The recent riot at Middlebury College over a speech by Charles Murray
was based on some over broad generalizations about his book The Bell Curve
. That volume certainly seemed to say that blacks are inherently less intelligent than whites.
So that makes him a racist who should be shut up, according to the politically correct left.
But what is the result of that sort of thinking? A fair number of people, and especially people who don’t just go along with the crowd, are going to be sympathetic to Murray.
Further, if the notion of black racial inferiority can’t be discussed, it takes on the character of a dirty little secret. People generally try to stifle discussion of ideas they consider dangerous, and people have to suspect that the most dangerous ideas are the ones that are disapproved, but true
Thus, stifling discussion of supposed black racial inferiority actually gives a certain legitimacy to the idea. Further, since most people (at least outside academia) instinctively side with people being bullied (and not the bullies) the sort of thing that happened a Middlebury gives Murray a certain legitimacy. Since evil people hate him, he must be one of the good guys.
Murray is, in fact, a good guy in many ways, but that doesn’t mean his ideas on race and intelligence are valid.
Evading the Issue
Suppose, instead of trying to shut Murray up, people who disagree with him actually debate him? Try to show how his evidence and logic are deficient?
One suspects that, deep down, the campus social justice warriors believe that he might be right, and his beliefs are the “awful truth” that must be concealed, else it undermine their political agenda.
Further, since certain ideas have been ruled “out of bounds” even for discussion, the campus leftists would not begin to know how to refute Murray. So all they have is blind intolerance.
Confronting the Issue
People who are open minded enough to actually look at the evidence are perfectly able to refute Murray’s ideas on race and intelligence with data and logic. Consider, for example, a 2007 article by journalist Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker
Gladwell points to something known as the “Flynn effect:”
human intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, has been increasing markedly for at least the last 100 years. It is implausible that the genetic endowment of humans has changed much during that time, and indeed, the eugenicists of a hundred years ago believed that the “less intelligent” groups were breeding faster than the more intelligent, which would imply the genetic inheritance of humans was degrading over time.
Suggested reasons for this increase
have included “improved nutrition, a trend toward smaller families, better education, greater environmental complexity.” Note that all of these factors are environmental
. While nothing about this disproves black genetic inferiority, it does prove that environmental factors matter.
More relevant evidence is provided by racial differences in IQ broken down by age. Gladwell discusses a debate between Flynn and Charles Murray:
Murray showed a series of PowerPoint slides, each representing different statistical formulations of the I.Q. gap. He appeared to be pessimistic that the racial difference would narrow in the future. . . .
Flynn took a different approach. The black-white gap, he pointed out, differs dramatically by age. He noted that the tests we have for measuring the cognitive functioning of infants, though admittedly crude, show the races to be almost the same. By age four, the average black I.Q. is 95.4—only four and a half points behind the average white I.Q. Then the real gap emerges: from age four through twenty-four, blacks lose six-tenths of a point a year, until their scores settle at 83.4.
That steady decline, Flynn said, did not resemble the usual pattern of genetic influence. Instead, it was exactly what you would expect, given the disparate cognitive environments that whites and blacks encounter as they grow older. Black children are more likely to be raised in single-parent homes than are white children—and single-parent homes are less cognitively complex than two-parent homes. The average I.Q. of first-grade students in schools that blacks attend is 95, which means that “kids who want to be above average don’t have to aim as high.” There were possibly adverse differences between black teen-age culture and white teen-age culture, and an enormous number of young black men are in jail . . . .
Note the irony here: while the social justice warriors at Middlebury seek to shut Murray up (and ironically, he was not even talking about race and intelligence there) in a debate with a capable opponent, he was successfully refuted.
Gladwell goes on to provide further evidence:
When the children of Southern Italian immigrants were given I.Q. tests in the early part of the past century, for example, they recorded median scores in the high seventies and low eighties, a full standard deviation below their American and Western European counterparts. Southern Italians did as poorly on I.Q. tests as Hispanics and blacks did. As you can imagine, there was much concerned talk at the time about the genetic inferiority of Italian stock, of the inadvisability of letting so many second-class immigrants into the United States, and of the squalor that seemed endemic to Italian urban neighborhoods. Sound familiar? These days, when talk turns to the supposed genetic differences in the intelligence of certain races, Southern Italians have disappeared from the discussion. “Did their genes begin to mutate somewhere in the 1930s?” the psychologists Seymour Sarason and John Doris ask, in their account of the Italian experience. “Or is it possible that somewhere in the 1920s, if not earlier, the sociocultural history of Italo-Americans took a turn from the blacks and the Spanish Americans which permitted their assimilation into the general undifferentiated mass of Americans?”
The answer, of course, is “the latter.” The conclusion has to be that IQ differences of the magnitude of those that separate black and whites can be explained by environmental factors.
Gladwell goes on to explain that people who score poorly on IQ tests are not necessarily stupid. They merely have not been socialized to see the world through what Flynn calls “scientific spectacles.” That is to say, they have not been assimilated into the ways of dealing cognitively with the environment that characterizes advanced industrial and post-industrial societies. But socialization is not heredity.
The bullies at Middlebury are, to the cause of anti-racism, what the Inquisition was to the cause of Christianity. Trying to forceably suppress and shut up bad ideas is ultimately a foolish and counter-productive enterprise. The people who will confront the issue of race and IQ with data and logic play the same role as the great Christian apologists (G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, just to name two) who show that engagement, and not suppression, is the way to deal with ideas one believes are mistaken.