Top critical review
We're Doomed! Dooomed!
12 June 2019
An iconic comedy show from our youth in the distant recesses of the last century was Dad's Army, the family-friendly and gently amusing adventures of a home guard detachment. Along with "Don't tell him, [your name] Pike!", one of the many catchwords this show spawned was Cpl. Fraser's line quoted in the title.
I have just finished reading a book "At Our Wit's End" which was telling me pretty much the same thing.
This is a serious book about an important subject, but it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the authors' style and presentation write cheques that their conclusions don't really cash.
The thesis is that due mainly to the welfare state and other cultural changes leading to a process of negative selection for higher IQ, and (to a lesser extent), high immigration from low average IQ countries, the average IQ of populations in the West is dropping sharply and that as a consequence our civilization is about to collapse, as did the Romans' before us, and for much the same reasons.
The basic idea is unremarkable. It is fairly obvious to a casual observer that by incentivizing low IQ individuals to have children by extracting money from high productivity individuals redistributing it to the feckless, the results will not be pretty. The other important factor operating in the same direction is that because high g (meaning IQ) individuals are more successful at contraception they are better at having fewer children, and do so as they get richer, a phenomenon documented throughout the world.
Much is made of the decline of religious belief in the West, although christian charity is held partly to blame for the generous welfare support provided to the needy. And the whole charabanc is held together with sticky stape and speculation.
The authors' solution (to the extent they have one) to this societal problem which they liken to a person preparing wisely for his own old age, is essentially Eugenics.
I'n not so sure.
There are any number of points on which they don't convince me.
The book opens by recounting the sad end of the magnificent Concorde project which occurred as a result of an accident caused by the shoddy maintenance of another unrelated aircraft depositing a piece of metal on a runway which caused a freak accident killing 100 people. The remaining aircraft were immediately withdrawn from service, and that was that. Crossing the Atlantic now took 8 hours again instead of 3.
The next example cherry-picked and half-analysed to illustrate the author's thesis is the project to put man on the moon in 1969.
Apparently 21st century humankind is no longer capable of doing that, either.
It seems to me that neither of these examples, at least as they are presented in the book, really work.
The reason that these staggering feats of engineering haven't been repeated is more to do with economics and politics than with any preceived lack of engineering Genius in the population. The authors fail to reflect that emerging from the massively centralised wartime economy of the West there was an enormous technological infrastructure of scientists and capable administrators just sat there with no more Nazis to fight, communist megalomaniacs to support, Atom bombs to build and test, or greatest seabourne invasions in history to plan and implement.
This was probably the greatest concentration of intellect ever harnessed to a single cause and hopefully we'll never need to see its like again
With the war done and dusted some new purpose needed to be found for all this talent, the way of government being what it is, returning all these geniuses to normal boring peacetime activity was never an option.
Newly nationalised aircraft industries took the wartime inventions of jet engine and the rest and evolved them with massive amounts of financial input from the government, into Concorde, truly a magnificent aircraft but one which could uncharitably be described as using tax payer's money to ferry plutocrats from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Whether it ever really paid for itself is a moot point and the unseemly haste with which it was dumped after the crash tends to imply that it's 50 year-old air frames were becoming a burden, and the economic case for making a new generation of supersonic plane is weak - luckily the will in the west for another tax payer funded effort doesn't seem to be there. that is progress.
Likewise the man on the moon, possible only because of the cold war space race.
The authors might as well explain the fact that we haven't build another pyramid of Gaza or Great Wall of China.
They don't consider either the likely effect of the 20th century's great blood letting in the fields of Flanders. A substantial proportion of the best and brightest of a generation were ground into the mud there before being able to procreate. I would be surprised if that had no effect on the quality of the gene pool.
In general I got the strong impression that most of the quoted sources came from rather a small group of names including a considerable amount from the authors' own previous works, not necessary a problem but not great either.
They attempt to discuss the history of the great Arab civilization and also the Chinese in similar terms but don't convince.
In particular they don't discuss what the possible effects of China's one child policy might have been. It would most likely have tended to attenuate the decline I would suspect but we'll never know. Not from these two anyway.
When it comes to solutions they seem mainly to be in thrall to various types of Eugenics of differing degrees of wholly unacceptably authoritarian awfulness.
There might be better ways of achieving similar results. For sure part of the problem is the very high percentage of women trying to have careers. These careers especially for the university educated ones are often in relatively non value adding parts of the economy made necessary only by vast amounts of pointless and counter constructive government regulation. If this were eased there would a double benefit. In general government subsidy of higher education should be removed altogether and universities should have to go out to the market and offer genuinely value adding courses rather than sucking in students to study useless degrees for purely credentialist purposes.
I would suggest that benefits to unmarried mothers be reduced sharply. Sucking at the teat of the tax payer as a lifestyle choice needs to be eliminated. For mothers who can't afford to keep their children, adoption by richer childless couples is a better outcome for the children, and one which at the moment is heartbreakingly difficult.
There will be other and probably better ways as well.
So, all in all, food for thought and worth a read, but to my mind begs almost as many questions as it answers.