In dissident circles, it is generally accepted that the West has lost its way due to two main problems. One is that the ruling class has embraced a set of ideas about human organization that are at odds with biological reality. Either from a desire to feel righteous or just from reckless disregard for their duties, they have embraced a set of beliefs about humanity we loosely call multiculturalism. The two roots of this belief set are the blank slate and egalitarianism. We are amorphous blobs with equal potential.
The other problem is that this desire to include everyone has allowed all sorts of barking at the moon crazies to gain positions of influence in the culture. These are the people who show up in the corporate human resource department chanting about the need make sure everyone holds the exact same opinions, all in the name of diversity. These are the people running around attacking statuary on the college campus. Fear of these crazies has damaged our normal mechanism for defending society from external threats.
At Our Wit’s End: Why We’re Becoming Less Intelligent and What It Means for Our Future, by Edward Dutton and Michael A. Woodley of Menie, offers an alternative explanation for why we are seeing the West in crisis. Ed Dutton is an English anthropologist who teaches at the University of Oulu in Finland. Michael A. Woodley is a British ecologist and intelligence researcher with the Center Leo Apostel at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Both have written extensively about human intelligence.
Their book is an effort to track general intelligence in the West, against the backdrop of human accomplishment in the West. More specifically, they make the case that the West is getting dumber, even when adjusting for immigration, and the process has been going on for a long time. As a result, the West is following in the same path as prior civilizations that experienced a similar decline in general intelligence. Stupid people do stupid things and cumulatively, they eventually bring the whole thing down.
The book starts with one of those obvious examples that is so obvious, you wonder why you did not notice it. Fifty years ago this July, humans landed on the moon. The lunar program was started roughly a decade before and NASA went from having crude rockets unable to put satellites into space to sending people to the moon and bringing them back safely. To people alive in that time, it was an incredible moment, and one they assumed was the dawn of the space age, when man would traverse the stars.
Today, we cannot reach the moon. In fact, we struggle to hurl a probe to the moon. The Israelis are celebrating because their probe managed to actually hit the moon, rather than miss it entirely. NASA is no longer able to do much of anything and instead spends its time celebrating diversity. Whatever the reason, in this one area, the West is clearly not where it was fifty years ago. Instead of the moon landing being a launching point for the exploration of space, it was the peak of human ability to explore the stars.
Another obvious example they begin with, one that should hit home for men in their middle years, is the Concorde. If you were a kid in the 1970’s, the Concorde was the shape of things to come. Instead of six and seven hour flights across the continent or the Atlantic Ocean, flight time would be a few hours. Everyone was sure we would soon be hopping on super-fast planes to be halfway around the globe in a few hours. Instead, we stand in line for hours at the airport to get on planes no faster than fifty years ago.
These two great examples are the jumping off point to explain that we are not only getting dumber, but the biological process causing it. The book itself is actually a series of essays, grouped together into topics related to the main theme. It is written for a general audience, so even if the reader has little exposure to cognitive studies, the material is easy to follow. In fact, the book also works a great introduction for those curious about IQ and the ways in which science has for studying human cognitive ability.
For those with an interest in Roman history, the discussions of intelligence in the Republic, as well as the Empire, are very interesting. There are a great many theories as to why the Republic collapsed into autocracy and why the Western Empire collapsed. In fact, that’s the fun part of studying the Romans. Why they suddenly, so it seems, veered from consensual government to military dictatorship and empire is one of the great stories of Western history. It’s a great story full of amazing characters, both good and bad.
What the authors suggest is that a biological process was the root of the rise of Rome, it’s flourishing as a republic and then it’s decent into autocracy and eventually collapse. Their theory is a great addition to Joseph Tainter’s ideas about the collapse of complex civilizations. Taken together, it suggests Spengler’s observation about civilization is the result of people building social organizations that eventually become too complex for them to manage. Or, they simply become too dumb to operate what their ancestors left them.
Perhaps the most compelling example is their look at the golden age of Islam. Maybe it is because it is unfamiliar to Westerners, so we have no emotional bias, but the math presented to explain the rise and fall is revelatory. Not only does it explain the collapse of “high Islam” but it explains the rise of modern Islam. It opens the door to understanding this strange, esoteric civic cult that has taken up residence among the ruling elites in the West. It is a short essay, but very powerful in explaining their argument.
Now, the one complaint about the book is it really could have gone into great depth about some of the examples used to make their points. The section on Islam would make for a great 10,000 word essay. They only brush up against the phenomenon of religion rising, falling and then rising again in the late stages of civilization. It is a great example of a short book that the reader will wish was much longer. Usually, the opposite is true. Most books are too long and in need of a ruthless editor. This is not one of those books.
Finally, for dissidents, this book is a black pill. Most of us hang onto the hope that we can find a way to argue and organize our way out of this decline. The truth is, the West may simply lack the human capital to keep the plates spinning much longer. In other words, the die may have been cast a dozen generations ago when smart people started limiting their fertility and helping the poor make it too adulthood. The result being a steady decline in our IQ to the point where we are no longer fit to carry on as a civilization.