If I was a kid –aged eight or seven –I was diagnosed with hepatitis, something known in the trade as a”specific learning disorder.” My problems have been identified in the usual manner for dyslexics–I was great at maths but could not appear to learn how to read. And, as is evident from my appearance in Law & Liberty and successful legal and literary professions, they were easily fixed. My parents enjoyed a tutor who taught reading with phonics instead of the then-fashionable”look-say” method, and I transferred out of the bottom to the top of the class with fair rapidity.
One or two times a year I’d traipse until the administration block to be asked a set of questions by those who I later learned were educational psychologists and, occasionally, psychiatrists. The first few tests were completely verbal and involved looking at pictures. Later, they improved to the more familiar pencil and paper sort. By the end of primary school–when I was 11 or so–they were inevitably followed by anxious conferences between the main, the examining psychologist, my classroom instructor, and my parents. I did wonder what was going on, but I was bribed to sit still and wait with Freddo Frogs and just afterwards learned the source of everyone’s disquiet.
My IQ had stabilised at 148, that was (and is) considered freakishly significant. The last evaluation, the WAIS-III (removed earlier I moved to Oxford) created the identical figure. I still have it hanging around the house someplace. I say that not to boast, since I have no problem admitting that I inherited excess cleverness in the identical way other people inherit a stock portfolio or even some nation real estate: out of my mother and dad.
Naturally, various unearned benefits of social course went with the IQ. My parents could manage a phonics tutor, for example. They impressed on me that, as someone who had been given so much, my nation has been in its own rights to make important demands on me. “Otherwise,” in mum’s pithy formulation,”it is like landing on’Free Parking’ in Monopoly.” My dad sat me down and said this specifically, something he also did with my three sisters. I really don’t understand their IQs–none of them are dyslexic, so I guess they were never tested–they all enjoy lucrative professional careers. However, dad was especially worried about me. “I do not want my kid falling off the nerd cliff,” he explained in his distinctive Aberdeenshire accent. “And I don’t want her thinking cleverness buys her right to tell others what to do.”
What my parents were describing was, I assume , the idea of”intellect and personality,” and the purpose of the throat-clearing introduction above would be to foreground the book I believe makes the ideal case for this: Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve.
I did not plan to write about a book my spouse and I have come–within the last month–to call”the bad book” or even”the naughty publication,” as if it had been a bodice-ripper to be wrapped in brown packing paper before one can safely read it on the tube. The Bell Curve came to my attention because it creates the basis of one part in another book I reviewed for the wonkish British magazine CapX: British commentator David Goodhart’s Head Hand Heart: Why Intelligence Can Be Over-Rewarded, Manual Workers Matter, and Caregivers Deserve More Respect.
Goodhart contends that a lot of the developed world requires a significant shift in the way people measure and reward social status. Part of this entails ridding cognitive elites of wealth and power. “All too frequently, cognitive ability and meritocratic success is confounded with moral worth.” He is upfront about the truth that no great ethical tradition going back to antiquity believes high intellect a per se good.
I expected Goodhart to disagree with the arguments laid out from The Bell Curve, to make claims for long-debunked ideas like”multiple intelligences” or”emotional intelligence,” but he doesn’t. He takes the core of the previous publication. What he can do is require a reversal of instructional emphasis. Like my parents (such as Herrnstein and Murray, as I discovered) he argues that since so much of an individual’s IQ amounts to unearned virtue, the intellectually gifted”owe one” to everybody else. We should not be in the company of rewarding people materially or socially simply since they are smart. This –to pinch one of Adam Smith’s insights–would be like holding people in high esteem simply because they’re rich.
This is unfortunate for two reasons: first, ordinary members of people often think it’s been debunked (it hasn’t). Second, individuals that are smart and who locate cognitive activities remunerative often assume they’re automatically”worth it,” deserving of wealth and accolades simply due to their intellect (they are not ). It is like one could hop from the nearest Tardis, go back in time, and choose one’s parents: a lot of smart people genuinely believe they did everything independently.
The latter phenomenon is now pervasive on the political left, also fuels modern policies aimed at generating”equity” (equality of results ) rather than equality of opportunity. Many otherwise bright people focus on systemic drawback such that they’re blind to their private, inherited benefits, in addition to the extent to which they enjoy benefits from the cognitive class stratification both Head Hand Heart and The Bell Curve identify. I do sometimes wonder whether their commitment to equality of outcomes is also borne of this realisation that real equality of opportunity means any variations in intellectual attainment can only be explained by genetic variation and heritability. Remove or attenuate poverty and make sure all children have a great diet (the latter is very significant ), and a number of the environmental differences between people who bear on IQ evaporate. This procedure does not, nevertheless, produce equality of outcomes, and it is naïve to believe it would.
A number of unusually stable and prosperous nations –Norway and Australia come to mind–have come very near to attaining equality of opportunity for the great majority of their populations. And when you got a representative sample of Australians and Norwegians to sit an IQ test, you would find a similar bell curve using a supply akin to what one sees in more unequal countries like the US or UK. This holds although Australia has probably shifted its curve to the ideal because of a method of legislation that favours both educated and middle class (both are proxies for both IQ, even though IQ is significantly more predictive of outcomes compared to educational attainment or social class).
It always struck me as odd that people accepted with no qualm obvious gaps in athletic ability while noting the importance of qualities like discipline (for training) or character (for pushing through the pain barrier). Standard folk understood that no amount of effort was going to turn them into Usain Bolt or Serena Williams, all the while admitting that when Usain and Serena sat on the couch daily eating takeaway pizza, then neither could be a champion athlete. These days, though, even sport is under attack, and in much the same manner as IQ was in 1994, when The Bell Curve was released. Think, as an example, of the claim that women can compete–especially in events requiring speed and power–with biological males.
In spite of equality of opportunity and points-based immigration, it is not feasible to turn entire countries into Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average.A number of current books and a excellent deal of comment blame weird academic styles and poor scholarship–the two products of a higher education industry that has grown like kudzu in the past 40 years–for absurd claims like, say, differences in educational and athletic accomplishments being the consequence entirely of racism or sexism.
This argument is accurate as far as it belongs –the universities are loaded to the gunwales using pseudoscientific crap –but it isn’t the whole story. Governments in developed countries all over the world have spent trillions advancing equality of opportunity, often naïvely supposing it would produce”equity” or something near it. To my mind, the academic pseudoscience just sees all over us is as much a commodity of bitter disappointment at the failure to attain a greatly desirable policy goal as it is a cause in its own right. It is the intellectual equivalent of concealing beneath the bedcovers, sticking fingers in the ears, and yelling”lalalalala.”
Moreover, The Bell Curve educated me that failure to generate equality of outcomes on the rear of equality of opportunity hasn’t just damaged the political left: it’s also knocked some right-leaning traditions into a cocked hat too. It ends up discipline and personal responsibility aren’t enough, which is a difficult thing for conservatives to hear. Deontological libertarianism, meanwhile (never popular beyond the US, to be honest ), also battles in the face of the truth of individual inequality.
“Many modern libertarians who draw their inspiration from Locke,” Herrnstein and Murray note,”are hostile to the probability of genetic differences in intelligence due to their conviction that equal rights only apply if actually people at dawn are tabulae rasae.” It doesn’t matter that this isn’t quite what Locke said (although he was speaking from his alternative orifice in regards to tabula rasa). For me, this helped clarify why–although a few libertarians have dived into QAnon conspiracies–others have come to be worryingly woke.
This has been brought to a head from the realisation that there are scientists out there (although not at all liberal democracies) that are definitely figuring out how to control human genetics in order to make people smarter or faster or able to find out from the dark.
Among other things, it is blunt about the degree to which most of the most able do not like even the idea of IQ. “Mention it in polite company,” Ritchie notes,”and you’re going to be informed (sometimes quite sternly) that IQ tests do not measure anything actual, and reflect how good you’re at doing IQ tests” This, I guess, is a heritage of The Bell Curve and its lobby, especially contributed Herrnstein died shortly before the book was published. Murray had to bear public opprobrium alone.
Not only is it Ritchie’s book small enough to conceal in the palm of your hand (instead of this wrist-spraining 600-pages-plus published on Bible paper of The Bell Curve), his part on genetics is certain in which Herrnstein and Murray are tentative. And in which Ritchie is tentative, he’s alarming. Scientists have known for decades that genes contribute to differences in intelligence. The Bell Curve discusses this problem in detail and Ritchie adds just a little to the earlier publication. But, advancement is currently occurring in a connected but scientifically distinct area, called”molecular genetics” Molecular genetics is more concerned with the combination of genes trigger intelligence gaps. As Richard Dawkins once commented, the problem with eugenics isn’t that it doesn’t do the job, but that it does.
I used to be among those people who was opposed to researching the genetic basis of individual inequality, if it concerned intellect or athletic ability. Like Herrnstein, Murray, along with Ritchie I was well aware of its dreadful history: as far as the Holocaust, Nazi Germany’s eugenics plan is what’s made Adolf Hitler a kind of modern folk-devil for the non-religious. But, I have altered my mind, and not simply because communist regimes–using their blank-slate idealism and concomitant failed efforts at social engineering–killed over Hitler. I have changed my mind since, if that isn’t tackled head on–with honesty and rigour and humankind –the authoritarian countries will arrive first, and they have much fewer scruples. “Given the fast advance of GWAS [Genome-Wide Association Study],” Ritchie observes,”we want a measured, informed debate over the ethics and legality of selection for intellect, and we want it shortly.”
We have seen what China can do in terms of social order and pandemic management with artificial intelligence and its”social credit” system. Part of me suspects that nation’s regime is utilizing GATTACA as an instruction manual rather than a warning. I wrote two books about what such a society could look like (additionally warnings rather than instruction manuals, note). This reality is nearer today, no longer confined to science fiction.