Are we heading towards Idiocracy?
The results of the 2016 election for the 45th President of the United States prompted a resurgence of discussion about Idiocracy, a 2006 comedy film. The renewal of interest was primarily to suggest that the United States is now far closer to this dystopic future than it should be, but, if this is true, how can it be stopped?
Idiocracy stars Luke Wilson as, essentially, the most average man of the 21st century. Through an army experiment, he arrives 500 years into the future to find he is the smartest man in an over-commercialized and endangered United States populated by, well, idiots. The premise, as described by the short introduction to the film, is that humans “evolved” over time to lose intelligence, a result of people with high IQs procreating sparingly and their low-IQ counterparts reproducing rapidly.
The film's use of biological evolution and natural intelligence to explain the collapse of society has also received much criticism. Such critiques are mostly accusations that the film is cruel by encouraging intellectual superiority or even eugenics. However, this evaluation focuses far too much on nature and biology while wholly ignoring the film’s implicit and explicit clues of societal influences.
It becomes evident that their “evolution” was actually due to the effects of a prolonged devolution of sociopolitical values and implementation of bad policies.
First of all, intelligence is complex. It is not solely determined by genetics and cannot be entirely represented by an IQ score. Next, Luke Wilson’s character himself debunks the "evolution" idea when, towards the end of the film, he proclaims advice for the residents of the 21st century. His recommendation is not for smart people to reproduce more, instead he suggests that people should use their brains, stay in school, and read books.
Now, I’m no comedy expert, but I would guess that commentary on systemic inequality doesn’t produce many laughs. So, while watching the film, it becomes evident that their “evolution” was actually due to the effects of a prolonged devolution of sociopolitical values and implementation of bad policies. A solid understanding of these sociopolitical factors is essential to change a certain idiocratic future.
In the introduction’s case study, the “dumb” people, Clevon and his partners, reproduce and stimulate “evolution” through unwanted pregnancies. These unintentional pregnancies, as Guttmacher.org reported, can result in “adverse maternal and child health outcomes, such as delayed prenatal care, premature birth, and negative physical and mental health effects for children.” Obviously, these issues would have profoundly negative effects on society if perpetuated over many generations, especially if, simultaneously, “the greatest minds and resources were focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections” .
In the film, Clevon and his partner are aware that birth control pills exist, and, while there are many possible reasons they did not use contraceptives, the film provides no further explanation. Viewers may then believe that not using contraceptives is a direct result of low intelligence, which is misleading. Perhaps, for example, the cost of contraceptives was not covered under their health insurance so it was unaffordable; perhaps the nearest place to acquire contraceptives was a family planning clinic like Planned Parenthood, but it had been shut down by the government for providing abortion services (despite the country’s foundation of religious freedom); or perhaps they were never taught how to properly use the pills or other contraceptives.
In the United States, unintended pregnancies affect women from all echelons of society. In recent years, an estimated half of all U.S. pregnancies were unintended, though this rate has declined much since the 1980s; this is thought to be caused by increased use of contraceptives in the last decades .
However, unintended pregnancies occur at a significantly higher rate in women who come from low-income backgrounds and do not have high school diplomas, particularly those who live in rural areas . Similarly, in the United States, young people who receive no sex education or abstinence-only sex education tend to be from lower-income families, while those who receive comprehensive sex education tend to be from higher-income families in more urban areas . Those who receive comprehensive sex education are 50% less likely to have an unintended teen pregnancy . Put simply, poor people receive less sex education, which leads to more unintentional pregnancies and, of course, more financial and emotional strain.
This idiocratic future could have easily been avoided by providing access to affordable healthcare, contraceptives, and comprehensive sex education for all Americans.
Guttmacher.org also reported that publicly funded family planning services, like Planned Parenthood, were responsible for a decrease in the rate of unintended pregnancies, unplanned births, and abortions. In 2014, they said, these rates would have been 68% higher without such services. By promoting family planning as a widespread societal value and allowing organizations such as Planned Parenthood to continue to offer services, particularly in low-income and rural communities, unwanted pregnancies can continue to decline.
Idiocracy is not the result of people with lower intellect. Instead, it depicts a society which does not value education and does not provide resources to plan families or subsequently provide appropriate care for children. This is not an issue of intelligence, it is an issue of education, inequality, and bad policies. This idiocratic future could have easily been avoided by providing access to affordable healthcare, contraceptives, and comprehensive sex education for all Americans. Interestingly, the current Republican agenda in the United States actively works against these provisions, desperately attempting to defund Planned Parenthood, the most notorious provider of affordable reproductive healthcare.
On a similar note, a recent poll found that 52% of American men believe they do not personally benefit from women having access to affordable contraception, which is scarily close to the conditions of Idiocracy. And remember - even the imbeciles of the imaginary future chose the smartest person at their disposal to try to save the world, which is certainly more than I can say about the state of the USA at the moment.
 Finer, L. B., & Zolna, M. R. (2016). Declines in unintended pregnancy in the United States, 2008–2011. The New England Journal of Medicine, 374(9), 843-852. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa1506575
 Kohler, P. K., Manhart, L. E., & Lafferty, W. E. (2008). Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(4), 344-351. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.08.026
 Koplovitz, E. (Producer), Nelson, M. (Producer), & Judge, M. (Director). (2006). Idiocracy [Motion Picture]. USA: 20th Century Fox.