The Acceleration of the Age of the Idiot

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The Main Question History Will Ask About Us Is: How Did Everything Get So Stupid, So Fast?

umair haque · Follow

Published in Eudaimonia and Co · 10 min read · Jun 23

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There’s a thought I keep on having, and maybe you’ve had it too. The main question they’ll ask about our age is: how did everything get so stupid, so fast? You can look at our economies and see inflation ripping through them. But there’s another kind of inflation at work too. In human folly, and all its flavors, from ignorance to malice to bad faith and beyond. It’s pulsating through our societies, and the lunatics, it seems, are seizing control of them, faster and faster.

I know you know that. But I also think it’s instructive to really think about it for a moment.

Think back to a decade ago. Just a decade ago. 2013. It seems like a…practically a…Golden Age…by comparison. We’d go online, and Twitter and Facebook weren’t…great. But they weren’t the smoking wrecks of disinformation, hate, and moronitude they are today, either — not even close. Our politics was fragmented and a little bit fractured — but nation after nation hadn’t been seduced by fanatics who’d go on to wreck its institutions and norms, like Brexit did to Britain, or Trumpism did to America. Our economies weren’t exactly in stellar shape — stagnation was beginning to bite.

But we weren’t exactly in the insane — to me as an economist, anyways — position of a recession hammered home by central banks raising rates to astronomical levels just as the mega-scale impacts of climate change hit. Which themselves were largely ignored, in favor of an endless parade of celebrities and billionaires.

Does it feel a little bit like…what’s the phrase I’m looking for…The Bonfire of Vanities at the end of a civilization…out there today? Welcome to the Acceleration of the Age of Stupid.

Think back, again, just a decade, and remember how you felt. How do you feel now, in comparison? If indicators are any bet, you feel not just worse, but astonishingly worse. People are so pessimistic that it’s hard to even do it justice in words — 80% of people, and this finding holds true across societies, basically think there’s not going to be a future, for them or their kids. A decade ago? Societies might not all have been shining examples of happiness — but they weren’t exactly biting their nails to keep from screaming in despair, either. And all that’s taken a knock-on effect on social cohesion, meaning trust and ties, which are collapsing at light speed.

When I or you say “stupid,” as in, “Jesus, how can people even be this stupid?” — and we mean everything from climate denial to regressive who want to take rights away to fanatics who want to ban books to lunatics who think storming Congress is wonderful and peaceful — part of what we mean, even if we don’t know it, is all that: pessimism, the loss of social cohesion, trust and ties collapsing — but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s do a few examples from just the last few days — days, no less — to chart the Acceleration of the Age of Stupid. The whole world heard about the doomed submersible that imploded en route to the Titanic. Now, sure, like any decent person, I pity those poor souls — what a way to go. But as even Barack Obama mentioned — there’s an asymmetry here. Desperate refugees fleeing war and chaos in tiny lifeboats who drown by the hundreds, maybe thousands — they barely get a mention, let alone wall-to-wall coverage for weeks, plus huge rescue operations, funded by the world’s richest nations, with mournful press conferences.

I’m not saying those on the doomed sub didn’t deserve it — but…well…what makes them more deserving of all that than…anyone else ? Where’s the line? What criteria are we using to say “these lives matter more than those”? Is it just because those on the sub were rich ? I don’t know — I’m just asking, and I know it’s kind of an annoying question.

But while the surreal story of the doomed sub gripped the world — or at least its media — another story went untold. Ocean temperatures leapt off the charts. Climate scientists were horrified, startled, and spellbound. We still don’t know exactly why, though several explanations have been offered. In the end, we watched another mega-scale impact of climate change happen, right before our eyes — but was anybody actually paying much attention?

You see, I’m not saying the doomed sub, again, wasn’t worthy of attention — sure it was. A story designed, seemingly, by the Fates, to reach down into the human heart. And yet just think of the proportionality here. Does the average person even know that ocean temperatures have leapt off the charts? Probably not. And if they don’t know that, they almost certainly don’t know the implications. Fish feed billions of people. Marine heatwaves this…vast…severe…starve the oceans of oxygen. Food chains collapse. Heat accumulates. Ocean currents stop. This is how tipping points of climate catastrophe are being hit , one by one — and yet, even now…

If I ask the average person (and I do, because I’m that kind of nerd), “hey, do you know what ‘climate tipping points’ are?” Almost none of them can tell me. Maybe 1 in 10 people can tell me that. But almost everyone can tell me the latest human interest drama that’s gripped the world, like the doomed sub story, or some celebrity who did this or that, and so forth.

We have an almost total lack of literacy about…what should we call it? Let’s just say we have a reality literacy problem in our civilization. The single biggest problem we have is climate change, and yet maybe 10% of people can actually tell me what climate tipping points even are . That’s a form of illiteracy — a profound, devastating one. Because it sets up the stage for what happens next .

Over the last few days, something else happened. An eminent scientist, working on a low-cost vaccine, for the world’s poor countries, was subjected to an intimidation campaign, by a bunch of Very Rich Dudes. Debate me, bro, they cried. As if a) anyone’s obligation to do so b) not doing so proves or disproves much of anything and c) whether or not doing so is basically an ambush. Wisely, the scientist didn’t agree — but that only kicked the campaign into overdrive. He’s a poser! A wimp! A charlatan!! See, it was all a lie!! Ha-ha, vaccines are for suckers !

The stupid . This is an example of…a lot of things. But to make them clearer, let’s do another example.

A meteorologist in Iowa, who worked at a TV station, suddenly quit — saying he had PTSD . From what? From people sending him death threats . For what? For reporting on the weather and the climate. There he was, just doing his job, probably better than was required, trying to educate his viewers about why they were facing extreme weather — here were the mega-scale impacts of climate change. And for that? He got harassed, hounded, intimidated. With death threats.

Good for him for quitting. Nobody deserves that. And yet it’s a sign that stupid’s winning , isn’t it?

What kinds of stupid are there in our world at the moment? In that last example, you can see almost all of the major kinds at work. There’s anti-scientific conspiratorialism — science is some kind of conspiracy cooked up by the Illuminati, the Jews, God knows what these days. And so you can’t “believe” in it — it’s out to get you, from vaccines, to the hoax of climate change, and on and on. That provokes the next form of stupid — violent rage, intimidation, threats. Think back to a decade ago — in most of our modern societies, anyways, it was almost totally unheard of for this kind of thing to happen — a meteorologist to be intimidated off the air by death threats from lunatics and fanatics.

But now? It’s increasingly commonplace . By now, you’ve heard of a group called “ Moms for Liberty .” They’ve managed to almost single-handedly hijack America’s educational curriculum, by lodging “objections” to…books…of all kinds…which, coupled with authoritarian policies like those of Ron DeSantis, that give such figures real power, alter whole systems and institutions, in this case, education. Moms for Liberty released their first newsletter the other day — one of their “chapters” did — and right there, front and center, was a proud quote from…

Adolf Hitler .

LOL. This is where we are. Groups that are hijacking entire nations’ educational curricula quote Hitler . Approvingly. Black Mirror has nothing on that — it’s absurd because it feels like some kind of AI generated comedy. Unfortunately, it’s reality .

Here, we see more forms of stupid, at work. When fanatical groups object to books, these days, it’s for a handful of reasons — top among them, bigotry. Xenophobia. Hate . And yet bigotry is a form of stupid, too, for many reasons. It only costs us our own democracies, possibilities, and choices, in the end. Usually, those practicing it are trying desperately to hide something from themselves, which is why virulence so often ends in hypocrisy. Stupid.

And yet groups like this have real power .

Even that’s putting it mildly. They have outsized power . The fanatics, lunatics, extremists, maniacs — and that’s the true hallmark of this age, or one of them, at least. You see, Moms for Liberty has pretty small numbers. They’re far from some kind of majority. The death-threat wielding maniacs who forced the meteorologist off the air are a minority, too. As Twitter’s become a bubbling spout of poison and stupid, it’s revenue’s plunged — even in that context, the fanatics are a minority.

But they are a very loud minority. The loudest of all. And our leaders and politicians appear to almost want to give them outsized power, as if to say, Jesus, if I just give you what you want, will you just leave me alone ? And so what we see, in domain after domain, is the same dynamic — very, very loud groups of fanatics and lunatics, total crackpots, seize something close to absolute power.

In the language of social science, they “crowd out” the rest of us, the sane and thoughtful and above all, peaceful . Like the meteorologist who was literally forced off the air, or like Moms for Liberty.

Stupid is crowding out sanity. In domain after domain. In education. In public discourse. In media — which is imploding, going bankrupt. In everyday interactions, which now — well, you don’t know if that person’s going to be a total crackpot, do you, and so, like many people, you’re much, much more guarded than you used to be a decade ago, and there go social ties. In politics, where fanatics and extremists are rising across the globe, from the “True Finns” onwards.

So a weird and startling megatrend is emerging: human consciousness is shrinking — that’s what all these flavors of stupidity really are — at precisely the time it needs to expand. Expand most, given our civilization crossing the threshold into the Age of Extinction.

The growth of conscisouness is the expansion of empathy, grace, truth, beauty, justice, goodness, wisdom, courage, humility. See any of that happening? Or just the explosive growth of every flavor of folly, every crazed admixture of stupidity, history’s ever seen, at light speed?

Politics deserves a special mention, briefly, because here, we see a very special form of stupid at work. Ignorance . I mean that technically and formally. Think of all the nations that recently empowered fanatical political parties — Finland, Italy, Sweden, to name just a few. Now, what’s stupid about that? Well, we know how the story ends . All we have to do is look at, say, Brexit Britain, to see where dalliances with such forms of extremism end — they leave you isolated, impoverished, disgraced, and bereft. All you have to do is look at post-Trump America — such politics leave you divided, spent, and on the brink of not having much of a democracy.

To make a mistake is one thing. But to repeat one is another. And this is what’s happening in global politics now. Not my opinion — just a fact, which is empirically true. Brexit didn’t fix Britain, and Trumpism didn’t fix America. Doesn’t work. Repeating mistakes is a form of ignorance. It’s saying: I don’t want to learn from that reality, from history, from what actually happened. I’m just going to… ignore it.

That’s a brief survey of the Age of Stupid, and how it’s accelerating. From anti-science conspiratorilaism, to intimidation and harassment as norms, to a stunning lack of literacy about basic realities. Right down to the old poisons of bigotry and hate. Culminating in tidal waves of ignorance. Hey — we can repeat all these mistakes!! No problem here! We don’t know how this story ends, nope, no lessons to be learned from anyone or anything else! Freedom !!!!!1111

Hence, just existing amidst all this stupid today is getting to be painful . Because it permeates everything, more and more, in all these forms. I should distinguish, before I finish, between what we might Lesser and Greater Stupid. Not knowing climate tipping points: Lesser Stupid, a stupid of omission. Greater Stupid: violent intimidation and harassment, bigotry, hate, professing ignorance about where they end — because those are stupidities of commission .

Still, drawing that line hardly makes it feel much better to have live through an Age of Stupid. For the thoughtful and sane among us? Just making it though another…day…which seems stupider than the last…because it is…that’s challenge enough. It’s our world, my friends — all of ours. Not just the willfully stupid’s. Just because they shout the loudest, doesn’t mean they’re right . It just means they’ll never learn that they’re wrong.

If you’re feeling the way I do, I’m here to tell you it’s real. The stupid is burning us out, my friends, getting abysmally worse, and it’s something you should know and reflect on — just think back to a decade ago — so you retain your sanity, courage, grace, and truth. That’s hard enough, and the less stupid you have to wade through — here’s a not-so-secret: the better chance you have.

Umair June 2023

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Member-only story. The Main Question History Will Ask About Us Is: How Did Everything Get So Stupid, So Fast? umair haque · Follow. Published in Eudaimonia and Co · 10 min read · Jun 23. -- 48. Listen. Share. Image Credit. There’s a thought I keep on having, and maybe you’ve had it too. The main question they’ll ask about our age is: how did everything get so stupid, so fast? You can look at our economies and see inflation ripping through them. But there’s another kind of inflation at work too. In human folly, and all its flavors, from ignorance to malice to bad faith and beyond. It’s pulsating through our societies, and the lunatics, it seems, are seizing control of them, faster and faster. I know you know that. But I also think it’s instructive to really think about it for a moment. Think back to a decade ago. Just a decade ago. 2013. It seems like a…practically a…Golden Age…by comparison. We’d go online, and Twitter and Facebook weren’t…great. But they weren’t the smoking wrecks of disinformation, hate, and moronitude they are today, either — not even close. Our politics was fragmented and a little bit fractured — but nation after nation hadn’t been seduced by fanatics who’d go on to wreck its institutions and norms, like Brexit did to Britain, or Trumpism did to America. Our economies weren’t exactly in stellar shape — stagnation was beginning to bite. But we weren’t exactly in the insane — to me as an economist, anyways — position of a recession hammered home by central banks raising rates to astronomical levels just as the mega-scale impacts of climate change hit. Which themselves were largely ignored, in favor of an endless parade of celebrities and billionaires. Does it feel a little bit like…what’s the phrase I’m looking for…The Bonfire of Vanities at the end of a civilization…out there today? Welcome to the Acceleration of the Age of Stupid. Think back, again, just a decade, and remember how you felt. How do you feel now, in comparison? If indicators are any bet, you feel not just worse, but astonishingly worse. People are so pessimistic that it’s hard to even do it justice in words — 80% of people, and this finding holds true across societies, basically think there’s not going to be a future, for them or their kids. A decade ago? Societies might not all have been shining examples of happiness — but they weren’t exactly biting their nails to keep from screaming in despair, either. And all that’s taken a knock-on effect on social cohesion, meaning trust and ties, which are collapsing at light speed. When I or you say “stupid,” as in, “Jesus, how can people even be this stupid?” — and we mean everything from climate denial to regressive who want to take rights away to fanatics who want to ban books to lunatics who think storming Congress is wonderful and peaceful — part of what we mean, even if we don’t know it, is all that: pessimism, the loss of social cohesion, trust and ties collapsing — but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s do a few examples from just the last few days — days, no less — to chart the Acceleration of the Age of Stupid. The whole world heard about the doomed submersible that imploded en route to the Titanic. Now, sure, like any decent person, I pity those poor souls — what a way to go. But as even Barack Obama mentioned — there’s an asymmetry here. Desperate refugees fleeing war and chaos in tiny lifeboats who drown by the hundreds, maybe thousands — they barely get a mention, let alone wall-to-wall coverage for weeks, plus huge rescue operations, funded by the world’s richest nations, with mournful press conferences. I’m not saying those on the doomed sub didn’t deserve it — but…well…what makes them more deserving of all that than…anyone else ? Where’s the line? What criteria are we using to say “these lives matter more than those”? Is it just because those on the sub were rich ? I don’t know — I’m just asking, and I know it’s kind of an annoying question. But while the surreal story of the doomed sub gripped the world — or at least its media — another story went untold. Ocean temperatures leapt off the charts. Climate scientists were horrified, startled, and spellbound. We still don’t know exactly why, though several explanations have been offered. In the end, we watched another mega-scale impact of climate change happen, right before our eyes — but was anybody actually paying much attention? You see, I’m not saying the doomed sub, again, wasn’t worthy of attention — sure it was. A story designed, seemingly, by the Fates, to reach down into the human heart. And yet just think of the proportionality here. Does the average person even know that ocean temperatures have leapt off the charts? Probably not. And if they don’t know that, they almost certainly don’t know the implications. Fish feed billions of people. Marine heatwaves this…vast…severe…starve the oceans of oxygen. Food chains collapse. Heat accumulates. Ocean currents stop. This is how tipping points of climate catastrophe are being hit , one by one — and yet, even now… If I ask the average person (and I do, because I’m that kind of nerd), “hey, do you know what ‘climate tipping points’ are?” Almost none of them can tell me. Maybe 1 in 10 people can tell me that. But almost everyone can tell me the latest human interest drama that’s gripped the world, like the doomed sub story, or some celebrity who did this or that, and so forth. We have an almost total lack of literacy about…what should we call it? Let’s just say we have a reality literacy problem in our civilization. The single biggest problem we have is climate change, and yet maybe 10% of people can actually tell me what climate tipping points even are . That’s a form of illiteracy — a profound, devastating one. Because it sets up the stage for what happens next . Over the last few days, something else happened. An eminent scientist, working on a low-cost vaccine, for the world’s poor countries, was subjected to an intimidation campaign, by a bunch of Very Rich Dudes. Debate me, bro, they cried. As if a) anyone’s obligation to do so b) not doing so proves or disproves much of anything and c) whether or not doing so is basically an ambush. Wisely, the scientist didn’t agree — but that only kicked the campaign into overdrive. He’s a poser! A wimp! A charlatan!! See, it was all a lie!! Ha-ha, vaccines are for suckers ! The stupid . This is an example of…a lot of things. But to make them clearer, let’s do another example. A meteorologist in Iowa, who worked at a TV station, suddenly quit — saying he had PTSD . From what? From people sending him death threats . For what? For reporting on the weather and the climate. There he was, just doing his job, probably better than was required, trying to educate his viewers about why they were facing extreme weather — here were the mega-scale impacts of climate change. And for that? He got harassed, hounded, intimidated. With death threats. Good for him for quitting. Nobody deserves that. And yet it’s a sign that stupid’s winning , isn’t it? What kinds of stupid are there in our world at the moment? In that last example, you can see almost all of the major kinds at work. There’s anti-scientific conspiratorialism — science is some kind of conspiracy cooked up by the Illuminati, the Jews, God knows what these days. And so you can’t “believe” in it — it’s out to get you, from vaccines, to the hoax of climate change, and on and on. That provokes the next form of stupid — violent rage, intimidation, threats. Think back to a decade ago — in most of our modern societies, anyways, it was almost totally unheard of for this kind of thing to happen — a meteorologist to be intimidated off the air by death threats from lunatics and fanatics. But now? It’s increasingly commonplace . By now, you’ve heard of a group called “ Moms for Liberty .” They’ve managed to almost single-handedly hijack America’s educational curriculum, by lodging “objections” to…books…of all kinds…which, coupled with authoritarian policies like those of Ron DeSantis, that give such figures real power, alter whole systems and institutions, in this case, education. Moms for Liberty released their first newsletter the other day — one of their “chapters” did — and right there, front and center, was a proud quote from… Adolf Hitler . LOL. This is where we are. Groups that are hijacking entire nations’ educational curricula quote Hitler . Approvingly. Black Mirror has nothing on that — it’s absurd because it feels like some kind of AI generated comedy. Unfortunately, it’s reality . Here, we see more forms of stupid, at work. When fanatical groups object to books, these days, it’s for a handful of reasons — top among them, bigotry. Xenophobia. Hate . And yet bigotry is a form of stupid, too, for many reasons. It only costs us our own democracies, possibilities, and choices, in the end. Usually, those practicing it are trying desperately to hide something from themselves, which is why virulence so often ends in hypocrisy. Stupid. And yet groups like this have real power . Even that’s putting it mildly. They have outsized power . The fanatics, lunatics, extremists, maniacs — and that’s the true hallmark of this age, or one of them, at least. You see, Moms for Liberty has pretty small numbers. They’re far from some kind of majority. The death-threat wielding maniacs who forced the meteorologist off the air are a minority, too. As Twitter’s become a bubbling spout of poison and stupid, it’s revenue’s plunged — even in that context, the fanatics are a minority. But they are a very loud minority. The loudest of all. And our leaders and politicians appear to almost want to give them outsized power, as if to say, Jesus, if I just give you what you want, will you just leave me alone ? And so what we see, in domain after domain, is the same dynamic — very, very loud groups of fanatics and lunatics, total crackpots, seize something close to absolute power. In the language of social science, they “crowd out” the rest of us, the sane and thoughtful and above all, peaceful . Like the meteorologist who was literally forced off the air, or like Moms for Liberty. Stupid is crowding out sanity. In domain after domain. In education. In public discourse. In media — which is imploding, going bankrupt. In everyday interactions, which now — well, you don’t know if that person’s going to be a total crackpot, do you, and so, like many people, you’re much, much more guarded than you used to be a decade ago, and there go social ties. In politics, where fanatics and extremists are rising across the globe, from the “True Finns” onwards. So a weird and startling megatrend is emerging: human consciousness is shrinking — that’s what all these flavors of stupidity really are — at precisely the time it needs to expand. Expand most, given our civilization crossing the threshold into the Age of Extinction. The growth of conscisouness is the expansion of empathy, grace, truth, beauty, justice, goodness, wisdom, courage, humility. See any of that happening? Or just the explosive growth of every flavor of folly, every crazed admixture of stupidity, history’s ever seen, at light speed? Politics deserves a special mention, briefly, because here, we see a very special form of stupid at work. Ignorance . I mean that technically and formally. Think of all the nations that recently empowered fanatical political parties — Finland, Italy, Sweden, to name just a few. Now, what’s stupid about that? Well, we know how the story ends . All we have to do is look at, say, Brexit Britain, to see where dalliances with such forms of extremism end — they leave you isolated, impoverished, disgraced, and bereft. All you have to do is look at post-Trump America — such politics leave you divided, spent, and on the brink of not having much of a democracy. To make a mistake is one thing. But to repeat one is another. And this is what’s happening in global politics now. Not my opinion — just a fact, which is empirically true. Brexit didn’t fix Britain, and Trumpism didn’t fix America. Doesn’t work. Repeating mistakes is a form of ignorance. It’s saying: I don’t want to learn from that reality, from history, from what actually happened. I’m just going to… ignore it. That’s a brief survey of the Age of Stupid, and how it’s accelerating. From anti-science conspiratorilaism, to intimidation and harassment as norms, to a stunning lack of literacy about basic realities. Right down to the old poisons of bigotry and hate. Culminating in tidal waves of ignorance. Hey — we can repeat all these mistakes!! No problem here! We don’t know how this story ends, nope, no lessons to be learned from anyone or anything else! Freedom !!!!!1111. Hence, just existing amidst all this stupid today is getting to be painful . Because it permeates everything, more and more, in all these forms. I should distinguish, before I finish, between what we might Lesser and Greater Stupid. Not knowing climate tipping points: Lesser Stupid, a stupid of omission. Greater Stupid: violent intimidation and harassment, bigotry, hate, professing ignorance about where they end — because those are stupidities of commission . Still, drawing that line hardly makes it feel much better to have live through an Age of Stupid. For the thoughtful and sane among us? Just making it though another…day…which seems stupider than the last…because it is…that’s challenge enough. It’s our world, my friends — all of ours. Not just the willfully stupid’s. Just because they shout the loudest, doesn’t mean they’re right . It just means they’ll never learn that they’re wrong. If you’re feeling the way I do, I’m here to tell you it’s real. The stupid is burning us out, my friends, getting abysmally worse, and it’s something you should know and reflect on — just think back to a decade ago — so you retain your sanity, courage, grace, and truth. That’s hard enough, and the less stupid you have to wade through — here’s a not-so-secret: the better chance you have. Umair June 2023.