Search This Blog

Friday, January 11, 2013

Proposition: "The collective national IQ peaked in 1967, and has eroded since."


No, I'm grasping towards something like that.

It's a byproduct of cataloguing the books. What strikes me about the America of the 1950s and 1960s is the earnest, serious belief that a general familiarity with matters historical, cultural and intellectual was not only essential, but possible. Durant's Story of Civilization, the Encyclopedia Britannica with its study guides, the Great Ages of Man series, and even rolling on momentum into the early '70s with the Life History of the United States. All general, but well-researched and serious efforts to give the reader a conversational familiarity with a wide range of topics--all because they were worth knowing if one was a well-rounded person. You also saw the flowering of museums, city orchestras, theatrical groups and the like during the same time frame.

Then it ended. The demand dried up, and voila--it was gone. The books went out of print and the arts organizations started to live a hand-to-mouth existence which they haven't, in the main, escaped yet.

Sure, there have been some efforts to push back the tide--Hirsch's Dictionary of Cultural Literacy comes to mind, (hopefully) successful re-funding of museums (the DIA here in Detroit). But nothing like what you saw five decades ago. Nothing like the general presumption that such knowledge is important in and of itself, and is part of a full, well-ordered life. It feels like the fall from, if not a golden age, at least one of silver.

Food for melancholic thought.


  1. I read a study years ago claiming that, since the Late Victorian era, the average written sentence loses five words per decade. I cannot claim to know the methodology of the study, but if it's true, we may all be communicating in grunts, soon. Actually, some of the teens I hear on cell phones seemed to have reached that stage.

    Another study I read claimed that, in the late sixties, early 70's, one needed a vocabulary of about ten thousand words to comprehend a television news show, or to read a newspaper. In the eighties and nineties, it was five thousand.

    So I would agree: we're going downhill.

  2. I sent a couple e-mails, LD. Drop me a line.