Dumb and Dumber

The incredible shrinking human brain

A s you may have heard a few months ago, the state Senate passed a bill that would rename the Texas Railroad Commission. This, of course, is the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry. And although it's been around for more than 120 years, it finally dawned on somebody in Austin that it has nothing to do with railroads. Now that got me to thinking. Why bother? The CIA has nothing to do with being smart, and nobody is talking about renaming it. I pretty much brushed it off as normal human foibles and forgot about it, until I came across an interesting article a few weeks later.

Now get this. According to a provocative new study by a professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam, humans are getting dumber. In fact, we've lost an average of 14 I.Q. points since the Victorian Era. The good professor cites a number of reasons, including the fact that highly intelligent women tend to have fewer children than other women. Sure, there are probably other studies that rebut these findings, but I think they're credible. And the misnomers cited above may be no accident.

Consider this. A "general" is someone who has obtained the highest rank. And one of the definitions of "master" is an expert in his field. Those two words conjure up an image of a competent authority figure. Right? Then why in the world would we refer to the chief executive of a company that loses $25 million a day as Postmaster General?

Unfortunately, the ramifications of our gradually shrinking brains are becoming more evident. The one I have is not a particularly tight fit. I've noticed a rattle for years. And alcohol certainly doesn't improve its function. I often come up with some ridiculous ideas after a few rounds, which I'm always happy to reveal to anyone sitting nearby.  They usually laugh nervously, quickly finish their drinks and leave. But I do recall one particular epiphany that really garnered some odd looks. The next morning I wondered what I could have possibly been thinking. Little did I know that someone else shared the same vision and then managed to convince our city fathers to actually erect giant shrimp nets along the new 7th Street bridge.

Our diminishing intellect has also been reflected in the arts over the past few decades. Most of the great authors lived a long time ago. Check out some of the more memorable lines from A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, who died in 1870.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Or this one. 
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” They are clear, concise and beautifully written.
Now compare that to a lyric written a century later by his countryman, Elton John.

"If I was a sculptor, but then again, no."

I've been trying to figure out what that means for more than 40 years. But it's Shakespeare compared to most of the lyrics being written today.

Our ancestors were far more industrious than we are today. When they came up with an idea for an invention, they built it themselves. I was looking around my bedroom the other day, and I realized there was not one object in there that, if left to my own devices, I could construct myself. If I lived in a tree for a thousand years, I would have never come up with the idea for paper.

Now even though we all may be getting dumber, we still can take advantage of the situation. How? By identifying groups of people that are getting dumber faster than us. Like the IRS. Because they decided to unfairly scrutinize conservative groups over their tax exempt status, it's a surefire bet that similar sounding groups won't be audited for at least the next 10 years. That's why I've decided to change my name to Rush Cheney. I've also changed my job description to "Gun-toting, frack-loving, tea-sipping manufacturer of patriotic waterboards."

Pretty clever, eh? Now I think I'll run downtown to see if they've caught any shrimp yet.