suffer from arrested development. American cultural practices today routinely infantilize large swaths of the population. We see it in our everyday speech, when we refer to grown women as “girls”; in how we treat senior citizens, when we place them in adult care centers where they’re forced to surrender their autonomy and privacy; and in the way school personnel and parents treat teenagers, refusing to acknowledge their intelligence and need for autonomy, restricting their freedom, and limiting their ability to enter the workforce.
French sociologist Jacqueline Barus-Michel observes that Americans now communicate in “flashes,” rather than via thoughtful discourse. There are similar trends in popular culture: in the shorter sentences in contemporary novels, in the lack of sophistication in political rhetoric, and in sensationalist news coverage.
Social institutions and technological devices seem to erode hallmarks of maturity: patience, empathy, solidarity, humility, and commitment to a project greater than oneself. All are qualities that have traditionally been considered essential for both healthy adulthood and for the proper functioning of democracy. ~ American sociologist Simon Gottschalk
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The mind-body is a singular mint. The failure of much of the population to keep themselves in good physical shape, and to likewise exercise their minds, has spelled an inexorable decline in mental acuity as well as physical health. (Research repeatedly shows that the best mental exercise is physical exercise, especially walking in natural surroundings.)
Over half of America’s adult population have at least 1 chronic health problem from their lifestyle. Most of those are plagued with multiple self-inflicted disabilities.
Insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases and has a negative effect on mental health and quality of life. ~ World Health Organization
A worldwide survey report in 2018 found that 1/4th of the global population don’t bother to exercise enough to stay healthy, virtually assuring accelerated decrepitude. The highest percentage of sloths were in the wealthy Western nations and Arab countries. Women were generally worse than men in their physical inactivity (32% versus 23%).
In the United States autism doubled in the 1st decade of the 21st century. It was much more than a change in reporting.
The lower a person’s measured intelligence, the greater that individual’s risk of living a shorter time, developing both mental and physical ailments later in life and dying from cardiovascular disease, suicide or an accident. More surprising still is that low intelligence is a stronger predictor than several better-known risk factors for illness and death, such as obesity and high blood pressure. ~ English psychologists Ian Dreary & Alexander Weiss, & English epidemiologist David Batty
(In 1904, English psychologist Charles Spearman discovered that a pattern emerges in testing for a wide range of mental abilities: subjects who do well on one type of cognitive task tend to do well in others. Spearman called this general intelligence. Countless studies have confirmed that generalized intelligence is a fact of human existence.)
This is not to say that those in reasonable physical health put themselves beyond the reach of addiction, or other habits and indulgences which make for mental malady. The US is illustrative.
The toll of mental disorders in the US has grown in the past two decades, even as other serious conditions have become more manageable. ~ American psychiatrist Edmund Higgins in 2017
Poor parenting and a stressful social environment have taken a severe toll on the young.
The American mental health crisis seems to be a generational issue. Large increases in mental health issues appear almost exclusively among teens and young adults, with less change among Americans ages 26 and over. Depression, distress, and suicidal thoughts are much higher among those born in the mid- to late-1990s. ~ Jean Twenge in 2019
Similarly, 21st-century Britain has had a surge in mental illness among youth.
There has been such a huge rise in young people reporting long-term mental health problems. ~ English mental health social worker Tom Madders in 2018
Children and teenagers struggle to understand how they fit into the world. They have to contend with things like intense pressure at school, bullying, problems at home, all while navigating a complex 24/7 world with constant stimulation from social media. ~ English politician Imran Hussain in 2018
In 2017, American suicide rates were at a 30-year high. Substance abuse, particularly opiates, is at an epidemic level. Disability awards for mental illness have dramatically increased since 1980. From the mid-2010s American life expectancy gradually declined.
The fruits of civilization have been to bequeath the next generation with a more inhospitable world, untenable pollution, and impending food and water shortages that would tax beings far savvier than those found in the Collective. In short, humanity faces crises of unparalleled proportions, and, by dint of dumbing down, which people could not be more ill-prepared for it.
We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realise that we are apes. ~ Richard Dawkins