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America's Cult of Ignorance (1980) [pdf] (aphelis.net)
169 points by georgecmu 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 113 comments



I love Asimov, and he's right that we should educate our population better, but why would anyone pay attention to the papers when it seems completely remote and irrelevant to people's lives? People pay close attention to stuff that they feels significant to them and that they can control. People read the sports section because they can talk about that with their friends and are invested in the outcome. You and I read the politics section for the same reason even though without popular mobilization, we have basically the same effect on outcomes as a sports game.

If policies are promoted that people actually like as opposed to barely resent, they'll start reading and talking and you won't hear the end of it.


"why would anyone pay attention to the papers when it seems completely remote and irrelevant to people's lives?"

Local elections directly affect people. Local boards and councils set tax rates and allocate money to schools, police, fire and other public services. Local elections often are covered extensively by local newspapers. Yet voter turnout often is quite low. Why?


I live in Boston and I don't see much local coverage unless I look for it explicitly. Unless I subscribe to a local paper I don't really see much of their reporting. I did see some local papers with great stories in grocery store, but they were positioned poorly. It took me literally years of going to that store before I noticed them. Secondly, I feel powerless as my elected officials are basically doing what I already want them to do. A little while ago, I got a newsletter from my state senator with a photo of her hanging out in a marijuana greenhouse wearing a bunny suit. I didn't know how to respond for a moment and started laughing. It's a pretty dumb thing, and I'm certainly not one of the overly oppressed people in this country, but it felt like a crack in the door where my representatives were pushing for more civic freedom and tamping down on calls for repression and state violence.

I think people get more interested if there are ways for them to have an effect on outcomes or if they can see people they know doing things. I'm sort of embarrassed, but I joined an organization pushing for instant runoff voting in MA thanks to a friend convincing me to try it out (and I want it to happen!), but I hadn't heard from them since that introduction. Without a friend there, it's difficult for me to work up the courage to go time and time again as I'm kind of introverted.


So, in other words, it doesn't quite have more to do with what affects you as you claim in your earlier comment, but it has to do with what is accessible and available? Or some linear combination of the two?


I think it has something to do primarily with things feeling like you can have an effect on them. Accessibility and policy both matter. This is something I'm still figuring out like everyone else, but I think pure disinterest and laziness is not good explanation in light of the energy that can be seen in other political campaigns throughout history, like the new deal.


> Yet voter turnout often is quite low. Why?

The idea is that only the knowledgeable vote. If you do not feel confident that you have a good grasp on political issues, your vote dilutes the signal sent by those less ignorant.

Encouraging ignorant voters to vote is often the visible part of the propaganda iceberg, the kind of politics we have increasingly witnessed in most of the Western world in the last two decades and that used to be the preserve of third world dictatorships.

You then see elections via mud-slinging and highly visible non-issues taking on most of the mindshare, and the media is captured by interest groups who need it to hijack a larger percentage of the vote. It is harmful to the fabric of society as all sides of the political debate become vote harvesting machines and the citizenry is radicalised and encouraged not to reason about issues [1] [2].

"A free society gives its citizens the right to vote but that right should come with the responsibility to not abuse that right by voting ignorantly." [3]

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/comments/1qffh9/vot...

[2] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-me-care/ - "the research [...] found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. [...] during this same period students’ self-reported narcissism has reached new heights"

[3] https://www.quora.com/Is-this-reason-for-not-voting-valid-or...


The mobilization of the ignorant doesn't really matter. If they vote randomly and both sides are equally mobilized, the ignorant votes cancel out and the biased (hopefully knowledgable) participants actually determine policy. This becomes harmful when particular factions are mobilized in isolation.... thus US politics.


The culture of outrage we see in TV news is carefully crafted to capture and cultivate these votes.


Central to the character of ignorance is the ignorance of it.


There is an opportunity cost associated with becoming informed about local government. If that is greater than the value of your vote, which it almost certainly is, then it's not rational to keep up with local news.

Government is also often as convoluted as possible, artificially increasing the cost. I just don't see how this argument makes sense.


> I just don't see how this argument makes sense.

Perhaps in that the alternative is even worse, but then that's not a great argument either, in part because even if people are paying attention, I don't think most people have the intelligence to understand the complexity of the world, especially when the government is lying to them.


People are lazy.

I saw firsthand the affect that engagement has. A group of self interested people were going to build a library in a way that was bad for the community. We mobilized a small group of neighbors and were able to get a much better outcome.


This (mostly) isn't laziness. Voter turnout is falling because people are increasingly disaffected.

As people realize the majority does not rule[1], they are choosing to not waste their time. When someone has spent the last 30+ years watching politicians sell their future so so business and the rich can concentrate even more wealth, why should they bother participating in Democracy Theater?

Call these people lazy at your own risk. Far too many people are sitting right at the homeless/hungry threshold that can trigger rebellions/uprisings. We are dangerously close a critical mass of people deciding that "The Hamptons are not a defensible position."[3]

[1] Actual policy changes correlate well with the preferences of the economic elite[2]. The average citizen's preferences have almost no correlation to the same policy changes.

[2] http://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/fil...

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwK0jeJ8wxg


This is dangerously close to what I perceive to be a french revolution type situation. Whatever problems we have now are much better than mob rule. Considering an automation and AI future likely many of the people here would be targeted by these disaffected masses. Can tech keep people connected and on the right path without it backfiring? We're going to find out!


I'm talking local politics not national. Your local alderman is voting for stupid parking rules or not paying for park maintenance because people are lazy and disinterested.

I don't say that with any malice. I'm among the ranks of the lazy too unless I'm pissed off about something! Try sitting through a city council or school board meeting -- it's awful.


> As people realize the majority does not rule[1], they are choosing to not waste their time.

That points to a particularly brittle concept of democracy that needs to change.

Voters shouldn't have to gain a national consensus to feel like their party or idea actually matters.


Does the concept have to change, or the democracy? From where I sit, no one's party or idea does matter, it is all theater.

> We are dangerously close a critical mass of people deciding that "The Hamptons are not a defensible position.

I think this may be right, but the question is, will the US military shoot its own citizens? If a few things go the wrong way in the next decade or two, I think we're going to find out. Rather than stocking up on more guns and ammo, I think enthusiasts should make sure they have helmets, body armor, and some sort of a means of communication.


> will the US military shoot its own citizens?

There is actually evidence[1] that they wouldn't. Soldiers tend to actually take things like their oath to defend the constitution seriously. They also tend to get actual training... unlike the police, who already shoot a disgusting number of people each year.

Stocking up on guns is a somewhat[2] outdated tactic, and everybody loses if this turns into a shooting war. We are far too interdependent; loss of even "insignificant" amounts of infrastructure can easily have a "trigger effect"[3] that cascades across the remaining infrastructure.

> party

That's a significant part of the problem. We need to learn to avoid tribalism/factionalism asap. Most people can discuss specific issues, but when a group identification becomes part of the foundation for your identity, disagreement becomes an insult. We're seeing a lot of this now, unfortunately.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10752635#10753894

[2] individual circumstances will vary

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKELMR6wACw


> We need to learn to avoid tribalism/factionalism asap.

100% agree, but good luck when a multibillion dollar media machine pushes exactly that. Most of the "enlightened" people I know get their news from The Daily Show and comparable sources.


> Does the concept have to change, or the democracy? From where I sit, no one's party or idea does matter, it is all theater.

I was responding to what I thought was a conception of democracy as "majority rules", which is a simplistic and dangerous notion of democracy.

What you are describing is something I do not understand. For example, how is Education Secretary Betsy Devos' advocacy for for-profit charter schools and vouchers not a direct representation of the ideas held by a large majority in her party?


Soldiers tend to follow orders. And the crazy gun people are also loading up on body armor.

That doesn't really matter, organized soldiers always slaughter an untrained rabble. The armed wacko thing is all about intimidating the police and their fellow citizen in a time of disorder.


> The armed wacko thing is all about intimidating the police and their fellow citizen in a time of disorder.

How do you know? I'm not an armed wacko, but I am generally of the belief that the US government primarily serves corporate interests and the upper class and that democracy is mostly theater.


Talk to a prepper, they'll tell you.

A not-insignificant number of people that I grew up are in that worldview. It's incredibly frightening.


Well, if you are a prepper (you have prepared for the breakdown of society), and society does indeed break down, intimidating anyone coming for your supplies would probably be necessary.


Calling people lazy is pretty lazy. :)

Generally, there's a reason people don't do things you expect them to do: they may be occupied with something else, don't see the point, etc.


Because as an individual, my vote doesn't matter. I know we like to tell ourselves that our vote counts, and voting is important, but mathematically, it just doesn't (again, as an individual)

Elections in cities are never decided by exactly one vote; if they were, they would certainly go to a court and the court would decide anyway.

That means that I know whether I choose to go to the polls or not, it won't affect the outcome. Now, of course, if a whole demographic realizes this and doesn't vote, it does swing the election. However, when I am sitting at home deciding whether to vote or not, I am not deciding for a whole demographic; I am just deciding whether I as an individual will vote.

I might get downvoted, because the idea that our individual vote doesn't really matter goes against everything we are taught in democracies. We REALLY want to believe our vote matters, and as a whole, it DOES. We want everyone to vote, it allows our democracy to function. So we tell ourselves little lies that our vote AS AN INDIVIDUAL matters.

Deep down, though, we know it doesn't, so many people decide to stay home.


I'm sorry but I don't buy it. The problem is that a lot of people think like that, so they don't do anything. It's sort of self-fulfilling.

It's like people who say that their individual choices won't help fight climate change, so they won't change their habits. A lot of people do that, then nothing happens and the problem just gets worse.


"People read the sports section because they can talk about that with their friends"

Well why not have them read the "Science and Technology" section and talk about that with their friends? How is sports, which has a negligible direct impact on your life, seen as more relevant than reading the "Health" section? And the problem isn't just sports. The crime section is just as guilty, reading about most crimes in no one serves to keep me safe.


Because sports are more accessible and universally entertaining. The population of commenters on Hackernews tends strongly to the extremely curious, people who are always seeking new knowledge and ideas to play with. Not everyone is like that!


When I was a kid I asked my dad why people like sports talk radio. He told me it was because it was basically pointless so even without the effort of thinking your opinions were valid and relevant.


The sport is to relax and socialize. If you are tired and stressed, it helps. It also helps when you dont know what to say in social situation, have nothing to say but still have that human need to talk and socialize.

Health section is about what you should do, about learning that one more of your favorite food is unhealty, about one ml ore expensive healthy food you should buy to cleans yourself. So it is nagging combined with incinsitent half-science.


Aside from allergies and special cases (lactose intolerance for instance and other problems down to genetics) there are no unhealthy foods in the sense in which you put it. There is the question of a balanced diet whereby some foods should be eaten in very moderate amounts and with attention to one's own body chemistry.


"If policies are promoted that people actually like as opposed to barely resent, they'll start reading and talking and you won't hear the end of it."

I like the sound of that but at the same time it gets tricky when you have a legal system that stands up for the rights of everyone, including people that you, they or I don't like. Look at the civil rights movement in the 1950's and 1960's, the current LGBT rights movements or the debates about civil rights as they pertain to Muslims. There's a plurality of citizens that would gladly chastise these groups or violate their rights in other ways such as putting them under constant surveillance or restrictions due to their religion, race or sexuality but that is incongruous with a society that holds all individuals are to be treated the same and only held to account when their actions violate a law, not before.

I'm a bigger believer that the problem is cultural when, especially in American society, we started to hold that feelings mattered far more than thought. Debate began to get watered down and the winner was not the person who could show their position reflected what was objectively true and morally correct but instead who could virtue signal the loudest and express their grievance in the most emotional manner possible. It's always 'dream this', 'dream that', 'as an American it is your God-given right to' or 'America is the best nation in the world and there's nothing we can't do' but almost never 'here are the facts about issues the Americans are facing and here are some reasonable ideas about what we can do about it. Let's discuss what you think about it'.

Politicians are very in-tuned with what people want to hear and they do tell them what they want to hear. Even worse, pundits know what people want to hear and actually have an influence on the opinions of their listeners and they'll be damned if they'll let facts and honesty get in the way of their ratings, wealth and access.

America needs to start fostering a culture where they stop equating feelings and sense of self-worth with reality before we can really start discussing how giving primers on good policy will make a difference. Until that happens it's just a waste of oxygen, ink or electricity.


I would turn this around: the people on the intellectual side seem to think that being in touch with the emotions of the people they're addressing is below them, and often even make it worse by treating the people they're addressing poorly (if emotions don't matter, why do this at all?).

Emotions matter for most people, including the people who claim they don't, that's just the reality. I don't know why it's fashionable among folk who prefer intellectual pursuits to discard emotions so much.


I agree with you that they matter but there has to be balance. Right now the pendulum is stuck so far to the emotional side that people are willing to eschew facts that would make them challenge their own biases and actively look for material that would only reinforce it.

Emotion is the root of all action and social interaction. It's also why I or anyone else chooses to pursue anything intellectual. But that doesn't justify manipulating the emotions for destructive and self-serving purposes. I consider deliberately flattering people and dealing in overly simplistic platitudes to foresake intellectual honesty and reinforce their bias because they consider it comfortable to qualify as destructive and self-serving.


I don't know if there's just one pendulum (I would at least say there's a chunk of people who are too emotional, and a chunk of people who are ignoring emotions too much), but none of what you are mentioning sounds new or unusual in regards to human nature.

People are generally fairly reluctant to challenge their own biases. There are some reasons for that, but this doesn't represent some abnormal pendulum swing.

Same for manipulating emotions for self-serving purposes.

This isn't a problem with emotions, it's a problem with incentives, and, well, corruption. Something like this can actually be very, very rational.

If people are acting in self-serving and self-preserving ways that's a fairly clear message that they do not feel terribly safe and do not trust the systems around them to accept their mistakes.

I don't think they're wrong.


I wouldn't think there's just one pendulum that governs how people view an issue either but there's certainly a continuum for how emotional people will get over certain issues. Obviously if you have no emotion over an issue you won't care one way or the other but if anyone gets too emotional they're much more likely to be irrational, cave to bias and tune out altering view points.

Most people on this site are aware that objectivity and not caving to their own bias isn't easy and, more or less, requires constant effort and that is the same kind of effort that should be promoted amongst the public at large. As almost anybody here could tell you, just because something feels true certainly does not make it true but we seem to relish a culture that seems to believe that person's emotions should never be challenged and doing so is merely cruel rather than, at times, necessary.

Just because confronting bias is hard to do, and may hurt someone's feelings, doesn't mean that that bias should be ignored, or worse promoted. I'm not talking about whether or not conservatives, liberals, libertarians or whoever else is right but instead challenging the notion that what we need to promote more civic engagement is to tell people what is going on in the country and the world in a manner they want to hear it. What we should be doing is telling people what is going in the world and country in a manner that actually is and at the same time the public needs to be calling out demagogues for what they are and understanding why they are dangerous.


Dismissing the arguments of others as mere "virtue signaling" is not debating with them.

Edit: autocorrect


Apologies, I meant 'virtue signalling.'

Disparaging others with the intention of trying to show your own value and grandstanding with no intention of actually refuting someone else's argument, isn't debate either.

Examples:

"Goddamned priveleged white males will never understand oppression like us."

or

"Liberalism is a mental disease amongst emotionally unstable snowflakes who can't think clearly like conservatives."

I know many people are above talking like that but it's not uncommon. If someone is willing to talk like that to you because you disagree with them do you really think they're going to take any interest in what you have to say that would contradict their views?


You appear to be blaming your own bad behavior on others.


How so?


“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

    — Isaac Asimov


Before that, in 1930, the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (two surnames) published "The Revolt of the Masses" book [1], going even further.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Revolt_of_the_Masses


I think that's the first time I've seen a y (and) added between Spanish last names. Any idea where that practice comes from?


Jose Ortega y Gasset was a relative of mine, and I asked this as a kid. What I was told (by my grandmother, his niece) is that it is sometimes done when there's a weirdness in the combination of the two last names that would make it ambiguous, such as someone who has a compound first name like Jose-Maria that makes it harder to tell where a first name/last name breaks, or in this case, where it results in a repeated sound (ga-ga) that feels weird to say. But I have not found any corroboration of this online.


It has now been officially documented online by your grandmother via you. I'd take her word for it!


I used to live on the street in Madrid named after your great-great uncle, and I always wondered why he was named like that. The explanation make sense!


Thanks for answering. As a Spanish speaker this makes sense. My dad is from Mexico and no one in my entire family has this so maybe it's limited more to Spain?


It was until the 19th century, when it was somewhat normalized (census, etc.). Since the 20th century naming in Spain is pretty the same as Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries. All my known relatives names/surnames are without "y".


Yep, we are talking about someone who was born in the 1880s. Though as a counterexample in the modern age, there is a well-known Spanish economist at Columbia named Xavier Sala i Martin.


It was a common practice in Spain until the XIX th century. E.g. Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra (1547-1616), the author of the book "Don Quixote" used the same pattern (in modern texts is often referenced without the "y", as Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra). Literally, it means Miguel "from" (as "son of") Cervantes (father first surname) "and" Saavedra (mother first surname).

Currently that form is in disuse, so if being born nowdays it would be just José Ortega Gasset, although people could formally/informally use "José Ortega y Gasset", "José de Ortega y Gasset", or even "José Ortega i Gasset" (in case of being written in texts in Catalan, instead of Spanish, a form that is still in use in some Spanish regions having the Catalan/Valencian in addition to the Spanish).


No doubt, there are benefits in being ignorant. As they say, ignorance is bliss! And they are right; especially because truth is almost always confusing, unpleasant, troubling and often downright scary. Knowledge rarely brings happiness...


I dunno how true that is. What about people who enjoy learning things


Well, one might enjoy learning about the six-legged things living under everyone's eyelids, but the knowledge of the fact can hardly make one happy.

Learning history can serve as another example.


I find some measure of joy in how remarkable that is.

Ignoring the disagreeable parts of reality may be pleasant as long as reality's ignoring you back, but when it presents real dangers, ignorance is a recipe for getting into real trouble more effectively.

Of course, being dead is an incredibly effective way of avoiding one's personal inconveniences too, but for some reason we don't seem to lionize that to anywhere near the same extent...


> being dead

This or, rather, the theory of having never existed in the first place, is, indeed, a very interesting subject, but in the context of the present discussion it can only be taken for what is known as a "strawman argument".


> in the context of the present discussion it can only be taken for what is known as a "strawman argument"

Not at all. I'm sure if you make a sincere effort you could, for instance, find a way to take it as a (little-needed) reductio ad absurdum.

Moreover, with the way you run your discussion here you are hardly in a position to throw stones with regard to disingenious argumentation. You're uncomfortably close to trolling, so if you're seriously making an argument for this position wholesale, which I find doubtful, ease off on the equivocation and cherry-picked examples and keep a civil discussion with the other commenters.


> there are six-legged things living under everyone's eyelids, but the knowledge of that can hardly make one happy.

Not only does that mak me happy, because I'm an American I figure more is better. I'm currently trying to breed them with 14 legs


Actually, mites are eight-legged things.


Knowledge doesn't bring happiness, but for some, the process of acquiring it does.


Gaining knowledge and awareness has been inversely correlated with my happiness with living in America. The happiest here seem to always be blissfully ignorant.


The go-to book on this is "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" by Richard Hofstadter: http://a.co/aJf0UKt

I'd also highly recommend Sertillanges on the intellectual life: http://a.co/91XX11G



The prospect for America's future is not good.

America's golden years were right after WW2, with the creation of the Bretton Woods system. But since the Nixon shock, the US dollar depends on exclusive deals to retain a relative value to other currencies. e.g: convincing oil exporting countries to only sell their oil in dollars and buying US treasury bonds.

But as these deals become redundant (e.g: as oil becomes less necessary), the US dollar will lose value, and so will things valued in dollars (e.g: savings, wages, etc).

Unless the US finds another way to keep the US dollar afloat, printing more dollars to subsidize the economy will stop helping and the US will lose its privileged position in the world, which this generation takes for granted.


"Yes, provided they can read!"

I'm (nominally) a professional, and somewhat educated, but I honestly question whether I can actually read. There are plenty of things written in good English that I cannot read. Many articles in The Journal Nature, most prose written before about 1850, technical books written in other than encyclopedic form...


> We can all be members of the intellectual elite, and then, only then, will a phrase "America's right to know" and, indeed, any true concept of democracy, have any meaning

Come on. We cannot all be members of the intellectual elite. And I'm not being facetious because of a few mentally disabled people. Half the population has an IQ below 100. Let that sink in for a moment. There are (more or less) innate IQ differences and some people excel at intellectual tasks while others do not and actually cannot as a matter of the body they possess. Just ask any school teacher: There are bright kids who get things easily and quickly get ahead and others who cannot progress even if they put in all the hard work and hours they can.

This entire piece seems like Asimov is salty because not everyone is an intellectual. Well, too bad, there are people who enjoy a simple life without the sorrows that come with being an intellectual.


> Half the population has an IQ below 100

I'm going to quote a junior high school mate, because what he said nearly 25 years ago still rings true. For background: Finland has mandatory conscription military service. Every year you get an honest cross-cut of the entire population.

The sentence you used highlights a real fact, but it leaves it without context. What I'm going to say next is guaranteed to be both insensitive and politically incorrect, but I believe it has to be said.

As my mate said: If you think about the "average" person, with an IQ of 100, you should also realise just how dumb that person appears to you. Sit down and take a deep breath. Half the population is, by definition, dumber than that.

While in the military service, I learned this the hard way. I saw enough people who had trouble tying their showlaces, let alone the ability to hold a constructive argument. And like everyboby else in the military, everyone of them was given an assault rifle and live ammunition within 96 hours of starting their service. That gives a whole new meaning to fear.

The only thing separating some these individuals from Gomer Pyle[0] was the lack of psychosis. (When I became a medic, I met those too. We had to provide them with hard prescription drugs to keep them subdued and maintain a suicide watch to make sure they could be escorted safely out the next day.)

I can say with honesty that the military service recalibrated my view of humanity. And it's not pretty.

0: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093058/


I get it, military service is a particularly exceptional service because of the sampling is wide and all that, but it's not like anyone over the age of 20 hasn't met all sorts of people in general. Also, I get what you're saying, but every time I hear these sorts of things, alarm sirens in my head off and a refrain "confirmation bias" is blasted on repeat.

The whole "half of people dumber than the median" doesn't really bother me as much as it does other people, especially since IQ often isn't what I care about when evaluating a person.


>"The whole "half of people dumber than the median" doesn't really bother me as much as it does other people, especially since IQ often isn't what I care about when evaluating a person."

It should, because criminal behavior is correlated with IQ:

http://law.jrank.org/pages/1365/Intelligence-Crime-Explainin...


That might be due to some some high IQ folk deciding it was more profitable for them to delay removing lead from paint and gasoline.

The brain damage they caused with lead not only lowers IQ but increases compulsiveness and correlates with crime when the exposed child reaches the peak years for criminal behaviour.

The question then arises whether the criminality is the fault of the poisoner or the poisoned.


> IQ often isn't what I care about when evaluating a person

It does become important if you're hiring, looking for a friend or romantic partner, or if you're going to be under that person's authority.


So you'd prefer Ted Bundy or Ted Kaczynski as a romantic partner? :-)

While it may be important to you to have an intellectual match as a romantic partner, there are many other factors involved for most people. Empathy is very important to many, along with, yes, physical attractiveness and financial security.


You don't ask your dates to take an IQ test, do you?


Why the down votes? It's correct. There's tons of dumb people. We can't all be elite. That's not how variation in a species works. Intelligence leans heavily on biology so it's got to be varied. Not everyone wins the lottery. Right?

Asimov was from New York, he's f-n salty. He'd probably quickly admit it then laugh and compose a limerick about it and slap you on the ass.

Also we need dumb people. We need people happy to swim in the shallow end of the pool of ideas. And we need to help them, take care of them, love them like any human. Give them opportunities to do important work. We certainly shouldn't let them have governmental or military powers.

Now, we can shift the average intelligence to the right by a standard deviation, but that requires some real gumption. And only a rare group of people is that brave.


It's all relative. If everyone had an IQ of 150, the elites would be those with IQs of 180


And IQ is renormalized as the population becomes more and more educated and society in general progresses. Every time people bring out their complaints like this, I often feel like people don't have a sense of their place and society's place in time, especially compared to the past.


You're assuming that IQ is what makes people elite.


"Intellectual elite", pay attention boy! Pedantry is only for school.


It takes all kinds to make a world.


You know that you could be perceived as dumb to a lot smarter people than you, right?

"But don't worry, "we need dumb people" too. You will get help, we will take care of you and love you like any human. Give you opportunities to do important work. But know one thing, we certainly shouldn't let you have governmental or military powers, you are just too dumb for it."

That kind of reasoning is dangerous. Dictatorships are built on "I am smarter than those people, they are just dumb. I know better what's good for them than they do. They can't be allowed to make any decisions, direct or indirect (through voting)".


I don't think you're being fair to the person you're replying to. We should want to be led by people more intelligent than most. And not just more intelligent, but more honest, honorable, and courageous than most. That shouldn't be controversial.

I don't agree with the OP's paternalism, but I do think that men need to be led to achieve the greatest that each is individually capable of. And to be a great leader requires one to be extraordinary. There is not a Napolean or Alexander sleeping inside each of us. And that's just fine. We are nonetheless equal before God, or for secular ears: equal in dignity and moral worth.


> but I do think that men need to be led to achieve the greatest that each is individually capable of. And to be a great leader requires one to be extraordinary. There is not a Napolean or Alexander sleeping inside each of us. And that's just fine. We are nonetheless equal before God, or for secular ears: equal in dignity and moral worth.

I fully agree but this doesn't make what I wrote less true.

> We should want to be led by people more intelligent than most. And not just more intelligent, but more honest, honorable, and courageous than most. That shouldn't be controversial.

I don't deny that. But we (most of western civilization) live in democracy, Sarah Palin is democratically elected official and by many she is not seen as the brightest person. Donald Trump is the most powerful man in the world, is he "not just more intelligent, but more honest, honorable, and courageous than most." ? In my opinion he is not, but I didn't vote for him, I am not even an us citizen, but this was people choice.

Writing that we should not allow someone to be part of government because we perceive them as dumb ourselves is dangerous, let the people decide, say your opinion in that matter, show candidate faults, but let the people decide.


>Writing that we should not allow someone to be part of government because we perceive them as dumb ourselves is dangerous, let the people decide, say your opinion in that matter, show candidate faults, but let the people decide.

I don't think I follow. You, I, and everyone else in this conversation are part of "the public" as much as the next guy.

And insofar as our political system forces us to vote for less than ideal people in order to advance or protect important principles--and I think lots of people of all political persuasions felt like this in 2016--it is unfortunate.

For Trump in particular, you may argue that he lacks in intelligence, and I would disagree but see where you're coming from, but he certainly has plenty of courage. That's what Republican primary voters saw in him.


> You, I, and everyone else in this conversation are part of "the public" as much as the next guy.

I don't really know how should I interpret what you wrote in context of my answer, can you elaborate what you mean by that? Especially how you think this connects to what I wrote? Because analogy to this would be saying that sun shines while discussing about weather without more context. Which doesn't bring anything new to this discussion.

> And insofar as our political system forces us to vote for less than ideal people in order to advance or protect important principles--and I think lots of people of all political persuasions felt like this in 2016--it is unfortunate.

We could say that "If only people were more knowledgeable, they’d have better politics." Everyone has a different view of “better politics,” but this is a fairly common sentiment. If dumb people vote for dumb people it's not their fault, it's our fault, elites, because we didn't convince them not to, we knew better didn't we? After all they are just dumb people, what do they know? Is that what you are arguing?

So what did you do to stop dumb people from voting on other dumb people? What did OP do? It's our responsibility.

Ask yourself why people voted for Trump and not those smart, liberal elites? They voted for them before, what changed? Those are all important questions. Political perturbations across western world in last year had their reasons. Why suddenly everyone on world economic forum in Davos say that costs from globalization are higher than benefits for western world? That they have political and social costs. Why most "free trade" advocates suddenly say that they were maybe wrong ? Why Larry Summers says that "the basic responsibility of government is to maximise the welfare of citizens, not to pursue some abstract concept of the global good" now ? Maybe those "dumb" people were right after all and maybe we were wrong? Did you consider that for a second?


> Why suddenly everyone on world economic forum in Davos say that costs from globalization are higher than benefits for western world? That they have political and social costs. Why most "free trade" advocates suddenly say that they were maybe wrong ? Why Larry Summers says that "the basic responsibility of government is to maximise the welfare of citizens, not to pursue some abstract concept of the global good" now ?

Where are you reading this, I haven't heard anything like this at all? As far as I know, it's business as usual is it not?


I voted for Trump actually.


> he certainly has plenty of courage

For someone with plenty of courage, he sure is afraid of a lot of people.


Other people like Sam Harris who have both courage and intelligence (whether you agree with him or not) are legitimately afraid of the same people, but unlike Trump have solid reasoning behind their beliefs.

Besides, Trump isn't "afraid" of anyone, he just knows playing on people's fear works.


> Besides, Trump isn't "afraid" of anyone

I see no evidence for that.


He's a compulsive liar, you can see evidence of both sides of almost any issue.


> Half the population has an IQ below 100.

Not surprising, since the very definition of "IQ 100" is average.

As far as most researchers go, it turns out that the "IQ 100" has gotten harder and harder every year for nearly the past 100 years. In effect, a person with "IQ 100" back in 1930s would only have an IQ score of ~70 today.

Yes, the _average_ person of the 1930s would be considered borderline retarded (defined as below IQ 70) by today's much higher standards.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect

------------------

The average person is far, far more intelligent today than decades past. There are numerous theories why this is happening (better nutrition? Better technology? Maybe better schooling and teaching?) But regardless, we as a society are significantly improving our "IQ scores" decade after decade.


> The average person is far, far more intelligent today than decades past.

That's not the only possible explanation of the Flynn effect. An obvious alternative hypothesis (which is mentioned in the Wikipedia article) is that people have gotten much more experienced at taking standardized tests, without having actually increased in general intelligence at all.


Which sort of casts doubt on the value of the IQ measure in general, don't you think?

Don't forget, Richard Feynman scored a 125 in high school, and by the Flynn effect, he'd be considered even dumber today. Let that sink in.


> Which sort of casts doubt on the value of the IQ measure in general, don't you think?

Yes.


What evidence is there of intelligence following a Gaussian distribution, anyway?


None.

Its an assumption of the IQ Test. The test itself assumes a Gaussian distribution.

IQ Test was a quick-and-dirty testing methodology made in the dark ages of psychology. It turned out to be a decent measurement of general intelligence, but its theoretical fundamentals are... kind of shoddy. I mean, its better than a lot of early 1900s psychology... but its still from an age when psychology was more folk-science than real science.

Fortunately, the IQ Test actually seems to measure something... and due to its age there are a large number of results that span over a century. And the test has been relatively standard throughout the time (with exception of its increasing difficulty, as our population has grown smarter on the average)


What evidence is there of height following a normal distribution? Weight? Size of rocks in a riverbed?

The normal distribution simply implies that there is some sort of "average" or middle area, and that the further you go from it both sides (smaller/larger, faster/slower, etc), it becomes harder and harder to find instances of that measurement.

It's just the way it is, and I'm probably not smart enough to explain it to you in a concise-enough way, but that's the gist of it from my understanding.


The thing about the normal distribution is that it's the distribution with the least information content. It has really little to do with real-world complex processes, and fitting real world phenomena to one typically ends in frustration and wildly incorrect estimates of likelihoods of samples. Intelligence (as measured through some test) being representative of a process that has minimal conditional structure underlying it seems pretty fishy to me.

I'd expect intelligence to be more of an asymmetric distribution, with the vast majority of people being above the threshold of, say, catatonia; most people being under "genius" level, and a blip for geniuses that have really changed humanity's capabilities as being pretty far to the upper bounds, but with incredible impact on the group. Something like a "6 sigma" intelligence on a normal distribution would probably show up a lot more often on the skew distribution I have in mind.

Although, this might be measuring something like E[f(intelligence)] where f is a convex impact-measuring function of intelligence


> Not surprising, since the very definition of "IQ 100" is average.

Average is not enough. If you have 10 people who have an IQ of 80 and one with an IQ of 300, that'd also average to 100. What matters here is the (roughly) gaussian distribution, too.


The IQ Test assumes a Gaussian distribution by definition.

One-standard deviation above and below is defined as 85 to 115. Two standard deviations (which includes 95% of the population) is between 70 and 130.

----------

Your proposition that someone has an IQ Score of 13+ Sigma above the average only demonstrates your lack of understanding of the IQ test. There's literally no one that's that high. The IQ Test I think only measures like +/- 4 sigma or so... 40 to 160.


Technically, tests can be devised to extrapolate IQs to the 200+ range . One such test is reading age and talking age. If someone attains a cognitive milestone at such an early age that is only achievable by one in a billion people, the person has a 1/billion rarity IQ or IQ of 200 (assuming a SD of 15).


That's not 'technically' at all. It's an approximation.

The actual IQ test is multivariate and takes several hours to administer, and needs to be given by a trained professional. Hitting a single milestone super-early just means that you've hit a milestone super-early, not that your general intelligence is super-high.


Early reading is result of good memory at early age. That is about it.

In general, the speed of brain development and how intelligent you will be in the end are not closely related.


It was an example with simple numbers. My goodness, I forgot how pedantic people are here. If someone does not understand that average is not median, then I'm not going to talk about standard deviation...


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At this point, you are literally trolling me.


In that sentence, Asimov refers to the popular conception of the elite -- a very low standard -- and not some elite that is defined as the top 1% of society by some measure.

On this popular conception of the elite, almost anyone can be a member. All you really need to do is regularly read a news publication.


yeah just reading the news will make you better-informed than 95% of the population probably


Since IQ was mentioned, another Asimov essay on the topic:

"What Is Intelligence, Anyway?"

http://talentdevelop.com/articles/WIIA.html


Asimov is not demanding that everyone be a brilliant professor. He is demanding that people educate themselves to the best of their personal ability, rather than expilictly despising anyone who attempts to do that.


Americans should be allowed to gamble on political races, they would be more invested in the discussion of policy!


This is actually not a bad idea....if they were allowed to gamble on actual individual bills, I can see how it would be worthwhile for some people to become deeply interested in the nuanced content of proposed legislation, the political actors involved and their public words vs actual actions, the public mood, etc.....because I think some people could make money at it.

Although, just as politicians are (were?) allowed to insider trade on the stock market, they'd do this (or pass tips to their friends and family) and take everyone's money.

I think modern democracy simply doesn't stand a chance against a well organized communist government in China. Long term, the only way China loses is if they make a big mistake, and I just don't see anything compelling on the horizon.


I'm wondering if the current political situation in the US is a consequence of the two-party system above everything else. In a binary system, if you're against a policy or person, you're automatically for the opposing party and its policies. I don't think this binary choice does justice to the wide garmut of political opinion at all.

Look at France. Whatever you might think of Macron and his party, I envy the French for their ability to leave decades of a socialist/conservative political dichotomy behind.


Asimov seems to have been sitting in a room with only TV and newspapers. How can he see anything else? So he wrote this column and i see a ladder to climb (assume effort required) to get the right to know.

But today he would spin on a sit n spin with his hands out where a web of bits bury his body. Slowly

What would he write now?




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