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Around ten years ago, Mike Judge produced a cult classic known as “Idiocracy”. It follows a very basic plot, the world has devolved into a society that is full of unintelligent people. It’s common for people to ask “Is this the direction we’re headed?” Equally common is the all-too-familiar chant of its inevitable onset.
When watching it now, I am always wondering “What’s going to happen? What can we avoid and how?”
Average People, Dumb Culture
Fortunately, one thing we don’t have to worry about is the initial chain of events that caused Idiocracy as a whole to happen. The beginning of the film presents a scenario where a low IQ man named Clevon outbreeds a high IQ couple. He does this by having affairs with multiple women and recovering from an accident that would normally leave him without the use of his reproductive organs.
Obviously, this scenario is very oversimplified. There’s no way he could reasonably afford to raise the sheer number of children he has. So the scenario of being overrun with Clevon’s offspring is probably not going to happen.
What Idiocracy does get right, at least in many respects, is the culture. What exactly does Idiocracy’s culture look like?
In the vision that the film presents, America has fallen into an era of mass commercialism. This can be demonstrated with the constant saturation of advertising present early on. Corporations are extremely powerful, with Brawndo the Thirst Mutilator successfully buying the FDA and the FCC.
The specific marketing leans heavily on primal desires, the collective “id” or the nation. It’s very hypermasculine and hypersexual. Portion sizes are referred to as “Extra Big Ass”, the two most popular television channels are the Violence Channel and the Masturbation Network.
In the future, people are barely literate. Not only that but anyone who attempts to read is looked down upon in scorn. Education through Costco becomes a viable option, making the consumer model of education the standard (eerily enough, this was before the student loan debt crisis came into focus). Even skilled workers like doctors have become so incompetent at their jobs that they leave most of the work to automation. However, that automation is quickly breaking down with no one capable enough to fix it.
Pretty much every avenue of interaction has been distilled into mindless entertainment. The justice system’s scale is tipped so far that there’s not even show trials, they’re just shows. The political system has gone even further than the gridlock we have today (though I’m sure that people could see seeds of that system in the modern day) with the most effective counterargument to President Comacho’s proposed solution being “I got a solution, you’re a dick!” Rehabilitation is a code word for a blood sport where people compete in monster trucks in a duel to the death.
Eventually, the protagonist saves the day by proving that putting water on the crops makes them grow. But as his lawyer takes on many wives and has many children the process can begin anew.
Solving this problem, unlike putting water on crops, is going to be trickier because we have to deal with cultural biases that most of us are likely not even aware of.
Perhaps thinkers greater than I can point to a solution, and Susan Jacoby had written about the subject intensely in her book “The Age of American Unreason”. Perhaps there will be answers there.