From the NYT: U.S. Team Wins First Place at International Math Olympiad
Hmmm…but this should not be happening…America is supposed to be ‘dumbing down’, according to the media and punditry.
I’ve long been incredulous about the ‘America is dumbing down’ narrative – the totality of the empirical evidence just doesn’t support it, and for every example I can find of dumbing-down, there are counter examples such as this. Instead, America is like a barbell – a lot of smart people on one extreme, a lot of dumb people on the other, and many average people in the middle. From The Trajectory of America, one reason why I’m optimistic about the US economy and stock market, in spite of moral decay, is that the economic contributions of America’s most productive, smartest (such has these Olympiad winners) are enough to counteract the decay, as America is like a magnet that attracts the best and the brightest from all over the world.
As evidence of how we’re in a ‘smartist era’ and how STEM is the new nobility, this story also went massively viral and was ‘up-voted’ hundreds of times on Hacker News and Reddit, generating significant praise for the contestants. After a long slumber in the 90’s and 2000’s following the Cold War era, a generation when America looked up to its ‘best and brightest’ to ‘beat’ the Soviets – STEM has returned with a vengeance and is now America’s new nobility and priesthood, and that’s why there is so much interest in this story, even more so than stories about sports team victories.
This resurgence is due to cultural factors (cultural appropriation, Tumblr introspection and naval gazing, Instagram culture (dog filter), nerd culture, long-form journalism, rejection of ‘low information’, etc.) and recent economic conditions that favor high-IQ (since 2008, smart people getting rich in America through coding, web 2.0, stocks, finance, real estate, and good-paying jobs – as everyone else has seen their inflation-adjusted income and wealth stagnate).
Also, STEM – particularly theoretical physics, and computer science, and pure mathematics – are seen as bastions of intellectual purity and rigor in a world of ‘fluff degrees’, commercialism, media hype, and low-information sensationalism and partisan demagoguery. Meanwhile, many athletes are overpaid, are on drugs, ignorant of current events or lacking of any deep understanding of the world, or are just all-around mean and demeaning people, and that could explain why an increasing number of people are looking up to intellectuals as role models, not athletes or pop musicians.