Half of everybody is below normal.
It’s an old wisecrack, but it is also a simple, mathematical fact.
Some 80 million American people are in or below the 25th percentile of intellectual ability. 120 million are below the 35th.
These are real people. They are as real as you or me. This matters.
Roughly 9 million of those people are diagnosed with an intellectual disability, sometimes referred to as Mental Retardation (now fading from use) or Learning Disabled. That leaves over 70 million Americans who are not well equipped to learn the skills necessary to be productively or gainfully employed in a modern technological society but whose abilities leave them unable to draw from established social support systems. The vast majority of them are “able bodied people” who are told to “get a job,” who are publicly insulted and denigrated by arrogant wealthy public figures.
Both political parties accept and preach some form of the mantra, “People need to be trained for the jobs available in the 21st Century.” 80 million of the people they are talking about struggle to read a cereal box. 120 million of them struggle to fill out an online application.
About here is where self-proclaimed Conservatives talk about Personal Responsibility. The idea is, as far as I can tell, that the 80 million Americans in the bottom quarter of the intellectual continuum from “genius” to “unable to interact with others” should take responsibility for choosing such lousy genes. Or the 120 million Americans in the bottom third should. I don’t agree. Someone else made the choice, or at least rolled the dice, before those genes merged to become the current bearer.
Pre-technological societies needed almost the entire spectrum of humanity. There was simply more work to be done than there were people available to do it. There were always things to be carried, things to be pushed or pulled, things to be piled up and removed from piles. Old terms such as “village idiot” still survive in colloquial use; “idiot” was simply a now-outdated term for the gentler euphemism “learning disabled.” The village idiot was the learning disabled, or retarded, person in a rural society. It is difficult to find any serious historic data on the lives of the intellectually disabled in pre-technological societies, but the existence of the term strongly implies that such people existed, were acknowledged at some level, and were integrated into society in some way.
I personally know Amish merchants and business people today who employ intellectually disabled persons in simple, physical tasks, stacking boxes, sweeping floors, and carrying messages in the community, and pay them a wage sufficient to provide for their costs to their caretakers and to provide them some discretionary money. I take these businesses and practices as evidence that pre-technological societies did the same.
Modern technological society seems to have almost totally discarded these people. The homeless, the chronically unemployed, panhandlers and beggars exist because we have evolved a society that has no other use for them.
To say otherwise is, in the mildest possible terms, dishonest.
These people exist. The arithmetic is simple. One quarter of all the people in America are in or below the 25th Percentile. Half of everybody is below average. Now what?