Why We Can’t Talk About IQ

August 15, 2013

Multiple Pages
Why We Can’t Talk About IQ

Human nature is in the news: intelligence and prejudice.

First, disgraced conservative analyst Jason Richwine published a piece on under the rather plaintive title “Why Can’t We Talk About IQ?

(In case you’ve lost track of all the political-incorrectness defenestrations, Richwine’s was the one before Paula Deen’s. His was in May; hers, in June. July was Riley Cooper. A target for the August Two Minutes Hate has not yet been selected. You will be informed.)

The occasion of Richwine’s disgrace was the unearthing, back when the immigration debate was hot, of his 2009 Harvard Ph.D. dissertation titled “IQ and Immigration Policy.” The dissertation used some known facts about IQ differences between American whites and Hispanics to argue for IQ-selective immigration.

“This is how we are: jumbles of superstition, emotion, self-deception, and social conformism, with reason and science trotting along behind trying to keep up.”

Second, Geoffrey Wodtke, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, has done a study which, according to a reporter, claims to show that “Smart people are just as racist as their less intelligent peers—they’re just better at concealing their prejudice.”

I’m sorry to say that my reaction to both items was a cynical “Duh!”

I mean no disrespect to Jason Richwine. He has behaved admirably, refusing to kneel to the Red Guards. From the Politico piece:

For too many people confronted with IQ issues, emotion trumps reason. Some are even angry that I never apologized for my work. I find that sentiment baffling. Apologize for stating empirical facts relevant to public policy? I could never be so craven. And apologize to whom—people who don’t like those facts?

It’s only that Jason, who can hardly be more than thirty, has not yet grasped an important thing about humanity at large: that most of our thinking is magical, superstitious, religious, social, and egotistical. Very little of it is empirical. I myself am as stone-cold an empiricist as you’ll meet in a month of Sundays; yet every day when I walk my dog there is a certain tree I have to pat as we pass it. (It’s on the wrong side of the road. The family joke is that I shall one day be hit by a truck while crossing the road to pat my lucky tree.)

Hence Jason’s puzzlement that 25 years after Snyderman and Rothman, 19 years after The Bell Curve and the follow-up “Mainstream Science on Intelligence” declaration, the public discourse even in quality outlets is dominated by innumerate journo-school graduates parroting half-remembered half-truths from Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, the greatest work of Cultural Marxist propaganda yet produced.

That’s how we are. That’s the shape of human nature. Alan Cromer explained it in his 1993 book Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science. Not many people can think empirically much of the time. At the aggregate level, where the lowest common denominator takes over and social acceptance is at the front of everyone’s mind, empiricism doesn’t stand a chance unless it delivers some useful technology.

Nor is it quite the case that “emotion trumps reason.” What mostly trumps reason is the yearning for respectability, leading us to conform to ambient dogmas—in the present-day West, the dogmas of Cultural Marxism, which waft around us like a noxious vapor.

Here is a smart, well-read, and quite numerate (as these things go in the humanities) scholar scolding me for my infamous Taki’s Mag piece on The Talk:

As for Mr. Derbyshire….He knows that purported IQ per se is not necessarily proof of competency….

The thing to fix your attention on there, the thing that gives the game away, is the phrase “purported IQ per se.” What does it mean? Well, it means “IQ.” It’s a circumlocution—a kind of oven mitt of insulating syllables used to handle a topic you find too hot to touch directly. “Purported IQ per se” is how you say “IQ” when you are a liberal or a race-whipped conservative with minimal interest in the human sciences and whose intellectual tissues have absorbed the poisonous gas of Cultural Marxism to some degree.

My second “Duh!” is for the University of Michigan guy. So smart people are better at deception, including self-deception, than dumb people? Well, you could knock me down with a feather!

Again, once you have a sufficiently cold-eyed view of human nature, this isn’t especially deplorable. It’s just how we are.

A dozen or so years ago, when my kids were in elementary school, the town experimented with something they called “inclusion classes.” The idea was that students with learning disabilities or behavioral problems would be gathered in smaller-than-usual classes seeded with a few normal, bright kids.

A neighbor of ours, a white lady of seamlessly liberal opinions, was dismayed to find that her normal, bright daughter was assigned to one of these inclusion classes. She came around to talk to us about it, quite distraught. I recall sitting on the sofa listening in dropped-jaw amazement to this straight-ticket left-Democrat Hillary voter wailing about her child being marooned among “DeShawns and Lateeshas.” (Those may not be the precise names she used, but they were names like that.)

We referred her to a different neighbor who was busy in local school-board affairs. Strings were pulled, and the child was reassigned somehow. Phew!

Hypocrisy? Sure, but I can’t bring myself to hold it against the lady. I liked her and still do. She’s still liberal, and I still pat my lucky tree.

This is how we are: jumbles of superstition, emotion, self-deception, and social conformism, with reason and science trotting along behind trying to keep up.

Science insists that there is an external world beyond our emotions and wish-fulfillment fantasies. It claims that we can find out true facts about that world, including facts with no immediate technological application. The human sciences insist even more audaciously that we ourselves are part of that world and can be described as dispassionately as stars, rocks, and microbes. Perhaps one day it will be socially acceptable to believe this.


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