Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

My contribution to that race-and-intelligence debate that has the world of blogs all agog

... and I posted it here rather than CT because it involves not being nicey-nicey and calling people "racists".

There are two claims which are being twisted together here:

1. That there is a genetic component to intelligence.

Status: Not proven, a lot of the measuring techniques being used to try to prove it are irredeemably fucked up, but not entirely ridiculous either. Denial of this proposition is not actually a strawman "Darwinism-below-the-neck", but it does involve you in asserting that if and when we get a useable (almost certainly multi-factor) metric for something that is reasonably described by the English word "intelligence", the individual-to-individual variability in this will be large enough relative to the inherited variability to mean that there is no practical significance to inherited brain characteristics.

2. This genetic component for intelligence is tied together with the specific genes that make black people black.

Status: On the same sort of level as the proposition that MMR vaccine causes autism. Believed by basically nobody who knows what they're talking about, on the basis of massive amounts of evidence. A theory that is constantly being resurrected on the basis of new crank analysis, but which has been knocked smack down on its arse every time.

Furthermore, anyone believing in 2 is, by that token, a racist. If you believe that black people are genetically inferior, then you need to be arguing that it's OK to be a racist, not that racists are terrible but you aren't one. According to the "Savage Love" advice column, there are a surprisingly large number of men who regularly have oral and anal sex with other men but nevertheless insist that they are straight and even hate gays. Anyone who claims to be "anti-racist", but takes seriously the proposition that black people are genetically less intelligent (or more prone to criminal behaviour, etc) than white people is in a similar state of denial. William Saletan's series of articles aimed at "seriously discussing the research on intelligence and race" appear to me to be exactly in this vein; he may think he's looking for fucking Narnia but he's actually just in the closet.

So ... (and I seem to remember it was a version of this view that got me banned from the Abiola Lapite site, so be aware that it can be taken in a rather offensive way, which I swear is not the way I intend it) ... is there a genetic condition which black people are susceptible to which predisposes them to poor educational outcomes, a high rate of incarceration, shorter male life expectancy, alcohol and drug addiction and so forth?

Yep. It's the same genetic condition which causes them to get more speeding tickets. It's called "being black". Black skin is a genetically determined condition, and in the world as it exists (which is the only world we have), it's a dangerous, often life-threatening one. Look at the actuarial tables if you don't believe me - if you have the choice of being born blind or being born black, choose blind.

Of course, it's obvious that being black isn't intrinsically a physical handicap like being blind is. But equally, being blind isn't much of a physical handicap if other people act so as to accomodate the fact that you are blind. The way other people behave is part of the way the world is, and the way that other people behave in this world (which is, I reiterate, the only world we have), is so as to systematically handicap black people. Most of my readers will recall (if for no other reason than that it's beloved of net.libertarians), the Kurt Vonnegut short story "Harrison Bergeron", in which run-amok egalitarians used to intentionally handicap the physically or mentally gifted in order to bring them down to normality. Imagine that story, but instead of putting a headache-machine on the intelligent, or hanging weights off the strong, or blacking out the teeth of the beautiful, they just randomly applied these treatments to black people.

Or rather, don't bother imaginging, because that's what the world is actually like. In a world in which black people have spent the last couple of hundred years being systematically handicapped by white people, the entire discussion of what the genetic component of their problems might be is just ridiculous.

This is the day when Americans celebrate the people who landed on Plymouth Rock, so it's as good a time as any to dig out that Malcolm X quote about that short fifth of the US population who aren't descended from immigrants and didn't come to those shores in order to escape exploitation.

"We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us"
24 comments this item posted by the management 11/22/2007 09:31:00 AM

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