603: Idiocracy

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
People aren't going to change, for better or for worse. Technology's going to be so cool. All in all, the future will be okay! Except climate; we fucked that one up.
Title text: People aren't going to change, for better or for worse. Technology's going to be so cool. All in all, the future will be okay! Except climate; we fucked that one up.


The title of this comic is a reference to the dystopian comedy Idiocracy. The film postulates that over about 500 years, society will suffer from a massive decrease in intellectual potential. This development could be attributed to the fact that people are more likely to reproduce due to lack of education, absence of planning, and general negligence with regards to the consequences of their actions. Randall presents a character who 'misinterprets' this, to say that those with a lower IQ are believed to be more likely to reproduce thus more readily pass on their genes.

Cueball professes his approval for the theories represented in the film, and the guy with the white safari hat agrees with him, lamenting the gradual decay in intelligence and education. (Note that Safari Hat is not the same guy as White Hat! See below.)

But in panel 3, Safari Hat suddenly reveals that all the "facts" he cited were wrong, and we learn that he doesn't support the dysgenic thesis at all. He turns to accuse Cueball of conceited self-righteousness (using religious zealots as an analogy), harshly condemning intelligence dysgenics as an excuse for feeling superior to the rest of society. Cueball's suggestion of birth control for the unintelligent only furthers his attitude. Although it is not named, one thing at work here is the Dunning-Kruger effect — that stupid people don't realize they're stupid.

Safari Hat's punchline, playing on Cueball's birth control suggestion, is a direct insult: it would be better to reproduce with a stupid person than an elitist like Cueball.

It's pretty clear here that Randall is voicing his opinion through Safari Hat, and using Cueball as a straw man.

The title text reflects the opinion. It makes a few cheery comments on the future, but then finishes on a rather sour note about climate change. Climate change is a recurring theme in xkcd.

In fact, a negative correlation between intelligence and fertility is disputed; see the Wikipedia article on the accumulation of disadvantageous genes: dysgenics. And regardless of this the actual absolute IQs in modern societies have been rising, see Flynn effect. This can be paraphrased with the statement, that if the generation of our grandparents would take a today's IQ test, they would barely score an IQ of 70 and be at the limit of intellectual disability.


[Cueball is standing in front of three shelves with DVDs, holding a single DVD in his hand looking at the cover. A guy with a white rounded safari hat (Safari Hat from now on) stands behind him.]
Cueball: Idiocracy is so true.
Safari Hat: I know, right? It used to be that the intelligent, upper classes had more children.
[Zoom in on their heads as Cueball turns towards Safari Hat.]
Safari Hat: Sadly, the recent reversal of this trend has dragged IQ scores and average education steadily downward.
Cueball: Depressing, huh?
[Zoom out to show Cueball holding the DVD down as Safari Hat lifts on arm towards him.]
Safari Hat: Yeah, except everything I just said was wrong.
Cueball: Huh?
Safari Hat: Wrong. False. The opposite of true.
[Zoom in only on Safari Hat.]
Safari Hat: You're like the religious zealots who are burdened by their superiority with the sad duty of decrying the obvious moral decay of each new generation.
Safari Hat: And you're just as wrong.
[Zoom out to both as before, but this time it is Cueball who holds up a finger.]
Cueball: But look at how popular—
Safari Hat: More harm has been done by people panicked over societal decline than societal decline ever did.
[Cueball spreads out his arms (the DVD gone) as Safari Hat has walked out off the panel.]
Cueball: Look — all we need is a program that limits breeding to—
Safari Hat (off-panel): New theory: Stupid people reproduce more because the alternative is sleeping with you.


  • It should be noted that Safari Hat was at first thought to be a version of White Hat, who had the exact opposite personality depicted here. But since White Hat had already appeared three times before this comic, and as Safari hat has never been seen since (except in 1000: 1000 Comics), there is no reason to mix these two characters.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


This explanation seems to be incorrect. The key point was that White Hat actually was wrong! The average education has gone up, and the average IQ cannot sink! By allowing Cueball to agree with clearly false laments, he baits him into revealing his stupidity. --Quicksilver (talk) 19:58, 20 August 2013 (UTC)

The title text pretty much spells out that, in Randall's mind, White Hat is correct. 06:14, 10 November 2013 (UTC)

I propose that the hatted figure is not in fact White Hat, as neither the hat shape nor the personality are consistent with other appearances. (Category:Comics featuring White Hat‏‎) The real White Hat, when he speaks, is generally a bit of a wet blanket or well-meaning buffoon. This one, whom I'll dub White Derby, is speaking counter-buffoonery, what we may reasonably guess to be the actual thoughts of the author. Usually Cueball fills this role (eg 258:_Conspiracy_Theories), and in fact if the roles here were reversed I'd tend to ignore the misshapen hat. But two and two, together, well... -- 18:39, 28 October 2013 (UTC)

Eh. He hasn't appeared in any other strips, and it's not too harmful to put him under the umbrella of the real White Hat. I see your point; White Hat is no longer a generic character like Hairy, but an actual recurring one.
Also, have Black Hat and White Hat ever appeared in the same comic? (Click and Drag doesn't count.) Alpha (talk) 09:08, 11 November 2013 (UTC)
White Hat is not this Safari Hat guy and this has been corrected recently. Also recently in 1708: Dehydration White and Black Hat appears together and Black Hat actually reacts in a discussion White Hat has begun. See more under the explanation for Characters with Hats. --Kynde (talk) 19:56, 9 September 2016 (UTC)

So, does this page qualify for Complete now? 05:36, 12 November 2013 (UTC)

Sorry Randall. You're wrong here. IQ can change. Just because there is a mean for the IQ of the current population, doesn't mean that average can't shift over time. And if we used to be cavemen then either the IQ did shift, or we've always been this smart, which means we couldn't have evolved.

In this case, IQ is exactly the same as morality. Both shift ever so slightly over time, such that the mean is always the acceptable "norm". You can't feel this shift unless you study it. The difference is that morality exhibits locality, so morality shifts slower or faster depending on the subsection of society. Thus you have people who believe they are more right than others, but no one believes they are outright wrong (as a culture). Proof in the pudding is doing a poll on the population as to how smart they think they are. They always rate themselves such that the mean is shifted 1 or 2 deviations up. Same thing with morality. People all espouse a morality that they think is 1 or 2 deviations greater than the standard, whether they are a religious sect or secularists.

But the short of it, a population mean doesn't imply the mean never changes.Cflare (talk) 21:12, 4 August 2014 (UTC)

While IQ can change, the way you're explaining it is not the way the Cueball or "White Hat" is explaining it. In fact, "White Hat" never explicitly states that IQ doesn't evolve at all; just not to the depressing trend Cueball here thinks it does. Anonymous 23:04, 20 August 2014 (UTC)

In fact average IQ cannot change. The average IQ of humanity is always 100, because that is the definition of the IQ scale. 01:15, 15 March 2015 (UTC)

"IQ" per se is simply what IQ tests measure. There's no law that says any specific test that purports to be the best measure of IQ is the gold standard. In the US and many (perhaps most) other English-speaking countries, the Wechsler and Stanford-Binet scales are the most popular. The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale is the IQ test most commonly used (for adults) by neuropsychologists. It's re-normed every few years (e.g., WAIS-III becomes WAIS-IV, then WAIS-V, etc.). In "re-norming" each question is studied and perhaps refined, some are dropped, and new questions--sometimes entirely new subtests--are added. The method of calculating the IQ is often tweaked as well. Re-norming involves administering versions of the test to thousands of people and using statistics to determine the one to keep. Obviously the same pool of test-takers is not used every time in a process that goes on decade after decade. It's not unusual for test questions to become more difficult and what's considered to be an average score to be a bit higher in the new edition than in the old. This has been interpreted to mean that people are getting more intelligent, but that's not the only possible explanation. (Also, the test is not normed on "humanity" but on a tiny subset of earth's humans.) Oh, and your IQ is not a number carved in stone, so to speak, but a best-guess that falls within the range of scores you'd be expected to earn if (theoretically) you took the same test multiple times.Npsych (talk) 10:20, 2 December 2015 (UTC)

If there is reason for climate change it is almost certainly due to the destruction of trees. Any ridiculous assertions about carbon dioxide can not be confirmed or denied and the political machinations about carbon dioxide stem from Margaret Thatcher's war on the coal miners in Britain.

It would be a simple matter to replant forests. All we would have to do is pay for that in higher latitudes and send in drones to deal with illegal loggers in lower latitudes. 20 years or so should sort out most of the problems.

I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 17:03, 29 January 2015 (UTC)

I see what you did there... This is the bit where you go "Everything I just said was wrong" --Pudder (talk) 17:26, 29 January 2015 (UTC)

Elitism is an eminently more desirable trait than stupidity to breed into one's offspring. An elitist might be hated, but he will be *competent*; he will *accomplish things*, while a stupid person will harm themselves and others through their stupidity, often remaining well-liked in spite of being cancerous and toxic to everything nearby. Elitism is the bitter taste of medicine which will make you better; stupidity is the delicious candy to which you will become hopelessly addicted at a formative age, leading to a miserable lifetime of diabetes and an early death by heart failure. I only wish I intended to reproduce, so that I could practice what I preach on this regard. 19:28, 30 October 2015 (UTC)

This viewpoint is predicated on the false dichotomy between elitism and stupidity. Many elitists are no more intelligent or capable than those to whom they profess superiority. (And frequently this perceived superiority makes them resistant to social cooperation or empathy and therefore effectively less useful or capable—whereas others may overcome a relative lack of ability with humility and willingness to work with others.) Chances are you're not as smart as you think you are, although you're probably right about being hated... Colt605 (talk) 00:23, 30 September 2023 (UTC)

Changed the text in the first paragraph because the movie never implied that people with lower IQ were more fertile, it clearly stated that they were more likely to reproduce due to lack of education, absence of planning, and general negligence with regards to the consequences of their actions. If you disagree with me on this, go watch the movie again. Or just the first few minutes which explains this in detail. -Pennpenn 05:08, 11 February 2016 (UTC)

So... what else does this explanation need to be considered complete? Edo (talk) 23:24, 11 February 2016 (UTC)

The explanation of the Dunning-Kruger effect is incorrect, insofar as it tries to apply the effect to intelligence, and mention here may be off topic entirely. The Dunning-Kruger effect is refers to bias in self assessment relative to the norm of low-skilled people in a given field to high skilled people in the same field. Proficiency in a field is not intelligence, nor does the theory allow generalization to intelligent people generally versus those less intelligent generally, irrespective of field, and while there is probably evidence of a correlation between IQ and and proficiency within some collection of fields, the Dunning-Kruger effect would require much stronger evidence to generalize to intelligence for specific proficiency, specifically it would require evidence of a causal, not correlative, (from skill to IQ, and not the reverse) link, and evidence that such link exists not just in general or at average, but that such link occurs in any hypothetical, non-specified area if proficiency. The wiki article that is linked is technically correct but somewhat misleading in use of the term 'cognitive ability,' which is in some contexts used to refer to intelligence, but in context refers to the specific, non-IQ domained, mental practice of effective megacognition and self-assessment, as well as a type of social awareness regarding group standards of passable performance. 22:02, 24 March 2018 (UTC)

https://www.newsweek.com/iq-scores-are-declining-and-researchers-point-school-media-973040172.69.69.28 15:24, 5 October 2018 (UTC)

What's your point? I can link thousands articles as well. --Dgbrt (talk) 19:24, 5 October 2018 (UTC)
The point, from the "Flynn effect" wikipedia article : "Research suggests that there is an ongoing reversed Flynn effect, i.e. a decline in IQ scores, in Norway, Denmark, Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, France and German-speaking countries,[4] a development which appears to have started in the 1990s". This kind of nullifies the comic's point.
One, sign your writing, two, format correctly, three, one study proves nothing, especially on Newsweek of all things. Seriously, Newsweek. Four, average IQ can’t decrease, or increase for that matter, five, IQ isn’t the best measure of intelligence anyways.

This is not a new form of elitism. Until WWII, there were many elitists who formed a theory based on their perception of Darwin's theories. (Notice that I am not suggesting that Darwin agreed with them.) They were commonly known as Social Darwinists and Eugenicists. Their philosophy fell into disrepute because of Hitler's views on racial superiority and the atrocities which he produced as a result of his form of elitism. -- 18:39, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

Nazis ruin everything.