Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Olsen and Murray on IQ, Race, and Human Biodiversity

The emotional debate over Charles Murray's work on IQ and racial differences was renewed recently when Congressman Paul Ryan cited Murray, and immediately Ryan was criticized by Paul Krugman and others for relying on a known racist.  Congressman Emanuel Cleaver has said that Murray has spent his life spreading "racist sewage."

In Jon Anstein Olsen's dissertation--Neo-Darwinian Conservatism in the United States--he has a chapter on "Human Biodiversity and Conservative Defenses of Racial Inequalities," in which Murray is prominent.  In his introductory chapter, Olsen explains his hesitation about including this chapter:
"Having begun this project with a main focus on relatively moderate conservative literature, such as Arnhart's Darwinian Conservatism, I was unprepared for the extensive engagement with evolutionary psychology I found on the far right, and had to decide whether to define in or out of my studies these reactionary, sometimes outright racist and in part non-academic writings.  Two weighty arguments against including them were immediately obvious.  First, it risks sullying Arnhart and the other moderates with guilt by association--an association that is created in these pages but which in many ways does not otherwise exist.  Second, including--and in part then necessarily reproducing--the race arguments in a study on intellectual conservatism both helps to broadcast them and risks making them appear to some extent more 'respectable.'"
"On the other side, however, there were two reasons that spoke for inclusion,which I deemed weightier.  First, since I at the outset of this project considered myself generally positive--along the lines sketched by Pinker--to the idea of wedding human nature science and political philosophy, it seemed dishonest not to include a presentation of the ways in which I found that Neo-Darwinism was also being used to uphold  more unsavory positions.  This is an especially salient point since this, as indicated above, appears to be an under-researched phenomenon.  Second, including race-oriented neo-Darwinian conservatism serves to show how treacherous a 'box' evolutionary psychology could prove to be, highlighting how important it is to maintain an awareness of all three general grounds for skepticism reviewed above:  the sordid historical record of evolutionary arguments applied to human affairs, the great indeterminacy and variety in evolutionary psychology, and the fact that although empirical premises form one type of input to the lines of reasoning leading up to normative political-philosophical conclusions, it can make all the difference in the world which normative premises are attached to them." (15)
I agree with Olsen that considering the biology of racial differences is both morally troubling--because it can be interpreted as supporting racism--and intellectually necessary for any full account of the Darwinian psychology of human nature.  I disagree with him, however, insofar as he fails to notice that a classical liberal or libertarian like Murray can accept the biology of racial diversity without becoming a racist, because he sees that the classical liberal principle of equal rights is compatible with unequal outcomes in life.

The question of the biological reality of race and racial differences is inescapable for any Darwinian science of evolution.  That's suggested by the full title of Darwin's Origin of Species--On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. If Darwin's theory of the evolution of species by natural selection is correct, then there must be inherited variation in races (or subspecies), so that the struggle for life among these races produces species that are naturally adapted to their environments. 

In Darwin's Descent of Man, the question of human racial differences was fundamental.  "The sole object of this work," Darwin explained, "is to consider, firstly, whether man, like every other species, is descended from some pre-existing form; secondly, the manner of his development; and thirdly, the value of the differences between the so-called races of man" (2004, 18).  While some of the defenders of slavery had argued that the human races were actually separate species, Darwin argued that they were only varieties within one human species; and in this way, much of the Descent of Man can be seen as supporting Darwin's condemnation of slavery.

Darwin agreed with the work of his cousin Francis Galton, who argued--in Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into its Laws and Consequences--that racial differences extended not only to physical traits but also to moral and mental traits.  And Darwin saw much of human evolutionary history as a struggle between "savage" and "civilized" races.

For many of Darwin's opponents, this proves that Darwinian science is inherently racist and should therefore be rejected as morally repugnant, because scientific racism denies the equal dignity of all human beings.  And yet, for Darwin the intellectual and moral evolution of human beings must lead them to reject savage tribalism and to extend their humanitarian sympathies "to men of all races" (2004, 147-51, 159).

But even if Darwin himself was not a racist, it was easy for racists to interpret his theory of human evolution as supporting a scientific racism.  In reaction against this tradition of Darwinian racism, it became common for people to reject any application of Darwinian science to the study of human behavior. 

Consequently, those who revived Darwinian social psychology in the 1970s and 1980s had to find some way to protect themselves from the charge of racism.  One popular rhetorical strategy employed by evolutionary psychologists such as Leda Cosmides and John Tooby was to argue that the evolution of human nature in the Stone Age had produced a universal human mind shared by all human beings, and that individual and racial differences were not important for evolutionary psychology.  The only important innate differences in the human mind, Cosmides and Tooby have argued, are sexual:  men and women are different in their evolved psychological propensities.

The problem with this, however, is that it ignores the evidence that beginning with Darwin himself, the science of evolutionary psychology has shown biological diversity in the human species at three levels--biological differences between individuals, between the sexes, and between racial groups.  To evade the charge of biological racism, evolutionary psychologists like Tooby and Cosmides refuse to recognize the biological reality of race.  I saw this last year at the Mont Pelerin Society conference in the Galapagos Islands.  When Murray spoke about the racial biology of human diversity, Tooby and Rob Boyd challenged him in the question and answer period, because they insisted that racial differences had no deep evolutionary roots.

As Olsen indicates, Murray is a leading member of a group of scholars who stress the evolutionary grounds of human biodiversity as including racial differences, and particularly differences in average IQ.  This group includes Arthur Jensen, Richard Herrnstein, J. Philippe Ruston, Richard Lynn, Steve Sailer, and John Derbyshire.  Olsen rightly identifies some of these people as racists, because they justify racism as a naturally evolved expression of ethnic nepotism, and because they argue that American national identity depends on the biological identity of the white race, and therefore immigration should be either stopped or restricted in ways that preserve the white racial identity of the United States.  But Olsen does not see that Murray's classical liberal argument for recognizing both the natural equality and the natural inequality of human beings denies racism.

Olsen doesn't realize that in criticizing the racism of "neo-Darwinian race conservatism," he is agreeing with Murray.  Although Olsen stresses that "empirical race claims" of scientific racists are controversial among scientists, he admits that these empirical claims could prove to be at least partly correct (243-46).  But even so, he argues, the "normative premises" of the scientific racists can be refuted (237-39).

Olsen intimates that his ultimate objection to the empirical claims of racial science is not that they are false, but that they are true in ways that can only be harmful to society.  "What the race scientists are doing," he suggests, "seems to many people not to be the kind of thing we should be doing, period" (244).  That sounds similar to what Nathan Glazer wrote in The New Republic (October 31, 1994) in response to an article by Herrnstein and Murray that was an excerpt from The Bell Curve: "Our society, our polity, our elites, according to Herrnstein and Murray, live with an untruth: that there is no good reason for this inequality, and therefore society is at fault, and we must try harder.  I ask myself whether the untruth is not better for American society than the truth."  Are they suggesting that the American principle of natural human equality is a noble lie?

Any claim that the causes of the black/white IQ gap are entirely genetic is surely false.  But there is plenty of evidence that the causes are partly genetic and partly environmental.  A good survey of this evidence is J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen, "Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability," Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 11 (2005): 235-294, which is available online.

And yet even if it is true that there is some genetic basis for the black/white IQ gap--the American black average IQ being at least 15 points below the American white average IQ--this would not support the normative claims for racism, Olsen argues (237-39), because of three reasons stated by Peter Singer in his Practical Ethics (1993).

Singer's first point is that if a race suffers a disadvantage because its genetic nature creates a low average cognitive capacity, this should strengthen, rather than weaken, the moral duty of society to help this race that suffers from an undeserved disadvantage.  People do not earn their genetic endowment, and so the distribution of genetic capacities and propensities is unfair.  Justice demands that we help people who suffer from genetic defects through no fault of their own.

Singer's second point is that since the statistical generalizations about racial averages tell us nothing about individuals, they give us no reason to abandon our individualist principle that we should treat people as individuals and not as members of a group.  Since the bell-curve distributions of traits for whites and blacks overlap, they cannot tell us whether any black individual is more or less intelligent than any white individual.

Singer's third point is that the statistical generalizations of racial science give us no reason to reject the moral principle of "equal consideration of interests," which is the principle of equal rights as affirmed in the Declaration of Independence and in other texts of modern liberal thought.  In Practical Ethics, Singer explains:
"The principle of equality is not based on any actual equality that all people share.  I have argued that the only defensible basis for the principle of equality is equal consideration of interests, and I have suggested that the most important human interests--such as the interest in avoiding pain, in developing one's abilities, in satisfying basic needs for food and shelter, in enjoying warm personal relationships, in being free to pursue one's projects  without interference, and many others--are not affected by differences in intelligence" (31).
Singer then quotes from Thomas Jefferson who insisted that the natural equality of rights belonging to Africans did not depend on their natural intellectual capacities: "whatever be their degree of talent, it is no measure of their rights.  Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the property of person of others."  Singer comments: "Jefferson was right.  Equal status does not depend on intelligence.  Racists who maintain the contrary are in peril of being forced to kneel before the next genius they encounter."

Oddly, Olsen does not notice that Murray agrees with all three of these points.  First, he agrees that the inheritance of cognitive ability is not earned, and therefore it's unfair.  We can hold people responsible for how they develop and use whatever capacities they have received, but we cannot hold them responsible for whatever nature or nurture has given them.  And so, we are morally obligated to help those who suffer from inherited disadvantages that are undeserved (The Bell Curve, 21, 142, 418, 442, 445, 500, 527, 535, 547).  Murray agrees with John Rawls's "difference principle," arguing that giving higher salaries to high-IQ people than to low-IQ people is justified not as a matter of just deserts but as a way of producing compensating benefits for the least advantaged members of society (Bell Curve, 527).

Second, Murray agrees that we should treat people as individuals and not a members of a group.  In The Bell Curve, he and Herrnstein repeatedly stress this (21, 68, 117, 270-71, 312-15, 385, 450, 500).  In doing this, they embrace the classical liberal principle of individualism.  "A person should not be judged as a member of a group but as an individual.  With that cornerstone of the American doctrine once again in place, group differences can take their appropriately insignificant place in affecting American life" (550).

Third, Murray agrees with the principle of equal rights as equal consideration of interests or an equal chance to pursue one's happiness.  Human beings are "unequal in every respect except their right to advance their own interests" (Bell Curve, 531).  In the last chapter of The Bell Curve--entitled "A Place for Everyone"--Murray and Herrnstein elaborate this thought as the ground of their classical liberalism.  Freedom is the condition for "finding valued places for everyone," so that "every citizen has access to the central satisfactions of life" (551).  What Murray calls "the central satisfactions of life" or "the stuff of life" corresponds to what Singer calls "the most important human interests" and to what I call "the 20 natural desires."

Like Singer, Murray also quotes Jefferson as supporting this idea that equal rights does not mean equal outcomes, because equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will allow the "natural aristocracy of virtues and talents" to freely express itself (Bell Curve, 530-31).  In a free society, natural human inequality will show itself, and this will allow those of high intellectual ability to become a cognitive elite.  But in such a free society, even those with low cognitive ability can secure their happiness, because "most people by far have enough intelligence for getting on with the business of life" (536).  "There is no inherent barrier to happiness for a person with a low level of education holding a low-skill job" (Coming Apart, 267).

Murray is worried, however, that the primary condition for everyone achieving some lasting happiness in life--what he calls "the founding virtues" or industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity--is being weakened among the new lower class in America.  In both The Bell Curve and Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010, Murray argues that in America's increasingly complex and technological society and economy, we see "the increasing market value of brains," so that the top 5% of people in cognitive ability are becoming a new upper class that is isolated from the rest of America, while a new lower class is sinking into despair.  The separation in these classes is not just economic but moral.  Those in the cognitive elite still show the "founding virtues," but those in the new lower class do not.  This separation of classes is even becoming genetic insofar as there's "assortative mating," with those of high cognitive ability marrying others like themselves and thus passing on their cognitive endowments through their offspring (Coming Apart, 61-68).

This is as much a problem for white America as for black America.  And that points to one of Murray's main arguments that has been ignored by those proponents of human biodiversity who want to explain America's social problems as purely racial.  Murray insists: "America is coming apart at the seams--not seams of race or ethnicity, but of class" (12-13, 223, 251, 269-77).  Most of Coming Apart is devoted to showing the data indicating the great gulf in white America between the social health of the new upper class and the social decay of the new lower class.  When Murray expands his data to include blacks and Latinos, the patterns look almost exactly the same.  Remarkably, when Steve Sailer reviewed Murray's book, he was silent about this point.

Far from being a racist, Murray hopes for "progress toward a healthy multiracial society" (Bell Curve, 448, 475, 491, 525-26).  He also argues for immigration law being based on "individual characteristics" rather than race (Bell Curve, 5, 549).

Murray argues that a classical liberal society--like that established by the American founders--is better as securing the equal rights to the pursuit of happiness than is a welfare state, because in a welfare state, we see "the loss of the framework through which people can best pursue happiness," when people are free to live as they please so long as they don't injure others and take responsibility for their lives, their families, and their neighbors (252, 279-85, 296-301).

Although Murray has argued for completely abolishing the welfare state (in What It Means to be a Libertarian), he has also argued for replacing the welfare state by taking the over one trillion dollars spent every year by the American national government on transfer payments and dividing it up so that all adults over 21 could receive $10,000 a year for life.  He observes:
"America's population is wealthier than any in history.  Every year, the American government redistributes more than a trillion dollars of that wealth to provide for retirement, health care, and the alleviation of poverty.  We still have millions of people without comfortable retirements, without adequate health care, and living in poverty.  Only a government can spend so much money so ineffectually.  The solution is to give the money to the people" (In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State, 1).
Notice the crucial assumption of classical liberalism here--that solving social problems is best achieved by securing the freedom of people to solve their problems themselves through voluntary cooperation in their families and their neighborhoods, so that everyone takes responsibility for their actions in the serious affairs of life.  Those with superior cognitive abilities are important in providing social leadership in such a free society.  But every normal human being will have enough intelligence to contribute something to such a society where there is "a place for everyone."

By contrast, social democrats--like Thomas Piketty or James Flynn, for example--assume "that the hallmark of high social capital--neighbors helping neighbors cope with their problems--is inferior to a system that meets human needs through government programs, because only the government can provide help without the moral judgmentalism associated with charity" (Coming Apart, 252).

Some of these points are developed in other posts here, here, here., and here.


FredR said...

I doubt Steve Sailer or John Derbyshire would describe themselves as scholars.

Larry Arnhart said...


Do you agree with Charles Murray that human biodiversity denies racism?

Sean said...

"And yet even if it is true that there is some genetic basis for the black/white IQ gap--the American black average IQ being at least 15 points below the American white average IQ--this would not support the normative claims for racism, Olsen argues (237-39), because of three reasons stated by Peter Singer ... if a race suffers a disadvantage because its genetic nature creates a low average cognitive capacity, this should strengthen, rather than weaken, the moral duty of society to help this race that suffers from an undeserved disadvantage. People do not earn their genetic endowment, and so the distribution of genetic capacities and propensities is unfair. Justice demands that we help people who suffer from genetic defects through no fault of their own."

That depends if helping them attain goods requires taking those goods from others. How scarce is the good? It would be nice if everyone could go to Harvard, but they can't. If there is some rejecting of people who are qualified in every other way simply on the basis they are not of a disadvantaged race or proxy category, then that is clearly wrong.

"Any claim that the causes of the black/white IQ gap are entirely genetic is surely false."

Then the gap in IQ between rich and poor can't be all genetic either. And then we have the problem that logically poor white families children ought to be entitled to affirmative action to close the non genetic part of the gap.

Interesting what Darwin's point in his title, but Murray's 'new lower class in America' is a race by another name.

[Murray] "also argues for immigration law being based on "individual characteristics" rather than race".

That would in effect open the borders to hundreds of millions of Chinese with the desired characteristics. And countries in Africa would lose their entire educated class, which may represent their irreplaceable genetic seed corn.

But it's against international law for anything to be based on race. Given the disparate impact rubric, immigration law is really racial discrimination. The courts don't dare strike it down on that basis but there is no reason in law why anti discrimination principles could not be used to effectively void immigration law.

Anonymous said...

"This group includes Arthur Jensen, Richard Herrnstein, J. Philippe Ruston, Richard Lynn, Steve Sailer, and John Derbyshire."
Don't forget Cochran and Harpending.

MRDA said...

"That would in effect open the borders to hundreds of millions of Chinese with the desired characteristics. And countries in Africa would lose their entire educated class, which may represent their irreplaceable genetic seed corn."

That scenario rests on the questionable premise that all members of any given educated class share a single, unifying interest, i.e, that individual differences don't exist, i.e., a denial of human diversity on the most fundamental level. Perhaps some members of these educated classes might see their interests better served by sticking around; even the educated aren't immune to the comforts of "feeling at home" and family ties, as much as smarts and scholarship might negatively correlate with such attachments.

"But it's against international law for anything to be based on race. Given the disparate impact rubric, immigration law is really racial discrimination."

A rather leftist framing of the issue, no?