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April 09, 2012

Monday Good Reads

Food for thought from Robert Samuelson:

Would Franklin Roosevelt approve of Social Security? The question seems absurd. After all, Social Security is considered the New Deal's signature achievement. It distributes nearly $800 billion a year to 56 million retirees, survivors and disabled beneficiaries. On average, retired workers and spouses receive $1,839 dollars a month -- money vital to the well-being of millions. Roosevelt would surely be proud of this, and yet he might also have reservations. Social Security has evolved into something he never intended and actively opposed.

It has become what was then called "the dole" and is now known as "welfare." This forgotten history clarifies why America's budget problems are so intractable.

When Roosevelt proposed Social Security in 1935, he envisioned a contributory pension plan. Workers' payroll taxes ("contributions") would be saved and used to pay their retirement benefits. Initially, before workers had time to pay into the system, there would be temporary subsidies. But Roosevelt rejected Social Security as a "pay-as-you-go" system that channeled the taxes of today's workers to pay today's retirees. That, he believed, would saddle future generations with huge debts -- or higher taxes -- as the number of retirees expanded.

Discovering that the original draft proposal wasn't a contributory pension, Roosevelt ordered it rewritten and complained to Frances Perkins, his labor secretary: "This is the same old dole under another name. It is almost dishonest to build up an accumulated deficit for the Congress ... to meet."

But Roosevelt's vision didn't prevail. In the 1940s and early 1950s, Congress gradually switched Social Security to a pay-as-you-go system. Interestingly, a coalition of liberals and conservatives pushed the change. Liberals wanted higher benefits, which -- with few retirees then -- existing taxes could support. Conservatives disliked the huge surpluses the government would accumulate under a contributory plan.

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In an essay subtitled, "Women write dirty books for other women to read. Bill Bennett blames men." James Taranto reads several articles the Editorial Staff saw last week and sees "anti-male screeds" and man blaming:

Now wait just a second. How does an essay about "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "Girls" turn into an anti-male screed? Both are written by women for women. Dowd notes, but Bennett omits, that the real first name of author E.L. James is Erika. As for "Girls," Bruni points out that Lena Dunham "is not only its star but also its principal writer and director." And if it's anything like "Sex and the City," no heterosexual man will ever watch it except as a favor to someone of the opposite sex.

Associated Press
Bill Bennett: It's easy to pick on men.

We don't dispute Bennett's contention that pornography is degrading to women, but it takes no courage or insight to say so. "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "Girls" sound degrading too, but Bennett seems to shy away from confronting the fact that this degradation amounts to female pornography--produced by women for the entertainment of other women. In postfeminist America, it's so much easier and safer to scapegoat men.

We read Bennett's essay (and we invite you to do so as well) and saw no argument that men were solely - or even primarily - to blame for hookup culture. What we did see was a strong argument that the sexual revolution/hookup culture/mainstream porn is harming both men and women:

Bruni goes on to grapple with Dunham's loveless sex scenes and wonders whether today's onslaught of pornography and easy sex has desensitized men to the point where they view women, to recall the words of an earlier day, only as objects. Even the act of sex itself is boring to some men unless it is ratcheted up in some strange, deviant fashion -- all at the expense of the thoroughly humiliated and debased woman.

In the act of degrading women, men are also degrading themselves. And the voyeurism, inspired by such entertainment, debases men and women even more. This is a parlous, dreadful outcome for both sexes.

Given that Bennett notes that young women are part of the problem, his essay seems far from the one sided treatment Taranto evokes. Bruni's article makes the same point. The vast majority of it is devoted to the choices young women are making:

Are young women who think that they should be more like men willing themselves into a casual attitude toward sex that’s an awkward emotional fit? Two movies released last year, “No Strings Attached” and “Friends With Benefits,” held that position, and Dunham subscribes to it as well.

In a recent interview, presented in more detail on my Times blog, she told me that various cultural cues exhort her and her female peers to approach sex in an ostensibly “empowered” way that she couldn’t quite manage. “I heard so many of my friends saying, ‘Why can’t I have sex and feel nothing?’ It was amazing: that this was the new goal.”

She added: “There’s a biological reason why women feel about sex the way they do and men feel about sex the way they do. It’s not as simple as divesting yourself of your gender roles.”

... there’s an emerging literature of complaint from young men and women alike about the impact of free or cheap online pornography. Early last year, New York magazine ran an article by Davy Rothbart, 36, who admitted faking an orgasm with a real live woman, learned that other men had done so as well and wondered if a “tsunami of porn” was to blame. It was titled “He’s Just Not That Into Anyone.”

Last February GQ pondered the problem from a feminine perspective. A young woman writing under a pseudonym cited her and her friends’ experiences to assert that for more and more men, “the buffet of fetishistic porn available 24/7” had created very particular and sometimes very peculiar, ratcheted-up desires.

It's a sad state of affairs when any attempt to discuss controversial public policy matters is instantly labeled as "anti-women" or "anti-man". If you doubt that the unprecedented availability of hard core pornography is having deleterious effects on at least some young men, I invite you to spend a few hours Googling the terms "porn" and "erectile dysfunction". I actually sent the Bruni article to the spousal unit the day it appeared. I would not have done so, had it been an "anti-male screed" (unless of course the terms "male" and "porn" have now become synonymous in the public mind).

The Internet poses ethical and moral problems we're only now beginning to grapple with. Much content on the web lights off the reward centers in the human brain in ways I'm not sure either men or women have developed defenses against. Porn is far from the only example of this: social media sites arguably act in much the same fashion on the female brain.

This is a serious subject. It would be refreshing if we could back down from the War on Women!/Man Blaming!!11! ledge and discuss it in a serious manner, but I'm not holding my breath on that one.

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Dan Riehl has a thoughtful essay on the firing of John Derbyshire:

...the left is always screaming racism, often even when it hasn't been proven to exist - as in the recent case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. Even the media falsely screamed it. So, along comes Derbyshire and, I don't know, confesses it, on his part? And all the left can do is scream, get him! Silence him! He must be fired!! What does that solve? It's as if the left wants it to appear as though America doesn't still struggle with racial issues ... except when seizing upon an incident, or issue they think they can exploit for political gain.

... It may not be pretty to read, or come close to some ideal, but how much of what Derbyshire wrote is mostly true in a still too significant portion of America's population, black, or white? And why is the left intent on only dealing with it by screaming and freaking out, when only a calmer, more sensible conversation over time is the only positive way in which to deal with it? It's as if the left, not the right, is absolutely determined to ensure that racial division will always exist in America? Why is that?

Read the whole thing. Grim takes issue with some of Derbyshire's points, but accuses the National Review of "cowardice" for firing him. I think that's a bit strong. It seems to me that NRO can only be fairly accused of cowardice under the following conditions:

1. They actually agree with Derbyshire, but are afraid to say so. I have not seen credible evidence that this is the case, but then I'm not a daily reader of NRO.

2. They believe they have a moral duty to defend their writers no matter what they say and no matter whether they agree with it or not. Perhaps there is an argument to be made for this view, but it strikes me as perverse at best. People form groups and cooperative ventures because they share certain values and goals. If an individual does something the group views as inimical to those values and goals, do they have a duty to defend (or continue to associate with) that person? What is the moral basis for this duty? Are there any limits on it?

3. They have a moral duty to defend Derbyshire simply because he's a conservative. I'm not sure how championing "my side right or wrong" helps to convince voters that conservative ideas are objectively better.

To the extent that Lowry was unfair to Derbyshire, he was unfair in the use of a single word: "using":

Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise.

Lowry cannot know whether Derbyshire deliberately "used" his association with NRO to promote ideas he knew they would not approve or agree with. Likewise, none of us knows for certain how the staff of NRO feel about the ideas expressed in Derbyshire's essay. We may (or may not) distrust Lowry's reaction to the essay:

...His latest provocation, in a webzine, lurches from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible. We never would have published it...

But it seems to me that an accusation of dishonesty puts the burden of proof squarely on the accuser. It also (arguably) requires an argument as to why Derbyshire's ideas merit a defense. This I have not seen, though it's possible someone other than Dave Weigel has made such an argument. Two things strike me here:

1. The parallel between this story and the Juan Williams controversy is interesting, but there are striking differences between the two. NPR represents itself as a nonpartisan and impartial news outlet and is supported by federal tax dollars. The National Review has always specialized in unabashedly conservative commentary. It does little or no original news reporting, nor is it supported by federal tax dollars.

Because NRO has always held itself out to be openly conservative, it seems unreasonable to expect impartiality from them. It also seems reasonable that they should be the ones to decide what brand of conservatism they are promoting.

2. Imagine an essay similar to Derbyshire's in its major points, with similar links to sources both anecdotal and factual. But in this article, the author argues that because some minority of men are sexual predators, women should avoid gatherings of men, not stop to help men in trouble, and generally exercise more care when approaching strange men they don't know personally than they do men whose character and values are known to them?

This would strike me as advice that is generally pretty reasonable. In fact, my father and fathers everywhere regularly give their daughters such advice. I'm pretty sure my Dad was not a sexist, nor did he dislike other men.

Discuss amongst your ownselves.

Posted by Cassandra at April 9, 2012 06:42 AM

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Comments

The question of whether "cowardly" is the right word is one we've debated at length at the Hall; rather than clog your comments section, I'll just mention that the arguments for and against are available there.

I think your point (2) is very strong. Likewise, we aren't put off by IQ-based arguments about the differences between men and women (e.g., the relative flatness of the male IQ curve, which means that more men than women are idiots, but also geniuses).

However, there are two differences between that discussion and this one:

1) The male/female IQ argument isn't about inferiority, but about difference. On average, the curves are the same; the point is just that one is flatter than the other. Thus, there's no implicit argument that one sex is superior to the other.

2) Sex is clearly a real difference between human beings. The question of whether race is also is the very question at issue in Derbyshire's writings. As I explained at the Hall, his argument is a very serious (and rather unpleasant) challenge to how I view the world; but I don't think there is anyone in the world who doesn't believe that there's some sort of biological distinction between males and females. Thus, there's a point at issue here that isn't at issue in your example.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2012 11:16 AM

I agree that #2 was the strongest point :)

I do disagree that the male/female IQ argument isn't about inferiority because I have seen quite a few men make that precise argument.

I'm not at all sure that, in the aggregate, when you combine race and culture (and it can be hard to separate the two), there are no real differences between races. It's important to note that we're talking about the whole "on average" thing. The question in my mind, is, "If there are differences, are they really due to race or to some combination of race and culture?" And also, "Should these differences matter (IOW, are they significant *enough* that public policy ought to discriminate on the basis of sex or skin color?"

I think such a conclusion does violence to human dignity. I don't think the questions themselves are off limits because questions don't magically disappear just because we feel squeamish about discussing them, but also because I'm fairly confident that the answer to that question is an unequivocal, "No.".

Posted by: Cassandra at April 9, 2012 12:18 PM

I do disagree that the male/female IQ argument isn't about inferiority because I have seen quite a few men make that precise argument.

You know, I was going to say say that this was merely a demonstration that they hadn't understood the math -- after all, if the curves average out, then there is no argument for superiority to be made.

However, having taken a few minutes to look into it first, I see that there's a movement on to re-evaluate the curve distributions. There are a couple of examples here and here (see esp. the appendix, where he publishes his math).

These suggest that the curve may in fact be slightly skewed toward men, but mostly at the very highest levels; in other words, the male curve isn't flatter, but aligned on the left but slightly wider to the right. Even so, the strongest claim gives this answer for the question of whether a random man or a random woman will be smarter:

"Using the least squares values for Δ and ρ, (A.5) returns 0.453 for the probability that the woman is smarter."

That is, 45.3% of the time she will be smarter. The difference for most people will be quite small, since the percentages really only play out at the extreme right of the curve; but it is different from the general results I've more normally seen, in which the curves average out but one is flatter.

So maybe there is an argument; it depends on how much we want to make out of IQ differences. I think they're relevant, but tend to believe that the Murray school overvalues them.

"Should these differences matter (IOW, are they significant *enough* that public policy ought to discriminate on the basis of sex or skin color?"

There may be cases where they should, if the material is in fact true (which I still regard as an open question). I mentioned that I have some concerns that these arguments -- if they did play out to be true -- could make it impossible to pursue a truly color-blind society. It could be color-blind in lots of ways, but there might be some policies designed to address these differences that might be needed permanently rather than temporarily.

It's generally easier to accept affirmative-action as a short-term injustice designed to address older injustices, with the goal of attaining a long-term just and balanced policy. What is suggested here is that we might have to accept permanent injustice in the laws in order to have anything like a sustainable social equality. I would not like to believe that were true.

On the other hand, you raised looking at the case with women as a counterexample re: your father. It works here too: give women a limited-time-offer of preferences and a boost up, and sure enough, they're competing on equal terms (and perhaps out-competing men, which could suggest that those preferences should be tailed back). That's an example of what we'd expect to be the case. We don't see a similar kind of result anywhere else we've tried this sort of remedy. Whatever I may like or not like, that fact may be suggestive.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2012 06:53 PM

I do disagree that the male/female IQ argument isn't about inferiority..."Should these differences matter (IOW, are they significant *enough* that public policy ought to discriminate on the basis of sex or skin color?"

I love that you framed the argument this way, Cassandra, because I think it points the way to the proper distinction between "racist" and "race realist." I wasn't able to read the Collected Miscellany interview Grim linked to, but I was able to read this follow-up.:

Racism: All I mean there is that I believe that race is real, and important. Nowadays, that makes you a “racist.” Again, I consider myself
mild and tolerant here–I don’t believe in any discrimination by public authorities, and of course I am familiar with the awful historical record of the United States in the matter of race slavery. I take individual people as they come, as I believe every sane person does. I can imagine
circumstances where I would certainly practice private discrimination; but, as I have said, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

I'm going to spread this between two posts...but anyway, I think that view should not be controversial, and in the time to come it will not be. I call that "race realist" because it is simply acknowledging that race, and differences between races, exists. It does not attach inferiority -- in any legal or moral sense -- to a race, which is what makes "racism" so odious. There isn't, and oughtn't to be, any more moral opprobrium attached to belonging to a race that has lower intelligence on average, than there is to being born into a family with low intelligence...or, for that matter, being born as an individual with low intelligence.

Posted by: Joseph W. at April 9, 2012 08:38 PM

Now, as Grim points out, the big difference between male and female IQ curves is the "flatness" of the male curve...the averages are pretty close, but the male curve is bigger at both tails. That's why mathematical geniuses and the kind of prisoners who smear their feces on the walls are overwhelmingly male. That's simply how things are (at least until the happy day we can genetically engineer them away). But that doesn't make inferiority in any moral sense, or imply that we need inequality before the law, any more than it makes exact equality in ability.

Now, as Cassandra asks -

Are [innate differences] significant *enough* that public policy ought to discriminate on the basis of sex or skin color?

I love the way you frame the question. It leads me straight to ask - suppose you've got two races living together, and it is absolutely proven that one race has an IQ mean 40 points higher than the other...a massive difference. Now, why on earth would that imply that "public policy ought to discriminate" for or against either one of them?

In my view of politics, the answer is that there isn't. Everyone has to obey the same laws, and if the low-IQ race commits more crime, they'll be overrepresented among the folks that get punished. But they're subject to the same laws, and are not being discriminated against.

Now, if the State takes on the burden of educating the entire populace, you get into dangerous territory. Then it becomes a matter of "public policy" to decide whether every child is born with equal ability - so that disparate outcomes must mean "discrimination." If the state takes up these "educational romantic" ideas, and reality proves them false, then you're going to have a public-policy nightmare, and "positive discrimination" (I learned that term in England; I like it better than "affirmative action") to try to make up for the difference. If, on the other hand, you keep the government out of the education industry...then there is no need for discrimination at all. Public policy can treat everyone the same. And reality will treat everyone differently, as reality is ever wont to do.

Posted by: Joseph W. at April 9, 2012 08:50 PM

It leads me straight to ask - suppose you've got two races living together, and it is absolutely proven that one race has an IQ mean 40 points higher than the other...a massive difference. Now, why on earth would that imply that "public policy ought to discriminate" for or against either one of them?

This is Science Fiction territory, which is fine -- that sometimes yields useful insights -- but let's be clear that we're not talking about two human races, but two Sci-Fi races with vastly different intelligences.

Or not: let's say we're talking about humans and horses. Should they have equal rights? No; but I have argued (and shall continue to argue) that horses' access to the Order of Reason, which we have in common, entitles them to a certain basic respect -- even legal protections from inhumane treatment.

Let's assume, though, that something like humanity were the lower of the two races in terms of intelligence. What should the higher race be entitled to do? Eugenics? That is, should they be entitled to try to "help" us by sterilizing the lower-intelligence members, and forcing arranged marriages for the higher-intelligence members?

We're personally committed to a vision attached to the Declaration of Independence; and that, from of old, attaches to the Declaration of Arbroath. We have to fight for something more like equality; we have to find a way to make these differences less than nature makes them. That does imply public policy, to me; at least, it means that public policy may be a tool that we might make reference to, rather than endure a violation to this core principle.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2012 09:49 PM

This is Science Fiction territory...but let's be clear that we're not talking about two human races, but two Sci-Fi races with vastly different intelligences.

Oh, don't you bank on it, comrade. According to this fellow (scroll down to the discussion of chapter 5), African Bushmen have an average IQ of 55. Average in the US is 100. The difference is over 40. Now we don't coexist in the same country, but do coexist in the same world and we are all human!

(Incidentally, according to this book, genetic studies place the !Kung bushmen as one of the closest peoples to the ancestral human types that first left Africa. That's why, in examining primal religion in this book, the author looks at the practices of the !Kung Bushmen, Andaman Islanders, and Australian Aborigines.)

Or, to quote one of the Founders (Fisher Ames I believe) - "All men are created equal / But differ greatly in the sequel."


What should the higher race be entitled to do? Eugenics? That is, should they be entitled to try to "help" us by sterilizing the lower-intelligence members, and forcing arranged marriages for the higher-intelligence members?

Depends on whether you mean by force or by persuasion! As I said at the end of the last comment: "Public policy can treat everyone the same. And reality will treat everyone differently, as reality is ever wont to do." Meant it, too. The government should stay out of that business, but any private individual has the right to try to persuade other folks to marry the way he thinks they ought to marry.

We're personally committed to a vision attached to the Declaration of Independence; and that, from of old, attaches to the Declaration of Arbroath. We have to fight for something more like equality; we have to find a way to make these differences less than nature makes them.

To quote one of the Founders - Fisher Ames, I believe - "All men are created equal / But differ greatly in the sequel."

I absolutely disagree with the idea that either of those noble Declarations requires people to have equal abilities, physical or mental, or anything like it. Heaven forfend we should be built on such a denial of reality! And both declarations were born in battle, and men certainly don't look equal there, not in ability, not 'til they die.

I understand "created equal" to refer to moral equality - remember, we were rebelling against a class society, where a noble's rights weren't the same as a peasant's. (As an example, I recently read Blackstone's chapter on wife-beating...late 18th century...he wrote that the courts had become increasingly hostile to the practice since the reign of James II, but that the "lower classes" still insisted on it...my understanding is that the courts were being more tolerant of the practice when practiced by the lower orders.) That, as you know, is why the phrase "jury of his peers" exists in Magna Carta but not in American law - we are all "peers" in the legal sense. And that is the only "equality" we need to adhere to the values of the Declaration.


Posted by: Joseph W. at April 10, 2012 06:49 AM

I can't resist quoting Frederic Bastiat -

"As long as [socialist] ideas prevail, it is clear that the responsibility of government is enormous. Good fortune and bad fortune, wealth and destitution, equality and inequality, virtue and vice — all then depend upon political administration. It is burdened with everything, it undertakes everything, it does everything; therefore it is responsible for everything...In creating a monopoly of education, the government must answer to the hopes of the fathers of families who have thus been deprived of their liberty; and if these hopes are shattered, whose fault is it? In regulating industry, the government has contracted to make it prosper; otherwise it is absurd to deprive industry of its liberty. And if industry now suffers, whose fault is it?...

"[Under a small-government regime], [a]s for the sufferings that are inseparable from humanity, no one would even think of accusing the government for them. This is true because, if the force of government were limited to suppressing injustice, then government would be as innocent of these sufferings as it is now innocent of changes in the temperature.

"As proof of this statement, consider this question: Have the people ever been known to rise against the Court of Appeals, or mob a Justice of the Peace, in order to get higher wages, free credit, tools of production, favorable tariffs, or government-created jobs? Everyone knows perfectly well that such matters are not within the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals or a Justice of the Peace. And if government were limited to its proper functions, everyone would soon learn that these matters are not within the jurisdiction of the law itself..."

Once we throw aside "educational romantic" ideas and take away the State's monopoly of education, public policy can stay out of the whole business. Keep those abominable ideas, however, pretend that every kid is a natural Mozart who has just been deprived of "access" to the education that will let him realize his gifts, and make the state responsible for getting him "access"...then, in truth, you are in science fiction/dystopica territory. The Forever War.

(Okay, I know, the title, not the plot.)

Posted by: Joseph W. at April 10, 2012 07:02 AM

I don't have too much confidence in IQ. As a gross measure of general intelligence, it is somewhat useful. On the other hand, my own IQ is supposedly in the top 1-2% yet I am in no sense in the top 1-2% of human beings, nor do I think that score represents my actual mental capability.

Hell, I didn't even finish college until I was nearly 40 and never went beyond a Bachelors degree.

School came very easily to me, even after a 13 year hiatus, but I'm better at abstract thinking than solving real world problems, which I generally do intuitively rather than by any orderly or logical thought process. At times my thinking can be sloppy, especially if a problem doesn't interest me.

I attribute my IQ score to the fact that I'm quite good at taking tests when I'm in the mood. I've known people who are far smarter than I am (using ability to solve problems or figure out puzzles) who scored much lower than I did. So what does that tell me?

IQ measures "what it measures". I'm not sure it accurately assesses intelligence, and I'd be very skeptical of arguments that we should base public policy decisions on some scientist's grasp of human intelligence. Scientists have been spectacularly wrong about a number of things over the years and they have a particularly bad track record when it comes to subjects where they are emotionally invested in the "right" answer. Science has been used to support some sketchy schemes (eugenics, Hitler and his master race, etc.). It makes a better servant than a master.

We don't really understand the human mind well enough for me to believe a single number is adequate to describe all dimensions of human intellect.

I imagine this will sound sappy, but some of the people who have most impressed me in life have not been particularly quick, but they developed other abilities to compensate. Many extremely smart people are narrow - it's as though because their minds are powerful, their other abilities atrophy through lack of use.

Though I was not always impressed by his reasoning, Malcolm Gladwell touched on several studies of high IQ people in Outliers. They suggest that IQ only matters up to a point (as in, being "smart enough" to do certain things). Past that point, it ceased to be much of a factor in whether or not a person succeeded in life and in many cases, actually got in the way.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2012 07:04 AM

Joe:

I understand "created equal" to refer to moral equality - remember, we were rebelling against a class society, where a noble's rights weren't the same as a peasant's.

I understand it the same way. However, I agree with Jefferson that there is some practical component to maintaining moral equality. For example, in the United States, living a moral life requires a certain amount of income. You are expected to pay your rent or mortgage, buy your own food and not depend on others to take care of you, and so forth.

If the factual claims made about IQ are true -- and like Cassandra, I doubt them -- you could easily find a situation in which that level of income isn't available to a large part of the population. I have some concerns we may get there anyway; in the South, for example, we used to have a huge textile industry that employed millions of people.

I read a joke the other day that these days, an American textile factory employs only one man and one dog. The man's job is to feed the dog, and the dog's job is to keep the man away from the machines.

Now that's not a bad thing per se; but it means we need to find something else for these folks to do. Much of that is done through the market, but some people -- and especially lower IQ people, if these models are right -- may end up without prospects. We either accept that they lose their stature as our moral equals, because they can no longer accumulate the income necessary to living a moral life; or we find another way of dealing with that problem.

Jefferson's approach to this problem was something like land lotteries, like we had in Georgia; you could work that land or sell it. (Chesterton favored a similar solution.) There's a problem with that approach in a country of many millions, though.

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2012 09:07 AM

Cass:

...my own IQ is supposedly in the top 1-2%...

I'm inclined to say, "I didn't realize you were so smart!", except I think you would hit me. :)

I agree with you about the limits of IQ; one part of what I think answers the problems raised by Derbyshire and Murray and others is that they assign too core a role to IQ. IQ is something like raw processing power, but processing power doesn't guarantee a good result: you need good input as well. (Otherwise you could end up using your powerful computer to play PONG, which it will do very well!)

A lot of the most important input comes from other people. You can't get it from books or a priori; you have to be engaged in social organizations. To the degree that the claim about communication difficulties across standard deviations holds water, it seems to put a limit on the power that an upper-IQ person could really exercise: because they can't communicate well with the majority of people, they will not be able to engage with the problems in real time, and they will be limited in effectiveness by a lack of input.

That's one reason we rarely see true geniuses at the head of any nation -- neither by election nor by conquest. We don't see them at the heads of major corporations much either. The top few people in the world aren't the smartest few people in the world.

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2012 09:13 AM

We don't really understand the human mind well enough for me to believe a single number is adequate to describe all dimensions of human intellect.

But since nobody anywhere makes that claim for IQ, why say it? The claim is that IQ measures something real, and important, and it correlates strongly with things that matter. And that is hard to deny.

I'll never get my library unpacked as long as I have to move so often, but I've got a kindle now, and we all live near libraries. Why don't we have a Grim's Hall/ Villainous Company Book Club read of The Bell Curve?

Grim - we're nowhere near the point that there's no work possible for the low-IQ. But it's true that our public policies pull in the wrong direction there. Mining jobs, for example, don't take above-average cognitive ability - but the last 2 places I've lived in are full of Greens crowing about the mining projects they've defeated. There's a lot of manufacturing work that can be done without high intelligence - but our current economic policies don't encourage us to keep that sector here. The free market's always been good at generating work in the face of technological upheavals...the Luddites have always been wrong about that, though they always come back in new guises...but to do that you need lots of capital investment, and high taxes and intrusive government discourage that. Also, you need lots of energy for modern industry, and if it's cheap and clean...the Greens will oppose it to the bitter end. That really can be a problem for the future, but the solution is to restrict the law, not to petition the government for expensive relief schemes. That would exacerbate the problem.

(There might be a distant science-dystopia future, when the robots are doing all our manufacturing, farming, mining, and dishwashing, when there really is no value in low-IQ labor...but I hope cheap genetic engineering gets here first.)

Posted by: Joseph W. at April 10, 2012 11:31 AM

I'm inclined to say, "I didn't realize you were so smart!", except I think you would hit me. :)

The thing is, I'm not. At all. But even if I were, your point here is spot on:

That's one reason we rarely see true geniuses at the head of any nation -- neither by election nor by conquest. We don't see them at the heads of major corporations much either. The top few people in the world aren't the smartest few people in the world.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2012 12:02 PM

****Snark Alet****

Women write erotica for other women (shame on you, it isn't porn, it is erotica and men can be objectified in it too) because we know how it feels. Or how we want it to feel.

***Snark off***

The first bodice ripper I ever read (what we called a graphic novel in the 80s is now a comic book in the 21st century and means something else. With pics!) was an amusing little piece of trash entitled 'Skye O'Malley.' OMG.

It was amusing, but only because NO ONE in their right mind would take the plot seriously. It was all about how the herione learned to love after loss, learned to use her sexuality to get ahead, and to thumb her nose at Queen Elizabeth I. I blame the Angelique books instead of men.

There.

Posted by: Carolyn at April 10, 2012 02:11 PM

Joe:

You say that we're nowhere near the point that work isn't available, but look at how much the workforce has shrunk in the last few years. That's precipitated by a housing market crisis, yes; but the housing market was artificially inflated. That is, the construction workers were employed at levels that were never realistic or sustainable: which, in turn, is to say that those jobs are not coming back.

As we pass through the Boomer wave, we'll see a lot of health-care jobs; but beyond bedpan-changer, those are not for low-IQ people. You're right about Green restrictions hurting the lower classes, to be sure; but even mining isn't as labor-intensive as it was (and good that it isn't! Several of my relatives died young from life as a miner).

Still, it strikes me as a problem we will have to address sooner or later -- and maybe right now, at least in terms of the current emergency. We have to shape a society in which the moral life is possible for everyone, if we are going to ask everyone to live a moral life.

As for The Bell Curve, it's nearly twenty years old now. As Derbyshire often pointed out, the science has been advancing rapidly (if quietly) since then. Is there no more recent work that treats these questions?

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2012 02:11 PM

PS. Most bodice rippers are written by women, and read by women. Men in them are sex objects, yanno.

Posted by: Carolyn at April 10, 2012 02:14 PM

Carolyn:

We had a discussion about that along about five years ago, now; you can read it here (I was guest blogging for Cass at the time -- I can't recall why, but she had to leave for a while).

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2012 02:25 PM

This comment from Grim's old post amused me:

Has anyone noticed that the bare-chested Fabio clones on the covers of these books exploit and degrade men? How do you think we feel when we can't measure up to that impossible bowflex body ideal?

Especially since several studies have consistently shown that men react pretty much the same way women do to such 'impossible ideals' :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2012 02:57 PM

What interested me most about the old discussion is captured in this comment:

"I disagree with her only in her claim that women can't do that, that the culture has no room for it. I think it does; and I think women have been doing it pretty openly and enthusiastically, to the point that whole industries have cropped up around it. They just aren't, by and large, engaged in the fantasy she expects from them. That's the interesting point, I think."

That seems to be true here, too. Taranto frames it as evidence for his "hypergamy" thesis, but it looks to me like this is just another unacceptable fantasy.

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2012 03:21 PM

I know that many women do read romance novels. So, apparently, do some men. I never have, nor do any of my friends. They just don't interest me.

Which is not to say I don't have romantic or sexual fantasies - I do. But not the kind I see in romance novels. So it think it's fair to say that they're hardly universal in the sense that men like to argue that "every man watches porn" :p


Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2012 03:43 PM

How do you know they don't reflect your fantasies if you don't read them? :)

I gather there are numerous sub-genres of the things -- which, according to xkcd, holds true for pornography as well. So I'm not sure a claim to universality is all that strong in either case; certainly, not all men like the same kind of erotic art.

(The cartoon mentions 'slash' fiction; I recently attended a philosophy conference at which one of the speakers mentioned this as part of a broader discussion of user-generated content, e.g., fan fiction set in the "Harry Potter" universe. Apparently it's usually male-homosexual and science-fiction oriented, but almost always written by women. Every part of that combination seems strange to me, but clearly it's very popular.)

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2012 05:19 PM

That is, the construction workers were employed at levels that were never realistic or sustainable: which, in turn, is to say that those jobs are not coming back.

And if you take "construction workers" as an unchanging caste - once a construction worker, always a construction worker, and nothing but a construction worker - that would be cause for concern. But the economy isn't has no need to be so static - provided enough productive capital investment is taking place. Hence my belief that small-government conservative policies are the best way to deal with that. I think there would not be 11+ million illegal aliens in the country, many working across a language barrier, if we'd reached the point that low-skill or low-IQ workers could not be employed at something.
(For that matter, I don't think any national economy anywhere ever has actually reached that point, though it's not beyond my imagination that it could happen somewhere someday. But I think that would have to be a place of unimaginably enormous wealth.)

As for The Bell Curve, it's nearly twenty years old now. As Derbyshire often pointed out, the science has been advancing rapidly (if quietly) since then. Is there no more recent work that treats these questions?

Over the years I've caught bits of it on weblogs (like Gene Expression), and in books focused on other topics (like The 10,000 Year Explosion, which has a large section on the high IQ's of Ashkenazi Jews). But I do not know another book so directly focused on IQ distributions and correlations, and what they mean, by an author so skilled at writing for a general audience, especially at anticipating and discussing objections (as noted in this review by you-know-who, of one of Murray's later books, a fantastic book that I reread not so long ago, and that I know you'd enjoy too).

Murray makes the best foundation I know for understanding and discussing later work in the area. Given the objections you and Cassandra have been raising to Derbyshire's use of IQ (and mine, for that matter) - I think all three of us, and anyone else who cared to join in, would be enriched by reading and talking about that book.

Posted by: Joseph W. at April 11, 2012 01:01 AM

(Incidentally, Mr. Derbyshire suggests that he may give up writing even if he recovers from his cancer - simply from a feeling that he's said all he wants to say. Murray expressed a similar idea near the end of Coming Apart. I hope both find a little more to share with us while they live.)

Posted by: Joseph W. at April 11, 2012 01:09 AM

P.S. - Arthur Jensen's The G Factor (1998) might make a good second choice, and the author's scientific credentials are stronger. But I can't vouch for his writing ability because I haven't read him yet. Given that we're all busy...good writing that's easy to get through with speed is at a premium, I think.

Posted by: Joseph W. at April 11, 2012 01:32 AM

How do you know they don't reflect your fantasies if you don't read them? :)

You got me! I have read maybe 5 or 10 such novels in my lifetime - all during the same 2 week period in my teens. A friend brought me a box of them right after a breakup with a boy I was dating, about whom I had been very serious. I ended up marrying him :p

I don't know that they were a representative sample because they were all purchased by the same person.

I seem to lack the gene that causes some women to like the genre, but then I am utterly uninterested in People magazine or gossip too. Last week I took my Mom to the hairdresser and she got me a pedicure (my first professional one ever!). Someone brought me a People mag and I tried man(!)fully to care about what various celebs are doing.

It was not successful...

Given that we're all busy...good writing that's easy to get through with speed is at a premium, I think.

Definitely. I'm currently reading Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" and Haidt's "The Righteous Mind", which I cannot recommend enough.

Maybe I could listen to one of those books on the way in to work.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 11, 2012 05:42 AM

I've got Kahneman's book already in hardcopy - I keep pushing it back because of its thickness - but if the prose is that good then I'll be encouraged.

Science education may have gone to hell in a fruit basket, but we do have a good crop of science popularizers these days.

Posted by: Joseph W. at April 11, 2012 10:45 AM

It's not a fluid a read as Haidt's book, but I didn't find it tough going either. I have the Kahneman book on Kindle.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 11, 2012 11:30 AM

I know, Grim. I just found the 'writing of erotica by women for women and blaming men' meme funny.

As to IQ, I was always under the impression that it measured potential, rather than intelligence. In Archimedes' day, children were taught to think before they went to school. Girls were taught at home and boys went to a mentor. So, the development of IQ could be an example of nurture, rather than nature. Asians, Jews and Greeks all have serious reputations for being smart, but can it be taught? I think it can.

However, I think that it doesn't mean that women were less intelligent, just worked a different side of the room. I think common sense and the ability to differentiate between needs and wants make a better indicator of how well someone will do, given a problem.

My IQ was fairly high, but it didn't mean that I could make the right decision, or expand on what I had done. Heck, I think sometimes you have to teach cause and effect in order to get children to understand consequences. We have been dealing with the fallout of one disastrous decision made by our son for nearly a year. It was a simple thing, but the ramifications were huge. The kicker is, HE STILL DOESN'T GET IT!

Posted by: Carolyn at April 11, 2012 03:46 PM

Having met the lady in question, allow me to say that she is one of the smartest women I've ever met.

I think sometimes you have to teach cause and effect in order to get children to understand consequences. We have been dealing with the fallout of one disastrous decision made by our son for nearly a year. It was a simple thing, but the ramifications were huge. The kicker is, HE STILL DOESN'T GET IT!

With my boys, the big light bulb went on in their late 20s. Have faith - sooner or later, real life has a way of reminding our offspring of all those tiresome things we try so hard to teach them.

I've always said, "You can't transplant experience". But the proverbial cluebat to the cranium speaks with great authority :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 11, 2012 04:58 PM

"Have faith - sooner or later, real life has a way of reminding our offspring of all those tiresome things we try so hard to teach them."

Preach on sister! Can you get a witness?
Hallelujah!
I am here to testify!
As my two left the nest with the smug assurance that they did, in fact, know it all, they have [over time] met the enemy and discovered they are it.
Apologies to Pogo.

Hallelujah!

Posted by: bt_shakin'_the_bush_boss_hun at April 11, 2012 05:47 PM

It has been alleged that their smug assurance was derived from a genetic predisposition...
If so, it must be from the Walkin' Boss side of the family tree. =8^}

Posted by: bt_shakin'_the_bush_boss_hun at April 11, 2012 05:49 PM

I take it you can outrun her :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 11, 2012 05:51 PM

Finished income taxes...to celebrate, downloaded kindle Bell Curve, began to read.

Posted by: Joseph W. at April 11, 2012 09:47 PM

"I take it you can outrun her :p"

Nope. Not anymore, but that makes being caught so much easier on both of us. =8^D

Posted by: bt_shakin'_the_bush_boss_hun at April 11, 2012 10:30 PM

"Have faith - sooner or later, real life has a way of reminding our offspring of all those tiresome things we try so hard to teach them."

*sigh*
Yeah. I used to be smart. However, now that the VES is an official teenager, I realize that I have now become the dumbest person on the planet. Hopefully, I'll get to be smart again at a much younger age than my parents did.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at April 12, 2012 08:18 AM


The worm has started to turn a bit. The Clue by Four of Reality got his attention. We let him take the consequences. He also applied to be an assistant Scoutmaster to help his younger brother through the first two years of Scouting. He is keeping his promise he made as an Eagle Scout to give back.

Posted by: Carolyn at April 12, 2012 11:03 AM

Cass gives us three conditions for fairly accusing NRO of cowardice, but I would add a fourth:

NRO disagrees with Derbyshire, but hasn't done the research to counter Derbyshire's argument and is afraid to do so for fear of what they might find. So, instead of engaging the argument and demonstrating his errors, they fire the man and run, an ad hominem dismissal, if you will.

I'm not saying that's what's happened, and I am not a regular NRO or Derbyshire reader, but that seems another clear case that would support a charge of cowardice.

Posted by: Tom at April 12, 2012 10:45 PM

I think you're right!

FWIW, my preferred outcome here would have been to point out that refusing to shun an author who writes something you don't like somewhere else does not constitute an endorsement of ideas published elsewhere.

And then they could have said what they disagreed with and we could have had that conversation about race that we're all so frightened of.

I just don't like name calling and can be relied upon to object to it (unless of course I'm the one who did it! Which has happened, and usually I take it back). Too name calling it is used as a substitute for argument - you just assert that a thing is so without making the case for *why* it is so.

I don't like people calling Derbyshire a racist. We don't even agree on what that means. We just agree that it's wrong/bad.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 13, 2012 12:01 AM

I agree. A lot of rhetoric these days is aimed at shutting down debate rather than resolving issues. Your preferred outcome would have been the best one in my opinion.

If Derbyshire's opinions are wrong enough to get him fired, it should be fairly easy to punch holes in his argument. If he refuses to change his position after you've beat him in a debate, then you have a fair case that he's unreasonable and firing him makes a lot of sense.

'Easy to punch holes in his argument' in theory, anyway. In reality, his argument seems to rest on a number of statistics, so it would get sticky pretty quickly. However, a lot of the stats show X is the case and he is inferring cause Y, when the causes are not actually demonstrated and there are other reasonable (e.g., cultural rather than biological) causes. I think that's a significant weakness in his premises.

Maybe NRO readers wouldn't stick around for the debate, but it would be a very useful debate to have, and if done well would probably attract a lot of readers (like me, for example).

NRO has punted on the issue, but it is a debate we need to have in the US, I think.

Posted by: Tom at April 13, 2012 09:23 AM

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