When asked what your favorite movie scene is most thinking people choose a moment from a subtle classic like a Stanley Kubrick movie, a timeless great like Casablanca, or a life-changing movie like the Matrix. Being less sophisticated than most, I am compelled to choose a three minute scene from a movie that—superficially, at least—is as stupid as Hollywood gets: the opening sequence of Idiocracy.
This scene shows the parallels, or lack thereof, between two couples at opposite ends of the socioeconomic and IQ spectrum. Two intellectuals keep on postponing having children while they advance in their careers. Meanwhile two low IQ “white trash” types have more and more kids. Even if you’ve seen it, pause here and re-watch the three minutes and then continue reading.
As stupid as this movie seems to be on the surface, these 180 seconds are chock full of wisdom that is worth articulating:
1. IQ matters
Your IQ determines far more about how your life turns out than we’re comfortable admitting, for better or for worse. Smart people, thinking about their goals and ambitions, strategizing and implementing their goals, can plan for a long-term future that, well, idiots won’t be able to do because they just lack the capacity to pass the marshmallow test.
2. …But an IQ that is too high can be a curse
But for all the PhDs and classy lifestyle of the intellectual couple, they overthink rather than act and ultimately descend into misery and early death because their life is barren, barren in the most literal sense of the word (having no kids) as well as in the metaphorical senses as well: empty and devoid of meaning. That’s because…
3. Having children matters more
Without children, not only is your genetic lineage dead but civilization dies. The future belongs to he who shows up—and those without kids are not even showing up. When the idiots are the only ones who show up, they are the ones who then win, by definition.
4. Life’s trade-offs aren’t obvious
The intellectual couple, for all their cumulative IQ points and ability to work hard to focus on the future, just didn’t realize that by postponing having children to earn more money and get more education they were condemning themselves to not have children at all. If life’s long-term trade-offs were obvious, there would be many more deeply moral millionaires.
5. Values matter
How come the high IQ couple didn’t realize the importance of having kids? Because values matter. They had a value system that prioritized education and money over children. Had their value system put children front and center, they wouldn’t have made that trade-off. The intellectual couple admits this directly when the wife says “There’s no way we could have a child now, not with the market the way it is. It just wouldn’t make sense.” They are letting the stock market determine if and when they have kids.
6. You can afford more than you think you can
The intellectual couple thought they couldn’t afford kids when the idiot couple, with substantially less money, not only had the kids, but they’re the ones who have descendants rather than disappearing from history. Think of your great-great-grandparents, who were surely very poor (well, at least 1 of your 16 was), and yet they were able to raise your great-grandparents so you could exist.
7. Don’t postpone what’s important
One of the most timeless messages of all classic traditions and religions is the brevity of life and, as a result, the importance of not putting off what is important to do. You think there’s always another tomorrow, and there always is… until there isn’t.
8. Time passes faster than you think
Another piece of classic wisdom is tempus fugit, “time flies” (although in the original Latin it is “time flees,” a great image: time escaping like she is a bandit). The intellectual couple got old and the man died before they even realized it. They thought they had decades left when they just didn’t.
9. Passive aggressiveness is a losing strategy
The intellectual wife, whose husband dies while masturbating, was consistently passive aggressive with her husband once the going got tough. When she says “Well, we’ve finally decided to have kids, and I’m not pointing fingers, but…” that is the sort of bitchiness that no man wants to put up with. And probably no woman, either. It’s not a coincidence that that woman ends up alone, without even children to comfort her in her final years.
10. Indeed, bitchy women literally kill their husbands
Not only did the intellectual man die before reproducing, but the wife had pressured him to agree to artificial insemination and he died while masturbating for that very purpose. So it was the wife’s pressure that directly lead to his death. As Ecclesiastes, that bottomless fountain of wisdom, pointed out: a bitchy woman is worse than death; in its original words (7:26): “I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets.”
11. Even after failing in every aspect of life, the woman still thinks she’s worthy of a great man
The high IQ woman is unable to realize how profoundly unattractive she is and that she missed the boat. She is cannot admit to herself the reality of her situation. She even says “…just as soon as the right guy comes along.” She’s a 50 year old woman sounding like a teenager, capturing a key truth that no matter how educated they are, women are still that naive, unrealistic little girl inside. Too many women never develop realistic expectations about life or about men.
12. Man is starting to conquer evolution, and this has dire consequences
Survival of the fittest has for all of human history (in fact, pre-human history) slowly weeded out those who would fail at life. But modern technology is quickly putting a halt to this, letting those who would not have been able to survive in an earlier era thrive.
The narrator of this opening scene makes the argument very explicitly: “Natural selection, the process by which the strongest, the smartest, the fastest reproduced in greater number than the rest, a process which had once favored the noblest traits of man, now began to favor different traits.”
13. Modern technologies encourage idiocy
When the low IQ Clevon engages in a moronic activity and almost loses his penis (the doctor says “he impaled his crotch on an iron gate”), a modern medical technique (“recent advances in stem cell research”) lets the surgeons save his “full reproductive function” so he can then have more children. The most advanced medical techniques were used to enable more generations of idiots.
14. The future isn’t going to be all it’s cracked up to be
Venture capitalist Peter Thiel said it best: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” Idiocracy is what the future is more likely to be like than the Jetsons. Be prepared for Gatorade water fountains. At least they have electrolytes!
15. Politics is largely a consequence of demographics
This opening scene is basically arguing that demographics matter so deeply that political situations are a consequence, overwhelmingly, of the demographic situation. Indeed, the entire movie argues that the dystopian, dysgenic future—of which the bulk of the movie is set in is framed—is a consequence of horrendous demographic choices by society for generations and generations.
16. There is one group you’re allowed to mock: poor whites
It is racist to mock blacks. It is anti-semitic to mock (((Jews))). It is sexist to mock women. It is transphobic to mock MTFTM trans people. For every group under the sun, it’s evil to mock them. With one exception: so-called “white trash.” They can be mocked endlessly and cruelly. In defense of this opening scene, the movie mocks the intellectuals even more brutally—although that mockery is less common in the mainstream media, and kudos for Mike Judge for doing so.
Stepping back, there’s a clear pattern to the differences between the high IQ and the low IQ couples here: the later celebrates life and the former is speeding towards death and then actually dies. The idiot celebrates life in moment after moment: Trevor having multiple affairs, his son playing football and screaming that he’s going to fuck all the hot girls (and his father beaming with pride!). They are Living, with a capital “L.” But the high IQ couple, despite their high IQ, can’t produce life, and can’t even enjoy the moment of their brief candle of life flickering.
They say that in medieval Europe the only man who could speak the truth to the king was the court jester. The world hasn’t changed all that much: only a silly, seemingly idiotic movie like Idiocracy can reveal eternal truths, truths that in our day and age you would be burnt at the stake for saying directly.
Read More: 9 Important Lessons from A Clockwork Orange