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Intelligence is worth talking about because both the reality of intelligence and perceptions regarding intelligence set limits on the possible and influence policy. For example, if the population of India on average really is below borderline retardation, the country can never amount to anything. If Latino immigrants really are as stupid as white nationalists hope, then they will always inhabit an underclass and, through intermarriage, enstupidate the American population. IQists–those who believe that IQ is a reliable measure of intelligence–insist that intelligence is largely genetic, which it obviously is, and that IQ tests reliably measure it. The latter is doubtful.
A bit of history: For years I was on Steve Sailer’s Human-Biodiversity List, now defunct. It focused on IQ and on natural selection with the fervor of snake-handlers in the backwoods of North Carolina. Contradictions in their views were stark in regard to intelligence, which was assumed identical to IQ. In communities of like-thinking enthusiasts, contradictions go unnoticed.
For example, American blacks, the Irish, and Mexicans had IQs accepted by the list as being 85, 86, and 87 respectively—almost identical. It seemed odd to me that identical IQs had produced (a) the on-going academic disaster of American blacks (b) an upper Third World country running the usual infrastructure of telecommunications, medicine, airlines, and so on, and (c) a First World European country. This, though IQist doctrine argued vociferously that IQ correlates closely with achievement. Well, it didn’t.
I was struck by the perfect acceptance of these numbers even though they made no sense. IQists simply do not question IQ. I pointed out the obvious conclusion, that if Mexicans could run the infrastructure of modern nations, decent if not spectacular universities, and so on, then so, on the basis of IQ, could blacks—none of which they in fact do, or have done.
When I pointed this out, there came the IQist shuck-and-jive: Well, black IQ you see was actually a bit lower, 83 or maybe even 81, and maybe the Mexicans were as much as 89 or even 90, etc. That is, IQ varies with the argument being made. (For the record, Mexicans have been promoted from 87 to 90, IQ being remarkably fluid.)
Photo: Cartagena, Colombia. Do you really believe that this city was designed and built by people with a mean IQ of 84? That is six points below Mexicans, and below American blacks? As a matter of logic, it follows that if people of IQ 84 can design, build, and operate a city with all the credentials of modernity, so can a population of IQ 85. It’s either both can, or neither can, or something is wrong with the purported IQs. For what it’s worth, my wife and I recently spent a month traveling widely in the country. No sign of stupidity.
Meanwhile, it turns out that, heh, the Irish IQ has risen 13 points to 100, exactly what one would expect of a white European nation. (It is sometimes put at 93, arrived at by averaging the 86 and the 100, horrible methodology since if two tests differed so much, then one or both must be nonsense.) For that matter, one reads that Argentine scores rose 22 points between 1964 and 1998. Meanwhile Jewish scores and academic achievement in America, astonishingly high a couple of generations back, have fallen precipitately. Since genetics cannot explain rapid changes in IQ, we conclude that a thirteen-point (or 22 point) change can be entirely due to non-genetic effects—diet, culture, ineffective tests, what have you.
This is furiously denied in IQist circles. The reason, in my judgement, is that thirteen points is exactly the purported gap between Mexicans and US whites insisted upon by IQists. These, often rabidly anti-immigration, do not want to admit any possibility that the immigrants might not be suitably stupid. Why they want immigrants to their country to be moronic is not clear.
Photo: Uxmal, Yucatan, built by baffled Maya Indians with a mean IQ of 83. This is two points below borderline retarded. They also also invented writing, done perhaps three times on the planet, and had a fully functional, positional, base-20 number system complete with zero. The borderline retarded characteristically invent number systems. It’s how you know they are retarded.
The IQ edifice is often chaotic and contradictory. For example, Science: “A new study in the journal Intelligence from researchers in Europe claims that the average IQ in Western nations dropped by a staggering 13 points over the past century.” The suggested explanation is that smart women have fewer children, de-braining the gene pool.
So IQ is down by about a standard deviation. On the other hand, it is up a standard deviation. There is the Flynn effect in which IQ scores have risen three points per decade for a long time. (Because IQ is normalized to 100, the rise isn’t obvious.) This means that in the fifty years since I graduated from high school in 1964, IQ has risen fifteen points, a standard deviation and exactly the amount said to separate blacks and whites. This is a huge difference. If IQ measured intelligence, we would be in the midst of an intellectual explosion. We are not. If the Flynn effect applies to blacks, they should now be as smart as whites were in 1964. You know, when the Saturn V was being designed.
The question of variation in intelligence over historical time, usually attributed to some evolutionary process, is murky. Everything is posited, little demonstrated. However, I suggest that anyone reading the Greeks of 2500 years ago–Plato, Xenophon come to mind–or the Romans–Juvenal, Ovid, Ulpian and Papinian–will recognize minds as good as any deployed today.
Fifteen-year-olds, a few years ago, probably genetically indistinguishable from the foregoing. First-generation middle-class. One a Mensa shoe-in if she applied. None of them white, not from rich families. Do you really, really think that perfect health, eleven years of schooling, and exposure to the internet do not give them an advantage in IQ over illiterate unhealthy peasants?
Then in the IQ brew there is the occasional intrusion of common sense. (Not much of it, I grant.) A country whose purported IQ seems to me to fail the test of common sense is India, mean IQ 81. Here we have a billion people averaging well below borderline-retarded. Say again? Anyone even vaguely familiar with the intellectual, artistic, and musical history of India is going to think, “What are you guys smoking?”
There immediately springs to everyone’s mind that Indian kids dominate the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The IQist response is that only the smartest Indian kids come to the US. Perhaps, but the smartest American kids are already here, aren’t they? And since the kids got their visas based on the brains of their parents, shouldn’t they be regressing to the (dismal) mean?
I would have to believe real hard to believe that the large number of incandescently smart Indians who litter Silicon Valley, who in my tech-reporting days I found all over engineering departments and Bell Labs and the like, spring from sub-retarded stock. Yes, I know the IQist explanation, that they are genetically-selected Brahmans, said to have a mean IQ of 96, the rest of the country being wretchedly stupid. Well, maybe. Like so much in IQist thought, it relies on genes posited but not identified, acted upon by selective pressures assumed but not quantifiable, to produce assumed effects that cannot be correlated with the pressures. If that isn’t rock-solid, I can’t imagine what could be.
Having spent twelve years in Mexico, I can see no difference in intelligence between Mexicans and Americans. Nor when I lived in Taiwan, Vietnam, or Thailand. This raises the question: How great would the difference have to be to be noticeable? Clearly, greater than thirteen points (OK, now reduced, sometimes, to ten points), since that is the Mexi-American gap measured by IQists. The response will be that I am reasonably intelligent and so spend my time with the reasonably intelligent, but that is equally true in the US, and of course I am in frequent contact with ordinary citizens.
As a sort of by-guess-and-by-God way of getting around this, I have compared Americans and Mexicans in trades I know well in the US–medicine, journalism, etc–and still can see no difference.
A final question, and I will go for breakfast. What mean IQ is thought necessary to run the infrastructure of modernity? I don’t know, but I would like to. A modern country requires a lot of intelligence—different degrees of it, but nonetheless a lot. Stupid bank clerks can’t handle currency transactions internationally (SWIFT codes, intermediary banks, exchange rates, and complex regulations). The stupid cannot repair ATMs or avionics or run computerized auto-repair or internet services. At what mean IQ, going down the scale, does a country simply become incapable of producing enough smart people to keep functioning? In a country with a mean IQ of 84, fewer than one in six have an IQ of 100 or better. Is that enough? You tell me.
Eggs over, bacon on the side…
Fred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put the letters pdq somewhere in the subject line to avoid autodeletion.