Intelligence Gap

Written by Michael Badnarik

Many people are justifiably concerned about the wage disparity in this country. Although it is higher in some states, the federal minimum wage is $7.25. Contrast this with the multi-million-dollar salaries of some executive CEOs, combined with the ridiculously high severance packages they allow themselves, and you can well understand why many workers consider the system egregiously unfair.

As bad as this problem may be, I am actually more concerned about the growing Intelligence Gap in this country – the difference between the smartest and dumbest people in this country. For years I have maintained a personal “Guinness Book of World Records” in my head, albeit with only one category. Namely, The Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Heard. The first entry into that inauspicious category was a magazine report announcing that the Army had authorized the issuance of maternity camouflage. I’m not referring to the new “fashion chic” where women wear miniskirts of olive drab. I’m talking about a working uniform for a female who is obviously in a “family way”. The article contained a photo of a woman who appeared to be ten months pregnant, and carrying an M-16. My immediate reaction was, “Who in their right mind is going to send a woman into battle when she’s clearly hours away from giving birth?!”. That’s when I realized I had answered my own question. Nobody in their right mind would do such a thing. I became catatonic when I extrapolated that maternity camouflage had to have been approved by numerous people sitting around a mahogany table for several weeks and voting that this was a brilliant idea. As my youngest brother used to say nearly every day, “You can’t fix stupid”.
(This is a less dramatic article describing maternity wear in the Air Force.)

I regret to report that maternity camouflage was eventually replaced by even dumber people or ideas. I used to ask myself, “How dumb can people be?”, but I stopped asking because I feel that people are adopting it as a personal challenge. A year ago a former friend sent me an eMail attempting to convince me that the world is flat. Naturally, I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. Last weekend when I mentioned him to a woman who had called me, she responded “That’s ridiculous.” Yes. However, she immediately alleged that the world is not flat, it is hollow, and that reptilian aliens are living inside our planet. Her “proof” was that we have never taken a photograph of the north pole where the entrance to their secret cave is located. I had never considered the possibility that the flat-earth-guy could be considered smarter than someone else. (For the record, there is no land mass at the north pole. This fact allowed the submarine USSN Skate to surface through the ice in 1959.)

I have grown despondent lately because I frequently encounter people who are functionally illiterate, or who don’t even know what coins to give me after the cash register has calculated my correct change. Einstein said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” After enduring several months of our questionable pandemic, I’ve begun to wonder if we could invent a virus that is only fatal to stupid people. I am eager to contribute money to that kind of research. You would be worried if you knew what academic level I would program into such a contagion. Suffice it to say that I do not suffer fools gracefully.

At the opposite end of that spectrum, I am thrilled to have discovered numerous YouTube videos featuring people who are so smart they make me dizzy trying to assimilate their knowledge into what I already know. I have recently stayed awake until 2:00am listening to a gathering of Ph.Ds and Nobel Prize winners contribute what they know about the topic being discussed. They are clearly functioning at sixth or seventh level concepts.

A first level concept identifies a tangible object, like “table” or “chair”. I can point to a table and say, “This is what I mean when I say table”. However, tables and chairs can be combined into a second level concept called “furniture”. Although the table IS furniture, it wouldn’t make sense to say “This is A furniture”. Similarly, toasters, blenders, and coffee makers are first level concepts that can be combined into a second level concept called “appliances”. Furniture and appliances can be combined into a third level concept called “household items”. A person’s ability to understand higher level concepts is indicative of their relative level of intelligence. You will never be able to understand Calculus until you master arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry first.

At the end of this post you will find several links to scientific discussions that have held me in rapt fascination over the last few days. I invite you to watch them, and to comment if you understood and enjoyed them. I flatter myself by imagining that many of my readers test on the high side of the Mensa scale. Please do your best not to disabuse me of that fantasy.

If you are interested in increasing the efficiency of your thought process, I invite you to purchase my book, Philosophical Lighthouse, Our philosophy guides, not what we think, but how we think. There are good philosophies and bad philosophies. I’m hoping this book will help you find a better one than the one you currently have. Or, if you have a burning question that you absolutely must know the answer to, you are invited to schedule a short video chat with me. I would be happy to help you help you in your quest to solve the puzzle. We should endeavor to continue learning as long as we are able to open our eyes in the morning. The universe is a fascinating place if for no other reason than there will always be new mysteries to solve.


Arizona State University hosts several functions each year for the Origins Project, now called ASU Interplanetary Initiative, to investigate fundamental questions about the universe. The scientific discussions are moderated by Lawrence Krauss, one of my newest favorite people in the world. Several prominent scientists are invited to share their thoughts on a given topic, followed by some Q&A with the audience. (The Q&A is always a second, separate video.) Here are some of the Great Debate topics that have captivated my attention:
The Storytelling of Science
Parallel Realities
A Night of Magic and Illumination
(I’m planning to attend a future event at ASU, if only to meet Lawrence Krauss.
If you’re interested in joining me, let me know.)

Sean Carroll is another one of my newest favorite people in the world. Not only is he brilliant beyond my wildest imagination, he is so articulate that I can actually understand much of what he’s telling me. He has an incredible sense of humor that only an academic will notice or appreciate. It is my fervent hope that I will soon be able to include his personal contact information in my list of phone contacts.
Mysteries of Modern Physics

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  1. Dee Ann

    (said with blonde hair flip) Oh Michael, I know the Earth isn’t flat, I can see Mountains!!

    [mjb: HAhahaha! In case I die unexpectedly, please know that I cherish having you as my friend!]

  2. Tim Frey

    Sean Carroll also has a great podcast called Mindscape. While physics heavy also covers a broad array of subjects and I frequently listen to a show more than once.
    If you want a glimpse into the future, look no further than Lex Fridman’s Artificial Intelligence podcast. If anything has quelled my fears about AI it’s getting a glimpse into the brilliant people bringing forward this revolution.

    Finally, I recommend listening to Eric Weinstein’s The Portal podcast. Incredible variety of deep discussions on many relevant topics of the day.

  3. Arthur Harrison

    Not being one of your readers that test on the high side of the Mensa scale, I’m not particularly concerned about wage disparity because big numbers confuse me. I look at how much a CEO makes or how much a ballplayer makes and simply think: “That’s more than I make.” The fact that some ballplayers make more in a season than I’ll make in a lifetime is hard for me to grasp so it just registers as ‘more’ and, given I make ‘enough’, I look at what they make as “more than enough”. The intelligence gap routinely bothers me though. A friend once asked someone: “Do you realize that about half the people in the world are below average intelligence?” to which he said: “Do you really think it’s that high?”

  4. Don Bender

    Despite the fact that 1/2 the population falls below the 100 IQ mark, I don’t honestly think the world is getting dumber. I think we’re growing increasingly ignorant. There is so much shit on the internet, really crazy shit with huge audiences, that people are reading and if it’s well written and pulls in enough half truths and then gets repeated by others, it starts to sound plausible to a larger and larger group of people. People are certainly capable of logical thinking but they’re not using their logic anymore to come to more sane conclusions. And I think part of the problem is people are getting lazier which means they want their opinions fed to them.

    But again, I think people are just as capable of thinking and logic as they ever were. They’re just being fed more and more trash that they somehow began to give credence to. Case in point, I’ve heard that Fox News listeners are actually less informed than people who watch no news at all. Ignorance, not stupidity. Now the flat-earthers and hollow earthers with reptilian beings below the surface are examples that stupidity is definitely still present of course.

  5. James Yost

    A little background, I have known Michael for over 25 years. We have sailed together to Catalina Island in weather; most would never leave port, worked together in Aerospace (Northrop), and spent much time in intellectual conversation. I have great respect for Michael (He was the best man at my wedding).

    I submit the following in support of Michael’s hypothesis:

    I deal with vendors on a daily bases; The cognitive ability and Illiteracy have decreased in the last five years to the point all the employees can do is read from a computer screen with single-syllable words.

    [mjb: Thank you, James! We had great fun at sea, didn’t we.]

  6. Louise

    I think the problem is not that young people are dumb, it is that the education system through which most of us are forced to send our children has failed us and it is our fault. As parents, beginning with the Greatest Generation, on to the Silent Generation, to the Boomer Generation and then the children of the generation I raised – We have dropped the ball. We trusted our children’s schools and teachers to teach our children and were totally unaware that they were not fulfilling their obligations. We just went nilly willy along thinking “Well, the educators know best. They’re the professionals.” Even though some of us tried to counteract what the schools were doing it was not enough.” Those of us who were single parents in that era couldn’t afford to put our children into better schools. We were stuck. We did the best we could with what we had. We put them into Boys Scouts hoping they would help us teach them truth. We took them to Sunday School hoping those teachers would reinforce what we were trying to teach at home and we tried to help with homework as we were able. Raising children in hard work and most of us are just exhausted. To my children and grandchildren I am sorry that I failed you.

    Before everyone gets all excited about lumping the Greatest Generation into the mess, I am a child raised by people of the Greatest Generation and they were awesome but they had survived that terrible, terrible depression and then as they were coming out of it they fought that awful war against Hitler then they came home and went to sleep. They were Exhausted! The Silent Generation, the children who lived through that war just kept their heads down and kept quiet as they were taught,. They didn’t make waves. I am on the cusp of the Silent Generation and the Boomer Generation. I’m just confused about who I am! I didn’t make waves and wasn’t loud and demanding, screaming until I got what I wanted like the Boomers but I had all of the advantages of the boomers and the qualities of the Silent Generation as did many of us who were part of the early Boomers. The late Boomers became the hippies and other rebellious sorts who just demanded and were majorly spoiled! It went downhill from there.

    We just have to try to teach our grandchildren what we can (if we are fortunate enough to be there) when we can. Perhaps they will recall when they are older what grandma and grandpa always said.

    Many of us just spoiled our children and now we reap what we have sown. However, I see many young men and women who are beginning to stand up against the foolishness of their generation and seeking self education to try to better themselves. People cannot be expected to just “know” what they have not been taught. Since most states are required to provide an education to all children of their state I think I am beginning to back vouchers to be used at any school, public, private or parochial.

    My, how I have gone on here.

    Love to you,

    A Mom who failed


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