Pathological functions

Ryan Sager (via Sully) highlights a fact that has long fascinated me:

With the exception of 2001 and 2002 (9/11 effect?), between 52% and 89% of Americans every year since 1990 have thought that crime is on the rise. That’s a pretty remarkable statistic, given that crime declined steadily nationally throughout the 1990s and has remained essentially level in the 2000s. Whatever the year-to-year correspondence is, we know that people have gotten the big picture wildly wrong, year after year.

That is, people pretty much always seem to think that this year is worse than last, regardless of the actual trends.

Does this sound like anything else to you? How about: This generation is so much stupider/lazier/ruder than the last; politics is so much dirtier these days; the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

A friend of mine once pointed out that, while each generation is thought to be dumber than the last, the people of a thousand years ago are thought to be dumber than people today (single digit literacy rates, burning of witches, etc.). So generational intelligence is a function that increases despite being everywhere locally decreasing.






108 replies
  1. 1
    dr. luba says:

    I blame local news coverage. It’s all crime, all the time. If that’s all you hear/read about, you can assume that crime is rampant.

    Which is why I ignore local TV news, and only glance at what passes for local press occasionally.

  2. 2
    MikeJ says:

    Is this the appropriate video for the post title?

  3. 3
    dr. luba says:

    Totally OT, but the Washington Post has apparently decided that Obama’s Nobel Prize is unconstitutional, and that he has to turn over the money to Congress.

    Perseveration?

  4. 4
    ellaesther says:

    So very much of our culture today is based on instilling fear in people. I don’t find this at all surprising.

    Depressing, yes. Surprising, no.

  5. 5
    DougJ says:

    Is this the appropriate video for the post title?

    Was that an actual video or footage from a Brett Easton Ellis movie?

  6. 6
    Dreggas says:

    @dr. luba:

    agreed. It’s why people think there are predators around every corner and everyone has misconceptions about places/people/things. If it’s not crime it’s not news nor is it sensational enough to print/report on.

  7. 7
    Alex Milstein says:

    There have been studies in the past that show peoples’ perception of crime levels are related to how much televison news they watch.

  8. 8
    Shawn in ShowMe says:

    A friend of mine once pointed out that, while each generation is thought to be dumber than the last, the people of a thousand years ago are thought to be dumber than people today

    Some generations are dumber than the last. But as long as most generations are not, the general trend is upward. We’re just in a bad patch right now in the U.S.

  9. 9
    beltane says:

    People just suck at evaluating risk. They suck at it now, they sucked at it fifty years ago, they sucked at it 5,000 years ago, and they will most likely suck at it in the future.

  10. 10
    Rick Taylor says:

    I wish I could find the quote, but I think I remember, in one of the dialogues of Plato, Socrates describing how standards of reasoning had fallen from a previous golden age.

  11. 11
    Dreggas says:

    @dr. luba:

    figures, the article was written by an asshat from Chapman U.

  12. 12
    DougJ says:

    We’re just in a bad patch right now in the U.S.

    You can’t convince me that kids today are as dumb as the greatest generation.

  13. 13
    anonevent says:

    @dr. luba: Exactly, and those Chuck E. Cheese commercials of the mom’s practically killing themselves trying to keep their kids safe absolutely drive me nuts. No, the kids don’t need to learn how to play inside a cheap pizza restaurant.

  14. 14
    Rick Massimo says:

    Does this sound like anything else to you? How about: This generation is so much stupider/lazier/ruder than the last; politics is so much dirtier these days; the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

    “Everything was great until you people came along and ruined it.”

    Simple as that.

  15. 15
    dricey says:

    Single-digit literacy rates? Burning witches?

    That sounds like the GOP base …

  16. 16
    ppcli says:

    And even worse, each year people become more continuous and less differentiable.

  17. 17
    Zifnab says:

    It seems the only appropriate reaction to this is to request that you don’t tase me, bro.

  18. 18
    Zifnab says:

    @Rick Massimo: Oh. I thought it was, “This shit wasn’t so bad when my parents were paying for it.”

  19. 19
    bago says:

    Kids these days goin off in baloons and gettin lost. Back in my day we fell out of trees and we liked it!

  20. 20
    schrodinger's cat says:

    Pathological functions

    DougJ, are they continuous, can we differentiate them?

  21. 21
    David says:

    Van Jones and Kevin Jennings aren’t witches!?

  22. 22
    Mnemosyne says:

    Interestingly, if you compare who was denouncing people as witches and who was snapping up the property of those “witches” at a major discount after their execution, not everyone involved in the witch trials was quite as dumb as we think. Evil, but not dumb.

  23. 23
    DougJ says:

    DougJ, are they continuous, can we differentiate them?

    I don’t know, that’s why I didn’t refer explicitly to derivatives here.

  24. 24
    taylormattd says:

    Believe me, the answer is: local news.

    MURDER, MURDER, *weather!!*, GANGS, RAPE, *oh look, at the monkeys in the zoo!!!!*, DYING SENIORS, CAR ACCIDENTS, DRUGS, *sports!!!!!*, MURDER

  25. 25
    Shawn in ShowMe says:

    You can’t convince me that kids today are as dumb as the greatest generation.

    No, but when it comes to history and literature they’re more ignorant than kids were 40 years ago. And math and science literacy has fallen over the last 20 years.

  26. 26
    Col. Klink says:

    Teevee. Fox News. Local news a la Kent Brockman.

    Generally speaking though I think people are a hell of a lot more educated than they were 100 years ago. I remember seeing an article recently claiming that if you were to read the Sunday NY Times from page one to fashion section you would have actually absorbed more information in one afternoon than the average person in the 18th Century would have digested in a lifetime. Then again, Glenn Beck’s and Sarah Palin’s idiot followers are still out there so maybe human educational evolution has a few kinks in it to work out yet.

  27. 27
    General Winfield Stuck says:

    There are different kinds of intelligence.
    As far as raw brainpower, I think that is increasing like most things evolutionary,. But people these days are less aware of their immediate surroundings I think. We are often plugged into far off places like I am now, and interacting digitally. I grew up when this wasn’t the case, or much less so. Technology for abstract awareness is now largely digital and distant, we can spend our time seeing and interacting with places other than our own real world which isn’t a bad thing, if done in moderation. But Kids today know nothing else. They are plugged into worldwide web twenty four seven and their own circle of friends, and that’s about it. The sense of quantifying and qualifying their physical surroundings gets neglected, and they fashion there opinions from a cacophony of information that is hard to sort out and form an accurate opinion about trends this way or that. Especially when they are consciously trying to.

    I’m just babbling off the top of me head and likely don’t know what I’m talking about. But the bottom line I think is too much technological doesn’t make you smarter necessarily, and may be harmful to yer brain.

  28. 28
    scav says:

    Unreality is spreading! The BNP is going to change it’s constitution to allow non-white members! Expect a surge in membership. What. IS. Going. On. Today.

  29. 29
    General Winfield Stuck says:

    Especially when they are consciously trying to

    should be (not) trying to

  30. 30
    Ash Can says:

    I’m going to pick a nit and point out that illiteracy and witch-burning aren’t functions of a lack of intelligence but a lack of knowledge. Having said that, however, I understand your point. I too blame it on local news reports, which tend to be filled with mayhem and sensationalism. It’s no wonder people’s perceptions are skewed.

  31. 31
    scav says:

    @Ash Can: And local gossip at the water-cooler/hole is fact driven?

  32. 32
    Stoic says:

    C’mon, what do you expect from people fed on a steady diet of Faux News, CNN and MSNBC fearmongering and claptrap. We’re told>/i> that criminals (expecially the dark skinned kind) are everywhere we turn and lo-and-behold people believe it. Our discourse is stupid and people reflect it.

  33. 33
    Ash says:

    This is almost 100% the fault of local news, as everyone has already said. They talk about nothing but crime.

  34. 34
    Cat says:

    The ratio of smart people to dumb people is relatively constant. The population keeps increasing and as we live in more dense communities the chances you actually bump into a smart person goes down.

    If you live in a world where there are 100 people, 10 who are smart, its likely any one person will meet lots of smart people since if you meet 50 people over your lifetime its very likely you’ll meet a smart person.

    When you live in a world with 100,000 people, 10,000 who are smart, lots of people will never meet one of those 10,000 smart people given then only get to know 50 people over the course of their lifetimes.

    People who are only ever exposed to dumb and average people will let it will color their perception of the rest of society.

    Anyone who thinks we and our children are getting dumber just happens to be in the vast eddies of mediocrity that is human society and is just engaging in some ego protection

  35. 35
    Ash Can says:

    @scav: In my experience, such chatter, when about current events, usually has been based on the local news reports. (And by “local” I’m including print media as well.)

  36. 36
    Morbo says:

    But DougJ, kids these days spend all their time playing violent video games. How can a generation raised on Grand Theft Auto possibly NOT result in a rise in crime? I mean, rabble! rabble rabble!

  37. 37
    dr. luba says:

    @Stoic: And don’t forget Willie Horton. There are those who have to gain by the populace living in fear and division.

  38. 38
    Victory says:

    This is the video to go with this thread.

  39. 39
    WyldPiratd says:

    Some good points made here. I think the idea of people being unable to assess risk is behind a lot of the “unreality” we see. Plus, we’re pack animals. If you aren’t a member of the pack, it’s easy for hysteria to override reason. It’s even easier when you have a significant number of fat, sated dumbasses subjected 24/7 sales pitches and chicanery from the boob toob.

    We certainly should have lower crime rates, particularly given the fact that the nation’s incarceration rate has gone up 400% since Ronne Raygun took office after remaining nearly constant for decades.

  40. 40
    alien radio says:

    1. People are statistically illiterate.

    2. People are incapable of calculating risk for rare events and either massively over estimate, or feel the isk is zero.

    3. Youth has been unruly and out of control since at least Chaucer’s time.

    4. cursing is an anglo saxon right of birth, the concept of bad words was invented by victorians and puritans.

    There is no break down of society (save that which thatcher wrought). and we are statistically safer than we have ever been.

    but according to newspapers Paedogeddon is upon us.

    I suspect most of it comes down to the fact that we actually care about and report on more crimes and improve our crime measuring methods. which is good, but looks like a massive crime wave to people with no sense of perspective or understanding of statistics.

  41. 41

    “a function that increases despite being everywhere locally decreasing.”

    You have just made the math nerds (myself included!) among the Balloon Juice crowd very happy.

  42. 42
    Zifnab says:

    @Shawn in ShowMe:

    No, but when it comes to history and literature they’re more ignorant than kids were 40 years ago.

    Are they? I don’t even know. But I do know that I can flip out a hard drive or Google up the day’s traffic or solve almost any given problem by proclaiming, “I’ve got an app for that!” My mom can’t say the same. She is, however, more fluent than me in Latin and Italian. :-p

  43. 43
    Zifnab says:

    @Ash: Yeah, but who the hell watches local news?

  44. 44
    General Winfield Stuck says:

    OT

    Sorry to interrupt, but just saw the Hardball seg with Tweety, Buchanan, and Sharpton. Tweety just declared Sharpton the cause of Limbaugh being jipped out of owning an NFL team. Astounding Tweetydumb/

  45. 45
    Cat says:

    @Zifnab:

    She is, however, more fluent than me in Latin and Italian.

    She couldn’t tell you how to raise a barn, when to plant the corn, or how to birth a goat either I’d guess. These are all things we needed to know to survive and prosper at one time.

    Knowledge has a value function that isn’t static regardless of how many people want it to be which is another driving force behind the “Kids these days are getting dumber” memes.

  46. 46
    MNPundit says:

    Your quote is totally wrong.

    Intelligence has nothing to do with whether people burned witches or could read. That’s just educational and we know education != intelligence.

  47. 47

    Oddly enough, I just read somewhere that “crime” is not nearly the political issue it has been, w/ which my own incomplete observations would agree.

    Possibly a post-11 September effect, as mentioned. And local news (“It if bleeds, it leads.”) is no help in perception of crime by low-information voters, no matter what the stats are.

    Question here: Will there be a return to dog-whistling about law & order, crime & so on as a result of Obama (who, by the way, is African-American) being in office? Attempts to portray the Prez as an enabler of “hate-crimes” against honkies?

    Can’t wait for the elections to get rolling. Only 13 mos.!

  48. 48
    Balconesfault says:

    So generational intelligence is a function that increases despite being everywhere locally decreasing.

    Except in Lake Wobegone, of course.

  49. 49
  50. 50
    Shawn in ShowMe says:

    Knowledge has a value function that isn’t static regardless of how many people want it to

    Great point. That’s why falling science and math literacy in an increasingly technological society is so alarming.

  51. 51
    AnotherBruce says:

    I forgot who said: “Nostalgia is looking at the past with both eyes full of bullshit.” But it stuck with me.

    So not elegant, and so true.

  52. 52
    thomas says:

    you don’t think the American Taliban wouldn’t burn witches, or whom ever they would define as their sisters, today?

  53. 53
    Balconesfault says:

    @dr. luba: Totally OT, but the Washington Post has apparently decided that Obama’s Nobel Prize is unconstitutional,

    Heh – there’s really someone named “Ronald Rotunda”?

  54. 54
    flavortext says:

    Try being a video game fan. Violent crime rates have fallen 60% since Doom was released in 1993, yet every time a new Grand Theft Auto is released, or some crazy kid does a Columbine or Virginia Tech, the talking heads scream that vidya games are raising a new generation of school shooters and serial killers.

  55. 55
    winguts to iraq says:

    balloon boy and this blogs name don’t go well together…

  56. 56
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Interestingly, if you compare who was denouncing people as witches and who was snapping up the property of those “witches” at a major discount after their execution, not everyone involved in the witch trials was quite as dumb as we think. Evil, but not dumb.

    Sounds like the modern Republican Party! Squads of dangerous morons being manipulated by rich scumbags! One might start to suspect that’s not a bug, it’s a feature…

  57. 57
    Seanly says:

    So generational intelligence is a function that increases despite being everywhere locally decreasing.

    This thought is the equivalent of Escher drawings.

    However, I would argue our widespread belief in angles, UFOs and ghosts shows we are still about as gullible, superstitious and blind to reason as ever. Only the focus of our fears have changed.

    Plus each generation is stupider/lazier/ruder!

  58. 58
    handy says:

    would argue our widespread belief in angles,

    I find belief in right angles to a particularly insidious kind of superstition, personally.

  59. 59
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @handy: and belief in obtuse angles is really obtuse as well.

  60. 60
    slag says:

    I’m one of those dirty hippies who’s come to the (possibly self-serving) conclusion that the notions of “smart” and “dumb” are incredibly outdated to the extent of being harmful. Unfortunately, they tend to communicate–rightly or wrongly–innate qualities that are, by and large, unmeasurable (No, IQ tests don’t do it. Sorry, Andrew Sullivan.). They’re hindrances to progress when “smart” kids don’t think they have to work as hard and when “dumb” kids think that, no matter how hard they work, it won’t make any difference. Consequently, I’m trying (and often failing) to banish them from my vocabulary to be replaced with more accurate, situationally-appropriate adjectives. Same goes for “lazy”.

  61. 61
    scav says:

    @Ash Can: In the past and for all eternity? Nah. There was never a golden age of purely empirically based water-hole over the back fence chat.

  62. 62
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Balconesfault:
    Washpost should be renamed, as the NeoCon Daily. I used to like that newspaper, when I lived in Maryland.

  63. 63
    Rebecca says:

    Similar to the myth of grade inflation… All the data in the world will not convince people in older generations that their grades were earned, unlike kids these days. Even for otherwise sensible people, on some issues, the power of anecdote trumps all.

  64. 64
    handy says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Your pun-making abilities are acute.

  65. 65
    Cerberus says:

    Maybe it’s just my youth speaking, but it seems in every generation the youth is really all right. I mean, every generation is more liberal than their parents on issues of race, sex, class, orientation and it seems every major battle involves some aspect of “waiting for the old bigots to die”.

    And yeah, it’s the media that breeds the impression. That and white flight. Scared white people flee to areas that they then entomb with gates and people like them and assume that everywhere else is filled with evil and since they never go there, they can assume that it’s a murder every second. I witnessed this a lot when I used to go back to my old neighborhood and the parents would react with horror to where I was living because I was going to be killed.

    Oddly enough, it was where they were living that seemed to have all the drug violence from rich white kids trying to play gangsta over the meth trade.

  66. 66
    mutt says:

    As others have written: the notion that “crime” is rising is due to the rise of All Fear, All the Time-of petty, retail crime.
    The wholesale crime thats now part of the overarching culture isnt “crime” at all- just the inevitable, cant do nuttin about it Market Forces.
    So, if your retirement fund has vanished….its them niggers on the streetcorner.
    Couldnt POSSIBLY be the State.
    One Plutocracy. Two Wings.
    thats the non criminal norm.
    And to keep you from thinkin about it, that Plutocracy, and its two Committees, (working thru its captive propaganda outlets ) point you at the scapegoat of the day.
    Duh.

  67. 67
    Nylund says:

    Here is just the first sentence of Jefferson’s first inauguration address:

    Called upon to undertake the duties of the first executive office of our country, I avail myself of the presence of that portion of my fellow-citizens which is here assembled to express my grateful thanks for the favor with which they have been pleased to look toward me, to declare a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire.

    Now go read that to an average American and ask them to paraphrase what he said.

    Anyone who works in academia knows that the average college student has lower reading comprehension, lower writing ability, and lower math skills than even just a decade or two ago. That being said, on average, people much better educated now than they were hundreds of years ago when illiteracy was common.

    But, there is also a difference between education and intelligence. If one believes that IQ is a decent proxy for natural intelligence, then there are numerous scientific papers which show that world wide IQ has indeed fallen over the last 50 years and is projected to fall at an even higher rate during the next 50. That being said, it will still probably be higher than what it was a few hundred years ago. Proper health and nutrition did a lot to help, but that has since plateaued (and some may even argue that has gotten so good that the weak and dumb now survive in too many numbers, but such an argument is frighteningly too ubermensch for me).

  68. 68
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Nylund: Yes they have to use their fancy graphing calculator to figure out what sin 0 is.

  69. 69
    schrodinger's cat says:

    I don’t think we are growing more dumb, I think the rest of the world is catching up.

  70. 70
    Ari says:

    3. Youth has been unruly and out of control since at least Chaucer’s time.

    I’ll see your Chaucer and raise you a Hesiod
    (8th century BCE), or at the very least an Ovid.

    “what’s the matter with kids today?” sounds much less impressive when you realize the tune’s at least 2800 years old.

  71. 71
    scav says:

    Every generation has its own blinking clock on the video recorder.

  72. 72
    LD50 says:

    @Shawn in ShowMe: Shush. Make Wee will use this as an excuse for a pro-voucher rant.

  73. 73
    LD50 says:

    Called upon to undertake the duties of the first executive office of our country, I avail myself of the presence of that portion of my fellow-citizens which is here assembled to express my grateful thanks for the favor with which they have been pleased to look toward me, to declare a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire.

    Now go read that to an average American and ask them to paraphrase what he said.

    I would bet you that most Americans in Jefferson’s time wouldn’t have been able to make sense of that, either.

  74. 74
    slag says:

    @Nylund:

    then there are numerous scientific papers which show that world wide IQ has indeed fallen over the last 50 years and is projected to fall at an even higher rate during the next 50.

    This statement is contrary to what the Flynn Effect tells us. Is it not?

  75. 75
    Shawn in ShowMe says:

    (and some may even argue that has gotten so good that the weak and dumb now survive in too many numbers, but such an argument is frighteningly too ubermensch for me).

    It frightens me too but not because something similar came out of the mouth of a genocidal madman. It frightens me because we finally have the resources to eliminate the conditions that produce so many weak and dumb people but the free marketers and creationists won’t allow it.

    It frightens men because we need as many smart people as possible to fix the structural and environmental problems facing civilization and the free marketers and creationists won’t get the hell out of the way. They would rather die than relinquish power and we’re already running out of time.

  76. 76

    Why are we perpetually in decline? Several reasons.

    (1) As someone above said, young people tend to be immature. Shocking! Because, of course, we were never immature when we were young, unless you ask our elders.

    (2) Most people get a fixed idea at a certain age of how things ought to be. That idea is usually fixed fairly young. Things should forever be the way they were when I was young and now they aren’t. Everything is going to hell in a handbasket!

    (3) The younger generation seems to accept today’s deplorable state of affairs as normal! They show no interest whatever in turning things back to the way they were when I was young! In fact, the whole subject seems to bore them!

    (4) We see problems of the past through the clear light of handsight and know how they worked out. Knowing the ending makes them seem so much more manageable than they were at the time. Some day, looking back on them, today’s problems will also seem much more tractable than they do now because we will know how they were “tracted.”

  77. 77
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @winguts to iraq:

    O/T again, but Balloon Boy has been found hiding in a box in the garage at his family’s home.

    I bet dinner table conversation in that household tonight is going to be interesting.

  78. 78
    Woody says:

    it’s the fault of the 24-hour news cycle.

    every story that is bloody or horrific or brutal enough becomes a national story immediately, cuz the cbloids gotta fill up the time….

  79. 79
    LD50 says:

    then there are numerous scientific papers which show that world wide IQ has indeed fallen over the last 50 years and is projected to fall at an even higher rate during the next 50.

    Surely President Camacho will help fix this?

  80. 80
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Woody:

    “cbloids” — did you make that up? What a great word!

  81. 81
    Woody says:

    I would bet you that most Americans in Jefferson’s time wouldn’t have been able to make sense of that, either.

    It’s true. They spoke very differently than they wrote…

  82. 82
    Bruce (formerly Steve S.) says:

    The polling data only goes back as far as 1990, which roughly corresponds in our society with 24 hour news, “Cops” style shows, “Law and Order” style shows, and the U.S. turning into the world’s greatest incarceration state. It’s not surprising that a majority of the population think that crime is perpetually getting worse, it’s a surprise that there were a couple of years where the majority DIDN’T think that. We’ve been subjected to a massive propaganda campaign, started by Republicans and aquiesced to by Democrats, telling us that we should always, always, always be fearful of crime.

  83. 83
    smiley says:

    @LD50: With a handle like that, you must be a pharmacologist.

  84. 84
    Woody says:

    SiubhanDuinne
    @Woody:
    “cbloids”—did you make that up? What a great word!

    Thanks. I meant to type “cabloids,” which is also I believe my own invention, too…

  85. 85
    smiley says:

    @Enlightened Layperson:

    (3) The younger generation seems to accept today’s deplorable state of affairs as normal!

    You must have slept through the presidential campaign of 2008.

  86. 86
    slag says:

    @LD50: I still call BS on that statement. Even in this article that addresses a recent noticeable drop in IQ scores for British teenagers says, “It is the first time IQ scores have fallen for any age group during the past century, his research suggests.” And even there, the cause is likely attributed to environment. The notion of IQ measuring “natural intelligence” isn’t where it’s at any more. And may never have been if you believe the folks who claim that IQ was never intended to measure such a thing.

  87. 87
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    Single-digit literacy rates? Burning witches?
    That sounds like the GOP base …

    Don’t forget the religious intolerance and a government one step removed from a theocracy. Today’s GOP woulda loved the Pilgrims. I’m guessing they all descend from them.

  88. 88
    LD50 says:

    @slag: In case my snark didn’t make it clear, I actually think that this:

    then there are numerous scientific papers which show that world wide IQ has indeed fallen over the last 50 years and is projected to fall at an even higher rate during the next 50.

    …sounds like a specious load of shit by someone in their 50’s or older who’s all bent out of shape by Kids These Days.

  89. 89
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Woody: Equally excellent :-)

  90. 90
    bellatrys says:

    Oh yeah, this drives me nuts all the time. The stats don’t match up to the public impression, and my own memories of the past 30 years don’t match up, and the historical anecdotes in print don’t match up, but everyone “knows” that things are scarier/more dangerous/badder in every way today than they were.

    Part of it is that humanity has – documentably, and this being lamented in pop culture and punditry for as long as writing has existed – the collective memory span of a goldfish. This has always amazed me, because I have a very good memory for many sorts of things, although short-term location has always eluded me (ie where did I put my keys last?) but people claiming that “we’ve never had snow this early/late” when I clearly remember – and can verify by checking the records – otherwise and so on, make me wonder if there’s been wholesale use of those zappy things from Men In Black. But no, it’s just a sort of silly-putty-brain syndrome combined with the sort of sloth that doesn’t bother to fact-check whether or not Dr. Hawking is in fact British before stating that he’d be dead if he were…

    As far as the “Decline & Fall Of Absolutely Everything” meme – again, this is a beloved narrative which can be found in dynastic Egyptian poetry (seriously, not kidding) and stems in part I suspect from the willingness to recollect the past as a child w/o applying any critical thought to those filtered impressions – children often don’t pay attention to the news and/or are sheltered by their parents so aren’t (often) aware of crime and stuff, and so those years seem “simpler” and “safer” when they weren’t at all.

    My own childhood was pretty dark and unstable, so I don’t have so much of that to cope with, but I *was* raised to believe in the conservative Myth of Ye Good Olde Dayes, and what broke me out of that rather dramatically was volunteering at the library when I was just starting out in HS, and having to research 19th-century murder cases in the microfilm collection of the local paper for the reference dept for days on end. That, combined with unlimited access to 1920s and 30s murder mysteries and books on Noir-Era Hollywood, pretty much shattered all the indoctrination that “back then” was less crime, violence, sex, drugs, and all the stuff that I had been told were consequences of the libertine Sixties or “modernism.” After you’ve read multiple pop novels about coke orgies set in the quaint era of “Cheaper By The Dozen” and “true crime” reports about things like the Chicken Coop Murders, or the child prostitution that Victor Hugo denounces it’s hard to maintain that illusion of a kindler, gentler, safer past.

    Our police station looks like a fortress because someone tried to blow it up 30-40 years ago. No one has in my memory, though. When you walk into it, there’s a memorial to a cop who was blown away by a guy who walked in one night in the 1840s or 50s. Again, things are *not* worse than they were, even though there are more people here. Ethnic strife is a lot less – the dramatic illustration I use is the popular authentic Mexican restaurant on almost the very spot where a man’s throat was cut a hundred years ago in Irish-on-French “English-only” violence. The sidewalks and parking lots, which when I moved up here over a quarter century ago were so covered in litter that it shocked me, are quite clean – and this is not due to any investment in public sanitation. People just litter less, it’s not considered as acceptable now.

    But it *is* a fair bit browner of a city than it was, and a lot less “Anglo”, even thirty years ago, as is all of the Northeast, and combined with the guppy attention span/historical incuriosity of most people, it’s easy to figure out where the conviction of a more dangerous, rougher world comes from. We just had a brutal, random murder for money/thrills committed by four teens, and the news (national as well as local) was going on about how could these privileged white kids commit such a crime? and what is the world coming to? and small towns are not safe, now! As though bourgeois young men never killed for thrills in decades past, as though the events that inspired “Rope” never happened, as though the Isle of Shoals Murders weren’t part-and-parcel of local culture, as though this wasn’t the New England of Resurrection Men and the Witch Trials…

    It’s a kind of split-consciousness, really. Nobody here seriously expects to be held up by highwaymen on the way home from work, frex – carjacking scares regardless.

  91. 91
    slag says:

    @LD50: Yes indeedy. I was agreeing with you. And providing a bit of evidence to reinforce your intuition. But I see that I was the one who was unclear.

  92. 92
    Christopher says:

    OK, from a history nerd who gets to teach Honors World Civilizations in high school:

    The Egyptians. The Zhou Dynasty. The Greeks. The Romans. The Mauryans. The Abbasids. And so forth.

    There hasn’t been a literate civilization in history that didn’t fall prey to the Nostalgia Filter of History.

    /still loathes reality television

  93. 93
    Woody says:

    …sounds like a specious load of shit by someone in their 50’s or older who’s all bent out of shape by Kids These Days.

    Re: IQ–read SJ Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man…

    the best book on the subject ever, for the lay-reader…

    calculating a ‘corporate’ IQ is a fool’s task. You can’t draw a conclusion about “general” IQ based on aggregated individual scores…It’s an invalid measure…

  94. 94
    tc125231 says:

    This is simplistic. Someone in the fourth century who thought that Rome’s future wasn’t good would have been right. It is also true that people who lived in the Roman Empire in the 4th century had it better than anyone in the West had it for another thousand years. Roman landowners, you see, didn’t NEED castles.

    And despite BOB’s puerile comments, the great contribution of Rome wasn’t the popularization of Greek thought. It was the extension of peace and order.

    So, while human nature is for us always to use our own youth as a benchmark, it is still possible to detect larger trends in the society around us that have meaning.

  95. 95
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Nylund: Ask an average American in 1800 to paraphrase it. Same result.

  96. 96

    Right angles are a conservative conspiracy to destroy liberal values in America.

  97. 97
    LD50 says:

    And despite BOB’s puerile comments, the great contribution of Rome wasn’t the popularization of Greek thought. It was the extension of peace and order.

    And the aqueduct.

  98. 98
    mcd says:

    I give you … BALLOON BOY!!

  99. 99
    MNPundit says:

    @LD50: Are you kidding?

    “My Fellow Americans! I won! Thank you everyone who came to see me speak for voting for me. But I’m actually not good enough for this (fooled you!) and I am going to be extra cautious and hide under my bed all nervous from the effort of being president (so you know I won’t be out there being all big government on you).”

    Except most of his statement was a pack of lies.

  100. 100

    And the aqueduct.

    And sanitation. Remember what the city used to be like?

  101. 101
    Nutella says:

    For photographic evidence of Doug’s point, may I suggest this book:

    The Good Old Days–They Were Terrible! by Otto Bettmann

  102. 102
    mclaren says:

    And to cap it all off, The Flynn Effect says that IQ scores keep rising every year, so according to IQ tests every generation keeps getting smarter than the last.

    Of course, the IQ tests and the “common wisdom” that every generation is dumber than the last are both almost certainly wrong. There is no objective evidence to show that each successive generation is either smarter or dumber than the last, as the well-known hereditary phenomenon of regression to the mean tells us.

  103. 103
    Scamp Dog says:

    @Woody: Actually, it’s easy to calculate an organization’s IQ. Just take the largest IQ from the group and divide by the number of members. :)

  104. 104
    drillfork says:

    It’s the paranoia. Always, the paranoia…

  105. 105
    mcmillan says:

    I think this subject requires a link to this xkcd

  106. 106
    Arclite says:

    I’m a little late to the party, but here goes:

    With the exception of 2001 and 2002 (9/11 effect?), between 52% and 89% of Americans every year since 1990 have thought that crime is on the rise. That’s a pretty remarkable statistic, given that crime declined steadily nationally throughout the 1990s and has remained essentially level in the 2000s. Whatever the year-to-year correspondence is, we know that people have gotten the big picture wildly wrong, year after year.

    This isn’t surprising. A look at the 1990s shows that while the murder rate fell by 1/3, the reporting of murders on American TV increased 500%. Propaganda increases like that will affect the stats.

    See story here:
    http://www.media-awareness.ca/.....onight.cfm

  107. 107
    Comrade Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    “Interestingly, if you compare who was denouncing people as witches and who was snapping up the property of those “witches” at a major discount after their execution,”

    IIRC, those who denounced witches got a portion of the property, either as a bounty or as compensation against the alleged witchcraft.

    So, if you’re looking for someone to accuse of witchcraft, an old widow with property and possibly no children and whose friends and social network has mostly died of is an easier target than member of a large family in the prime of their life with lots of potential supporters in the community.

    It’s also the root of the term faggot for gay men.

    Faggot meant stick or burning piece of wood.

    So, old women in England would be derogatively called faggot (like a witch for burning).

    Calling gay men a derogative for old women then followed.

    ” not everyone involved in the witch trials was quite as dumb as we think. Evil, but not dumb.”

    Indeed.

  108. 108
    Shawn in ShowMe says:

    When you’ve got government officials interrupting a State of the Union address to call the president a liar, referring to him as “uppity” and comparing his wife to an escaped gorilla, any sane person can see those are ideological differences. Any other characterization is itself racist. Duh.

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