True Collectivism

State action cannot be collective action because it compels individuals to do things that they would not do collectively, that is, in voluntary cooperation with each other. Matt Ridley says:

Human achievement is entirely a networking phenomenon. It is by putting brains together through the division of labor — through trade and specialisation — that human society stumbled upon a way to raise the living standards, carrying capacity, technological virtuosity and knowledge base of the species.

Ridley gives too little credit to individual action. But even individuals who do great things could not do them without food, shelter, medicine, and the many other things that sustain life. The “great man” may pay for those other things from his own earnings, but he relies on others to produce them. If he were to produce them for himself, his great accomplishments would suffer.

It may be romantic fancy to say that “no man is an island,” but when it comes to secular accomplishment, it is a true saying.

Nature Is Unfair

The Almighty is not a liberal… The Almighty is the driving force for the entire universe and the universe is not a very liberal place. That is what the modern world seems not to understand….

Simon Mawer, The Gospel of Judas

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Matt Ridley‘s recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “A Truce in the War Over Smarts and Genes,” is about the heritability of intelligence. The article, which is behind WSJ’s paywall, is available on Ridley’s personal website, The Rational Optimist, under the title “Goldilocks Heritability.” Here are some relevant bits:

Hardly any subject in science has been so politically fraught as the heritability of intelligence. For more than a century, since Francis Galton first started speculating about the similarities of twins, nature-nurture was a war with a stalemated front and intelligence was its Verdun—the most hotly contested and costly battle.

So would it not be rather wonderful if a scientific discovery came along that called a truce and calmed all the fury? I think this is about to happen. Call it the Goldilocks theory of intelligence: not too genetic, not too environmental—and proving that intelligence is impossible to meddle with, genetically.

The immediate cause of this optimism is a recent paper in Molecular Psychiatry, which confirms that genes account for about half of the difference in IQ between any two people in a modern society….

So far, so good. But Ridley goes off the rails with this:

…Some of the more extreme “nurturists,” especially those who dominated the debate in the 1960s to 1980s, might not welcome the new confirmation of the nearly 50% role of genes in determining IQ differences, even though it has been blindingly clear for a long time now.

They should, though. A world in which intelligence is 100% genetic would be horribly unfair….

What does “fairness” have to do with it? Is there a master gene-dispenser in the sky to whom one can complain about not having received a “fair share” of smart genes? I think not.

There would be nothing “unfair” about a world in which intelligence is 100 percent genetic. That’s just the way it would be, and nothing could — or should — be done about it.

But that wouldn’t stop leftists from trying to do something about it. As I say here,

[t]he search for cosmic justice — the rectification of all that is “unfair” in the world — is relentless, knows no bounds, and is built upon the resentment and punishment of success.

“Unfair” is the battle cry of the envious and the rabble-rouser, who derive great satisfaction from apportioning blame where no blame is due. I expect better of Ridley.

Related posts:
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness
Social Justice
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
On Self-Ownership and Desert
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Intelligence as a Dirty Word
The Ideal as a False and Dangerous Standard
An Economist’s Special Pleading: Affirmative Action for the Ugly