For the past several years, the “Race and IQ” subject has resurfaced; perhaps this is due to the spread of independent media or the increasing intensity of identity politics. Something that has frustrated me however is the persistence of this stubborn subject when it is so plainly, so obviously, analytically stupid. Linking race to IQ is so patently dumb, it should never be worth mentioning; yet some scholars insist it is part and parcel of “free inquiry.” Is it really an inquiry though?
Why the Race and IQ Argument is So Dumb
Everyone’s favorite hack social scientist Sam Harris and actual social scientist Charles Murray have famously revisited the race/IQ conversation with alacrity. The reason I refer to Murray as an actual social scientist and Harris as a fraud is because the former is trained in political science, though I may disagree with some of his conclusions. Harris, on the other hand, is trained in neuroscience; though this does not disqualify him from being a critical thinker on social issues, his take on such issues prevents me from taking him seriously.
It takes only a moment to debunk the whole conversation. When Harris, Murray and others attach race to IQ, they mean there is a correlation between IQ and genetics, which are presumably reproduced through racial groupings. The problem with this view is though intelligence is surely genetically produced, the effect is not the same as the production of eye color or baldness. Intelligence is a compound attribute; eye color and baldness are not. One could even argue, perhaps, that height is a composite attribute, since diet may play a role in advancing or curtailing one’s genetic potential.
It is simply impossible to compare one group of people, like “whites” and another group of people like “blacks,” which the race and IQ folks are fond of doing, average out their IQ’s and compare the two averages. In fact, I rarely know what people mean when they speak of intelligence in these conversations. Does IQ really correspond to “intelligence?” Jordan Peterson insists that it does.
For the record, I think Jordan Peterson is a serious thinker and a more humble scholar than often portrayed. I also scored 136 on an IQ test. Not too shabby, so I am not resentful of such tests. But I know plenty of people with IQ’s north of 140 who cannot carry on a conversation, charm an audience, make deep emotional connections or survive in a “rough neighborhood.” What good is a high IQ if you cannot connect or survive a truly serious situation? More directly, how intelligent are you if you cannot achieve the most basic things in life: Survival and Connection?
Jared Diamond points out in Guns, Germs and Steele “tests of cognitive ability (like IQ tests) tend to measure cultural learning and not pure innate intelligence, whatever that is.” Drop a New Yorker off in the Amazon jungle; then see how far his or her IQ gets them. Take a young black man or Latina who has never enjoyed the privileges of an elite education, administer to them an IQ test, designed by elite educated pedagogues, the young man or woman will not do as well as young people who have been raised in similar institutions.
Does that mean intelligent white people are not “as intelligent” as their IQ suggests? Of course not! It just means the comparison of averages between groups is relative and ridiculous; because whites will, on average, have more in common with those who design such tests, to put it simply, thus raising their average “as a group.”
So What Is Really Going On?
Harris, Murray and recently Andrew Sullivan (perhaps unfairly) have been tied to the subject of race and IQ. Notwithstanding the logical vacuity of the premise that race and IQ are determinative or even largely correlated; I am not even sure why these writers are so interested in the subject in the first place. Where are they going with this premise? Yet, I do not think they are going where we think they are going – white supremacy.
Instead, especially today, it is a hot button issue, another spice in the stew of identity politics, which they vociferously lament. In spite of all their objections to identity politics, they cannot help but wade in its waters; there is too much to be gained by jumping and diving in with everyone else.
The views expressed are those held by the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chicago Monitor.