I almost always agree with John Derbyshire, and this post by him is no exception. But he does err in the course of the aforementioned post when he says:
The Left, which I am using to mean approximately people who want a more egalitarian society [a generous characterization], believe that the causes of human inequality are external to the individual human being. If you fix the external causes, then you get a more equal society. The Right, who are more tolerant of inequality, believe that components of human nature are innate. Customary and traditional social arrangements that are not obviously harmful shouldn’t be disturbed for projects of human improvement that are likely to prove futile.
Both sides have a case. The Left does have a case. Human nature has somewhat improved. Rigid hereditary social hierarchies of the kind that a conservative over 200 years ago would have fought to the death for, proved to be not as necessary as they thought. Most human beings in most places no longer enslave, eat, or publicly torture each other. So human nature does improve. Many of you have probably read Stephen Pinker’s recent book about the long term decline of violence. We’re kinder and gentler than our remote ancestors.
Derbyshire soon gets back on track:
But the Right also has a case. And much of the strength of that case comes from the last few decades of research in the human sciences.
Individual personality seems to resemble what physicists call “shape memory alloys.” These are metal alloys that you can construct that remember their shape—you can take a bar of this stuff and bend it into a knot, and when you heat it up, it unbends itself and remembers its original shape. Human nature seems to be much like that. You can push people in certain directions during childhood and adolescence, but the finished adult human being seems to follow the Judith Rich Harris model: 50% heredity and the rest environmental.
I am sure that some of you know that last month [October 2014] was the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray‘s book, The Bell Curve. There have been a number of commemorative articles on human science websites. The grand metaphysician of the Human Biodiversity movement, Steve Sailer, published what I thought, was a very witty comment about it. He said that there had been a complete change in our understanding of, for example, educational attainment. Statistically, 20 years ago there was definitely a hierarchy of educational attainment. At the top you had Orientals, below them you had Caucasians, below them you had Chicanos, and below them you had Blacks on average statistical attainment. Now things are completely different. Now there is a new hierarchy. At the top you have Asians, second you have Whites, third you have Hispanics, and fourth you have African Americans.
So, bottom line there, not much has changed. Where the Left favors a belief in high levels of malleability, reality does not seem to agree.
There is much innocent fun to be gained from The Economist’s coy avoidance of the genetics of intelligence. They are mired in Blank-Slatism, but are cautiously tip-toeing towards admitting a few things, only to then back away again, thus taking them back to where they came from. This is not all bad: by conceding the importance of intelligence and then immediately saying it is driven by wealth they keep the Faith, whatever it is, but hint that they know more than they will let on in public….
…[I]n The Economist’s view brighter people marrying brighter people is not seen as a positive development, but a practice which “increases inequality”. Of course, duller people marrying duller people also increased inequality. In fact, couples assort themselves on intelligence more than anything else:
In a related article they spell out their concerns: An hereditary meritocracy: The children of the rich and powerful are increasingly well suited to earning wealth and power themselves. That’s a problem….
[T]he problem seems to be that they deserve to get ahead, the bounders! …
None of The Economist’s articles or the papers they quote make it clear that intelligence must be considered a driving force in economic life and, consequently, in earnings, social status and resultant wealth. Curious, isn’t it, that a magazine written by the smart fraction for the smart fraction cannot bear to mention the smart fraction in a positive light? Perhaps they fear they will be cursed by the deity, or slaughtered by the baying mob. Noblesse oblige.
[The quotations are from “The Economist Takes a Half Step Forwards,” Psychological Comments, January 23, 2015. Thompson refers to three articles in The Economist: “America’s New Aristocracy,” “Getting ‘Em Young,” and “An Hereditary Meritocracy,” all dated January 24, 2015.]
In the left’s demented view, it would be better if the human race were populated by seven billion equally stupid (and equally unattractive) persons, all scrambling for survival, than to allow the brightest to intermarry and produce a relative handful of intelligent producers whose efforts enrich the lives of the billions (or a large fraction of them). Heaven forbid that the relative handful should thus be rewarded with more than a “fair share” of the riches that they create.
I am certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the “smart fraction” would not want to live in a world where its superior
intelligence glibness went unrewarded.
* * *
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Fallacy of Human Progress
The Culture War
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
Ruminations on the Left in America
McCloskey on Piketty
The Rahn Curve Revisited