We’re a Lot Smarter Than We Used to Be.. (FREE)

Thomas Fleming


November 13, 2017

“We’re a lot smarter than we used to be.”   I almost wish I had heard what led up to this extraordinary declaration on NPR’s Morning Edition, but I was too busy making breakfast.  Perhaps it had something to with Global Warming or lead in the water or the cholera plague brought into Haiti by the UN’s humanitarian mission.   Almost wish.  Perhaps the poor geek only meant our increased knowledge in certain technical areas enables us to screw things up more royally than in previous generations.  But it is far more likely that he seriously meant that the wisdom of modern man had increased at the same rate as the progress he has made in building computers and robots.  It is certainly what most people believe, at least most people one hears of or reads about in the media.

Anyone who has been paying any attention to the world around us knows that the reverse is true:  The greater our technical knowledge, the more we find ourselves relying on the technology developed by other people and the less we are forced to cultivate our own minds or even observe the world around us.  Western man is regressing, in the case of poor minorities, to the level of beasts and, in the case of the the rich and the schooled, to the still lower level of robots.  I shall once again cite Nietzsche, who observed that a lame man may get on a donkey and ride to the top of a mountain, but when he arrives and gets off his horse, he still limps.

There is no group more regressive than so-called social so-called scientists.  Any person with a lick of common sense can easily spot the fatal flaws in the methodology of the so-called “research” reported on in The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post.  Some months ago a group of honest researchers took a look a social science studies reported in the media and concluded that in a majority of cases, the results could not be replicated.  NPR's social science guru reported this but a week later, undeterred, he was cheerfully reporting on more bogus studies!

A few days ago, the Post reported the astonishing news that psychophaths, contrary to the image created in pop fiction and movies, did not listen to Bach and Beethoven.  Instead, it turns out, they prefer Justin Bieber.

Now, I am perfectly prepared to believe that Bieber lovers are more prone to violent crime than Bach fans,  but—and I really hate to concede this—we can’t simply accept any old argument simply because it confirms our taste in music.  Anyone with ordinary intelligence who wanted to ascertain the listening habits of psychophaths or policemen or French waiters would simply interview a sampling of the group being studied.  Not these social scientists.  Instead, they devised a questionnaire and gave it to 190 psychology students at NYU—a self-selected group of mentally disabled and emotionally disturbed people!  Those who agreed with such statements as “For me what’s right is whatever I can get away with” and “Love is overrated” were designated as psychopaths, and the researchers concluded sagely that psychopaths are not just in prison:  They're everywhere.

How many fatal flaws can you spot?  The most obvious one is that a great many adolescents act as if they are the only people on the planet who matter, but once they pursue a career, get married, and have children they may begin to develop a somewhat higher code.  It’s called growing up, something that used to happen routinely but still occasionally takes place even among psych majors at NYU.   Before writing off dumb kids as psychopaths, it might be helpful to have some statistical grip on how many self-absorbed adolescents become serial killers/

And this leads to the second point:  Since they did not actually interview any psychopaths, they know nothing about the musical preferences of such people.  This sort of thinking is not confined to the social-science professoriate.   It is a characteristic of all modern experts that they invent categories irrelevant to human experience ("the authoritarian personality,"  "angry white males," "hate crimes," et al.), collect meaningless data, and palm off their prejudices as discoveries that are quickly given legal status.

Not content with making complete fools of themselves, these researchers went on to report the bewildering facts that the imaginary psychopaths they had discovered did not like Dire Straits' “Money for Nothing.”  They couldn’t figure out why.  Could it have something to do with the fact that Dire Straits recorded the song in 1985, ten years before these kids were born?  It may also be relevant that psych majors, dumb as rocks and without a sense of humor, could not appreciate the dramatic irony of a song that pokes fun both at rock celebrity and at the envy of proles.   If being dumb meant you were a psychopathic killer, the entire staff of NPR and the Washington Post would be behind bars.

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

6 Responses

  1. Allen Wilson says:

    Excellent! Cuts all the way down to the heart of the matter, while severing some sinews, muscles, bones and arteries on the way. Who needs H.L. Mencken? Not us, for we have T.J. Fleming!

  2. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    And the chicks are free.

  3. Robert Reavis says:

    ” the wisdom of modern man had increased at the same rate as the progress he has made in building computers and robots. It is certainly what most people believe, at least most people one hears of or reads about in the media.”

    Yes, this is sadly true and what most people today sincerely believe with all their heart, soul and being. I think this feverish temptation has been around in every age but normally would break right after adolescence. Today we prolong adolescence for so long, this juvenile habit of thinking becomes so engraved it becomes difficult to develop or change until some significant death, or the approaching death of ones own physical body finally (sometimes sadly) awakens the soul to the insignificance of an unexamined life.

  4. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    My friend Becky writes in to ask, “Horse of donkey. Which is it?” That’s awfully judgmental and retrograde. Surely a jackass has as much right to determine his own species as a human does to determine his gender!

  5. Robert Reavis says:

    I like donkey or ass as the beast of burden. Horses are more numerous in advanced civilizations. Our times are more fitting to learn what there is to admire about the donkey. I think Chesterton wrote a beautiful
    poem about “The Donkey”

  6. Robert Reavis says:

    The Donkey
    When fishes flew and forests walked
    And figs grew upon thorn,
    Some moment when the moon was blood
    Then surely I was born.

    With monstrous head and sickening cry
    And ears like errant wings,
    The devil’s walking parody
    On all four-footed things.

    The tattered outlaw of the earth,
    Of ancient crooked will;
    Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
    I keep my secret still.

    Fools! For I also had my hour;
    One far fierce hour and sweet:
    There was a shout about my ears,
    And palms before my feet.