People, Get Ready

The evidence that most human traits are highly heritable — not just obvious physical traits, mind you, but cognitive and behavioral qualities and dispositions as well — is accumulating rapidly, and will soon be overwhelming. (In scientific terms it already is, but what is about to be overwhelmed is the nurturist and culturist dogma that has formed the foundation of the modern social sciences, and that has been the basis of half a century of completely ineffectual, and often disastrous, public policy.)

Charles Murray has called this an “unstoppable train” that would be arriving within the next three years. How long it will be before “race is a social construct” is replaced in public discourse by the far more plausible “societies are racial constructs” is anybody’s guess, but I’d say this item from the Boston Globe is a sign that the rails are beginning to vibrate.

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21 Comments

  1. I don’t know what to make of your “society is a racial construct”. I think society and race are both too mutable and unstable for the causality to flow one way or the other.

    I think I would have to read the Boston piece more carefully to seriously respond, but skimming it, my reactions were

    1) It’s fine to say that inheritance, however you want to figure it, has an influence, but I don’t think you’ll ever be able to isolate something and say it is the cause. Our actions are always overdetermined. That’s what makes them difficult to account for.

    2) The problem here is how people *use* this determinism and apply it to individual cases. It may be a matter of going to the other extreme when we see what its opposite leads us into. I’m happy to see phrenology and physionomology — certain individuals have the face or cranium of a criminal — retired.

    Anyway, there is a difference between the general conclusion and its application to specific cases. Suppose you learn that in general people from Sri Lanka are more impulsive than people elsewhere for genetic reasons. I think you would still need to be circumspect and open when relating to individual Sri Lankans.

    The feeling is that whatever differences there are between people, we should regard them as accidents and incidental differences. The hard thing is always to respect their equal dignity as persons. There are many extremes to avoid.

    Posted March 4, 2016 at 10:27 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Alex,

    I think society and race are both too mutable and unstable for the causality to flow one way or the other.

    While cultural evolution does, I think, create changing selection pressures, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say that cultures are to a very large extent part of the “extended phenotype” of different subpopulations, and vary accordingly. As I’ve said before, it isn’t as if cultures just fell from the sky and landed on whatever population happened to be passing by below.

    The problem here is how people *use* this determinism and apply it to individual cases… there is a difference between the general conclusion and its application to specific cases.

    Quite so. What we are talking about here is variation in the statistical distribution of qualities, and says nothing about any individual. (That said, if you happen to meet a seven-foot-tall Pygmy, let me know.)

    I’m happy to see phrenology and physionomology — certain individuals have the face or cranium of a criminal — retired.

    Well, maybe.

    Suppose you learn that in general people from Sri Lanka are more impulsive than people elsewhere for genetic reasons. I think you would still need to be circumspect and open when relating to individual Sri Lankans.

    Yes, of course. But when it comes to policymaking on a group basis, then statistics begin to matter; you might be more circumspect about mass immigration of a genetically impulsive population, for example, or less likely to spend billions in order to alter differential social outcomes that you had falsely ascribed to racism or bigotry.

    The feeling is that whatever differences there are between people, we should regard them as accidents and incidental differences.

    That certainly does seem to be “the feeling”.

    Posted March 5, 2016 at 12:11 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm,

    I might dignify that “feeling” by calling it a moral intuition. It’s the foundation of Kantianism. And that’s one thing that comes to my mind when these debates arise: if we owe certain duties to individuals as persons, the mere fact that by neglecting those duties we can avoid harm doesn’t excuse us from them. So whenever I hear someone argue for profiling on the basis that statistically Group X is far more likely to perpetrate a crime than Group Y, my reaction is, that may be so, and by neglecting this we may be harmed, but we aren’t morally permitted to treat people in the way that avoiding harm may require. What about the parallel in the case of evidence obtained without a warrant: the evidence may be as incriminating as you please, but it is not permitted in the court because to obtain it, a violation of an individual’s rights were required.

    I’m a little unsure how you distinguish between policy-making on a group basis and the individual effects of your policy. It may be true that the reason I make the policy is because of what I observe about a group, but it will always have effects on individuals.

    By the by, do you think of yourself more as a Kantian, a Utilitarian, or somewhere else entirely? In my own behavior, I think I incline much more towards some sort of rational hedonism, but intellectually, I’ve always thought Kantianism more respectable.

    Posted March 5, 2016 at 1:04 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    I’m a little unsure how you distinguish between policy-making on a group basis and the individual effects of your policy.

    I’d be glad if we returned to dealing with people as individuals in many aspect of public policy; for example, statistical variations between different groups in, say, educational outcomes. Here in New York, there’s a spot of bother this week about the low numbers of blacks and Hispanics passing the admissions tests for the city’s elite schools. Because it is heresy even to admit the possibility of innate statistical differences between groups, the result will almost certainly be a dilution of standards, rather than just letting every applicant take the test on his or her individual merits, and letting the group-level chips fall where they may.

    When group-level policymaking is appropriate is where you are dealing with people en masse: attempting to install cultural and political systems in populations where they are wholly alien and unlikely to take root, for example. The same is true for immigration policy: cultures being expressions of a particular people having a particular distribution of various cognitive and behavioral traits, it is unwise to suppose that you can permit a mass influx of people with very different distributions of such traits without seriously disturbing, or destroying, what had been an organically organized and harmoniously functioning society. We are already seeing experimental confirmation of this, on a continental scale, in Europe.

    Posted March 5, 2016 at 1:10 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    As for morality, I am no Kantian, nor a Rawlsian, nor a utilitarian. (As you might imagine, I find these all too universalist.) In general I have difficulty with all attempts to place morality on some sort of rational bedrock; they all have the odor, to me, of the naturalistic fallacy.

    But I’d rather not expand this thread to that vast topic, if you don’t mind. (I have written some posts outlining my views, though; you can find some of them here.)

    Posted March 5, 2016 at 1:13 am | Permalink
  6. On a more positive note, what I think we ought to be very interested in is, taking into account a person’s possible inclinations, how can we train him in such a way as both to of the most use both to himself and society as a whole? Words like “impulsive” are not yet moral terms. “Intelligence” I find regrettable, because what it is objectively and what it is as an evaluation are too entangled. Objectively, I agree that people have inclinations and aptitudes (not to mention histories) that open up for them a series of life paths. Morally speaking, our duty to them and their duty to themselves is to choose the way that leads to happiness.

    I’m too optimistic to think that some people might be doomed to unhappiness. And would fall back on the impossibility of determining that they are in practice, even if it is true in principle, as a comfort. But ought anything to be done in that case?

    Now that I think of it, “The Human Animal”, the whole Rougon Macquart series, is a good study on the issue.

    Posted March 5, 2016 at 1:14 am | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    I’m too optimistic to think that some people might be doomed to unhappiness.

    Really? Why? They can certainly, it seems, be doomed to be any number of other things (blind, limbless, dim-witted, trans-gendered, unable to carry a tune, etc.), and intractable depression certainly seems common enough. I’ve known quite a few cases of it myself, several of whom are no longer with us.

    Posted March 5, 2016 at 1:38 am | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    “Intelligence” I find regrettable…

    Perhaps, but there it is. In general I find the lack of it even more so.

    Posted March 5, 2016 at 1:47 am | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Morally speaking, our duty to them and their duty to themselves is to choose the way that leads to happiness.

    There’s a lot to unpack in there, but yes, I think we have a duty to try to understand what sort of societies best foster happiness — and the answer to that question is not, I think, a universal one. But we can’t even begin to do this if our heads are full of wishful illusions about what people are, and about what is possible.

    Posted March 5, 2016 at 2:06 am | Permalink
  10. Objectively, I agree that people have inclinations and aptitudes (not to mention histories) that open up for them a series of life paths. Morally speaking, our duty to them and their duty to themselves is to choose the way that leads to happiness.

    Besides inclinations, aptitudes, and histories, Alex, some people have intensive training as well — in killing other people who don’t agree with them. In those cases, I do not feel a duty to facilitate their happiness, since destroying my own happiness, not to mention my life, is what would make them happy.

    I think I’m a reasonably charitable person. But I draw the line at self-immolation.

    Posted March 5, 2016 at 3:09 am | Permalink
  11. Whitewall says

    Murray’s unstoppable train arriving in a few years will be met at the station by the “higher hand” of those who have made careers of failed public policy as well as those who have mis-educated students for all their tenured careers. So much to lose by so many. What may be provably true in a few years can not be allowed to be true. The resulting fireworks will be unmatched in their ferocity, save maybe by the “global warming” scam.

    When I began my real estate investing business nearly 30 years ago, my first entry was via housing and not commercial property. Housing was always the easiest way in. It didn’t take me long to come into conflict with “public policy” and all its irrational necessity. What drives the whole thing is need based–the need of the public policy functionary to keep his well paid job against all common sense and in some cases borderline immorality. I met with many such functionaries in his office with his college degrees hanging from the wall behind his desk. These credentials signified he had been educated. But by his actions to keep his job, his educated accomplishment belied any grasp of intelligence. An intelligent person would not act like he did…diplomas or not. Thus no intelligence and certainly no wisdom.

    Posted March 5, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  12. I am not a linguist but it seems to me that intelligence refers to the potential for acquiring knowledge without any constraints on its application. Thus, the fictional character Professor Moriarty was a criminal mastermind, whom Sherlock Holmes described as the “Napoleon of crime”. He was Holmes’s nemesis and his equal in intelligence.

    Wisdom is the capacity for extracting the essence of knowledge gained and applying it intentionally and with some measure of success for the greater good of humanity. Thus, Moses was intelligent — he had what it takes to absorb great knowledge from God Himself — or if you prefer, the innate ability to deduce it from the observation of life as he experienced it.

    More importantly, Moses had the wisdom that enabled him to convey to his rabble of former slaves (and their descendants) his acquired insights, which have served humanity to this day. One of his greatest achievements IMHO was the invention of the weekend. That alone enabled humans to contemplate the possibility of a future that could break the crushing monotony of their lives.

    Posted March 5, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink
  13. Musey says

    We’ve always known that human traits are heritable but there is a randomness in play that can upset the best laid plans.

    Having worked with academics for a while I would say that they are generally good people. They have an in-built morality. So, the tendency is for these clever individuals to treat everyone they meet very respectfully. The minority of the clever, who know that they’re clever treat those that they consider to be beneath them with contempt. There is a clear divide that I have observed over and over, and there is no middle ground.

    Thanks Malcolm, for always letting me have a say, for never chastising me. It’s my husband who reads and thinks that I should tone it down. He is the one who told me to stop. He also thinks that my crush on you, the white suited warrior might not go down too well with the lovely NIna. What a load of rubbish! I’m a 59 year old woman a world away. Like I said to him, if I was thirty years younger and lived in the adjacent street I could be a problem. It’s a bit of fun.

    You told me recently that I write like a woman and I told you, yes, I know. I play on it, to the max, here.

    Can I tell a little story which has no relevance here? Well, of course. It’s about our little email exchange about “differences”between the sexes. When Martin first took my daughter out in the car as a learner, he came back in and just smiled. “No problem, she drives like a man”.

    Posted March 6, 2016 at 3:10 am | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Well there you are, Musey! I can see the headlines now:

    Australian Man’s Shocking Discovery Exposes Ancient Concept Of Male-Female “Differences” As Nothing More Than A Silly Old Myth

    The long-standing idea that there are, in general, important “differences” between men and women — a belief that has formed the social and cultural foundation of every society that has ever existed anywhere on Earth, and which, until now, had been thought to have been amply confirmed by biology, genetics, medicine, evolutionary theory, psychometrics, 7,000 years of recorded history, all the world’s literature, good old “common sense”, and your lyin’ eyes — has been decisively proven false by an Australian dad’s startling discovery.

    Martin B., of Queensland, not knowing he was about to make history, recently took his daughter out for a driving lesson. When he returned, he told his wife “She drives like a man.”

    The effects of this astonishing discovery are still rippling throughout the civilized world. Across Asia, familiar “yin-yang” symbols are being removed from all public spaces, while makers of bridal gowns, publishers of fashion magazines, and owners of beauty salons are filing for bankruptcy. In the United States, the National Football League, NASCAR, Hooters, Popular Mechanics, and “The View” have all suspended operations.

    In San Francisco, a spokesperson for the Transgender Political Action Coalition told reporters the organization would be closing its doors.

    “I mean, why bother?” it said.

    The Scandinavian nations, particularly Sweden, appear to have been least affected.

    We will continue to follow this breaking story.

    Posted March 6, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  15. Whitewall says

    ” When he returned, he told his wife “She drives like a man.” I thought Musey had a sense of relief in her voice at the news.

    Posted March 6, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  16. Musey says

    Whitewall, I thought it was funny. I always drive around the block twice before I’ll attempt to park in a tight spot. I suppose that by Martin’s logic (and probably yours and definitely Malcolm’s) means that I drive like a woman. He’s certainly very nervous in the car when I drive, constantly pointing out the hazards that I could only have failed to notice if I was legally blind. When we’re out together, I just let him drive..it’s easier.

    Malcolm, very good headlines. You should be a journalist. Whitewall, I’d never have picked you for an estate agent! Not in a million years. I had you down as a very senior ex-military man. Or maybe an academic.

    Despite Martin’s misgivings I think I should continue to comment every now and again. After all, I am the token female around these parts unless we count the very rare, but welcome, appearances of “Essential Eugenia”.

    There is nothing better than coming on to a thread where very clever people (like the latest commenter, Alex, so idealistic and possibly rather young) make wonderful, informed, philosophical commentary, and then adding to the discussion with a rather mundane anecdote. It’s tremendous fun being the airhead amongst the intellectuals, sending things slightly off-topic and playing to all your prejudices. The poor woman just doesn’t get it!

    If anyone else would like to post photographs of themselves on Malcolm’s blog I would be most interested to see them, and I’m sure that Malcolm wouldn’t mind at all. Whitewall, do you have a white suit?

    Posted March 7, 2016 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  17. Whitewall says

    Hey Musey, what I began building in 1988 was my own real estate investment business. I take the term “estate agent” to = our term “realtor” meaning house seller. What I bought I owned until I decided differently. Before 1988 I had a different career. It kept me away from home a lot. A great deal of it outside the US. Today, I’m 66 and firmly and “gracefully”-did you snicker?-retired. I highly recommend it. I would post a photo shopped photo but Malcolm has standards here I think.

    Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  18. Musey says

    Thanks for that clarification, Whitewall. I did indeed think that you meant “realtor”.

    No way did I snicker over your graceful retirement. Good luck to you. In terms of age we’re not too far behind you but I think that retirement may be a far off dream (for Martin, anyway, who sees himself working until he is seventy). That’s the plan assuming that the company doesn’t keel over in the meantime.

    You should post a photo. I’m sure that you’re well up to standard. I’m off to Europe in a few weeks time and plan to send some photos to Malcolm, in order to reassure him that Europe is still alive and kicking.

    Posted March 8, 2016 at 2:08 am | Permalink
  19. Whitewall says

    Musey, do you mean Europe or England? To me there is a vast difference.

    Posted March 8, 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  20. Musey says

    France and Italy, followed up by a week in the UK, in order to catch up with friends and relatives. Only a three week whistle-stop tour but I’m looking forward to it.

    Posted March 8, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink
  21. Malcolm says

    Bon voyage!

    I know Europe is still alive, for now. It won’t be for long, though, if it doesn’t start kicking.

    Posted March 8, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Permalink