Dumb and Dumber

May 03, 2017

Multiple Pages
Dumb and Dumber

Are campus leftists getting dumber?

It sure seems that way. For example, a black activist stabbed four students yesterday at the University of Texas, murdering one. That’s just kind of vile and moronic.

The trend is the reverse of a half century ago when the radicals tended to outwit the establishment. Today’s campus left seems brutish and stupid, inclined to butchery and hurt feelings.

Leftism in the 1960s tended to be led from the intellectual top down. For example, during 1967’s long hot summer, the highbrow New York Review of Books put a diagram of how to make a Molotov cocktail on its cover.

Today, however, much of the energy on the left is at outlets such as Teen Vogue and Cosmopolitan.

I’ve been blogging for sixteen years, but I only started noticing Cosmo as a player in political debate last fall when Hillary’s campaign got her supposed secret weapon, the cartelista moll Alicia Machado, a photo spread in the not-so-venerable women’s magazine:

Former Miss Universe Alicia Machado Won’t Be Defined by Donald Trump’s Fat-Shaming

When Hillary Clinton called out her opponent’s sexism at the first presidential debate, she highlighted a woman who had experienced it firsthand.

In an election year full of idiotic gimmicks, Alicia Machado was quite possibly the dumbest of them all.

“Not surprisingly, the kind of thinking that’s trendy on campuses is getting dumber all the time.”

Since then, Cosmo keeps popping up on my radar as being extra woke. For example, its article on the black racist horror movie Get Out was entitled:

‘Get Out’ Perfectly Captures the Terrifying Truth About White Women

If Helen Gurley Brown were alive today, she’d be rolling in her grave.

In the old days, in contrast, Cosmo did not aspire to political relevance. Cosmopolitan magazine has been around in one format or another since 1886, but its Wikipedia outline encapsulates the central event in its history aptly:

1 History

1.1 Helen Gurley Brown arrives

Brown was a hillbilly adventuress. Before her father’s untimely death during the Depression plunged her family into hard times, he had been the Arkansas Fish and Game Commissioner.

An expert on sleeping with powerful men, she penned the 1962 best-seller Sex and the Single Girl, before marrying movie producer David Brown in 1959 and becoming editrix in chief of Cosmo in 1965.

Ms. Brown was a force of nature, a sort of Scots-Irish Joan Rivers. Indeed, one time Rivers spotted the penny-pinching Brown juggling suitcases on the way to the airport at a Manhattan bus stop and shouted, “Helen, calm down and take a cab! Your husband made Jaws!”

Brown converted Cosmo into an advice magazine for the secretary who aspired to become a home-wrecker by stealing her boss away from his first wife with, say, the 63 sex positions that always seemed to be headlined on the cover.

It was enormously influential. In 1982 I was riding a Manhattan express subway with an accountant. He said, “As we roar past the next station, notice that all the girls on the platform waiting for the local put their fingers in their ears.”

Sure enough, they did. “They only started doing that last week,” he explained. “It turns out that it’s a tip in the new issue of Cosmopolitan—one of the 42 ways to de-stress is by blocking out subway noise—and they all read Cosmo.”

During the Gurley Brown era, Cosmo and its readers weren’t very interested in politics. They especially weren’t interested in today’s reigning political trope of hating straight white males as the only thing that can unite the Democratic Party’s coalition of the fringes. Cosmo readers traditionally liked men, the straighter the better. In the battle of the sexes, Cosmo subscribers couldn’t be bothered to press on to final victory because they too much enjoyed fraternizing with the enemy.

For all of Cosmo’s sins, Helen Gurley Brown would not have countenanced its recent descent into Hate Whiteyness.

The magazine’s entry into politicking now seems like part of the Late Obama Age Collapse. Cosmopolitan didn’t start endorsing candidates until 2014, when it backed twelve candidates, all Democrats. Ten of them lost.

That Cosmopolitan now sees itself as a significant player in the public-affairs realm doesn’t mean that Cosmo readers have gotten smarter, just that politics have gotten stupider.

Data blogger the Audacious Epigone recently calculated the dumbing down of the American public.

The General Social Survey, which has been running for 45 years, includes a ten-question vocabulary test. This isn’t an IQ test, but it correlates surprisingly well with most formal IQ tests, because vocabulary—such as being cognizant of the distinctions in meaning between “uninterested” and “disinterested”—is an excellent test of general intelligence.

The Audacious Epigone converts the results to an IQ-style scale with a standard deviation of 15 and a mean of 98.

Among respondents who graduated from college in the 1960s, the average score on the vocabulary test, expressed on an IQ scale, was 112.3, almost a standard deviation above average. For each decade since then, the average vocabulary IQ has dropped steadily down to 100.0 (two points above the mean) for those who graduated in the 2010s.

Among those who didn’t graduate from college, the mean score has dropped from 97.3 for those who left school in the 1960s to 89.3 in the current decade.

You might be somewhat surprised by the falling vocabulary test scores because raw IQ scores in the 20th century tended to go up. But the Flynn effect was seen less on culture-loaded subtests such as vocabulary and more on subtests that resemble programming your smartphone. The explanation for why nobody much noticed the Flynn effect appears to have been that it didn’t much show up in the cognitive skills used in conversation, but instead in more technical skills needed for using new electronic devices.

Audacious took another look at vocabulary skill and got a similar result. He calculated the percentage of age 25–40 college grads who answered nine or ten words right out of ten questions on the GSS. In 1974, almost one out of two grads aced the test. By recent years, the high-scorers were down to one out of six.

Much of the explanation for Audacious Epigone’s finding is likely that a larger fraction of the population sticks it out for a bachelor degree today, especially since the 2008 economic collapse dried up construction jobs.

Another factor is that the population of young people is becoming more diverse, and diversity doesn’t correlate well with a mastery of English vocabulary.

But what this means is that a larger and less bright fraction of the population is hanging around for a full four years of political indoctrination on campus.

Ideology has dumbed down to accommodate the limitations of today’s college grads.

Back in the 1960s, campus leftism was in part a product of the lifting of quotas on the number of high-IQ Jews admitted. Harvard dropped its quota on Jews in the mid-1950s, and Yale in 1965. Before then, Yale had concentrated on letting in unintellectual rich guys with leadership potential, such as John F. Kerry in 1962 (IQ ~ 115) and George W. Bush (IQ ~ 120) in 1964.

But in the mid-1960s Yale eliminated its Jewish quota, and, according to my late friend Jim Chapin, brother of folksinger Harry Chapin, who was a history instructor at Yale then, the campus atmosphere immediately became more intellectually intense. Bush, the son of a congressman and grandson of a senator, became alienated from the new culture.

Much of the student radicalism of the late 1960s was due to huge numbers of Jewish students suddenly being liberated to be together at elite institutions. Why, they asked, should WASPs like Bush or crypto-semi-Jewish students like Kerry be in Skull & Bones when there were much smarter students available?

In contrast, student bodies today are slowly drifting downward intellectually as colleges add more non-Asian minorities with affirmative-action privileges and rich Chinese students who can pay full tuition but can’t really speak English.

Not surprisingly, the kind of thinking that’s trendy on campuses is getting dumber all the time.

Consider the term “microaggression.” To think that’s a cool word that will persuade skeptics, you have to be kind of a buffoon.

The overall ideology today doesn’t even pretend anymore to try to use objective principles. Instead, there are simply Good People, who belong to favored categories, such as black or transgendered, and Bad People, who are cishet white males.

What the Good People do is Good and what the Bad People do is Bad, and that’s about all you need to know.

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