The Land of the Stupid
He was walking down the street, dim light falling scarcely on the pavement. The warm air mixed with the scent of imminent rain reminded him of a summer night two years ago, when his best friend suddenly disappeared. It was a calm neighborhood, his friend was a quiet and bright boy. Everyone was shocked. They were out, a group of six young men, and his friend went to pee in the nearby bush. He never came back. No noise, no body, no blood, no evidence in the area. There were rumors that he was taken beyond the fence. But there wasn’t supposed to be anything there, only toxic and radioactive remains from the last war. The fence was guarded, so that nobody gets exposed to the potentially deadly conditions just several hundred meters beyond it. Even if someone got brought there, he was probably dead by now.
He continued walking, trying to ditch the thought of his friend’s disappearance, as he had done so many times before. Then a strange thought leapt in his brain — “didn’t I pass this shop already”? It was a very familiar street, and he could normally tell two bus stops apart just by looking at the way the tiles of the pavement were broken. He wasn’t sure now. In fact, he was feeling a bit dizzy. Suddenly the street wasn’t familiar anymore. He smelled something weird in the air. He tried to turn at the next corner, but somehow his feet didn’t listen. Then he saw the black car. His instincts told him to run away. But he couldn’t. He slowly opened the door and walked into the car.
‘Good morning, Oliver,’ a soft female voice echoed as soon as he opened his eyes, ‘you will be fine, whatever happens’.
He was in a dark room. There was something hard in his pocket — batteries, which someone had apparently placed there. Trying to switch the light didn’t work, as there was no switch. There were no windows, and the darkness frightened him. ‘Where am I?’ was left unanswered. ‘What am I doing here?’ — likewise. He looked for a door, touching the wall all the way back to the bed, but there wasn’t any. In a moment of insight, he pushed the bed. The light switch was behind it. The light revealed a small room, three by three meters, with a bed, a chair, a bookshelf and a small table with a suitcase ontop. He opened the suitcase and found two sheets of paper.
The first sheet contained a simple equation, which he immediately solved (maths was his special talent). The second sheet had a number on each corner and a plus sign in the middle. As the bookshelf was locked, and the lock needed a 4-digit combination, he assumed he has to derive it. It didn’t take long before he added the result from the equation to each of the numbers on the four corners, and unlocked the bookshelf. He threw all books on the floor. A small key dropped from one of them. But there were no other locks or doors. On a second inspection, he found a small keyhole on the side of the bookshelf. Turning the key resulted in a loud noise. Then the bookshelf moved aside and a dark passage opened behind it. He entered. The passage made a couple of turns and lead to a bright room with writings on the floor and the ceiling. It was a code again. He solved it, by entering the answer on a machine that was hidden inside the passage, and then a hidden door opened. He continued going through tiny passages, solving riddles, equations and puzzles. He was thirsty, hungry and most importantly — scared. Was he trapped by some sick man who wanted to watch him go through a home-made game, only to end up butchered when failing to solve a puzzle?
Hours passed, the puzzles were getting harder, and he was getting desperate. He was on the verge of a mental breakdown when he stepped into yet another room and it turned out to be the original one, with the bed. ‘It is an endless circle!’ he almost shouted. But something was different. The suitcase was missing. In its place there was an old TV remote control. He rushed to take it, and pressed the big red button. Nothing. The batteries! After dropping them clumsily on the floor, he pushed them in the remote, and pressed the button again. The wall behind the bed slowly moved to the left and disappeared.
‘Congratulations, Oliver.” said the female voice. “Your escape proved what our brain scans have shown. You are a truly intelligent person. Now you can proceed. You have been assigned a mentor.’
‘Hi, I’m Josh, I will be your mentor.’ said a tall guy, while shaking his hand.
‘Mentor in what?’
‘Mentor in becoming an integral part of the country of the intelligent’
‘What is that? Is this some kind of reality show? I didn’t sign anything, I’ll sue you!’
‘Calm down. The country of the intelligent is where all the intelligent people live. 200 years ago, in the beginning of this century, it was considered that the average IQ, that is, the intelligence metric of the population, is rising. Or at least that’s what the results were showing. Then scientists realized two things. First, IQ was rising only because people were getting more skilled in doing IQ tests and more familiar with shapes and words (as that’s what the IQ tests were measuring). Second, IQ wasn’t actually a good indicator for intelligence. There were people with high IQ and practically no common sense, and vice-versa. Then scientists came up with a brain scan to show the actual intellectual capacity of a person. They gathered many metrics, including neuron firing intervals and number of neurons and brain areas activated in various situations and tasks, ending up with a common metric for intelligence — the IQ2. Then they realized that the average IQ2 has been declining. In fact they thought it’s too late to reverse the process by small, slow steps, and opted for a faster solution. They tried to install common sense, knowledge, skills into the human brain, but the brain rejected everything — it had too many security checks that didn’t allow external information to be just poured into it. Only some mentally ill subjects, whose brains were unable to perform all checks, accepted the new information. But that didn’t help them anyway — only proved that a healthy brain cannot be tampered with. Well, with one exception — recent memories could be erased.’
‘And what does all that have to do with me being locked in a room for so many hours?’ Oliver asked trembling, still being nervous and insecure.
‘Be patient, I’ll explain. Then scientists and most surprisingly — politicians, realized they can only rely on evolution to fix the problem of the ever dumber population. So, roughly speaking, they had to separate the stupid from the clever. Countries, including this one, were split in two. The population was segregated — everyone was tested, and depending on their IQ2, moved into the respective part of the country. Separated by the fence. Then the intelligent people could interbreed without interference from the rest and thus create a sub-population with a high IQ2.’
‘But why then nobody has told me anything about that?’
‘It was performed gradually. Testing people and moving them around one by one. All the clever ones know the story. Everyone else’s memory of the test was erased. After 5 years the clever population, much smaller than the rest, was successfully isolated.’
‘So, you say, I’m stupid?’
‘Au contraire. You are exceptionally intelligent. Your brain scan showed a pretty high IQ2 score, and your escape proved it (we still need additional proof, as the IQ2 scan sometimes gives false positives)’
‘OK, so I’m an intelligent child born in a stupid family. But what happens if a stupid child is born in an intelligent family?’
‘That rarely happens. But when it does, we still let the stupid person live in this part, but they are not allowed to have children. It may sound harsh, but society has changed to accept it and to accommodate the new realities and keep the IQ2 high.”
‘But we, on the other side, have new inventions, new tools — who makes them?’
‘Inventions, technologies, medications, and the likes are coming from the country of the intelligent. You see, we drag all capable people into our lines, and it’s unlikely that anyone from the “stupid part” can invent anything. Well, almost. In fact, we are also doing education reforms in the stupid part, because education and activities at an early age do have effect on IQ2. The last reform raised the number of people joining the intelligent part by 5 percent.’
‘But what’s the benefit of all that, what do we all get from this split?’
‘Well, for a start, well-being has risen exponentially since the split. Wealth, GDP, happiness, life-expectancy — everything has seen a sharp improvement. But you will see for yourself.’
‘How do you keep all this a secret?’ asked Oliver, as it didn’t make sense to have half a country hidden, with all the technology and air travel available.
‘It’s us that supply all technology, so we make our presence undetectable by your radars and satellites, and your airplanes can’t go above our cities. And “the fence” is a convincing story — there was indeed a war that left ruins and waste, we just exaggerate it. Besides, the people on the other side aren’t all that curious. As to why do we need it — it’s safer that way; otherwise we expect an influx of stupid people wanting a better life, and practically defeating the evolutionary purpose of the split.’
‘Ah. Makes sense. And how did I end up here?’
‘You were gassed with a mind-control gas on the street, and you just walked into our car, where you passed out. The same happened to, what was his name — Brandon, your friend’
Before Oliver could say anything else they were moving fast. Five minutes later they arrived at a house.
‘This will be your home.’ said Josh, ‘Food and drinks are automatically delivered by drones, and end up in your fridge, you can change the daily orders from this tablet. Robots will be cleaning the house everyday at noon. If you want to go out, you can call a self-driving car from the tablet’
‘Why don’t we have all these robots in our part of the country? You said you are giving us the new technologies.’
‘Jobs. The intelligent people here are rather overqualified to be full-time cleaners or drivers. In your world, having robots for that, would mean high unemployment for the less able. We try to keep things balanced. And don’t use “us” and “you” anymore. You are no longer living there. And you can’t go back.’
‘Clear.” said Oliver, surprisingly accepting this sudden and irreversible change. “And what should I do now?’
‘You will be contacted. Just hold this telepathic transmitter in your pocket.’
‘What? How does this work. You said the brain rejects attempts to push information to it.’
‘It does, if we try to circumvent the sensory input. But this transmitter is kind of a hack — it sends signals, recognizable by the nerves leading from the ear to the brain. It is just an alternative ear. And instead of speaking, you can just think of saying something. Then the device detects the signals to the mouth and tongue, and transfers them wirelessly to the person that has called you. If you just think without trying to articulate the words, i.e. without sending the impulses to the mouth, the device won’t catch it. So it’s not strictly speaking telepathy. And because I know you will ask — after the initial tests we stopped supplying these devices to the dumber areas, because of the irrational fears they caused.’ Josh paused, ‘Now I have to leave. See you’ he said, and left through the automatic sliding door.
Oliver wasn’t yet sure if this was not a dream. And decided to do a reality check — he grabbed the tablet and tried looking for his missing friend, Brandon. There were three people with the same full name on the list, he “telepathed” the first one. It wasn’t his friend. He telepathed the second one:
‘Hi Brandon. Uh, this is Oliver, your friend, remember?’
‘Oliver? I knew you’ll make it! So happy to hear from you. Where are you?’
‘I don’t know,’ thought Oliver, having already mastered the feat of trying to speak without actually speaking, ‘I’m in some house. Can I see you today?’
‘Sure. Just send me the coordinates from your tablet and I’ll be there’
Oliver was tired and confused. He wasn’t dreaming, and it appeared that his former life was on the other side of the fence. The sudden change hadn’t yet hit him, as his brain was still processing all the new information that he acquired in the past half an hour. He took the tablet, quickly found the location service and shared his coordinates with Brandon. Then he waited.
The house was a neat, two-story building with several bedrooms and a huge living room on the first floor. He found the cleaning robots in a closet on the second floor and started them — it wasn’t something unthinkable, as he had already seen robot vacuum cleaners and dust removers. These, of course, were on a whole different level, leaving literally no housework for him.
The thought of his new world was ruthlessly trying to return in his brain, so he finally let it in. It felt wrong. But at the same time logical. He didn’t know why it felt wrong, as the intellectual elite was apparently friendly and silently helping “the stupid”. It looked almost like a utopia.
Then he heard the familiar whistling he and Brandon used since their childhood. He went outside, impulsively hugged Brandon and invited him in. The guest, however, refused with a gesture, and urged Oliver to come further away from the house. It seemed as if Brandon wasn’t happy to see him — he was pale and quiet.
‘Is there something wrong? How are you?’, asked Oliver.
‘I’m fine. We’ll have the smalltalk later. But now listen. There is something wrong. I don’t know exactly yet, but people around me are behaving strangely. I think someone is making them do things they don’t want to. For example, yesterday a vegan colleague of mine had a sausage and beer for lunch. The other day my boss didn’t pay any attention to me and slowly marched into the ladies restroom. I have tons of these minor examples, and they stack up. Have that in mind an watch your steps. Now let’s get inside.’
They entered the house and chatted for several hours, about the past, about what is the world of the intelligent, about what is their place in it. Apparently most people here were scientists, engineers, writers, composers, painters (and usually, more than one of these at a time). Brandon was working in medical research — he was currently investigating how to use the mechanism that allows cancer cells to never die and proliferate, for regrowing lost limbs, tissue or organs.
Oliver was perfectly content with this bizarre new life that lied ahead of him. He felt a yearning for the unknown. After Brandon left, Oliver fell asleep immediately.
It was the next morning when the sun woke him up. He went outside to find out more about his new neighborhood. Small houses with big yards were all he could see around him. Bright green gardens, blooming flowers. Robotic gardeners trimming the grass. Oliver assumed he was in some remote suburb, like the ones where the rich lived back in the “stupid part”. But a second look at the map on the tablet showed that he was actually just quite close to the center of a relatively big city. He figured out that since there are way fewer intelligent people, combined with the speed, availability and safety of the self-driving cars, cities can easily be less crowded and more pleasant to live in, while still providing interesting places to go to. In fact, the city he was living in had a population of two hundred thousand people. And felt calm like a remote village.
Then the telepathic transmitter rang. He picked it up.
‘Hello, Oliver. This is Josh. I have good news for you, we found you a job. We inspected your previous records and figured out you are good with mathematics and engineering. How would you feel about being a researcher on machine translation?’
‘Well, um, I don’t have any experience with these things.’
‘Don’t worry — you will go through advanced courses in quantum computing and machine translation and given your IQ2, you’ll be ready to start in a month.’ Josh sounded confident.
‘Okay, sounds good.’ said Oliver with a slightly hesitant voice.
‘Perfect! The courses are available through your tablet. You can view them at any time you feel convenient. The lectures will be displayed on the big screen in the living room. If you have any questions, you can pause and tap on the question mark button — you will be connected to a tutor, who will clarify. At the end of each week you will have little exams, but don’t worry, there is no “fail” or “pass”. Or at least there hasn’t been so far’
Four days into the courses, quantum computing (fully implemented just recently) looked really tantalizing. Machine translation, on the other hand, had stagnated for decades, so his team was supposed to investigate new approaches, using the power of quantum computing One approach currently being investigated was making computers acquire their first language, exactly the way a baby does, but being supplied with videos of real-world situations. It could then identify the corresponding words for visual objects. Only after a good first language knowledge, they would try to train it in another language.
Together with this exciting new knowledge, however, another thing grew in Oliver’s mind — the “conspiracy” Brandon had suspected. They were seeing each other every day, and Brandon shared new instances of inexplicable behavior by other people. Then one day, as Oliver was having a walk downtown, he recognized a weird odor — the one of the mind-control gas with which they made him enter the black car. The next day he asked Brandon how the gas works.
‘It puts tiny particles amidst your neurons. The particles are controlled remotely to interfere with the neurons firing. That way they can make you do stuff that your brain didn’t send an instruction for. This includes walking, talking, even heart function. The effect is short-lived, as the particles quickly dissolve, but there has been research that prolonged exposure can in fact induce a long-term effect.’
‘How is the intelligent country ruled, actually? Who is in power?’, Oliver seemingly changed the topic.
‘Nobody. It is a fully-distributed democracy, where decisions are taken by a large amount of knowledgeable experts in a given field or fields. Everyone must participate in at least 10 decisions per year. Decisions are routed to a given expert based on automatic text analysis and our skills database.’
‘So, there isn’t a prime minister, a president or a manager?’
‘There is a coordinator, but not one that is not actually in power. It’s just a person who oversees the process and the systems.’
‘And there is nobody who actually wants to rule?’
‘Of course there is. But he wouldn’t have the mechanisms to do that — there is no position one can take, that gives him more power than the rest.’
‘Can it be that the intelligent part is actually a farm? That someone, beyond yet another fence, is farming intelligent people by slowly gassing them and using their potential in order to serve yet another elite? Can he be providing this sense of self-governance, while at the same time controlling the major processes?’
‘Hmmmmm… outrageous thought, but not impossible. Let’s think about that more and try to find evidence.’
That’s how their conversation ended that day. On the next day there was a networking event where people from different disciplines could meet and talk informally. Brandon invited Oliver, and he accepted, trying to figure out what are the people like in this “new” world. After a whole day of smalltalk, general chats and concrete philosophical and research discussions, Oliver was heavily disappointed. In this perfectly organized world, he expected people to be… perfect. And they weren’t. Their arguments were sometimes abundant with logical fallacies, mostly ad-hominem, some people were mean and condescending, even inexplicably rude to each other. Most of them were insensitive towards the stupid people, making fun all the time. There were, of course, pleasant, inspiring and productive conversations, and maybe the narcissistic, egotistic and insensitive remarks were a small part after all, but the sense of disappointment didn’t leave Oliver’s mind throughout the day. It appeared that humans, even the most intelligent ones, can be in a way inadequate.
These thoughts were interrupted by the familiar smell. Then he felt the urge to go to the toilet, so he headed there. While doing his business, he felt the smell again. In this small space, he had to find where it came from. He started searching around, behind the bowl and the sink. Shortly he found a small device, tucked behind a hand-dryer. He disassembled it and found a small button inside. Pressing it was obviously what he was expected to do. Going to the toilet was what he was expected to do. He was calm. His mind dashed through the multiple possibilities and he suddenly realized there was no conspiracy. At least not a global one. All that was a setup, another test for him. The final (hopefully) “admission exam”. He knew there was a camera and a microphone in there somewhere. The gas had a memorable odor for a reason — if they wanted to silently control people, they would’ve removed the odor. So before pressing the button, he shouted ‘I know this is a test for me, I’m proceeding to its end’. Pressing the button opened a tunnel below the toilet bowl. He entered a dark corridor, and walked for a couple of minutes. He then reached a wide, bright open space. The walls were entirely white, the floor was made of glass, and below he could see an underground hill covered with thousands of glittering diamonds. Then he saw a woman walking in.
He recognized the soft voice he heard in the room of his initial test.
‘Welcome to the coordinator HQ. How are you feeling?’
‘Calm. And curious.’ answered Oliver, while taking the seat the woman offered him.
‘That is great. I am the coordinator. The person in power. Even though Brandon was right that I don’t have actual power, I do have some, in a subtle way. I can influence the flow of public debate and I have the best overview on all the processes in society. But I guess you are wondering why you are here. If we were in some movie, you would have been a chosen one, and I would have had a mission for you. Unfortunately or not, you are not a chosen one. I don’t have any mission for you, and you don’t get anything. Except a little more knowledge. I’m not an archvillain either, so you can stay calm. This was just your final test. In addition to verifying your progress in quantum computing, we needed some common-sense test. That’s what the conspiracy was. You passed it. And I welcome you as a permanent citizen of the intelligent part. Do you have any questions?’
‘What would have happened if I didn’t pass the test? If I failed to realize there is no conspiracy, or if I didn’t look for the button and the hidden tunnel?’
‘We would just erase your recent memory and get you back to the stupid part. We can erase up to a week.’
‘I can see that life in this part is better and safer. But I also saw that people are still egotistic, mean, narcissistic, over-confident or suffering from complexes. They seem to be less compassionate, less humane. To people here the stupid ones are inferior and laughable, maybe unworthy. Is there really a point in this split, if we are losing good human traits in exchange for intelligence?’
‘First, you are generalizing. But that’s okay, and I see your point. You would be even more disappointed if you came here before we prohibited wearing the IQ2 tags. Everyone was trying to show that he is actually smarter than the others, so people were putting their IQ2 score on their shirts. We proposed a ban, and the majority of psychologists and human-behavior analysts that had to take the decision, agreed.
It is true that intelligence isn’t a cure for bad human traits. But what we are doing is not about human character deficiencies. This is left to the individual to correct. What we do is to provide a greater good for everyone. And while that may sound too general, or too political, you can see with your own eyes, that both here and on the other side of the fence, life is improving, faster and faster. Our new order is not producing better humans, but is making it easier for humans to be better.
You see, intelligent people are distracted by what stupid people are doing or not doing properly. It drains our mental capacity. Our time and intellectual potential must be used fully — by ourselves, by our peers, and by humanity. Eliminating distractions and time-wasting daily absurdities, we do good to both the intelligent and the stupid.
Stupid people can’t appreciate our intellectual challenges and struggles. We, on other hand, can understand their struggles, but we are free not to care. And you have rightly spotted that many of us don’t. So why keep the two types of people together, when they can’t or don’t want to understand each other?
Maybe this is the first segregation in history, where the right of every individual to utilize his potential is preserved. It is an entirely objective segregation, and nobody’s personal development is harmed.
What we have accomplished is actually the natural way of things — stupid people get what the clever ones create, and in return don’t get in the way.
Then comes the human aspect — how good you are, how altruistic you are, how caring you are. But splitting people in terms of their intellectual capacity doesn’t impact that in any way — it’s entirely up to the individual. And that’s the whole point.’
Oliver paused and thought about everything he was just told. It was an elitist, but quite honest and logical monologue. He didn’t have any questions to ask. Was the split good? Was the clever part better? He wasn’t sure. But he was sure there was no right answer to this question. He knew what kind of person he wants to be, and his intelligence was not the only component there.
He was in the self-driving car on his way home. There was a news report on the screen with an aerial view of the fence. Where there’s a fence, there’s always someone to destroy it, he thought. Even if it’s good for everyone. But nobody is destroying this one. Not yet.