Review: Everything Bad is Good For You

November 29, 2008

For reasons I don’t understand, people love to hate.  Democrats love to hate Republicans, Christians love to hate Atheists, VI hates Emacs, etc.  But the one thing people of all walks of life seem to jointly hate is how the modern way of life is gradually corrupting the moral and intellectual fiber of their fellow man.

I think Idiocracy gave the most condensed (and entertaining) presentation on the topic, essentially arguing that stupid people reproduce faster than smart people, and because everybody is getting stupider, there’s a global “race to the bottom” where the intellectually meek inherit the earth.

But this notion was refined and socially reinforced well before that movie came onto the scene.  For as long as I’ve known, I’ve been surrounded by people who make dire predictions and cynical extrapolations of today’s trends, with the inevitable conclusion that humanity’s end is just a choice between Nevil Shute or Aldus Huxley.  More or less destructive, but with mass stupification taken for granted.

That pessimism, that general hatred of the new and wistful longing for better times, never sat well with me.  After all, the only reason the “new” came to be was because billions of people individually and as a group chose to make it so.  It’s hard to believe that generations would labor endlessly to actively worsen the world and squander their mental capacities.

So at risk of engineering my own “scenario fulfillment” I was drawn to Everything Bad is Good For You — a book making the outrageous claim that, shockingly, humanity’s toil is paying off.  Yes, it sounds incredible, but what if people *weren’t* getting stupider, and in fact all these brilliant information innovations were in fact contributing to a global rise in intellect?

I expect the top rejection of the book amounts to the carefully researched rebuttal: Sounds too good to be true.  Watching TV doesn’t rot your brain?  Playing video games doesn’t erode your morals?  You mean education and self improvement could actually be fun?  Heaven forbid!

But that’s precisely what the book argues — quite compellingly.  It’s the sort of thing that seems so obvious when you read it, it’s truly refreshing.

Indeed, it’s such an obvious conclusion, I don’t even know what to say about it. 

And perhaps that’s its core weakness: it’s got no punch.  It has no “call to action”.  As a meme, it lacks any sort of virulent property that would convince people to convince others.

Somehow, conventional wisdom has adopted the opposite of this book’s conclusion.  But how to turn that around?  Or, is it even necessary?

After all, this “sleeper curve” will continue whether or not people acknowledge it.  And I’m not sure if acknowledging it explicitly will make it happen any better or faster.

Similarly, even after reading it, I’m not sure what advice to take from it.  How do you “learn” from a book that seems so common sense (even if that sense is far from common)?

So it’s a bit of an anti-climax for me.  Good stuff, reassuring, but it leaves me with a sorta “ya, so now what?” feeling.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: