Idiocracy problem

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This article by Dr Piotr Wozniak is part of SuperMemo Guru series on memory, learning, creativity, and problem solving.


Idiocracy problem: Smart people tend to have fewer children or have them later. They seem to plan their lives too meticulously. They are extremely self-disciplined about reproduction (see: Harms of self-discipline).


The problem was depicted in a popular comedy Idiocracy (2006). The title of the movie is now often used to refer to the poor reproductive capacity of smart people. Alt-right may use the term "dysgenics", which in white supremacist terminology may simply mean "too few white babies".

See: Idiocracy intro (hilarious)


I have spent my whole life focusing on efficient learning methods to the exclusion of everything else. This makes me pretty ignorant in the matters of relationships, sex, and reproduction. However, I am pretty sure that the entire problem of Idiocracy stems from some cultural imprints and bad habits (including bad habits of schooling). The natural sex drive seems to thrive pretty well in the population. However, it is sometimes closed up inside under a veneer of politeness or fake indifference. It may also be substituted with pornography or prostitution. It should easily be uncovered if we could get rid of all fake appearances that are welded into our minds from early childhood. I doubt it can easily be remedied in adulthood. Those smart colleagues of mine who fail to reproduce might be lost souls of the guilty past. Instead, we should stop telling children which behaviors are appropriate using our own cultural and psychological biases. Let kids socialize and discover the rules of the game on their own. The key rule to obey is to respect other peoples' fair boundaries (along the law "do not destroy"). I hypothesize that if we freed kids to decide through natural socialization, we would rid ourselves of those hang ups and anxieties that ruin our reproductive powers.

Optimum socialization in large behavioral spaces may counteract the idiocracy problem


I devoted some time to interviewing my female friends who failed to have baby in a reasonable window of time. It seems that a great deal of trouble stems from bad habits of schooling. There is nothing wrong with risk assessment, optimum husband calculations, job security, and a million other variables. If there is no natural dream of parenting, the entire decision tree gets skewed. When I speak of pleasure, it is often misunderstood as a dangerous aspect of the human mind. After all, pleasure leads to alcohol, gambling, teenage pregnancy, drugs, sexual assault, etc. A well-schooled adult in her perfectly rational take on life may fail to notice that pleasure is an important guidance in decision making that involves human biology and operant conditioning. As schools systematically destroy the ability to use pleasure as a healthy guidance, the pleasure itself may become guilty.

Accepting the guidance of the reward centers in the brain should help prevent the idiocracy problem


Harms of self-discipline explain why schools may tend to condition "rational" behaviors that quarrel with the control systems involved in the supervision of human physiology. This may explain why schooled individuals may lock themselves into a form of reproductive procrastination due to a looping decision-making algorithm employed by the schooled brain.

Decisions made by the brain are rooted in knowledge valuation network, which may be conceptualized as a decision tree with rich back entry connections. Emotional and instinctive valuations affect ultimate decisions by coloring the valence of individual nodes in the concept network. Once those instinctive valuations are taken away (e.g. through self-discipline, rationalization, schooling, etc.), the decision tree may radically skew in favor of childlessness.

Science says, and my interviews confirm, that women are more likely to fantasize about their future role as a parent. Modern lifestyle seems to be highly suppressive for that instinct. Our culture seems to be skewed towards cute babies being shown as a burden (sleepless nights, crying, tantrums, poopy diapers, etc.). Luckily, the reproductive instinct is not a typical victim of schooling, and it still underlies the survival of mankind. Even in the absence of good decisions, lots of babies are a result of an "error". For this, teenage mothers should be sheltered, not condemned.

When I speak to childless adults I notice they speak of their hypothetical baby as of a stranger that needs to be taken care of. There is very little understanding of the power of the parental bond, and its impact on setting up a positive feedback loop of good change in a productive life. It seems that even a person who loves her dog or her cat may find it hard to imagine she would likely love her child even more. This qualifies as a form of cognitive bias and failure of empathy.

In contrast, those individuals who embrace natural instincts find it easy to fantasize about having large families. To my eye this seems pretty definitive, it is not intelligence that suppresses reproduction. It is not sheer rationality (many children are born out of reason and calculation). It is the suppression of natural instinct that weighs on long-term valuations of all aspects of rich family life. Sadly, schooling and authoritarian parenting must have a significant contribution to this phenomenon.

Limits on freedom and reward deprivation may be the main reasons for reduced population growth

Increasing individual freedoms seems like a panacea for many ailments of modern society.

Minsky's pessimism

While I insist that diversity is the source of evolutionary strength, Marvin Minsky has a bleaker claim on the problem of idiocracy:

So why is genius so rare, if each has almost all it takes? Perhaps because our evolution works with mindless disrespect for individuals. I'm sure no culture could survive, where everyone finds different ways to think. If so, how sad, for that means genes for genius would need, instead of nurturing, a frequent weeding out

I disagree. Human brain has reached incredible heights through evolution. However, in its rampant creativity, now and again, it "invents" means and methods that act to curtail its own power over generations. Is war an outcome of the evolutionary process or is it rather an error on the way to greatness? The verdicts are probably the same for war, school and idiocracy.


Idiocracy problem is not a byproduct of intelligence. Idiocracy problem is not an effect of skewed evolutionary optimization. Idiocracy problem is a result of closed system socialization, authoritarian parenting, compulsory schooling, and harmful self-control. As such the idiocracy problem should be redefined. It is not that smart people have fewer children. Poor population growth is a side effect of limits on freedom that lead to misconceived self-control.

Subreplacement fertility would best be remedied by love and freedom in upbringing

For more texts on memory, learning, sleep, creativity, and problem solving, see Super Memory Guru