Monday, November 19, 2007

Why discuss group differences?

Why should group differences in intelligence, assuming they exist, be publicly talked about? This question or a variant of it has been asked in several places following the James Watson affair. I've seen a host of insightful answers. But I think the answer can be distilled into a single sentence that is nonetheless pragmatic instead of being based on principal (ie, the truth is good) or pure veracity (ie, because that's the way things really are):

Whatever dysfunctional places (or people) do appears uniformly bad, while whatever the most functional places (or people) do looks almost exclusively good.

That's great for elites, and for morally elitist nations. I'm successful, or our country ranks high on the HDI, and thus whatever suits our tastes is best.

Squelching discussion on group differences negatively influences popular opinion and makes for bad public policy. Try comparing the policies popular in Massachusetts with those in Mississippi. There is no capital punishment in the Bay State, but the Magnolia State allows for it. And in which state do more murders occur? Indeed, it is in places where homicide rates are relatively high that capital punishment is practiced most often!

Quasi-socialism hasn't brought down the Scandanavian countries, which function well with their generous public safety nets and social liberalism. Demographic changes, not the inconstancy of their economic and social systems, are finally challenging their idyllic existences. So quasi-socialism is generally preferable to the free market, then?

There are apples to apples comparisons that give reason to think otherwise, as in East Germany vs. West Germany before the fall of the wall, and North Korea vs. South Korea today. But situations where comparisons approach ceteris paribus such as these do are rare.

Take religiosity and social pathology. A couple of years ago Gregory Paul wrote a paper purporting to show that piety leads to all kinds of negative social outcomes in the developed world. The primary example of this phenomenon in action, of course, is the US.

Except that when the behavior of American blacks and Hispanics were adjusted to the white average, the US fell in with the rest of the pack on everything (abortion rates, infant mortality rates, criminality, teen births rates, life expectancy, etc). Race is the reason for the divergence (something that should be kept in mind when the status of healthcare in the US is compared with that of other developed nations). Dogmatic piety may well be beneficial for many of those on the left side of the bell curve, where a religiously-informed worldview is vying with the lifestyle of the soul survivor. This even as religiosity inversely correlates with benefits like greater intelligence.

Or take the glorification of unmarried motherhood in the media, as evidenced by glowing profiles of popular actresses like Bridget Moynahan. But the divas are exceptional. For the vast majority of children whose parents go their separate ways, life is a lot rougher than it would otherwise be, with higher rates of poverty, lower levels of parental involvmenet, less discipline and less physical security.

It seemed a perpetual argument I'd have with friends who were drug users and drank regularly in high school and college. "That stuff isn't good for you." "I toke up and I got a full-ride." "Yes, you did so in spite of these things. You'll perform even better if you are more abstentious."

Beyond the realization that groups are not fungible lies the realization that uniform proscriptions cannot always optimally treat a diverse set of patients. Not all kids will benefit from taking ritlin, nor will all countries function at their highest levels under democratic principles. A libertine society may allow for the maximization of happiness in the Sweden of two decades ago even as it will maximize suffering in contemporary Haiti.

It is the difference between looking at what the 'best' do and then trying to mimic that, and figuring out what actually works best given the circumstances.


Rob said...

Hi AP,

The dam is about to burst. I hope the discussion goes forward to what environmental differences will allow everyone to function best.

Robert Lindsay has pointed out that African-American men in prison have lower death rates (controlling for age) than African-American men who are not in prison. He also points out that heavily black Cuba does better than many other heavily-black nations.

As a white guy, I find the criminality gap far more disconcerting than the IQ gap. In the Bell Curve, Murray and Hernstein briefly discuss what they thought was a coming social structure: custodial democracy. Roughly, the very bottom have their lives managed to a far a greater extent than they do today.,pubID.22252/pub_detail.asp

A custodial system for children was vilified when Newt Gingrich tentatively suggested boarding schools might be a better place for raising children than crack houses.

I've been trying to come up with liberal solutions for problems, arguendo that HBD is true, and I haven't come up with any. This does not mean there are not any, it may just mean that I'm a conservative.

Beyond picking up the white man's burden again, is there anything to do?

Audacious Epigone said...


Thanks for that refresher.

Well, positive and negative eugenics, is one place to look. Micronutritional supplementation and breast-feeding are others.

Nationally, though, the institution of a merit immigration system. Drop the emphasis on 'proficiency' (NCLB) and tailor toward more vocational schooling for the less endowed. Also, get them in the workforce sooner.

Coming from the left, the best I can come up with I've argued for some time: Eugenic incentives will reduce the wealth gap. If a wealthy guy spread his money across five kids instead of one, each preppie is less affluent. If Joe Dirt has one instead of five, that one is better off than each of the five would've been. Also, a larger relative supply of high-IQ people means more competition among professionals and thus lower wages (and fees), while a more restrictive supply of labor means higher wages for those laborers.

Rob said...

Yeah, those are good solutions, but they aren't liberal. As the voting public becomes more minority, unless white nationalist backlash makes total voters more Republican, anything will have to be sold from a Democratic perspective.

While liberals now calling themselves Progressives, I doubt they will go with the original Progressives' notions of eugenics. Though we can hope for some programs with eugenic effects, but not eugenic rationales.

MensaRefugee said...

The dam is about to burst.
Posted by rob

Thing about Dams bursting is they burst in spades. I first came across this historical factoid in Ethnic Groups in Conflict" by Donald Horowitz .

It is useful to reflect on why this is so perhaps with a hypothetical example.

What is the problem with HBD? Why are people angry at blacks and liberals? It all boils down to unearned privileges. Liberals have given blacks unearned privileges.

However, it is not just blacks who have gotten unearned privileges - women have got reams of it too.

So women (or at least feminists) have a vested interest in maintaining a worldview and political structure and philosophy that allows groups to receive unearned privilege.

What does this mean for "the dam is about to burst"? Well it means they will be strongly against it. It is irrelevant whether there is some shady backoffice politics where all of this is figured out, or whether it arises naturally as a group feels threatened - one does not need to be a Ph.D in Physics to know something will happen when a unstoppable object hits a massive stationary object. We know we are in for fireworks. A physicist may know it will be 2 parts light, 5 parts sound and 3 parts explosion - but the primitive intuition of the everyman is not negated by this, only refined.

Of course this also means if the dam bursts vis a vis HBD, then womens status in society will take a stumble back to their rightful position. It means there will be backlash against women as well.

So how things work is, once unearned privileges are granted, various groups get on the gravy train, consciously or unconsciously. And like a virus they multiply to take maximum advantage of the opportunity. So when things get back to 'normal' it tends to happen extremely quickly rather than being a gradual change because of the buildup of resentments. An economist would say (or as Horowitz put it) the incentives went from antagonism to either complete peace OR total war (in referring to the eventual war in Lebanon after decades of peace).

Just wanted to throw that muse out there, and maybe ill get around to writing about it on my site someday :/

Audacious Epigone said...


The last of my suggestions doesn't have to be billed as a eugenic solution. Instead, push it as a means of attenuating the wealth gap. To give poorer kids a better chance, we are going to encourage family planning on the part of their parents. As a way of breaking up the big estates of the affluent, we are going to try to incentivize them to have more children, thus spreading that wealth out and getting at its unfair concentration!


Yes, you should expand your thoughts into full posts. I enjoy reading them but they are too few (however, quantity and quality often trend in opposite directions).

The question is, does the figurative dam burst before there are so many different groups, so entrenched in their seats on the gravy train, that rather than a bang the effect is just a whimper?