Airheads of Youth (Get Off My Lawn!)

Tourist alert: There are a couple of big, BIG national parties coming up soon in Eastern Europe! This is due to the simple fact that both Czechoslovakia and Poland emerged at the end of the First World War -so a hundred years ago, in 1918 – from the Russian and Austria-Hungarian Empires which collapsed at the end of that conflict. Fortunately, the exact schedule is fairly spread-out (to the benefit of the hard-core partyer): Founding of the Czechoslovak State, 28 October, of the (Second) Polish Republic on 11 November.

Head in that direction for some substantial celebrations, especially if you missed the last millennial party-day – no, not 1 January 2000 (although that one, too), but 1 May 2004 when these and eight other countries all became EU member-states. No need to study up on the exact historical occasions this time, though, for the natives likely won’t do much of that themselves, at least in the Czech Republic according to to this piece in that country’s main business newspaper Hospodářské noviny.

There people o have plenty of historical milestones from recent history to remember, mostly of the sad variety. But that’s if one cares to recall them in the first place (and isn’t ignorance equivalent to bliss?). Admittedly, the 1918 (happy) events are relatively prominent in the national memory: in a recent survey, 79% could recall the end of the war and/or the establishment of the republic (not from personal experience, of course). Just twenty years later, in 1938, that republic crumbled to dust, abandoned to Nazi German forces due to the infamous Munich Agreement. But only 54% of this poll’s sample know about that.

Similarly, they’re pretty up on the Warsaw Pact invasion n 1968 that put an end to a brief period of liberalization known as the Prague Spring – 76%. Rather fewer (65%) could tell the poll-takers anything intelligent about how the Communists took power in the first place, namely by means of “Victorious February” (as it was styled in Communist propaganda) a Soviet-supported take-over of the government in 1948.

This poll was conducted by the NMS Market Research organization on behalf of Post Bellum, which describes itself as “a non-governmental nonprofit organization which documents the memories of witnesses of the important historical phenomenon [sic] of the 20th century and tries to pass these stories on to the broader public.” It might well be worth your time to click that previous link to read the fuller (English) description of what they try to do, or even to download their entire 24 page EN-language brochure. Crucially, Post Bellum has managed to partner with Czech Radio, and thereby has gained not only necessary equipment for recording and storing live historical testimony, but also occasional programming-slots within State radio’s various channels to present a series of documentaries, collectively titled “Stories of the 20th Century.” The webpage that brings all these together (about 90 of them) for listening/downloading is here; however, as you might well imagine, everything is in Czech.

Now, it’s likely a step too far to rely on young people, especially, to take the trouble to discover such an historical resource, go to it and then partake of the wisdom on offer. You’d have to hope there has been some integration of this material into the Czech school system. However, even such measures as that may have to fight a difficult uphill battle, if we can credit this report from a Spanish on-line site:

“Since 1975 each new generation has been more foolish”: that headline definitely caught my eye! Yes, más tontas: “more foolish.”

Well OK, and where do they get that from? From a pretty unimpeachable source, as it turns out, namely the scholarly journal associated with the (American) National Academy of Sciences. Both of the researchers who wrote the paper in question (Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg) are Norwegian, but their findings apply worldwide. They take on the so-called Flynn Effect (named for New Zealand intelligence researcher James R. Flynn), which holds that scores on intelligence tests keep on rising because of improvements in nutrition, public health, and the like. What Bratsberg and Rogeberg maintain is that that Effect has gone into reverse, so that each subsequent generation is turning out to be less intelligent than its predecessors.

Why is that? Well, the two Norwegians’ paper is not only important for its conclusion, but also for establishing that it must have been environmental factors (better public health, etc.) which caused last century’s Flynn Effect in the first place. Therefore, it must also be environmental factors that are causing its reversal, although the scientists are a bit more vague about what those are: maybe something having to do with deficient new methods of public education.

There is something else that seems to be key for the Spanish “tontas” report, though, namely that the reversal of the Flynn Effect is said to have kicked in around 1975. The 20 Minutos writer does not mention it explicitly – because in Spain he does not have to, even for the young – but 1975 was a very important year in Spanish history. It was then in November that long-time dictator Francisco Franco died, which ushered in the political transition that made Spain into the democracy that it is today.

Note that “From 1975” begins the Spanish article’s headline: surely the unstated message here is “Oh you soft Youth of today, if you had had to use your wits to survive within a dictatorship, like us oldsters, that would have sharpened up your minds soon enough!” Perhaps that is even the unstated message of the earlier-mentioned lament from the Czech press that modern youngsters cannot seem to recall important tragic dates of the country’s history, as well?

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