Charles Stross has a tongue-in-cheek post today I think is worth making an analogy about. He wonders, as have we all, why there are so many stupid people.
I have a speculative answer:
We are hominids. One of the things that makes us different from other primates is that we have language. Language enables us to communicate about our environment and to communicate our interior states. This is a very powerful tool; it means that if, for example, you have figured out a better way to peel a banana, you can tell me about it, and I can acquire that trait.
Our ability to exchange extended phenotypic traits without genetic exchange (thank you, language faculty!) makes us, as Dawkins pointed out in the 1990s, exceptional.
Because of this ability, we don’t have to invent everything for ourselves, individually; we can borrow one anothers’ good ideas. So we only need to be smart enough to understand and use the cognitive tools created by our most intelligent outliers.
Let me re-formulate that hypothesis: The evolutionary pressure selecting for general intelligence (to the extent that general intelligence exists) breaks once a species develops language.
And a logical corollary of this hypothesis is that we are only just smart enough, on average, to be capable of horizontal transfer of memes. Once language andculture arrived (note specialized usage of term ‘culture’), we didn’t need to get any smarter: we could “borrow” from one another. Therefore we’re only just smart enough to do this.
(I call this Charlie’s Anthropic Stupidity Hypothesis.)
I know more than a few readers think I’m tempting fate by predicting the death due to stupidity of the Republican Party, but then again some thought I was tempting fate by predicting an Obama win months ahead of time for essentially the same reason. My analogy is this: the Republican Party has lost the minimum intelligence to listen to its outliers because it has lost the minimum intelligence to realize that its outliers are now on its left-moderate wing.
Politico today ran a longish piece on how the GOP leadership’s long conflab at a former slave plantation in Charlotte concluded they don’t have to change their course, just their messaging.
A big focus of the four-day session, which wraps up Saturday, was adopting a more positive attitude – and smiling! – when interacting with voters and reporters. New Hampshire chairman Wayne MacDonald said party leadings need to work on “not being sour-pusses on television or the radio” – that there is a way to be firm and assertive without being mean-spirited.
“Nobody is saying the Republican Party has to change our beliefs in any of our platform planks,” he said. “This party wants to serve everybody that believes in our principles.”
Many of the 168 elected members of the committee brought up the comments about rape by GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana. Each lost, even as Romney won both states handily.
“On some things, we have the right policy and do a terrible job conveying it. And the Democrats have a bad policy and do a great job,” said Mississippi Republican Chairman Joe Nosef. “So conservatives feel like, whether this is right or wrong, that if we’re talking about the issues, that we have a really good chance at winning. The thing we can’t do is start talking about crazy stuff… We run people off… A collective number of these people are tired of doing that.”
The trouble is, the people who talk about the issues for the Republican Party have been increasingly coming from its crazy once-fringe-now-mainstream and say crazy things on a regular basis. Just wait until Ted Cruz gets in his swing – the Republican Obama this guy is not.
At the same time, John Boehner is saying he regrets bending even a wee bit in negotiations with the White House and promises it won’t happen again – while the GOP has an internet survey on Priebus’ group’s “Growth & Opportunity Project” website. Hunter at DKos writes:
Republicans looking to interject their opinions will probably be disappointed, however. In a dozen or so pages of questions to fill out, only four or so invite you to give your input on the actual Republican Party and their efforts. All the others are demographic questions—data mining stuff. What’s your name? What age are you? What’s your email address, little feller? You know, the kind of questions you teach your kids not to answer during their own internet sessions.
Hey, at least the party leaders are asking for opinions, right? Your opinion is only worth about 1/4th of the content on an actual opinion survey, but it’s a start? Surely it’s not just a flimsy effort towards party list-building under the guise of momentary introspection.
I’ll predict right now that the party list which will get built out of this survey is one where hardline crazies will massively predominate.
To borrow from Charlie, the Republican Party – a memetic entity – has become too stupid for horizontal transfer of new memes which would fit it for survival in a cultural environment which is rapidly changing in demographics and in its attitudes to bigotry of various stripes. It can change that and evolve or it can stay the same and become extinct.