[The flap over geneticist Jim Watson’s remarks about race differences in IQ has generated some interesting mainstream comment. Some highly respectable outlets — the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Slate.com — have stepped away from the traditional “Shocked! Scandalized!” template to actually look at the science and say interesting things about it.
This dawning realism is all very cautious and qualified, of course, but at least mainstream science editors are no longer jumping up on chairs, shrieking and clutching their skirts. Thoughtful commentary is showing up. Good grief!
I’ve touched on these issues myself, in National Review and elsewhere, so I am familiar with the kinds of questions that come up in conversations and emails afterwards. Here are a few of them, with my answers. This is the take of a well-informed layman with a decent math-science background and no particular ax to grind, unless being one half of a mixed-race marriage counts.
If you’re not satisfied with the links I’ve posted, I recommend you to Google for yourself — there’s masses of stuff out there. A good gateway is Jason Malloy’s withering piece on the Gene Expression website — that’s where Slate.com’s Will Saletan got half HIS links!]
Q: Why study this stuff? What possible use could it be? Will it not, in fact — whatever results it delivers — will it not, just by being a subject of study, sow discord?
A: Why study it? Because free people want to understand the world, that’s why. Why should I not make free inquiry into this or that, if it interests me to do so? Why should my patron Billy Billionaire, who made a fortune from running a hedge fund, not finance my researches, if it’s something that interests him? And if you won’t let me do it here, how will you stop me doing it there — in Beijing, Bombay, or Buenos Aires? How exactly will you implement your world-wide ban?
To adapt a Second Amendment bumper slogan: Ideas don’t sow discord, people sow discord. A truth about the world, is a truth about the world. Why get worked up about it? Here’s a truth about the world: Several million Americans are smarter than I am. Am I worked up about this? No. Should I be?
Or take this: If the figure of 15 points usually given for the black-white gap in mean IQ scores is correct, then around six million — that’s 6,000,000 — black Americans have higher IQs than the average white American. Should they be worked up? Or should the average white American be worked up? Who should be worked up about this?
The world is what it is. Make a life for yourself in it. Play the cards you’ve been dealt, as best you can play them. Get married, get a job. Don’t whine — it ticks people off. Don’t eat too much fried food. Take moderate exercise. Calm down.
Q: If scientists MUST study this stuff, why can’t they just study it among themselves? Does it really have any place in blogs and magazines dealing with politics, society, and culture? Do Bruce Blogger and Caroline Columnist really know enough about statistics, population genetics and psychometry to make it worth my while reading what they have to say?
A: That is a very peculiar view of citizenly responsibility, and one I strongly deplore.
Science is ethically empty. It dumps babies on society’s doorstep without offering any advice (any collective advice, as science: individual scientists, as citizens, should and do give us their opinions) about what to do with those babies. Hey, we’ve split the atom! Where d’ya wanna take this — nukes, power stations, radiation therapy, or what? When y’all have it figured out, let us know, y’hear? We’ll be out on the golf course.
Q: Isn’t IQ testing all culturally biased anyway? Remember that thing about “regatta”? Aren’t you really just testing the degree to which the testee shares a common cultural background with the tester?
A: [The reference is to an old SAT analogy item discussed in The Bell Curve (p.281) and at, according to Google, “about 500” places on the internet. The general idea is that the question is biased because white kids, whose fathers of course all own yachts and summer homes in Newport, Rhode Island, will know the meaning of “regatta,” while black kids, who all live in tarpaper shacks on the banks of the Yazoo, will not.]
Psychometrists tear their hair when someone brings up the old “regatta” chestnut. Cultural bias of that kind was ironed out of IQ tests long since. Even before that, as Herrnstein and Murray pointed out: “The reason the ‘oarsman : regatta’ example has been used so often in descriptions of cultural bias is that it is one of the few items in the SAT that looks so obviously guilty.” Note this is not even a standard IQ test, note, but the SAT.
That subtler kinds of meta-cultural bias might influence IQ test results is still an open question. James Flynn — the “Flynn Effect” man — discusses this at length in his new book. We’re talking “influence,” though. Not even Flynn thinks these factors, if present, negate key results of modern psychometry.
And if low-level “regatta”-style cultural bias explains group differences, it leaves a lot of things un-explained. East Asian cultures are quite radically different from American culture: yet immigrant kids from East Asia do well on IQ tests — better than American whites! Perhaps these tests are actually created by a secret cabal of Chinese and Korean infiltrators.
A hardy perennial of American news reporting is the story about the police or fire department getting sued because its entrance tests flunk disproportionately large numbers of black and Hispanic test takers. My own county got into a lawsuit over this a few years back.
If the discrepancies are due to cultural bias in the tests, then my county — or any other authority being sued on these grounds — ought to be able to get itself off the hook very easily, and save itself millions in legal fees. All they have to do is hire in a bunch of psychometricians to devise a new test that will be culturally biased in favor of blacks and Hispanics. If you can bias a test one way, it shouldn’t be hard to bias it another way. Of course, the test must still have some relevance to the work being tested for, but I don’t see why that should complicate things. There isn’t “black firefighting” and “white firefighting,” is there?
Why hasn’t some police or fire authority somewhere saved themselves trouble and expense by doing this? Because it can’t be done, that’s why. (If you think you know how to do it, please contact Suffolk County Police Authority, not me.)
Q: Is this stuff interesting to anyone but white supremacists?
A: I bet it is interesting to white supremacists, though it should — see above — be even more interesting to yellow supremacists. I know a lot of people who find it interesting, though, and I don’t think any of them is a white supremacist. (Which I take to mean: A person who desires special legal/constitutional privileges for white people.) I’m not one myself.
Who this is mainly interesting to is, science geeks. I am one of those, and have been since childhood. The people I know who are interested in the race-IQ discussion would all, I believe, make the same claim. They all seem to have been keen readers of science fiction at some point. One of them writes sci-fi for a living.
I came late to biology and the human sciences myself, finding physics, astronomy, and information sciences more interesting. The human sciences have fundamentally the same appeal, though. Here are phenomena, features of the world, that I see with my eyes every day. Some people are smart, some are dumb. There are different races, accounted for — pretty obviously — by having their deep ancestry in different parts of the world. Different races seem to have different patterns of capabilities. What’s it all about? Here are some accredited researchers, applying the tools of scientific inquiry — measurement, classification, comparison — to try to find the underlying facts. What’s not to be interested in?
What’s that you say? It’s wrong to be interested in these things? I’m supposed to pretend not to notice those things I’m noticing? Those aren’t scientists: they are bad people with dark motives only pretending to do objective research? That’s what you’re saying? Okay, let me put this as politely as it deserves to be put: Bite me, pal.
To be sure, not many people are science geeks, possessed of this kind of promiscuous curiosity. Far, far more people, picking up their daily newspaper, turn first to the Sports or Business section, than to the Science section (if their paper even has one). It’s a minority interest. Very few of the minority are white-supremacist, though — I speak as a lifelong science geek, extensively acquainted with the species. Most of us just like science. I would argue in fact — and do argue, see way below — that a science geek is less likely to be a white supremacist, or any other kind of strong-group-identifying type, than your average citizen.
As Jane Austen observed, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.” Same with interests. Here is a snippet from the Letters column of my favorite papo-paleo-con magazine, Chronicles:
The Catholic Church teaches that, by and through the hypostatic union, Christ’s soul possessed immediate knowledge of God from the very moment of His conception; and that, from this, He could not possess the theological virtues of faith and hope. In his book Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Dr. Ludwig Ott explains, “Christ as the Originator and Completer of Faith (Hebr. 12, 2), could not Himself walk in the darkness of faith. The perfection of the self-consciousness of the man Jesus can be explained only on the understanding that He possessed immediate knowledge of the Godhead with which He was united.” In other words, our Lord Jesus Christ knew he was the Son of God.
Got that? I quoted that because it is as far from being of interest to me as anything I have encountered in, oh, at least ten years: farther than the text of the 300-page booklet my life insurance company sends me every year to explain their policies; farther than that report from the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development that I found waiting for me at the NR office one morning; farther than the collected speeches of Kim Il Sung. Yet it’s of interest to — is absolutely fascinating to — a lot of people. I know some of them. I bet the letter writer (Jerry C. Meng of Imlay City, Mich. — Hi there, Jerry!) thinks about that stuff for hours at a time. I bet he could give you an impromptu lecture on it. I bet he knows the difference between homousion and homoiousion. (Please do not email in to tell me! I don’t want to know! For pity’s sake, please!) That’s his interest, that’s his pleasure. Jolly good luck to him.
Science is just as far away from most people’s interest as hypostatic union and Dr. Ludwig Ott’s lucubrations are from mine. And that’s fine. It’s a free country. Chacun à son goût. But don’t call me a white supremacist just because I’m curious about human nature.
Q: Isn’t all the so-called race-IQ research funded by outfits like the Pioneer Fund, which have racist agendas?
A: Some of it is, but so what? This is a free society we live in here. Anyone can get rich and endow research. If George Soros or Bill Gates or Teddy Kennedy or Oprah Winfrey or John Kerry or Tiger Woods, or you, want to fund some serious, peer-reviewed psychometry research, nobody is stopping them, or you. Perhaps their-/your-funded research will show a black-white gap going the other way, with black Americans 15 IQ points above whites. Perhaps this work has already been done on Oprah Winfrey’s dollar, and I am ignorant of the results. In this case, I should be very much obliged to anyone who can point me to them.
Look: The controversy here is not between research group A, resourced by fund X with bias M, saying this is so; while research group B, resourced by fund Y with bias N, insists no, that is not so — THIS is so!
That’s not the structure of the controversy. The structure of the controversy is: research group A, resourced by fund X with bias M, saying this is so, while a mighty host of journo-school grads, law-school grads, and liberal-arts department heads — yes, and even a few careerist, tenure- or office-seeking biologists and money-seeking, PC-compliant pop-science authors — shriek YOU MUSTN’T TALK ABOUT THAT! YOU ARE BAD PEOPLE! That’s the structure of the controversy.
It’s not as if the underlying data here, which now goes back for decades, was all assembled by twitching clubfooted racists with collections of SS memorabilia and slave manacles in their closets. The biggest single lumps of it were collected by sober establishment outfits like, for example, the U.S. armed forces.
And this whole story about researchers being lap-dogs of their funders doesn’t bear close scrutiny anyway. A couple of years ago, for example, I reported in National Review about the discoveries of human-geneticist Bruce Lahn. Lahn had turned up some variants of genes known to be involved somehow — we didn’t (and still don’t) know exactly how — in infant brain development. These variants showed strikingly different frequencies when tallied by race. Could these variants help explain race-IQ differences?
Not hard to find out. Assemble two groups, equalized by age, sex, income, race, and anything else you can think of, one group with variant P, the other without it, this being the only detectable difference between the groups. Give ’em IQ tests. See if there is any statistically-significant group difference.
That follow-up experiment was done. The result was negative. No, these gene variants seem not to be an explanatory factor for race-IQ differences.
The lead researcher on that follow-up experiment that got the negative result is J. Philippe Rushton of the University of Ontario. Prof. Rushton has been a major recipient of Pioneer Fund grants, and currently heads the fund. I guess he momentarily forgot he’s supposed to be a lap-dog.
Q: None of this means anything. There’s no such thing as intelligence; or if there is, you can’t measure it. Didn’t Stephen Jay Gould write a book proving that?
A: Gould was a self-declared Chomskian “progressive”. You want to talk agendas? For goodness’ sake.
And negativity doesn’t count for very much in science. Sure, you can criticize another guy’s work; but sooner or later, you have to come up with work of your own.
Here’s a commonplace phenomenon we’re all aware of: Some individuals are smarter than others. We see it every day; nobody really doubts it; all human languages have a vocabulary of words to describe it. No such thing as intelligence? Fiddlesticks.
OK, let’s investigate the phenomenon systematically. Let’s observe, measure, classify. Let’s form hypotheses and test them. Let’s publish and compare results. Let’s do science.
You don’t like what a century of psychometricians have come up with by traveling that route? That’s fine: but what have you come up with? You don’t think IQ tests are valid as a way to quantify smartness? Then what do you think is valid? What methodology would yousuggest? Where is your data? What hypotheses have you generated? Where did you publish your results? What do your results say about group differences?
In science you have to walk the walk. IQ deniers are like the Intelligent Design folk: long on critique, pitifully short on research, on data, on work, on science.
You should experience the collegiality in this field — hear the respect with which, for example, Charles Murray (libertarian conservative) speaks of James Flynn (egalitarian socialist). “Really important data… impeccable methodology… remarkable insights…” etc. That’s science. That’s why science geeks love it. No shrieking.
Q: But there are different kinds of intelligence, aren’t there? The Bushmen of the Kalahari have their own kind, to help them survive. You, with your book-smarts and your desk-smarts, wouldn’t last a week in the Kalahari.
A: That is very likely true, but if so, it belongs to the category of melancholy truths. I mean, it’s a truth that does nobody any good, and which, if you think through its consequences, will make you feel sad.
It certainly isn’t going to do the Bushman any good. If the terrain over which he exercises his keen hunter-gatherer intelligence becomes interesting to some mining company, or builder of dams, or foreign conqueror, he will be swept from it like a bug from a picnic table. His superior intelligence, however admirable it may be from a metaphysical point of view, will avail him nothing in a clash with modernity.
There may indeed be different kinds of smarts, each worthy in its own way. In the world as it is, though, the kind of smarts that gets you a coherent nation under stable government, with a fair shot at security, prosperity, good health, and comfort for yourself and your descendants, is one particular kind — the kind measured by IQ tests.
Jared Diamond is keen on the other kind. He attributes it to the highlanders of New Guinea, among whom he has lived and done anthropological research. That’s great; but as Diamond himself notes — though with regret — Highland-New-Guinea-type smarts is never going to develop any society or technology capable of sweeping away Modernity-IQ-type smarts, while the converse has been proven all too many times.
One even wonders if this is really so sad. Ignorance is bliss. While no doubt the New Guineans are happy in their isolation, would their lifestyle survive in free competition with modernity? Imagine them set down on a self-sufficient but open-borders reservation in the middle of some modern city — Hong Kong, say. Which of the following things would be more likely to happen: (a) the New Guineans drift off into the city lifestyle leaving the reservation empty at last, or (b) the Hong Kongers clamor to join them on the reservation and adopt their lifestyle?
Q: What is race, anyway? Hasn’t it been proved a meaningless concept?
A: Race is just common ancestry. More precisely, it’s mostly-common ancestry.
If I sit down to work out my family tree, I have two slots for parents, four for grandparents, eight for great-grandparents, and so on.
Go back a thousand years — say thirty generations — and there are, by the well-known doubling rule, a billion-something slots to fill. Now, there weren’t a billion people alive in the world in A.D. 1008. The actual number of different persons filling those billion slots is likely only a few ten-thousands, each name repeated over and over hundreds of times as a result of inbreeding across a millennium.
Can I say anything nontrivial about those few-ten-thousand persons of the early eleventh century whose inbred contributions make up my genome?
Well, yes, I believe I can, just by looking in the mirror. I can assert with perfect confidence, for example, that it is not the case that any large proportion of them — twenty, thirty, forty percent or more — were Australian Aborigines. If that were the case, I would not look so unmistakably European. (And should my confidence in the mirror test waver, there are now firms that will sequence my genome for a few hundred dollars, from which I would get the same answer.)
Of course, there might be an Aborigine in there somewhere — even two, four, eight, or sixteen. Most of my ancestry, though — look at me, for Pete’s sake! — is European. In fact, given what I know about my ancestry, and about history, and about mobility and mating customs in times gone by, my strong guess is that most of those few ten-thousand people were subjects of Ethelred the Unready, born in England. Most of the rest lived within a thousand miles of England.
In my children’s cases, half of their few-ten-thousands ancestors circa A.D. 1008 would be east-Asian, the other half north-European. They’re mixed race. I don’t personally find this a difficult concept to grasp. Nor, again — boy, I must have ice in my veins! — is it anything I get worked up about.
If, instead of a mere thousand years, I were to track my ancestry back to the Paleolithic era — twenty, thirty, forty thousand years ago — when the number of slots to be filled is in the high quonzibazillions, there would paradoxically be even fewer people around to fill them. After modern humans scattered out from Africa, small groups of them, likely just a few hundred in each case, settled down in different parts of the world and multiplied there quietly for hundreds of generations, breeding among themselves. The particular few hundred individuals who generated modern Europeans occupy most of the quonzibazillions of slots in my early-paleolithic family tree, each individual showing up in a trixikazillion slots. That’s why a person who looks at me for the first time will think “European ancestry,” as opposed to “Polynesian ancestry,” “Northeast Asian ancestry,” “Meso-American ancestry,” or “Sub-Saharan-African ancestry.” That’s my race. Race doesn’t exist? More fiddlesticks.
Races are fuzzy sets, with indeterminacies, like my kids, around the edges. Those old ancestral paleolithic populations have been mixing, to some degree, since the agricultural revolution of eight thousand years ago. In the tens of thousands of years prior to that, they apparently mixed very little. The degree of post-paleolithic mixing shouldn’t be exaggerated, either. It’s a shame my (great)23-grandma got raped by the Golden Horde when they overran Kiev, but pretty much all the other mating in my ancestry was between Europeans. People didn’t move around much in the premodern world. Of the 10479 slots in my 50,000-B.C. family tree, a few trillion are filled by proto-Mongolians as a consequence (presequence?) of that unfortunate incident in Kiev. The rest are all proto-European.
Population-genetic studies of the British Isles suggest a few thin layers of paint (Romans, Danes, Normans,…) on a big, solid paleolithic substratum. American blacks seem to be only 20-25 percent nonblack by ancestry on broad average. In Mexico, after 500 years, two-fifths of the population is still unmixed (30 percent Amerindian, 10 percent European). For mating purposes, oddities like the Derbs apart, people seem to prefer their own kind — defined to mean: a large component of common ancestry. Which people can detect, to high accuracy. Using their eyes.
Q: Come on. “Race” is just arbitrary. Remember Jared Diamond’s argument that lactose-intolerant people, found all over the world wherever cattle breeding was never a major economic factor, form a “race” by virtue of having the lactose-intolerant gene variants. Don’t they?
A: No. Jared Diamond’s viewpoint is warped by his affection for those New Guinea highlanders he used to hang out with. (This is the charitable interpretation of Diamond’s motives. You’ll hear much worse.) He must surely know, at some level, that it’s nonsense. As the old baseball saying goes: You can b-s the fans, but you can’t b-s the players.
Race is common ancestry. That will give you clusters of common gene variants. It’s the clusters that tag your ancestry, not any one gene variant.
Black skin, for example, is found all over: sub-Saharan Africa, Melanesia, Australia, south India, southeast-Asian hill tribes… I was at college with a fellow as black as a person can be: he came from Burma. Yet these black-skinned populations are as genetically distinct from each other as Norwegians and Japanese. The same applies to lactose intolerance, which is found all over.
If I’m given a population to study, and they mostly have black skin, I’m not really anywhere close to knowing they have common ancestry, any more than if I know they are lactose-intolerant. If, however, the population has high frequencies of black skin and high frequencies of gene variant X and gene variant Y and gene variant Z… Then I’m on to something. The data is starting to yell: Common ancestry!
Q: Suppose we find that, yes, IQ really measures something key to life and group outcomes, and yes, race is what you say it is, a real thing, and yes, different major races profile differently on IQ and other personality indices. What use would that knowledge be? What would anyone do with it? What would anyone NOT POSSESSED OF MALIGN INTENT do with it?
A: First, nobody ever knows where scientific research will lead. If you fear that knowledge unearthed by science might be used for malign purposes, your only logical course of action is to shut down absolutely all research in every field. I am sure there are people who want to do that. I am not one of them.
Isaac Asimov posed the following thought experiment. Imagine it’s the year 1890. You canvass the world’s best specialists in orthopaedic medicine, asking them all the question: Which current field of research, in which of the sciences, will lead to the greatest advances in orthopaedic medicine during the coming decades? Never mind regular-Joe citizens: you’re asking the specialists.
Asimov said, I think correctly, that none of them would have given the right answer. The right answer would have been: Research by physicists into the transmission of electric current through rarified gases. (Which led to the discovery of X-rays.)
Second, there are direct public policy consequences to having good-quality knowledge about human nature. The No Child Left Behind Act, for instance, includes incentives and mandates to eliminate race difference in test results. If the knowledge that race differences in test results can’t be eliminated had been available to, and accepted by, the drafters of the Act, we should have spared ourselves the error of spending scads of public money on futile policies. Wouldn’t that be worth doing?
(Excuse me: In fact, the differences can be eliminated. There are two ways to eliminate them. One, you make the test so easy that everyone passes with 100 percent score. Race gap eliminated! Or two, you make the test so hard that everyone scores zero. Race gap eliminated! This is not a trivial observation. Somewhere between infinitely-easy and infinitely-hard there is a point — a point of test difficulty — where the race gap is at maximum. If you now adjust the difficulty of your tests in either direction away from this maximum point, a tad easier or a tad harder, the gap diminishes. That’s what “maximum” means. You’ve diminished the gap! Do you think state education bureaucrats have not yet figured out this simple little nugget of elementary calculus? Ha ha ha ha ha ha!)
Again, if, as Jim Watson implied, having more smart people is good for your country’s development, security, and prosperity, shouldn’t we factor that into our immigration policies? Shouldn’t we use immigration policy to beef up our stock of smart people? Perhaps you think we shouldn’t; but can’t we at least discuss it? What’s so scary?
And again, black Africa’s chronic backwardness is a phenomenon that needs explaining, if anything is ever to be done about it. Watson offered an explanation: black Africa, for reasons to do with the deep history of the human race, doesn’t have enough smart people.
That’s what scientists and intellectuals are supposed to do: offer explanations for things. Once we’ve sifted through the explanations and agreed on which one is most likely correct, we can figure out solutions to problems.
Of course Watson’s explanation isn’t the only one. Let’s line up all the explanations on offer and subject them to cool discussion and analysis. That’s how the human race makes progress. NO, LET’S NOT! IT’S ALL TOO SCARY TO TALK ABOUT! WATSON IS A BAD, BAD MAN! Good grief. Are we adults, trying to enlarge our understanding, or children squealing in terror at the boogey-man?
Q: OK, OK, but back to the point that got Watson in trouble. You race realist types like to say: “Well, it’s nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. It’s just DIFFERENCE — and abstract group-statistical difference at that.” Isn’t that a bit disingenuous, though? I mean, look at black Africa. They’re really NOT doing well, are they? If, as Watson claimed, it’s because they just have too few smart people to keep a modern society going — well, how is that not calling sub-Saharan Africans an inferior race, a failed race? How is it NOT?
A: That’s the big one. That, in my opinion, is what all the fuss is about. Again, I’m looking at it a bit “cold,” not quite seeing why there’s a fuss. Why should Clarence Thomas (say) feel any the worse about himself because black Africa’s a mess? Does he, in fact? (My guess: no.)
And here is where you bump up against the fact that what makes human nature so hard to discuss coolly is human nature itself.
One component of human nature is a cluster of emotions associated with group membership. On the positive side there are loyalty and patriotism, selflessness and co-operation, leadership and followership, teamwork. On the negative: hostility to other groups, anger and sadness at exclusion from the group, eagerness to submit to authority, hero-worship, the Mob. Anyone who has seen real, effective leadership in action, admires and respects it, and acknowledges its necessity for any kind of group achievement. On the other hand, the German word for “leader” is Führer, and it takes some unusual measure of selflessness to fly a plane into a building.
(In the long shadow of WW2, Arthur Koestler wrote a book about this, concluding with the recommendation that late-20th-century pharmacologists bend their efforts to making a drug that would eliminate, or at least suppress, the groupish emotions — the source of too many human catastrophes, according to Koestler. Fortunately — according to me — nobody paid attention.)
If you hang out with race realist types a lot — and yes, I do, and count myself one — a thing you notice is that a high proportion of them, of us, are antisocial loners. Trust me, it’s not just because of their opinions that race realists don’t win any popularity prizes. (And as a corollary, not many of them, of us, are successful in a worldly way. Poor social skills. Jim Watson, though world-famous for what he did, fits the pattern. Talk to anyone who knows him and expressions like “difficult,” “prickly,” and “loose cannon” soon turn up.)
Like every other feature of human nature, the groupish emotions are unevenly distributed. Some individuals are richly endowed with them. They are plunged into despair when their baseball team loses; they bristle to hear their religion criticized; they are furious at insults to their nation; if of eccentric sexual preference, they may swear brotherhood with those similarly disposed; and yes, they are mad as hell to hear their race described as failed, even though they understand at some level that it’s an abstract statistical description that does not reflect on them personally, any more than their baseball team’s losing the World Series does.
Your antisocial loner isn’t like that. He probably has no strong opinion about the relative merits of Yankees and Mets. If he goes to church, it’s for personal and metaphysical reasons, not social ones. He’s a poor employee and a feeble team-sports participant. He may like his country, and be willing to fight for it, but exuberant expressions of patriotism embarrass him. He’s more likely than the average to marry someone of a different race. (Am I describing anyone in particular here? No! Absolutely not!) Tell him he belongs to a failed race and he’ll probably say: “Yes, I guess so. It’s sad. But hey, I’m doing okay…”
To the degree that he has any preference, the antisocial loner is an Americanophile. The U.S.A. advertises itself as the nation of individualism, where you judge a man, and he judges himself, by what he can accomplish — by, as somebody once said “the content of his character” — not by which group he belongs to.
If you are not that type — and most people, even most Americans, are not — it’s much more difficult for you to discuss human-group differences. Too much groupish emotion gets in the way. It was hard not to notice, in the recent kerfuffles about illegal immigration, how many people on the pro-illegals side had names like Rivera, Chavez, Sanchez,…
But see, as I’ve just pointed out, people strongly susceptible to group identification do better in the world — are more successful. It’s a social world, success-wise, and they’re social people. What is social success, but identifying with groups and securing high status within them? Having a set of good robust groupish emotions will do that for ya. Thus, race realists don’t get much of a hearing; and when they pipe up, their views sound strange and eccentric. They heat up the groupish emotions of the majority — of most normal human beings — and shouting breaks out.
The kind of cool, antisocial personality to whom race realism makes sense is not likely to attain the commanding heights of a field like, say, opinion journalism, so when the shouting starts up he’s at a natural disadvantage — a small playa being shouted down by big playas.
The truth content of the argument? Oh, that just gets lost in the shouting. Who cares about truth when careers and money and within-group status are at stake? Not many, I’m afraid; and most of those who do care are quirky loner types that nobody much likes anyway.
Q: Is any of this really worth worrying about? Won’t we just science our way out of it all somehow, with genetic engineering, or embryo selection, or something no-one’s thought of yet?
A: Maybe. Possibly we shall turn up some harmless compound we can put in the water supply, like fluoride, that levels out the IQ profiles of all groups. You never know. Personally I’d rank the prospect down there with Arthur Koestler’s groupish-emotions-elimination pill, but you never know.
Genetic engineering? I’m sure something will come of it. It shouldn’t be that hard. Noah Millman suggests that our hopes for genetic engineering are overblown, in the way that hopes for social engineering were 100 years ago, leading to all the well-known failures of state socialism.
I disagree. To be sure, a human being, or just a human brain, is an extremely complicated thing, and we shouldn’t underestimate the scientific challenges of genetic tinkering. (I am not aware of any scientists involved in this work who do underestimate them.) A human society, though, is at the next level of complexity up, consisting as it does of millions of human beings! From the fact that we screwed up the engineering of societies (and, as Noah concedes, we didn’t make a total pig’s ear of it — we tamed the business cycle, for instance) it does not follow that we’ll screw up the engineering of the genome.
I’m sure there will be some false steps and a few disasters, but probably we’ll get it right at last and genetic engineering will deliver something that improves our lives and societies.
The catch there is the word “our.” Who’s going to be doing this? To whom? Private consumers, to their own germlines? State authorities, to bamboozled or bribed client groups? Mad dictators intent on creating zombie armies? Who, whom? No social advance is free of these considerations, but they’ll be unusually acute if genetic engineering takes off.
Even without genetic engineering, a lot of what is hoped for can be accomplished by germline screening and selection. This has already started up. The who-whom factor is present here, too, though in a muted form, as you are working with variations that currently exist, not deliberately manufactured, never-before-seen variations.
Another possibility you don’t see discussed much is that human intelligence may just cease to matter. It matters now, (a) for individuals — it’s a very good predictor of your life outcome — and (b) for nations, since your population’s IQ profile correlates strongly with stability and success.
Suppose, however, that our clever machines were to get really clever — cleverer than us ourselves, so that there wasn’t much useful work left for us to do. Clever enough to do our manufacturing and lawyering and doctoring and legislating and administrating, leaving us to sit under palm trees strumming ukeleles while we wait for the robo-butler to bring us mint juleps. What would human IQ matter in a lotus-eating world like that?
Some researchers think that the high IQ of “Arctic” populations — East Asians, Europeans — is a consequence of a challenging lifestyle back in the paleolithic — having to hunt big game across frozen tundra in competition with other large carnivores. In places where the population just had to lounge around waiting for breadfruit to fall from trees, natural selection was not so intense. Possibly — the world-IQ map does bear an uncanny resemblance to your high-school climate-zones chart: frigid, temperate, tropical. (But then, why aren’t Eskimos all chess champions? They’re not.)
So perhaps in a lotus-eating world IQ will just cease to matter, as physical strength ceased to matter when we all quit pitching hay or shoveling coal and went to work tapping keyboards in office cubes. Perhaps we’ll keep up our smarts anyway for cosmetic, mating-display purposes, as sedentary office-wallahs nowadays work out at the gym, but it won’t matter.
Yes: with some luck, and a bit of sense, and — hey! — enhanced intelligence, either human or artificial, we probably will science our way out of it. All the shrieking and pointing and jumping on chairs while clutching our skirts will likely look pretty silly to our grandkids.
A precondition for that to come about, though, is that at some point we actually stop the shrieking, pointing, and skirt-clutching, and discuss these issues calmly, like rational adults. Is that point about to arrive? I very much hope so.