Take a simple everyday example of how everyday life has rapidly become more complex in our own society. Fifty years ago if you looked in the pockets of the ordinary working man you would find a wallet which probably contained money and the odd photo or a scrap of paper on which notes had been made: the pockets of a middle class man would contain what the working man’s contained plus probably a cheque book and possibly a driving licence. Today the pockets of most people will contain cash, a wallet a wide variety of credit, bank and store cards, a driving licence and a mobile phone.
All the person, whether working class or middle class, had to worry about fifty years ago was not losing any of the things they carried. If they did lose them, the most that they were likely to have to do was cancel their cheque book and get a new licence. Now most people have to not only worry about what the person fifty years ago had to worry about, they also have to deal with a great deal more. They must remember passwords to use their cards and, should they lose any of them, they not only have to cancel the cards and get new ones but have the added worry of identity theft.
That is just a one example of what the modern industrial society demands of its members. It does much more. Vast numbers of laws are passed which no person however conscientious can be expected to master (that includes lawyers) and the state imposes hideously bureaucratic procedures for everything from applying for a passport to gaining welfare benefits. The modern state even in in its most benign forms also increasing interferes actively through attempts to micro-manage the lives of those who come under its sway, whether that be congestion charging, the sorting of rubbish for environmental or the imposition of highly intrusive surveillance practices such as high-tech ID cards. More generally, it imposes ideologies such as political correctness on its population through the use of political propagandising and the passing of laws to make dissent difficult or simply illegal. That is what the benign form of the modern state does: its more malign incarnations do the same things but in a more extreme manner. All of this is mentally demanding and exhausting for any person to take on board and of course most people do not even try let alone succeed in knowing and observing every new law or de facto official custom.
But it is not only the state which makes increasing demands on the emotional and mental resources of its people. Partly because of technology and partly because of the demands of ever widening competition as national trade barriers are lowered, large private companies have joined the complexity party. Customers are expected to increasingly serve themselves, whether that is through the use of websites, automated telephone systems, onsite computer such as ATMs and checkout machines in supermarkets. It is increasingly difficult in many of the ordinary spheres of life to engage directly with another human being. (I examine the implications of computers in more detail in Appendix B)
A nasty question arises from this increasing complexity: are the demands made on humanity by the advanced modern state such as to distract them from learning things which previous generations learned. Do people today know much more about processes but have far less general knowledge than they once had? My feeling is that this is precisely what has happened. Does this make people on average less intelligent because the intelligence of erudition is reduced? If so, does this imply that populations as a whole are becoming less intellectually competent or merely intellectually competent in a different way? I suspect it is the former because the intelligence of erudition is the main source of human competence.
There is also the worrying prospect that technological advance may be proceeding so rapidly that the demands it makes on people in general may eventually outstrip the society’s general IQ capacity. At the least, the additional demands are leaving millions of people in an increasing precarious position – an IQ of 80 is the point at which most psychologists would say that a person begins to struggle to live an independent life in a modern advanced society such as Britain. Approximately ten per cent of the population of Britain have IQs of 80 or below. That is six million people.