I hope not too many progressive heads exploded over this recent post on Matt Ridley’s blog; Matt Ridely is the 5th Viscount Ridely, an author and a fellow of both the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal Society of Literature. “True meritocracy,” he begins, “is a state in which success is determined by heredity.” Oh, my goodness, shades of Charles Murray and ‘The Bell Curve’ (1984). He goes on to discuss one recent study and says that “It is no longer controversial that genes influence intelligence. Studies of twins repeatedly show that in typical western society, measures of general intelligence derived from IQ tests have about 30 per cent heritability (that is, 30 per cent of the variation between people can be explained by their genes) in childhood, 40 to 50 per cent in adolescence and 60 per cent in adulthood. This increasing heritability with age may appear paradoxical but it makes sense: adults are free to find their own intellectual level, whereas children can be forced by pushy parents and good schools, or by bad friends and bad schools, into seeming less like they really “are” deep down.” In other words while even the best schools don’t help much, even the worst cannot keep a good man (or woman) down.
“Genes,” Matt Ridely says “cannot be wished away. As the Harvard geneticist David Reich said: “Well-meaning people who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations are digging themselves into an indefensible position, one that will not survive the onslaught of science.”” While, he says that “When it comes to gender, some sex differences are genetic; breasts and beards are not social constructs … [but] … It is harder to decide which sex differences in behaviour are derived from nature, but again the paradox of heritability provides a clue … [because] … Two psychologists last month published a paper showing that in countries where women are least discriminated against, women are most under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The percentage of STEM graduates who are female is twice as high in Turkey, Algeria and Tunisia as in Finland, Sweden and Norway. It appears that the more freedom girls have, the less likely they are to choose STEM subjects.“
He concludes that “Today we rightly try to make sure that any differential outcomes by sex, race or education are not caused by discrimination. But the result is that we will maximise the contribution of innate preferences and abilities instead. A perfectly meritocratic society would be one in which people who went to Oxford were genetically, not socially, advantaged.“
Let’s be clear …
… about what he is saying and not saying:
Eton and Oxford, he says, don’t make you smarter than, say, Richmond Secondary School and the University of Manitoba. If you are fortunate enough to have “good” genes you will do well wherever you go to school, if you have weak genes you will likely fail despite the best schools ~ although you may, in those most posh private schools, acquire a ‘social safety net‘ that will make your mediocrity more comfortable. It is, in many respects, much the same argument that Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray made back in 1984: being born on third base is not quite the same as hitting a triple; but
He also says that “Of course, the genes involved in making somebody succeed in school may not directly determine intellect; they could somehow have caused the child’s parents to be more conscientious and read to them every night, or they could have affected the child’s appetite rather than aptitude for learning.” It isn’t 100% nature; nurture matters, too.
But the data, gathered over about the past century, now, seems to be getting clearer and clearer: people are not innately equal. Some are bigger, taller, stronger and, yes, smarter ~ or at least better able to learn what matters in the 21st century ~ than others. I think that the fields of e.g. electro-magnetics, law, symbol manipulation, medicine and philosophy show that intelligence and “merit” are not a function of race, creed or gender …
… some people are ‘naturally‘ more gifted in some things than others …
… genes, almost certainly, matter more than social programmes, but just as good diet and rigorous training help to make champion athletes, so good schools and public libraries and strong communities and, especially, strong parental influence, make good teachers and scientists and plumbers and police officers, too.
… what is the point about dredging up an issue that caused so much heartburn amongst progressives back in the 1980s? My point is that I think we, the liberal centre of the political spectrum tend to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to people. We all believe, or we should believe, that “all men are created equal,” and my life experience over 75 years spent on several continents and on many islands is that all people, regardless of race, creed or sex are pretty much exactly equally industrious and lazy, smart and stupid, honest and venal, brave and cowardly and so on.
Nature did not give Jews higher IQs than, say, the Luba people of Central Africa but the scale of the intellectual achievements of the Jews over the past, say, 2,500 years is astonishing when compared to almost any other ethnic group … except that the Jews are not a single, distinct ethnic group or even a cluster of ethnic groups that share a common language and geographical base like, say, the Luba. The Jews were, once, a small, cohesive ethnoreligious group and, indeed, a nation, about 3,000 years ago but various forces made them a dispersed, multi-ethnic ‘community’ bound, in many respects, only by religion and that very dispersal may have been one of the factors that made them so successful in so many fields … that and religious persecution that spans millennia which denied them many basic opportunities and forced them to develop a culture that placed great emphasis on learning. It is estimated that the Jews constitute just 02. percent of the world’s population – some 13.5 million, with just over 5.7 million in Israel, 5.6 million in the US, half a million in Russia and France, 280,000 in the UK and 200,000 in Germany. Yet in list after list of the 100 most powerful people in the world, 40 to 60 are almost always Jews. Ten of the 50 people on any year’s Forbes’ annual billionaires list are likely to be Jewish. Of the 800+ Nobel prizes handed out to date, about 165 have gone to Jews. Have the Jews, somehow, “self selected” for brains over brawn? Or is “nurture” more important, in fact, than with Matt Rudely or Herrnstein and Murray suggested? Did generations of “cultural adaptation,” practiced ~ usually unknowingly ~ over centuries give, say, the Jews an advantage in the 16th through 21st centuries when brains did, arguably, overtake brawn in importance.
My worry is that, just when it seems quite obvious that culture matters more than sex, race or creed, we are turning our collective, Western, liberal backs on cultural values and, instead, trying to make sex, race and creed something other than just the useful ‘categories’ that they are. I will argue, until I die, that all people are all equal … but all cultures are not. Some cultures, and our Anglo-Saxon and Western European ones ~ much influenced by Jews ~ are good examples, are stronger, more successful (by modern (16th through 21st century) measures) than others, like that of the Luba or, even, the Arabs. But, suddenly, our progressive instincts seem to be telling us that 500 years of progress in liberty, equality and prosperity for more and more people is equalled, in . socio-political terms, by medieval, misogynistic, religious tyranny. It’s not.
We ned to study and understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of our Anglo-Saxon/Western European culture and those of Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and of West, Central, South and East Asia. We are not the only successful culture and our success is not even, across the board: the status of the Anglo-Saxon/Western European socio-political and economic cultures in, say, Australia, Britain, Canada and Denmark differs from those in, say, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the Dominican Republic. New Zealand and Nigeria might share a heritage of British colonial rule but a trip to Auckland and Lagos will bring one up short if (s)he thinks that culture is derived only from institutions. Culture is not easily transplantable … what worked in medieval Scandinavia, Friesland and England and what transplanted so successfully to Australia, Canada, India and Singapore did not “take” quite as well in Angola, Bangladesh and Colombia. The individual people of Algeria, Bahrain and Congo are just the same as the individual people of America, Britain and Canada … but the cultures that shape their attitudes and values are different.
The fairly bright white kid in Eton or Oxford is not, in any meaningful way, more (or less) able than than the equally bright Asian or Arab or black African kid next to her or him …
… but the prospects of being leaders, changers, innovators and so on, in their homelands, vary greatly. In some cases a person will be denied the chance to succeed because of her sex, in other cases endemic corruption will make effecting change just too frustrating and difficult and the young person who should be leading change in one country will, instead, try to migrate to another country (likely Australia or Israel or Sweden) where her or his chances to succeed are greater because the socio-political and economic culture is more advanced.
So, for a start, Kellie Leitch was on to something in the recent CPC leadership campaign when she talked about “Canadian values” but she backed into the problem instead of confronting it head on. The problem is that we seem ready to conflate all cultures and make them equal … that’s arrant rubbish of the first order. Our Anglo-Saxon – liberal – democratic – enlightened – capitalist – secular cultural heritage …
… which we share with e.g. America and Britain and New Zealand is markedly, measurably “better” than many others in this world. It doesn’t just deserve preserving, it needs to be preserved and promoted against the onslaught on regressive, misogynistic, conservative, statist competitors from other parts of the world.
We, Canadians, need to tell our elected leaders that we want our core values aught in our schools and practiced in our legislatures and our courts of law, and that means that we must stop being afraid to affirm that we have a culture, a society and a country worth protecting and preserving.
Finally, we, Canadians, must welcome newcomers from around the world who want to share our values and our institutions and our culture with it and. by their joining, to make the, our values, institutions, culture, society and country even better. Race, creed and gender are, largely irrelevant, but culture and values are relevant, they do matter and we know enough in the 21st century to understand who, at least, to keep out, even if we are not quite sure who makes or how to make the best Canadian.