Idiocracy: how the decline in human intelligence is undermining democracy

Oct 19, 2021
election ballot box democracy voting
(Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)

Science increasingly suspects the proliferation of harmful nerve toxins in recent decades is to blame for a downturn in our IQ levels — and this is threatening not just our health but our very system of governance.

Since an educated, thoughtful and responsible electorate is indispensable to any democracy that seeks a safe, rational and healthy future, it is fair to conclude that, if the present trend to govern against the public interest persists, the three-century world democratic experiment will fail.

Whether the failure is attributable to large-scale corruption of the democratic process by global corporates of rising wealth and power, to increased selfishness in politics and society or to the rising stupidity of 21st century Homo sapiens both in politics and in general life is still debatable.

In Earth Detox, a new book published by Cambridge University Press, I explore evidence for the latter hypothesis — that humans are becoming progressively less intelligent. So unintelligent, in fact, that most do not grasp we are in mortal danger from 10 vast, interconnected megathreats. Consequently, voters now frequently choose governments that either increase these threats or are too slothful or corrupt to abate them.

The missing piece of information is that all humanity is now engulfed, 24/7, in a flooding tide of toxic chemistry — a tide five or six times larger than our climate emissions, and more deadly that any previous threat to human existence, including all the wars in history. A threat that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), now kills over 10 million people every year — the worst death toll from a single cause in human history. Why electors should vote for such an outcome for themselves and their children demands explanation.

A possible answer is that our intelligence, the quality in which humans have taken the greatest pride down the ages, is in decline.

After a marked increase in human intelligence during the first three-quarters of the 20th century — a phenomenon known as the Flynn Effect, after the NZ psychologist who discovered it – recent scientific research points to a clear downturn in human brainpower since 1975.

The average rate of decline has been around three IQ points a decade, amounting to the loss of about 13.5 per cent in average human intelligence between 1975 and 2020. Results from separate studies in seven countries substantiate this widespread loss of the ability to think clearly.

So far, researchers have been unable to confidently assign a cause to this marked decline, saying only that it is not genetic and must therefore be due to something in society’s living environment. The big question is: what has changed so much in society’s living conditions to cause such extensive brain damage during the past 45 years?

Increasingly, science suspects the 350,000 man-made chemicals — many of them nerve poisons — which industrial society has unleashed on itself in this period and which now permeate our air, our food, our water, our homes and workplaces, our bodies and our genes. These are substances to which virtually all humans are now exposed every second of their existence from conception to expiry and which are, for the most part, unavoidable. The impact of these nerve poisons is compounded by a second, related, chemical flood — endocrine disruptors (EDCs), industrial chemicals which affect basic processes like our growth, development, gender, ability to reproduce, obesity and cancer risk.

Nerve poisons are now thought by medical scientists to play a significant role in the pandemic of brain diseases which has become more prevalent in recent decades — such as autism and ADHD, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, depression and other mental disorders and the loss of intelligence. According to WHO, mental conditions now affect 2 billion human beings, one in every four, imposing a vast and growing cost on the world economy for care of the disabled.

Brain damage caused by nerve poisons has been known since ancient Rome and well understood by science for many decades. Lead and mercury used to be the chief offenders, but in recent times they have been overtaken by certain pesticides and domestic chemicals, such as flame retardants. These are now found in the blood of unborn babies as well as in much of the population.

A decline of seven IQ points translates to the average citizen having the intelligence level of the average prison inmate. It is therefore probable that the decline in human intelligence is being accompanied by an increase in rates of murder, rape and violent assault — as well as a lack of foresight at the ballot box.

Proving that nerve poisons are responsible for the decline in democracy is no easier than proving cigarettes cause cancer — but the connections are now evident for all who care to look. William of Occam would note that human IQ is falling at the same time as the neurotoxic load on society is redoubling — and we are witnessing tens of millions of voters unable to grasp their responsibility or the needs of their society and even themselves. Voters who may, on occasion, incoherently seek to overthrow or sabotage through misinformation the very system they do not comprehend.

Democracies have long asserted a moral as well as governmental superiority over autocracies, but with the decay in voter intelligence that advantage is becoming far less clear. If democracy is to endure as a form of governance, then the need to remedy the dumbing-down of democracy by ceasing to poison the minds that uphold it is both imperative and urgent.

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