Just Saying

Are we getting dumber, or what?

Thinking back now, I struggle to pinpoint the specific moment I lost faith in the future of humanity.

But I'm now pretty much convinced that humans have peaked culturally and we're now just basically on a slow but certain downward spiral towards idiocracy. ("Idiocracy" isn't even a word but yet, here you are reading it in an article in the national newspaper. That's how bad it's getting.)

I know you're thinking: "Oh, this guy is just turning into an 'uncle'. Everyone who gets older eventually starts getting grumpy and thinking other people are stupid."

This is not an entirely unfair statement. I am in fact getting older and grumpier, and I no longer flinch when people call me "uncle".

And I am also willing to acknowledge that the gradual stupidification of society is a common idea that nearly all old and grumpy people have at some point. (Note: "Stupidification" is probably also not a word.)

Yet, I can't shake the notion that there is something there. For one thing, stupid things keep happening. Consider the following selection of completely true news headlines from recent weeks that I did not make up:

  • Official White House document promotes goal of "lasting peach" between Israelis and Palestinians
  • The Yale dean whose brutal Yelp reviews called service people 'morons' and restaurant patrons 'white trash' has been placed on leave
  • Texas man sues woman $17.31 for texting during cinema date - and gets his money

Is it just me or is this stuff becoming increasingly common? In my mind, I swear things were not this silly when I was growing up.

I'm not saying humanity only recently started doing silly things, I'm saying we have started to do silly things at an increasingly rapid rate.

And it also seems like we are starting to reward people for doing stupid things.

It's like humanity is in the midst of a "come-to-moron" moment.

And the silliness seems to have infected nearly all corners of culture.

Consider what is happening in food right now.

Ask yourself what the biggest food trends are right now. Is it some newfangled way of cooking that elevates flavours or a push towards more sustainable ingredients? No, those happened awhile back.

What we are about these days is making food into rainbow colours and using an avocado shell as a coffee cup.

To be fair, the whole avocado coffee cup thing was started as a joke. After an Australian millionaire foolishly said that young people who want to buy a home should stop spending their money on avocado toast and expensive coffee, a cafe responded by creating the "avolatte" - basically coffee served in an avocado. It was a joke creation that they did not put on their menu.

Now one would have thought that the response to this would be: "Haha, very funny cafe person. That is a smart social commentary that'll highlight the absurdity of the millionaire's statement."

Unfortunately, the actual response was : " What? Coffee in an avocado? Take my money."

Closer to home, I have recently been made aware of an event known as the Durian Run. In this event, runners as young as seven years old will race for 5km while carrying a durian.

Running, children and durians - what could possibly go wrong?

Away from food, exercise and food-related exercise, let us turn our attention to the latest fashion trends.

In this realm, special mention must surely go to Balenciaga, who has not only come up with a US$5,000 (S$6,903) bag that looks like a pasar malam bag, but also a US$2,000 one that looks like an Ikea bag.

And I am not forgetting Topshop, which is now flogging US$100 jeans made out of clear plastic. Although see-through jeans sounds like a ridiculous idea on paper, when you see a photo of them on a model, you suddenly realise that they are more ridiculous than you first imagined.

I am waiting for the fashion industry to release the statement that this past couple of months have just been one elaborate prank to see what they can get people to buy.

Consider other things that have recently caught attention - fake news, fidget spinners, dabbing, and a song about a pineapple, an apple and two pens - and there is this inescapable feeling of despair.

Now, to be completely upfront, I contributed many views to the fruit plus stationery video. But the fact I enjoyed it doesn't comfort me. It just reaffirms my belief in my own cognitive decline.

Googling "Are people getting dumber" also hasn't helped the situation.

It seems there are many old and grumpy people out there who have spent far more time than I have on this thought. One suggested the abundance of resources means people no longer have to think to survive. And natural selection was no longer favouring the smart.

I also came across a study that estimated human IQ dipped 14 points between 1884 and 2004. The most shocking part of that statistic: Keeping Up With The Kardashians didn't start airing till 2007. And Real Housewives Of Atlanta didn't start till 2008.

Who knows how much our collective IQ has dipped since then.

"Hang on, elitist newspaper ranting person," I hear you say. "You can't just cherry-pick stupid recent examples to claim we are becoming stupid. Aren't there lots of really smart people doing lots of really smart things that you didn't mention?"

Oh right. I didn't think about that. Silly me.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Are we getting dumber, or what?'. Print Edition | Subscribe