Monday, June 12, 2017

More Vox Sophistry About Race And IQ

Somebody's "pedaling junk science about race and IQ"...but it's not Charles Murray.
   It's an upsetting topic. I'm certainly not immune to those feelings. I don't blame people for having a difficult time being objective about it. But if you can't be at least reasonably objective about a subject, you might want to consider just leaving it alone. (Best thing: be reasonably objective and discuss the issue. Second best thing: be unobjective and just keep quiet about the subject. Worst thing: be unobjective and talk about it anyway.) Vox is downright religious about this issue. Which, again, I don't necessarily blame them for. But dang, they really should quit publishing flat-out crap about it.
(And don't forget about this video, consisting of 100% unsound arguments!)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In fairness, Vox being peddling junk analysis about race could be just as much due to the fact that Vox peddles a lot of junk analysis about everything, in addition to their very likely outsized biases on the topic.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

excellent point

10:29 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

In my estimation, this sort of trouble is significant evidence in favor of my hypothesis that we irrationally cherish intelligence above other qualities. I understand that intelligence is very consequential in our society (and our individual lives), reliably predicting such things as severe as jail time and poverty, but to me, these are indications of a poorly designed society in need of serious overhauls in these areas.

We have to deal with the fact that some people aren't going to have the same natural gifts as others. While we accept this far better when it comes to, say, athletic talent, we have basically configured society to thoroughly punish and make near impossible the success of those who are not gifted with superior intelligence. That fact, I believe, contributes heavily to the reluctance to accept observations of intellectual comparisons between people (much more between groups of people); it undercuts the idea that our society offers an equal opportunity for all to succeed if they only try.

We need to accept these observations and realize we can do something about it. We don't have to simply look upon them forlorn. We can establish a strong and reasonable minimum wage and put in place economic regulations to provide competitive advantage to the products of well-paid laborers. We should be in the business of stamping out unfair wages around the world by taxing goods produced in such circumstances to offset the benefit (for companies) of low wage employees.

We can return blue collar work to its rightful place in our economy as a respectable, lucrative engagement. We can reduce the arbitrary necessity with which we treat college degrees for jobs which do not reasonably require them, mitigating the runaway costs enabled by increasingly mandatory college attendance. We can reduce the advantage, currently overwhelming, imparted to those of higher intelligence and level the playing field.

It would reduce crime significantly if those of lesser natural intellectual ability were not faced with working poverty or crime as their options. It would allow people to more objectively accept a wider intellectual spectrum if it weren't necessary to believe along with that acceptance in the dire fate faced by those on the lower end of that spectrum.

Maybe (well, almost certainly) most people didn't play as much Dungeons and Dragons as I did, and so they didn't grow up recognizing that neither is it necessary nor wise for every character to max out their intelligence attributes. But we need to allow for this as a society and turn our focus to its rightful place in engineering our society to reward not arbitrary natural attributes, but good, honest work.

I think it's extremely important that we overcome these issues; I see them as the root cause of the most important domestic problems facing our country and I fear they are all but entirely overlooked.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose there is reason to claim that it is "irrational" that intelligence is so highly prized, after all there are plenty of ways we can still leverage comparative advantage outside the realm of mental arithmetic and pattern recognition, but we should also be honest about why it is such a third rail. We live in a post Enlightenment society where it is a bedrock principle that politics ultimately should resolve to reason, in some form at least. If it is found that there is an entire race of people that cannot compete in that environment, democracy is substantially inegalitarian, at least in this imperfect world. The less intelligent, and even just less educated, will simply always be outmaneuvered by the more intelligent.

If you want to take that thesis for a spin, compare the relative station of educationally apathetic Border-Scots in Appalachia and much of the South and educationally obsessed Puritans in New York in the United States. And I don't think there are substantial IQ gaps between those populations even, just a relative focus on education in an Enlightenment society. Throw IQ in the mix and you will get massive inequalities, like...the persistently unequal outcomes between blacks and whites, even post Jim Crow, maybe...

Obviously there are ways to mitigate this, and perhaps they are good and just policy. But the implication should still be noted: a world with inherited group difference in intelligence is necessarily inegalitarian, and not explainable by some Marxian story of oppression.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, I'm torn on this.
I officially agree with the Mystic, that higher IQ doesn't contribute to your worth as a person. But then it's hard for me to explain why I find this topic so upsetting. So I wonder whether I really believe what I officially believe.

A funny thing is that I don't find it upsetting that some groups are more intelligent, on average, than my own racial group. What I find upsetting is that some racial groups might on average be less intelligent than mine.

I really do hate this topic. I'd love to quit posting on it...but damn, there's just so much stupid crap out there about it.

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A funny thing is that I don't find it upsetting that some groups are more intelligent, on average, than my own racial group. What I find upsetting is that some racial groups might on average be less intelligent than mine."

So, if we are going to take my analysis that differences of intelligence are proportional to differences in political ability, this sounds like you just have a liberal sensibility. It's a reaction to being in a dominant position over someone (which isn't necessarily present if you are in the other position, as then you are not the powerful person who needs to be opposed).

I personally think it's a really important topic not only because it exposes a lot of axioms of modern political philosophy that are both obviously not tautologous and perhaps harmful, but also because people have such a hard time digging that deep into the underpinnings of ideology.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Anon: any interest in saying more about the non-obvious axioms of modern political philosophy that you think are in play?

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think egalitarianism is probably false in a significant sense. So democracy in my mind is useful insofar as it provides decent aggregate estimates of the preferences within a population, not the more moral arguments around equal distribution of power (which never works anyway).

11:13 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I'm not convinced by this pessimistic view of democracy's fate at the hands of intellectual inequality. I've got two issues with what has been said (I think):

1) You characterize "political ability" in terms of dominance, competition, and outmaneuvering. And while nefarious individuals of high intelligence might seek these very ends, I would expect such individuals to be counterbalanced by those who retain their moral virtue in spite of their intellectual advantages. It seems you are inferring from intellectual superiority an unavoidable behavior in which those individuals possessed of such superiority seek to subjugate those around them. While I recognize this as a legitimate threat which has certainly occurred (on some scale, at least), I can't say I believe it to be an unavoidable consequence; to believe this, it seems to me, would require one to exclude morality and its recognition from human beings.

And we have good evidence to indicate that human beings are capable of transcending the immoral tendency to leverage qualitative superiority against others; we don't live in a world where the strongest simply dominate the weakest. America is founded on principles designed in part to prevent this.

2) You argue that a world in which inherited differences in intelligence exist is inherently inegalitarian, but that's not the case; egalitarianism is not a commitment to the assertion that people are exactly equal in terms of capabilities, but rather it is a commitment to the assertion that they are exactly equal in terms of moral value. Your assertion that egalitarianism is false seems to me to rely on an improper understanding (or at least a weak and overly broad interpretation) of the concept.

So while I think you're pointing out a significant threat facing societies composed of groups with significant qualitative differences, you're not, it seems to me, pointing out that this results in some essential failure of democratic governance.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was speaking of egalitarian as used by the Left, in my understanding, that is equality in political power (which they support because democracy is supposedly abortive without it), because it is most directly relevant to IQ. And I am simply not convinced that morality trumps aptitude at all here. If a post in the judiciary, bureaucracy, professional classes, etc. have very realistic lower bounds on intelligence, and if they determine broad policy and culture, where do you think power is going to collect? Is an egalitarian morality going to help? Should it, if it comes at the expense of competent institutions?

And then toss in social sorting seen recently, and the tendency to urbanize professional life across the board...

Also I think focusing on intelligence isn't fully broad, even though that's what we were talking about. It is entirely possible that a lot of behavior traits are heritable. If we find some people are genetically predisposed to psychologically reward violent behavior, for instance, are they moral equals? Or the inverse where there is significant genetic inheritance to reward prosocial behavior. In a world where inheritance actually matters, where tabula rasa is profoundly wrong, you simply cannot conceptualize people as "equal" actors in my mind. Hell, political ideology is even quite heritable, which we ideally would consider an opinion people come to due to reason and experience. We can cross our fingers and hope none of this is the case, I suppose, but I would point out that it is quite physically possible, and there seems to be more research supporting it coming out yearly.

I'm not at all confident enough to say that there is not some way to salvage this, but I would expect a philosopher when confronted with a total collapse of the moral anthropology we have been using for a long time to start probing wholesale alternatives. Which I just don't see happening yet.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I hope you don't say any of this stuff in non-anonymous fora, Anon...

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a reason why I'm choosing to be Anon...

But I'm going to sharpen the tabula rasa point. Suppose the distribution of moral behavior in people can be molded by genetics in some way. That would mean that to still maintain moral equivalence, you would have to grant moral value that is not reducible to moral action. With tabula rasa, you can simply say moral behavior is derived from the same underlying distribution of moral tendencies and is therefore equal in a fuzzy probabilistic sense. That is what I'm sort of getting at here. That all of a sudden we are in a state where moral value is kind of detached from...morality? Previously you could sort of reduce it to moral actions using that crude probabilistic argument.

Now, I think this is still salvageable in some scenarios. For instance, if moral worth is in fact dependent upon being loved by a beneficent God...But that obviously has its own problems.

1:33 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I don't see a problem with people of a particular race being, on average, more suited to particular jobs, be they political or not, when it comes to the determination of policy and culture. You can speak of power collecting among certain races as a result, but I hold each race to the same standard of moral righteousness and it is for the benefit of all races that I expect each to work. I simply see no problem here other than the practical issue of the humane treatment and opportunities afforded those of lesser capacity.

I don't think that an egalitarian morality results in adverse impacts on competent institutions. Where inappropriate allowances are made for those of lesser abilities, I would contest this practice.

I don't think that psychological predispositions have any necessary impact on moral value. What I do think is that it takes a stronger moral fortitude to withstand such a predisposition, and those who succumb thereto are deserving of pity, in a sense, while those who overcome them are worthy of much praise.

So, you may be missing my point: I don't think any crossing of fingers is necessary. Your concerns do not appear to me to adversely impact the ideas being discussed here, but only the practical methods by which they are carried out. I agree with you that it is very physically possible (and likely) that all of these unfortunate heritable circumstances are real; I, too, think this is a serious issue which must be addressed, but I think it is actually quite reasonably easy to address it.

So I don't see how any of this threatens the substance of democracy. I see that it is a practical concern which requires wise mitigation, but I do not see it as a threat to the idea, itself.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

My official position is: I'm on the side of the Mystic. OTOH, I'm not not listening to Anon... I haven't thought about these points precisely before, but I've feared for awhile now that we're trying to have it both ways by, roughly, treating "everyone is equal" both as an irrefutable empirical discovery and as an article of moral/political faith. I've got nothing in principle against such articles of faith...but I don't see how to have it both ways.

Man, I have really been avoiding thinking about that more seriously, and I'd rather not change my ways in the near future.

And I'm (I think) *way* more willing to think down politically incorrect paths than most philosophers. And if you'd expect better from most contemporary philosophers, I'm afraid I have bad news for you...

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thing is, the worst case scenario is people are too paralyzed to grapple with this stuff until they are forced to do so by weight of scientific evidence. At which point the only people with something to say are the one's we least want to discuss it (actual racists, for instance), because we have forced everyone respectable to avoid it on pain of reputation.

This basically is what happened with Trump. There were, in hindsight, drop-dead obvious flaws in the political consensus of both parties, but opinions were so fossilized by good form no one could do anything about it, leaving the only one left to be a vulgar billionaire who made his name by putting his name on everything. But with Trump, what was at stake was a political coalition, the stakes are much higher with this stuff.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I didn't sleep last night, and am pretty much completely zombified today, so, unfortunately, I'm only barely understanding the disagreement. I'm not indifferent to it, but, right now, brain no work.

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the big disagreement I have has to do with the irreducability point, and I haven't taken enough time to really make it precise, but it is what keeps coming out at me when I think of it. That we would be in a state where we either create an entirely new concept of moral worth that cannot be related to any set of underlying moral facts (obligations to act in one way or another) or we must dispense with moral egalitarianism, assuming the heredity scenario I mentioned.

2:37 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

It looks to me as though Anonymous is positing, roughly: if certain people are statistically predisposed to immorality, this undercuts the egalitarian foundation of democracy.

And my answer is: False. Such a predisposition may result in unequal distributions of various phenomena (political involvement, certain occupations, etc.) but this in no way prevents or undercuts the fact that a democracy can function in serving the purpose of providing equal opportunity for a valuable and worthwhile pursuit of happiness by all of its constituents.

It's simply a practical problem which can be resolved, in my opinion.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the points I've made so far are:
* equality of political power is pretty much impossible if IQ is heritable
* equality in moral worth is really strange conceptually if behavioral predispositions are heritable

This is interesting too though:
"And my answer is: False. Such a predisposition may result in unequal distributions of various phenomena (political involvement, certain occupations, etc.) but this in no way prevents or undercuts the fact that a democracy can function in serving the purpose of providing equal opportunity for a valuable and worthwhile pursuit of happiness by all of its constituents."

So, first notice that it is hedged to avoid statements about moral worth. But let's get to equal opportunity. I think it is just obvious that most prestige jobs have IQ lower bounds. Law, engineering, academia, medicine, finance/business management all qualify. (Maybe not politics...). Like it or not, these jobs carry with them status and bring wealth. And if they have IQ lower bounds, and if IQ is basically just heritable, how can there be equal opportunity there? We have partitioned the population, one significant portion with opportunity and another with no opportunity. That is about the starkest inequality I can think of. It isn't even inequality on a continuum.

Now I would absolutely support policies that help those not able to get those jobs, and I also don't want to get into a world where we force people not to become, say, lawyers because of some vague prediction of their ability to succeed in the job, but it seems to me the idea that we are creating equality of opportunity is mostly a myth.

And actually maybe we are better recognizing it is a myth. The idea that everyone who is qualified to enter the workforce should have a 4-year liberal arts degree seems nuts to me. We should be much more informed about people's comparative advantages and leverage them appropriately.

4:49 PM  

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