Socioporn is So Passé

A few years back, Arthur Jensen and J. Philippe Rushton published a major paper called "Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability." The paper presented a formidable summation of relevant research from psychometrics and related fields and restated the argument, more forcefully than before, that persistent racial differences in general intelligence must have a strong genetic component. Of the scholars who filed commentaries in reply (addressed by Rushton and Jensen here), the most strident critic was the social psychologist, Richard Nisbett, who would go on to write a book outlining his culture-only case for a wider audience.  In rejoinder to Nisbett's hurrah, the dastardly duo recently drafted what might be considered another major paper in which they none-too-gently accuse Gould's latter-day bulldog of dishonesty.

Here is the academic equivalent of a bitchslap:

We found Nisbett's errors of omission and of commission so major, so many, and so misleading, that they forced us to write a particularly long and negative review.

There's a good chance that Nisbett will respond, which should be interesting. So why am I not interested?

Because I'm tired of the charade. For decades now, researchers like Jensen and Rushton and Gottfredson and others have been publishing these careful data-driven studies and analytical monographs where they lay bare volumes of evidence and address popular and esoteric criticisms in scrupulous detail. You step into the cyclone, and certain points become clear enough. The tests are not biased; they predict performance roughly as well for all groups. Evidence for ever-elusive "X factors," such as "stereotype threat" seem to collapse under scrutiny. Most transracial adoption studies break down pretty much in support of the hereditarian model, and the same goes for studies of racial admixture. Regression to the mean effects line up with genetic theory from every angle. Group differences show up in culture-free studies of reaction time, and the same rank differences correlate with neuro-imaging and with more crude measures of brain mass.  Twin studies show that IQ is equally heritable for different racial groups. Human races are at least as real as mountains and dog breeds, and human environments are not analogous to potsoil. The world is not flat and how about that. Were it not for prevailing socio-political preconceptions and the stronghold of taboo, the case would be closed. Or open only at the edges.       

For those who are familiar with the scholarly debate over this explosive topic, there won't be much that's new in Jensen and Rushton's latest volley. There's some killjoy discussion of the widely celebrated (if little understood) secular increase in IQ scores over recent decades (commonly known as the "Flynn Effect"), with the non-news being that ostensible gains do not to correlate with the general factor that counts where it counts. There's the finding that g-loading consistently predicts Black-White IQ differences, with a correlation of .62. There's some interesting  speculation over how selection bias might conceal a significantly lower median black IQ than effusive gap-narrowing reports typically suggest. And there's, you know, more. If you don't feel like wading through 50 pages and want a  snapshot, Inductivist provides a decent breakdown of the dirty parts.

The law of parsimony emerges through the din, at least to my subgenius satisfaction. What was once fascinating and vaguely troubling, now presents as redundant background static.  I'm convinced that reasonable people are not blind to what is most obvious, or at least most likely. They practice ignorance. They pretend. They lie. Social intercourse lights the path. Honesty is for shut-ins and comedians. 

So the story is that a white firefighter in New Haven was denied a promotion. The story is, this firefighter scored well on a qualifying test but the test results were scrapped by the city when it turned out that black subjects didn't perform so well on average and now a lawsuit goes before a high court. That's the story in the cycle just now, or last year, or ten years ago. Doesn't matter, cause it's all so drearily familiar. There must be a problem, either with the test or with the culture, as decorum allows. It's there in the script. Ho hum and boo-hoo. Pick a side and repeat your lines.

Like in this snip from the MSNBC squawkfest, Hardball, where Chris Matthews, Clarence Page and Pat Buchanan make the usual noises:

BUCHANAN:  There are tests—one question on a test long ago, it was about what do you do down at the Yacht Basin, had all these terms.  That's unfair to African-Americans, no doubt about it.  Just like if you use all this lingo from Harlem and you put it in the test, it is going to be unfair to white folks. 

PAGE:  Thank you for proving my point.  It can be unfair.

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t believe for a second the firefighters' test up there in New Haven, Connecticut was unfair.  Nobody thought this one was until the returns came in. 

MATTHEWS:  So why did the white guys do better? 

BUCHANAN:  I think because they studied harder and they know more, is why they did better.  That would be my guess.  What would be yours? 

MATTHEWS:  I think they did better in the test. 

For the last time, tautologies are tautological. Regattas and chitlins are old herrings, reeking on the sill. Disparate impact is not prima facie evidence of racism. The Bell Curve was a New York Times bestseller, and I'm sure every one of these comfortable beltway pundits took a furtive glance at chapter 13 when the dam was cracked. These guys live in the same world as you and I. They've been to the bus station. They drive through the worst of it. They go to book-signings, then they pay the gardener in cash. They knew and they know and it's much easier to parse and shuffle and prevaricate when there are consequences, and consequences there are. You just repeat the words and then dare your schoolyard chums to summon the goblin in the mirror. Or maybe click your heels. 

And enough, please. Please stop muttering about what if it's true and loath it should be known. It's true, and everyone knows. We're worse off for failing to think a problem through — for concocting these Ptolemic wish machines when there's real work to be done. Liberals latch to Darwin until they're confronted with the obvious. Conservatives lipserve a pipe dream because they're wedded to another dumb script. Horatio Alger meets John Rawls in a dark-lit alley and there is the smell of fear. Libertarians, fuck and bless them, may yet have an argument, but they're too lost in the clouds to grasp it. Who is Eddie Willers 

Yet all it means is that Goldilocks is dead, and fuck her sexy corpse anyway. The reflex you fear is a crass projection. Individualism remains a seductive muse, and thank your stars for that — even if tribalism is fated. We are left to lock the pieces together and make the most of something perhaps intractable. Lemons are never sweet. I wish my father were wrong about all of it. But measured against the stubborn grip of reality, a desperate wish is no better than an abominable fancy. A humane meritocracy may be as fair as we can hope.

What is to be done? I don't know. I suppose we might begin by admitting that this fixed obsession with higher education is a rutting elitist conceit, like Charles Murray argues in his latest hated book.  Pipe-fitters and trim carpenters take rightful pride in their work, and someone has to tend the machines, to paint lines on the road. Stop wasting their time with Norton anthologies and trigonometry homework and student loan applications. Stop wringing your hands, and let the people do their job. You may not savor the aesthetics, but this was never about you.  Egalitarian dogmas do real harm to real people. People you will never know.

We might go on to scratch these decades of faddish educational theory and get down to some brass tacks research. Watch Hard Times at Douglas High, and you know that NCLB proficiency standards are codified cruelty, arrogance in the guise of goodly intention. Rather than slaking dim hopes with more Stand and Deliver mytho-malarkey, we could try to figure out what works — better, then best; how and for whom. Education markets will help. Controlled studies will help. I remember when "Hooked on Phonics" was a political issue and the buried lede was that no one knew shit about what teachy methods obtained results because there was no science, just years of shifting slogans and pop-psych NEA-abetted teacher-conference-spun loft and argot. So start over. Begin by acknowledging that difference may be destiny, at least to some crude extent. Then stop sniffling, stop romanticizing, and leave everything on the table. Rote memorization should be revisited. Conceptual learning may prove less efficient for some kids than for others. Classroom size may or may not matter. Tracking may not be pretty, but it might help. Or it might not. Maybe nothing will. Maybe schooling is, as I hope, a wholesale waste of time. But determined incuriosity will not do.   

As long as were at it, why not repeal the minumum wage and scrap these bogs of codes and regs that make it so difficult for someone to start and run a simple business. Licensure is a many-tentacled beast, and Portland is not America. We need gypsy cab drivers and street vendors and untaxed commerce with an aura of danger. And then let's get serious about genotech and nootropics and nutrition and birth control incentives and anything that might work, anything that might help the ones who nature — that cunt — has left in the wings of this post-industrial wonderland.  I don't know what's possible. I only know that recrudescent Mismeasure of Man polemics will help no one. There's no panacea. No Libertopia. Lamarck was wrong. So was Lenin. So was Rand. Untethered by self-deception, the effort that remains may appear humble. But this is the nature of progress. 

But First. — First, we need to stop with the fib and wink. We need to scotch this one precious status game and give public voice to the festered private suspicion that  keeps us stupid and nervous. Unbank your closeted skepticism. Take that childshit goblin dare. The story will round back soon enough however it does; someone will be in trouble for saying what you have thought so many times. Next time, why not break a lance on their behalf?

Q: Did you hear about what Professor X said at the luncheon?

A: Yeah. I think it's a shame.

Q: I know. I can't believe I had him for psych 101. I had no idea he was such a racist. Did you? 

A: No, I mean it's a shame about the investigation. I don't think he's a racist. I think what he said is probably true, actually. I hope he doesn't apologize, because he shouldn't.

Q: (After a long pause) You mean, you agree with that crap? You think black people are inferior?

A. That's not what X said. And that's certainly not what I'm saying. We can talk about it if you want to.    

I came of age in the surreal slog of PC hysteria, when Anita Hill recounted lame pubic hair jokes before a mock-shocked Congressional committee and everyone had the jitters. A careless classroom remark was enough back then. If you allowed that sex differences might root somewhere deeper than culture, you courted trouble. Because Susan Faludi had the stage and Naomi Wolf may have read something by Foucault. Or because there was that thing at Senecca Falls that you were assigned to read. It hardly mattered how it was propped. You simply had some explaining to do. So maybe you explained. Or maybe you shut up. But then, after a calm, those Newsweek cover stories began to file in and everyone breathed a little easier knowing that lab-coated superscientists had re-discovered hormones. Soon, there would be rumors of feminist apostasy. Ms. Wolf  grunted out a critter and seemed to forget all about Foucault. Ms. Faludi began channeling Warren Farrell. Camille Paglia became a punchline, and Dice Clay went away.

Acculturation works like that. Dissident memes simmer at the waterline until there's a break. People await their cue. When the demon-bait is tested and found to be no more toxic than a swig of backwash, the hair-trigger settings are recalibrated. You swallow the bitters and the firmament holds. So you root for comfort, and you find it. The weirdness abates. You return to the conversation, perhaps wiser. Turns out, evo-psych is interesting.

With the race-IQ bogey, it will be trickier. Cognitive ability is an acutely sensitive topic, made volatile when racial consciousness is moored at the nerve-root. But while race may hold as a heuristic HBD riddlecracker, identity politics is still as silly as any religion, as any fad. This must be repeated. Don't take it personally. It was never personal. I happen to sorta like my President. I like surprises and rolly-polly multi-colored gobs of common humanity. But facts are facts, and I don't even know you.

What is personal is shame, and the silence it indulges. Fuck that shit. Matchpoint Jensen and Rushton. Let's move on. 

Memento mori.                            

13 thoughts on “Socioporn is So Passé

  1. I haven’t read Murray’s book on education. Does he discuss Direct Instruction? While I’m generally skeptical of educational interventions, that apparently has been repeatedly verified among the lowest-performing students since the Johnson administration. Of course the upper-middle class and teachers themselves hate it.
    The IQ thing seems to be an area where the hereditarians have steadily gained ground and the nurturists have slowly conceded it. That kind of dynamic is one reason I gave elsewhere for believing in anthropocentric global warming. I don’t think that’s going to happen for the Holocaust.

  2. I can’t say regarding Direct Instruction because I’ve only skimmed Murray’s book. I know that he discusses Hirsch’s “Core Knowledge” curriculum for young students, which often goes hand in hand with DI.
    I have the same view re global warming, though I still wonder about the extent to which institutional bias and research funding may skew the emerging consensus. Null hypotheses don’t get much ink, and environmental studies seem to be largely activist-driven. I certainly wouldn’t bet against the anthropocentric model.
    I wish there were a betting market for this stuff, like with Hanson’s “Idea Futures” concept. The Holocaust debate is especially tricky because there are serious social and legal sanctions that weigh against open skepticism of certain claims. Still, I think the drift over the past few decades has been toward mild revisionist concession as tacitly evidenced by the functionalist/intentionalist schism and by the decreasing emphasis of certain points of lurid fixation. The gassing stuff was fishy from the start, and I think it’s only a matter of time before someone “discovers” the weirdness that Bad People have been yammering about for these many years. Words will be chosen carefully.

  3. I guess you’re right about functionalism/continentalism (though that’s a self-serving comment as it’s what I already found most sensible). But wasn’t the grand old man of holocaust history (we may call it “holocaustory”), Raoul Hilberger, a functionalist? In that case we’re not really seeing any movement.

  4. I’m sure you meant “intentionalist” and “Raul Hilberg.”
    The schism was articulated after Hilberg did his important work, but yes, “Destruction” is now, retrospectively, taken to be a functionalist interpretation of the Holocaust. It may be significant that Hilberg was a steadfast defender of free speech for revisionists. In an interview with Norman Finkelstein, his phrasing is at once admirable and, to my mind, interesting:
    “I do not want to muzzle any of this because it is a sign of weakness not of strength when you try to shut somebody up. Yes, there is always a risk. Nothing in life is without risk, but you have to make rational decisions about everything.”
    My question, and a question for the historian, is: what does he mean by “risk”? I’m not asking rhetorically.

  5. “Individualism remains a seductive muse, and thank your stars for that — even if tribalism is fated.”
    I’ve had this issue on my head since having a back ‘n’ forth with Jim Goad over it. Do you mean to say that the call of the tribe will surely overwhelm even the most strident individualist, or is it, like HBD, a numbers ‘n’ statistics game?

  6. MRDA,
    I mean the latter, slathered in defiant romance. The weight of history and science convinces me that demography plays an iron role in the collective destiny of peoples, just as the HBD crowd is prone to shout. It’s just that I don’t take marching orders from nature. Individualism allows us — me — to look the beast in the eye and get on with it.
    To tap it a bit deeper, I see racialism as sublimated mortality salience:
    http://hooverhog.typepad.com/hognotes/2006/09/racial_realitie.html
    Is your exchange with Goad online? He’s an old friend.

  7. What do you make of the theory that some peeps can make a little IQ go a long way, whilst others rest on their mental laurels and exercise a very small fraction of their vast cerebral endowments?

  8. “What do you make of the theory that some peeps can make a little IQ go a long way, whilst others rest on their mental laurels and exercise a very small fraction of their vast cerebral endowments?”
    I wouldn’t call it a theory. I’m quite sure it’s true at the margins, and I could cite the same anecdotes and sleep well enough. But exceptions prove the rule. Trivia interests me, but iron laws don’t bend to wish.

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