Idiocracy, nucleocracy

Donald Trump’s infamous campaign for president has coincided with the 10th anniversary of the crude satirical film Idiocracy, an event which prompted its co-writer Etan Cohen to comment on twitter “I never expected Idiocracy to become a documentary.” Indeed, some to the utterances of Donald Trump and his supporters rival the stunning idiocy portrayed in the film.

Mike Judge (director), Idiocracy, Twentieth Century Fox, 2006
The story begins with army private Joe Bauer who has been chosen for a special military project because he is perfectly average, having an IQ of exactly 100. Along with a female specimen, the army puts him to sleep for a year in a suspended animation experiment, but the program is shut down after he is put in the box, and he is forgotten. When his container falls from a garbage heap 500 years later and pops open, he finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world where all the intelligent work is done by machines and humans have gone through an extreme dumbing-down process. Everyone Joe encounters finds him to be suspiciously much too smart, talking way too fancy with his “fag talk.” But he eventually comes to the attention of the president, who is also a moron but just smart enough to realize that Joe might have an idea about how to make the crops grow again. They nourish the crops with sports drinks promoted by agribusiness, and Joe helps them figure out they should use water, “like they use in the toilet.” He’s the smartest person in the world.

The story’s resemblance to the Trump campaign has been picked up by numerous writers who have recently celebrated the virtues of the sleeper hit that went straight to DVD in 2006, after a short run in cinemas, and went on to earn millions of dollars for 20th Century Fox.

One commentary on Alternet took exception to the film’s suggestion that the dumbing-down of society was due to the declining frequency of genes for intelligence. The opening sequence shows a couple with high IQs explaining their reasons for delaying having children, and then failing to have children later when they eventually wanted them. This is contrasted with characters living in poverty who are breeding like rabbits, and thus the decline of civilization is put down to the reversal of the traditional rule of the survival of the fittest and the most intelligent.

However, if one listens carefully to the narration and dialog, a more sympathetic interpretation is possible. Genes for intelligence are never mentioned, and we could assume that the high-IQ couple became intelligent because of the social capital of their families and the society they grew up in. The theory of evolution includes the theory of cultural evolution that holds that those whose heritage is good education and a developed social consciousness will thrive and contribute to building a thriving society. Genes play only a small part in human potential.

The critique expressed by the film could be that the highly educated and intelligent have squandered their cultural capital through laziness and individualism, while those who have lost advantages have been left in ignorance to become slaves to their baser instincts. From this perspective, the story is not an endorsement of eugenics. It fits very well within leftist theory. When the perfectly average protagonist (Joe) thinks that his partner in the adventure (Rita), will have an opportunity to time travel back to the past, he tells her, "Go back. Tell people to read books. Tell people to stay in school. Tell people to use their brains, or something. I think maybe the world got like this because of people like me. I never did anything with my life." This point is clear by the end of the film when he concludes, very intelligently, that even the idiots in the idiocracy just have to use their brains and figure out how to solve their problems. It is a matter of communal effort and struggle, not natural endowment.

One of the most poignant, cutting and unfunny jokes in the story comes toward the end when Joe announces he wants to look for a time machine that he assumes might have been invented sometime before everything collapsed. He wants to go back and leave behind the friends he has saved from big agribusiness’ electrolyte drinks but...

Idiot 1: But we still got all these problems.
Joe Bauers: Look, you’re just going to have to solve them yourselves.
Idiot 2: What about the nuc… nucular reactor in Florida? It’s broke and leaky and something’s happening.
Idiot 1: I thought it was in Georgia.
Idiot 2: Georgia is in Florida, dumb ass.
Idiot 1: Hey, I know. Let’s put toilet water on it, huh? Like we did on the crops.
Idiocracy 1:14:50~

Until this point, the characters have been shown to be extremely ignorant of the civilization that preceded them. They think something called the UN (which they pronounce like the word prefix un) “un-nazied the world forever.” But the one thing they do know is that the “nucular” plant built in Florida 500 years ago is still a serious problem they need to deal with. This is only slightly funny because one thing the nuclear industry is seriously concerned with these days is the “loss of competence” within the industry.

As the nuclear industry seems to have no prospects for future growth, it cannot attract young people into nuclear careers. Furthermore, hundreds of nuclear plants in the Western world are to be decommissioned in the coming decades, but who will do this work and who is going to pay for it? There is consumer demand for the electricity produced by a power plant, and this makes it a viable business, but there is no consumer demand involved in cleanup operations. Finally, nuclear accident sites and nuclear waste repositories pose questions about how to inform people of the deep future about what we have left for them. We may easily laugh at the cretins in Idiocracy, but we in contemporary society have nothing to feel smug about. The handling of the Fukushima catastrophe has been pathetic, and recent headlines about “the nucular reactor in Florida” provide their own grim humor:

Scuba diver somehow survives being sucked into Florida nuclear power plant through pipe

Florida nuclear plant that sucked in scuba diver has violated law for a decade
"A Florida nuclear power plant that sucked a scuba diver through its unprotected cooling intake pipe is in ongoing violation of the Endangered Species Act... the plant’s intake system has for decades routinely captured, harmed and killed thousands of marine animals, most notably endangered and threatened species of sea turtle as well as manatees and other protected species."

Study confirms FPL nuclear plant canals leaking into Biscayne Bay
"According to a study released Monday by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, water sampling in December and January found tritium levels up to 215 times higher than normal in ocean water."

Other sources:

David Lauchbaum, “Turkey Point Nuclear Plant in Hot Water,” Fission Stories #179, January 6, 2015.

David Lauchbaum, “Hurricane Andrew vs. Turkey Point, Fission Stories #48, July 12, 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Riches: Oh my! If this weren't so close to the truth of things, I'd be rolling on the floor with naked laughter. I thought the same thing when certain characters entered the American race for president. It would be so much more funny if it weren't just so darn scary at the reality of it all! Get ready World for a re-make/re-run of: "Idiocracy"-2!