The evolution of stupidity

Protecting people from themselves actually encourages irresponsibility

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At least one scientist thinks human beings are getting dumber.

We don’t know about that, but there’s little question that we’re acting that way.

Professor Gerald Crabtree of Stanford University recently posited that human intelligence peaked as far back as 2,000 years ago – basically because our survival back then depended more on our wits.

“A hunter-gatherer who did not correctly conceive a solution to providing food or shelter probably died, along with his or her progeny,” Dr. Crabtree suggests, “whereas a modern Wall Street executive that made a similar conceptual mistake would receive a substantial bonus and be a more attractive mate.”

It’s a more fanciful hypothesis than we’re used to seeing from science, and certainly one that attracts anecdotal evidence.

You may have noticed, for example, that television commercials that depict dangerous or even impossible situations – cars being driven into bodies of water, or a guy flying through the air while holding onto a moving pickup’s tailgate – come with small-print warnings at the bottom of the screen: “Do not attempt.”

Such a warning, no doubt suggested in a memo from the company’s legal department, presupposes two things: 1) someone is stupid enough to try the stunt himself and 2) will sue if he gets hurt.

It’s a sad and funny statement about the state of our legal system, but also about intelligence levels. The lawyers are probably right.

A less whimsical bit of evidence that Dr. Crabtree might someday be proved right is American society’s apparent attempt to protect people from the consequences of their imprudent and downright stupid behavior.

From large, irresponsible firms collapsing from the weight of their recklessness, to indiscreet and intemperate gluttons for gratification, many people today think they deserve to be bailed out.

And, stupidly, we’re bailing them out.

Secretary of State John Kerry recently told a European audience that Americans “have a right to be stupid.” Indeed. In fact, “stupid” has become something of a protected class in America: A man can, for instance, impregnate as many women as he likes, or a woman can have babies with as many different men as she likes, and the worst that may happen to them is they’re held up to scorn on Maury Povich’s show (where the promiscuous-and-proud crowd goes to find out who the daddy is).

That’s because the government is there to pick up the slack.

And when taxpayers occasionally rebel enough to ask, in the law, that public-benefits recipients be drug-tested – sort of like taxpayers are tested for drugs when they get jobs – they’re told to mind their own business.

Really? Doesn’t taking my money and giving it to someone else to protect them from their own irresponsibility kind of make it my business just a little? Don’t I have a right to some sense that my hard-earned money isn’t just supporting someone else’s drug habit?

Apparently not. Ours is not to question the largesse of government – ours is to shut up and subsidize.

It all begs the question: How many people can be protected from the consequences of their behaviors, for how long, and at how great a cost?

The real tragedy is that, in trying everything to protect people from themselves, we’re enabling irresponsibility and negating nature’s demand that folks learn to take care of themselves – and we’re preventing them from growing and becoming their best selves and reaching their God-given potential.

Our attempt to weave a cocoon around stupid is only clogging the courts, as we noted in an editorial Feb. 24, ruining lives and costing us financially.

And it’s Dr. Crabtree’s best chance to be proved correct.

Here are five things we could do to try to change our current trajectory:

1. Stop subsidizing stupid; public policies and benefits must promote good choices and responsibility.

2. Be willing to stand by and watch people fail – with a humane safety net far below, of course.

3. Be open to serious education reform – and we’ve got to rethink everything, including school choice, parent/teacher accountability, and false self-esteem; not everybody deserves a trophy.

4. We need to stop ignoring, tolerating and even rewarding boorish, coarse, ignorant people and behavior.

5. As Superior Court Judge Danny Craig suggested in our Feb. 24 editorial, all of us should see ourselves as leaders and pick up our game in every facet of our lives.

Ultimately, it may matter less how smart humans are than how smart they act.

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KSL 03/10/13 - 08:15 pm

I get the feeling that you came on this earth after LBJ's Great Society. I did social casework before he got his hooks into the taxpayers' money. It was amazing how self sufficient people were. Back then we helped people who truly needed it. I saw no parasites. Didn't see the illegitimate babies either. Back then pregnancy meant there was a male in the picture who needed to help pay for his offspring. And dang, sex education was not taught in schools and birth control was not available over the counter.

Darby 03/10/13 - 08:51 pm
"And you fellows also probably believed the old Ronald Reagan...

lie about the welfare queen picking up her check while driving a Cadillac."

I believe it because it was documented.. unlike most of the drivel you choose to bring to us on these boards.

And it's STILL going on today, just on a much greater and more sophisticated scale.

Anyway, whether she was driving a Cadillac or a Lexis is immaterial.

deestafford 03/10/13 - 11:47 pm

The buying of airplanes you so often decry is in a little document called the Constitution under the heading of "provide for the common defense."
No where in that document does it talk about doling out welfare...and don't try to trot out the "promote the general welfare" clause as justification because that "welfare" is not the same meaning as the term "welfare" is used today. The way to provide for the needs of the poor is stop all federal welfare. Visualize concentric circles with the poor individual at the center of the circles. The first ring outward is the family. The second is the church. The third is the neighborhood. The fourth is the city. The last ring is the state. The individual goes to each ring for assistance and does not go to the next unless the previous one has exhausted its resources. One thing this does is causes the "poor" to go face-to-face with their benefactor and as such will feel a pang of conscience for having to ask for help and will be motivated to improve their station in life. Those who cannot improve their status because of mental or physical defects will continue to receive aid. Those that are just plain sorry and try to be moochers will be cut off and required to fend for themselves. Charity begins at home and works outward.
The question comes up as to "what about the 'children'?" If people have children and can't afford to take care of them properly, they go to an orphanage. There have been some stellar adults who were children raised in orphanages. There would be no welfare checks given because someone has children.
Is this cruel? Maybe. But it worked well in the past before we had so many people sucking at the teat of the government. What is more cruel is for someone (the government) to hold a gun to the head of producers and force them to give money to moochers.

specsta 03/11/13 - 01:59 am

deestafford wrote: "One thing this does is causes the "poor" to go face-to-face with their benefactor and as such will feel a pang of conscience for having to ask for help and will be motivated to improve their station in life"

This is the problem right here. This society has vilified the poor so much that there are some folks who are afraid to seek help, because of the snotty attitudes of "benefactors" and judgmental people. "Why don't you get a job? Why don't you go back to school? Why don't you stop mooching off of my tax dollars?" goes the Pharisee who turns up their nose at the needy.

Folks who have never suffered do not realize the loss of self-worth and respect that one undergoes when help is needed. They do not understand the invasion of privacy, the endless red tape of bureaucracy, the shame that is felt because help is needed. Folks who have always had good jobs, have a solid university education, have a trust fund, or have a Daddy or a Momma who will leave them an inheritance - don't have a clue.

There should be no shame in asking for help. Nor should anyone exalt themselves to think they have the right to judge someone who is poor and in need.

Motivation? What about the psychological toll of having society tell you that you are good-for-nothing, that you are a drain on society, that you are lazy, that something must be wrong with you - because you asked for help.

What does it say to our young men and women that there is always free room and board for you at the jail or prison, but there is no money available to educate you in the university classroom?

There is something fundamentally wrong here. The selfishness and greed that consumes many citizens, who think that something is being taken from them if help is offered to the less fortunate, is appalling.

Young Fred
Young Fred 03/11/13 - 09:21 am
specsta, You just don’t “get


You just don’t “get it” do you?

Nobody hates the poor, or wishes them dead. Do you actually believe that?

Most don’t mind helping the truly needy. Do you actually believe otherwise?

People that really care abhor creating dependency. This is why those people abhor our current system; that is exactly how our system is designed. Why you my ask? Without creating an ever larger dependent class, government won’t continue to expand, and certain politicians will not expand their power.

You rail against corporate powers, I invite you study the history of some the most notorious statist governments in our history. You’ll find a very cozy relationship between the government and captains of industry. These governments gained power by fooling people into believing they would right past injustices, all the while gaining more power while the people steadily became poorer.

Sound familiar?

deestafford made an excellent point.

specsta, You think there should be no shame in asking for help? You don’t realize, or won’t admit shame can be a positive motivating factor. You also fail to realize when you do away with shame; pride in oneself becomes a casualty.

This attempt to “do away with shame” is not limited to the poor in our society, but has been targeted to society as a whole. As a result, pride in oneself has become an ever shrinking commodity. Simply observing how so many treat themselves and others will verify what I say to be true.

What is appalling is that so many gullible people actively support policies that don’t simply help those that are truly in need, but in many cases perpetrate poverty.

skinanbonez 03/11/13 - 11:56 am
1st Hand Perspective

Let me throw in my input, because I see people who get benefits first hand. Just a little background, I'm black, I occasionally stay with my girlfriend in an impoverished area of Augusta, and I'm currently in school. I see first hand the people who receive benefits from the government, whether it be SNAP benefits (food stamps), housing assistance, high tax returns, etc. Some of these people plain old don't deserve it. Period. One girl I know, has two children, goes to college part time and gets jobs off and on but rarely keeps them longer than a few months. She receives SNAP benefits, has housing benefits,is exempt from taxes (when she does have a job)but usually gets very large returns due to her having kids. The father of her children provides no support and is currently in jail. She has two large flat screen TV's, is deep in debt, has no car ( she depends on a relative to get places), just bought her children an expensive gaming system, but recently had to ask others for help paying for gas for her and her relative to go to school...

She doesn't do drugs, but still. She obviously isn't responsible enough to be receiving benefits.

Another woman I know has so many kids I can't think of the exact number off the top of my head. The number is around 6 or 7. She has never had a job. Gets at least $1000 or more in SNAP benefits every month, but has no intentions whatsoever to go to school, get a job, or better her life to the point to be off of government assistance. In fact the reason she had children in the first place was to get said benefits.

I know of another girl, who has at least 2 children, who in fact does use drugs. She gets SNAP benefits. I'm not aware if she gets other benefits. She sometimes sells her SNAP benefits at a deep discount in order to get cash. For whatever reason.

I could go on and on with examples like these. With all that being said, I'm sure there are positive examples of constructive use of government benefits. I like to think I'm one of them. I go to school and receive government assistance to pay for tuition. I have job and I pay taxes. I don't use drugs. Impoverished people need government assistance. I'm one of those people, but at the same time, I see absolutely nothing wrong with requiring a drug test, at minimum, to being a part of a qualification process for receiving benefits.

After that, there should be monitoring of funds (I know this is difficult to enforce) and mandatory educational programs on proper usage of benefits and money management (not difficult to enforce).

I imagine this will inflame those who support lowering benefits for the poor and this will upset those who support raising or maintaining benefits for the poor. Both people are justified to a certain degree, however, I know just like all of you, that waste and abuse of taxpayer money happens at every level of society and government, from the impoverished taking advantage of government funds to politicians taking advantage of taxpayer money for personal projects and to enrich themselves to a certain local university wasting taxpayer money with dictatorial decisions in opposition to popular opinion, waste is all around us.

My suggestion is set a good example by doing your best to eliminate waste in your life first, then go after the most egregious offenders: those with the most power. They have access to the most amount of your taxpayer dollars. The benefits the poor get is infinitesimal compared to waste big government and even local government commits on a regular basis.


There are poor who abuse benefits and this needs regulation. A drug test at the very least.

There are people who use benefits properly.

There is waste at all levels, those with most power waste the most. Go after them, after minimizing waste in your own life.

Darby 03/12/13 - 01:03 pm
Once you have reached that plateau...

where you feel absolutely no shame in accepting a never ending flow of taxpayer money, then you become a de facto lifetime member of the ENTITLEMENT class.

A class from which you will NEVER graduate or matriculate into mainstream society.

Our nation's liberals/socialists have destroyed countless lives and enumerable families because of their own self-loathing and desperate need to feel better about themselves.

We have all known failure and felt shame. Shame is a great motivator to aid us in understanding those failures and our weaknesses. It helps us to move forward and improve ourselves. Or at least it certainly should!

Liberals/socialists try to convince themselves that they eliminate shame by giving away money and asking nothing in return. In fact, what they are doing is suppressing the shame and forging it into an integral part of the recipient's social DNA. Translating the shame into an outward display of resentment and anger.

And yet, these "benefactors" of the poor continue to bemoan the fact that the so-called disparity between the haves and have-nots grows and grows. They will never understand the damage they have done and continue to do. They don't want to understand!

Shame should bring about a resentment in ourselves and a determination to improve. Any hand-out received should be accompanied by a demand to improve oneself, rather than a subliminal promise "that more is on the way".

AprilLowry 03/12/13 - 02:42 pm
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