Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

November 23, 2012

HAMILTON: Were we really ever that smart, anyway?

By Ken Hamilton
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Sometimes we marvel at how smart our children are, just because they can turn on and play a game on their computer.

News flash, folks: That ain’t smart, that’s just being a kid.

A generation or two ago, our parents were just as marveled by us when they saw a child who was able to open the child-proof medicine bottle that grandma had a hard time with. In both cases, if we are not careful, both of those things will kill the mind, not enhance it.

And that brings me to my point. The Trends in Genetics journal is one of those highbrow trade publications that I would have a difficult time reading and understanding, and it has reportedly included an article by Stanford University geneticist Gerald Crabtree indicating the opposite of our collective offspring actually getting smarter. In fact, it blatantly suggest that we all, on a whole, are slowly getting dumber.

To me, Crabtree also suggests, more mildly than I would, that there is a good reason for it. Whether you believe in evolution or not, it doesn’t matter. Even creationist, such as myself, understand that throughout human history, smart people did and do the kinds of things that make and keep themselves more secure; and dumb people do the opposite.

Crabtree suggests that, at the deeper genetic level, the more mutated flaws we inherit, the more counter-evolution is that modern societies accommodate them by virtually eliminating most of the pitfalls of ill-thought-out behavior. Additionally, dumb people are no longer taking themselves out of the human gene pool as quickly as they once did. In other words, they are not killing themselves with stupidity as quickly as they once did. Therefore, they continue to live amongst us and increasingly dilute our collective brilliance.

Not having actually read anything other than the abstract of Crabtree’s article, I felt compelled to possibly add to it by saying, “… and those irresponsible members of our society breed at a much higher rate than do the more responsible people.”

Crabtree says. “Intelligence doesn’t play as significant a selection in our present, supportive wonderful society,” adding, “I don’t think we should revert back to the terrible times of extreme selection where only the strongest survive.”

I don’t think that we should either; and I am certainly not in favor of eugenics, the intentional removal of what some may consider to be those who are not as superior as themselves.

But the “smart thing” is to recognize what Jason Koebler of the US News and World Report recognized in his introduction of Crabtree’s assessment. He said, “In the last century, humans have landed a man on the moon, sequenced the genome, and created the Internet — but, surprisingly, we may be slowly evolving to be less intelligent than our ancestors.”

I, Ken Hamilton, personally know two pertinent things of my parents and grandparents: they were not as well educated as I am, but all of them were a whole lot smarter. Many others can say the same thing of their ancestors.

But then, that brings us to education itself.

Caitlin Dickson of the Atlantic Wire proclaims that, “American Kids Aren’t Getting Dumber; They Were Just Never That Smart.” She reminds us Americans that, when compared to other nations, we were never really that smart to begin with. The Chinese are not only eating our lunch in the marketplace, they outperform us in theirs and our universities, too. They value education and there are consequences for not having a good one.

While Education Secretary Arne Duncan lays the blame for low educational achievement at an under-investment in education, I would argue the other side of that equation; and that is in who is taking the tests and who has dropped out of schools and are not taking the tests?

Too many good-hearted but misguided educational administrators are leaving their offices and facilitating the societal shift of compensating for those who fail to be responsible for both their children and themselves getting a quality education. They provide them with all that they could have obtained, had they gotten one; and then they subsequently complain about those same parents not sending their kids to school.

But, the one good thing about our America is that everyone has the evolutionary opportunity for choice: to be educated or not to be educated.

Dickson also writes that, “Perhaps American students should spend more time studying exam subjects and less time playing sports, studying music, and engaging in other activities.” She is right; and I think that even Crabtree would agree.

So don’t be too impressed with 3-year-old Lil’ Johnny being able to turn on and play a game on his own computer. Because, if you are, you may be disappointed to find him bombed out on your prescription drugs at 33, living in your basement and still playing computer games.

Smart, ain’t he?

Contact Ken Hamilton at kenhamilton930@aol.com.

Contact Ken Hamilton at kenhamilton930@aol.com.