All other things being equal – which they’re not, but if they were, then – the better-looking people would get their first choice of mates, and they’d probably choose the better-looking ones.

By ‘better-looking’ here I mean something we’re told is going on in the back of our heads. That is, our reptilian brains have been naturally selected for picking up on the correlation of between phenotype and genotype. And what correlation are they looking for? Probably viability of offspring.

Of course very early in our history human breeders of animals picked up on this. But they also had particular tasks in mind they wanted their animals to perform, and hence particular traits associated with those tasks. Not exactly rocket science, right?

Well, human beings are animals. So neither would it have been rocket science to figure out how to breed people for certain desirable traits. Why else would some women seeking artificial insemination inquire after the intelligence of the donor?

So didn’t the slave-owner likewise have particular traits in mind when he sent a pair of his stock to the breeding shed? If all you want is a strong back and a biddable disposition, breeding for intelligence is counter-indicated. So it should come as no surprise that in his latest book, Facing Reality, Charles Murray has been looking at some of the data suggesting that African Americans may be less intelligent than white and Asian Americans.

Certainly Jews select for intellect, not looks. What else could explain Woody Allen? Or me, for that matter?

Is this racist? Oh hell, go big or go home! So wuddya say? Shall we resurrect Nazi eugenics and reproductive Apartheid?

Some people say, let science do science, and let the chips fall where they may. Others say we should be looking at where those chips might fall before we do the science. I don’t think we can have it both, i.e. let science do science and then suppress the results we don’t like. Inconvenient truths leak as readily as convenient ones. So it really is an either-or. Tough call sometimes, isn’t it?

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy

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3 replies

  1. Two links, one to Murray’s book and the other to a commentary on Facing Reality by John McWhorter:

    1) Facing Reality: Two Truths about Race in America

    “The charges of white privilege and systemic racism that are tearing the country apart fIoat free of reality. Two known facts, long since documented beyond reasonable doubt, need to be brought into the open and incorporated into the way we think about public policy: American whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians have different violent crime rates and different means and distributions of cognitive ability. The allegations of racism in policing, college admissions, segregation in housing, and hiring and promotions in the workplace ignore the ways in which the problems that prompt the allegations of systemic racism are driven by these two realities.

    What good can come of bringing them into the open? America’s most precious ideal is what used to be known as the American Creed: People are not to be judged by where they came from, what social class they come from, or by race, color, or creed. They must be judged as individuals. The prevailing Progressive ideology repudiates that ideal, demanding instead that the state should judge people by their race, social origins, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.

    We on the center left and center right who are the American Creed’s natural defenders have painted ourselves into a corner. We have been unwilling to say openly that different groups have significant group differences. Since we have not been willing to say that, we have been left defenseless against the claims that racism is to blame. What else could it be? We have been afraid to answer. We must. Facing Reality is a step in that direction.”

    .. despite that he is 1) brilliant and 2) not a bigot

    McWhorter: “To many familiar with Murray’s work, I have already revealed myself as a “racist” in engaging his work at all, and/or not calling him one.

    However, Murray’s work is too carefully reasoned and too deeply founded on scholarly sources to be dismissed as “racist,” except by people whose definition of “racist” is “That which people of the black American race don’t like for any reason.”

    Rather: I salute Murray’s brilliance while being disturbed by many of his arguments. What many will call racism is what I call being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

    Pam: BUT, McWhorter doesn’t think Facing Reality is up to Murray’s usual standards suggesting Murray uncharacteristically hands waves at data for an important juncture in his argument.

    And so, McWhorter says: “Maybe (Murray) just feels that the facts are what they are, that their implications for society are what they are, that strong people face unpleasant truths, and that having done his job, he wishes us our best.

    Okay. But while I will not join the bandwagon of people who can see nothing but “racism” in his presentation, neither will I join the other bandwagon cheering that “somebody needed to finally say it” and leaving it there.”

    On another note, Pam: I believe the following excerpt from McWhorter’s article has parallels with rhetoric about indigenous “modes of cognition” in Canada which holds that indigenous people think holistically and cyclically rather than linearly:

    “In other words, Murray thinks – although I doubt he conceives of it in just this way – that beyond entertainment and sports, we need to go back to the level of achievement that American society allowed black people in roughly 1960 — except now, we are to consider this level of participation the best black people can do anyway.

    We don’t need to consider only how this sounds as the counsel of a white person. This article interviews a black valedictorian recounting being told by black kids that advanced placement classes are “for white kids.” Or, watch here how gruesome it is to see a black schoolteacher openly espousing the idea that black people aren’t analytical thinkers as her colleagues nod warmly.

    Now, her idea is that black people are “communal” or “holistic” thinkers and that this is the equal of being an analytic thinker. But most of us know damned well that “analytic” thought – as in abstraction, detachment, separating the head from the heart – is, well, intelligence. This black person, in her soul-deep suspicion of “whiteness,” buys in to the idea that black people aren’t supposed to be smart in the way that those white people are.

    Murray’s book is arguing that we need to agree with her.”


  2. That ethics govern scientific inquiry and foreseeable autonomous effects, as any human tool, brings to mind a passage from Aristotle’s Rhetoric:

    If it be objected that one who uses such power of speech [rhetoric/dialectic] unjustly might do great harm, that is a charge that which may be made in common against all good things except virtue, and above all against the things that are most useful, as strength, health, wealth, generalship …[Pam’s note: science and technology, e.g. mustard gas versus gas masks, defibrillator versus the electric chair, eugenics versus CRISPR (gene editing technology)]… A man can confer the greatest of benefits by a right use of these, and inflict the greatest of injuries by using them wrongly. (Rhetoric,6)

    Religion also fits into this passage. Religious organisations were Canada’s social service organisations at one time, before governing institutions and infrastructure were well established — and religion still fulfils much of that role, e.g. settling in refugee families, providing clothes and housewares after a fire, workboots and gloves for released prisoners to get on their feet, sandwiches to street people, Meals on Wheels, and so on. And, there also exists religious bigotry, hypocrisy, beheadings, and so on.

    Think of these human things as tools, literally. A hammer is used for construction and destruction. Construction of Homes for Humanity and torture racks that dehumanise, destruction of a fallen shed or the fragile skull of someone’s head.

    Anyway, on topic, I’ve started a book by Roger Shattuck called Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography,

    Shattuck’s overarching question is whether there are things we ought not know, after which we ought not inquire. To explore this question, Shattuck opens with literary examples in the first part of his book, followed by real-world case samples in the second part. And, what I am especially interested in is Shattuck’s taxonomy of Forbidden Knowledge.

    I subscribe to the notion that there are no sacred cows in philosophy, that all of our precious beliefs are on the table for examination. But, this notion is my sacred cow and it, too, is on the table. I’m yet to be persuaded otherwise, but my search for an answer is live.


  3. Just a reminder, while studies concerned with measuring intelligence quotients in populations can be and are co-opted for racist and other demeaning rhetoric, their aims tend to be identifying and mitigating disadvantages therein. These populations might have racial characteristics, but they might also have geographic characteristics as in the following doctoral thesis which examines intellectual disabilities in the Appalachian region (I have not read the thesis right through, but just as far as to determine it suffices as a general example):

    Yancey, Tiffany D., “A Regional Comparison of Intellectual Disability Rates in Appalachia” (2015). Theses, Dissertations and Capstones. Paper 922.

    Many such studies are an attempt to tease apart nature from nurture or to determine how these elements work in concert. Without identifying and understanding a problem, that problem is hard to effectively mitigate. The unfortunate part is that such studies can be invasive and embarrassing for the population studied. Some of those studied will embrace efforts to mitigate their perceived disadvantages, others will contend they are not as a population disadvantaged, still others that any disadvantage is best mitigated by insiders only. Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance and its ensuing criticisms (you can search) exemplify these various responses.

    And, yes, some use studies to say, “See, I told you there was something ‘wrong’ with those folks.”

    A point to remember and remember well, is that there are always autonomous effects emerging from these kinds of social actions, by which I mean conducting a study, making the results public, and recommending policy accordingly. For better or, but usually ‘and’, worse. Mitigating one disadvantage can exacerbate, even create, another. Just as in philosophy, when you smooth a bump in the carpet another crops up. Smooth one problem, and others crop up.

    Hence the sometimes contentious ethical debates arising from clashes between purveyors of paternalistic-type and of autonomy-preserving responses to disadvantaged populations. And, further, contentious debates ensuing from second, third, and fourth order (-nth) effects of these responses that ripple through the broader polity.

    I doubt there’s any way around these inevitable clashes of interest. But one way to help ensure these clashes are protracted and divisive is to silence critics whose role is to apply their expertise to imagine the autonomous effects of social actions and to predict in as far as possible those which are most likely to occur and, of those, which are most likely to lead to social stability, primarily, and, ideally, social flourishing (although the two don’t readily come apart). And those that aren’t.


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