Monday, August 11, 2008

Race: The Reality of Human Differences--Opening Statement: The Case for Race

In Race: The Reality of Human Differences, before beginning their chapter-by-chapter treatment of the subject of race, Sarich and Miele present an opening statement briefly explaining the purpose of the book and laying out the general path it will follow.

They begin by calling race "America's most taboo four-letter word." Obviously "race" is not comparable to other four-letter words in terms of the reaction to speaking it, but it is true that the subject it denotes is one on which our society's opinion-makers will brook no dissent from the accepted view. Obviously, it was not always this way. The authors marshal an array of quotations from four American presidents--Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon--that would be unspeakable in polite society today. For example, Abraham Lincoln said, "There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race." The authors intend for these quotations to demonstrate that belief in universal equality is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that for most of human history, the accepted view was what we might call race realism. Of course, we are used to hearing from the left that all of human history was a nightmare of ignorance, oppression, and injustice until the 1960's, so race deniers will likely be unpersuaded by this argument, dismissing it as argumentum ad populum.

As many of us know from real-life or online interactions with liberals, race deniers generally really believe that scientifically established facts are on their side; they tend to claim to be impartial, willing to evaluate any empirical evidence, and project an image of themselves as believing that race is a mere social construction only because that is what the best information we have tells us. While not mentioning this view directly, the authors provide a rebuttal to it:

Denying the biological reality of race and recognizing it as a pseudoscientific myth created to justify white supremacy, they admonish, will produce what biological anthropologist Alan Goodman in the PBS documentary Race: The Power of an Illusion terms "an absolute paradigm shift." The resulting realization that "race is not based on biology but race is rather an idea that we ascribe to biology" will cause any thought of genetically based group differences to disappear as well, or at least it will set society on the road to their long-overdue remediation through social and economic policy.
In other words, race-deniers don't say race is a social construction because they think that true, but rather because they think having people believe it will eliminate racism. The authors seem to be implying that race-deniers are less concerned with the truth or falsehood of their views than they are with how those views can be used as a means to their desired end.

Sarich and Miele intend to present "the case for race" in three parts: first, race being understood in the context of the history of the concept itself, second, what we know about race from evolution, and third, the political problems associated with race in our present society. In Chapter 1, "Race and the Law," they tell us, we will see that the commonsense idea of race is accepted without question in the legal system. Again, this will be useful in understanding the reality of race, but given what we know of the cultural left's view of the world, where common sense is always wrong, where what seems obvious is never really true, where we need experts to enlighten us, race-deniers will probably dismiss this argument as an appeal to the majority or to authority.

Chapter 2, "Race and History," sounds as though it will stand on more solid ground, in that it will present evidence from a variety of cultures throughout human history that the concept of race has always been with us, that even ancient civilizations believed that different racial groups had different physical and mental characteristics. In the authors' view, this chapter will refute the contention that race is a recent concept invented to justify European colonialism.

Chapter 3 is entitled "Anthropology as the Science of Race." This chapter will address, among other things, "the Darwinian revolution, when anthropology emerged as the science of race, and how and why that viewpoint was increasingly marginalized after World War II." That little tidbit was surprising to me, since the great majority of anthropologists today accept the "race is merely a social construction" view! What a drastic change for a field that, as the authors say, was created as the science of race. I'll be interested to learn how exactly that view of the field was marginalized after World War II.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6, "Resolving the Primate Tree," "Homo Sapiens and its Races," and "The Two 'Miracles' That Made Humankind" respectively, will address race in the context of evolution. It's interesting to use evolution to prove the reality of race, since the left wholeheartedly accepts evolution. I believe this is why, as I alluded to earlier, the race-deniers that make up the left claim to have the best scientific evidence on their side. They cannot dismiss the consensus view arrived at by a materialist scientific approach to human history, since that view hinges on Darwinian evolution, which provides them with their arguments against God, against transcendence, and for the religious right being a bunch of fascist rednecks trying to establish a theocracy in America. So instead they must claim to hew to modern science, distorting or misinterpreting scientific evidence to show that race is not real. The authors repeat the statement that Homo sapiens originated "only 50,000" years ago at least thrice in this opening statement; clearly they believe this is an unusually short time and that this shortness is significant in understanding race. Exactly why and how remain to be seen.

Sarich and Miele describe the views of three eminent scientists: Stephen Jay Gould (race cannot exist), Richard Lewontin (race does not exist), and Alan Goodman (even if race can and does exist, it should not be studied), and say that they reject all three of these views. Of particular interest will be their refutation of Lewontin: he was one of the star witnesses against race in the PBS documentary, and I know from online debates into which I have attempted to inject race realism that his name is often used by race-deniers as someone who's created an airtight argument against race being a valid biological concept. That is, when you get into an argument with a race-denier, their response is often to the effect of, "go read Richard Lewontin. Case dismissed."

Chapters 7, 8, and 9 sound to me like they will prove the most interesting; they are the ones which most directly address the common contention that the phenotypic differences between the races, which we see all around us every day, are illusory. Chapter 7 is entitled "Race and Physical Differences" and in it the authors intend to introduce the topic of racial differences in the least controversial, most accepted arena in which they are manifest: athletic performance. They mention the Kalenjin, the Kenyan tribe which utterly dominates world long-distance running. Of course, race-deniers do not deny the reality of such examples; they just say that that is one single trait that cannot be used to classify individuals into races in a valid way, and add that there is more genetic variation within races than between races (an argument the authors intend to address.) It will be interesting to see if the authors flesh this argument out in such a way as to answer the race-deniers' objections.

Chapter 8, "Race and Behavior," will address, inter alia, what is probably the most controversial topic of all related to race: intelligence differences. Entire books have been written on this subject, none of which, I'm ashamed to admit, I have read, so I'm looking forward to what will hopefully be a good overview of the topic from Sarich and Miele. They will use a classic study in dog breeds to elucidate this topic. Unsurprisingly, they say, Sarich had difficulties publishing a similar study done to examine race differences in humans.

In Chapter 9, "Learning to Live with Race," the authors will present three approaches to dealing with race: Meritocracy in the Emerging Global Economy, Affirmative Action and Race Norming, and Rising Resegretation and the Emergence of Ethno-States, and describe the pros and cons to each. While Rising Resegregation sounds best to me, and most realistic in dealing with the conflict created by racial diversity, the authors state their preference for the global meritocracy.

And this ties in with my one criticism of this opening statement. Several times the authors refer to the concept of evolution, by which I assume they mean Darwinian evolution, as though it were an end in itself. For example, they say that they believe "it is not only appropriate but important to study race, because it helps us to apply the evolutionary perspective to the analysis of human variation generally." In other words, it's not important to apply the evolutionary perspective because doing so helps us understand race; rather, it's the other way around. It's almost as though studying race were merely a means to an end, that end being applying the evolutionary perspective. When writing about the subject of race, we race realists often place scare quotes around the word "mere," because race-deniers say that race is "merely a social construct," implying that it is somehow less significant or important than commonly believed. But those to whom Darwinian evolution explains everything about mankind also inspire scare quotes, believing as they do that man, not merely his physical body but his highest, noblest, most transcendent thoughts, his dreams, aspirations, and hopes, is "merely" the product of random mutation and natural selection.

Whether this view informs the authors' preference for the meritocracy I cannot say for sure, but their stated goal is to enhance "the potential for achievement by individuals." This is a fine goal within a particular nation that can handle it, such as America, but to make this a worldwide goal is not something one would expect of those who understand the reality of race, unless their worldview was one in which there was nothing higher than man, and the autonomy and happiness of each individual was considered the greatest good.

That said, by the looks of the opening statement, the book will be a tour de force through race realism, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it.

Next up: Chapter 1, "Race and the Law."


Smith/Wesson said...

I have to read this book. I've always wondered what the intentions of these academic race-deniers was. They can't actually believe their ideas, considering many of them, like Gould and Lewontin, are from an ethnic group that is very prominent in academia. They probably don't deny the genetic roots of their success in those areas.

Anonymous said...
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Hermes said...

I don't know, smith/wesson, but right now I would guess they honestly do deny a genetic basis for Ashkenazi Jews' high IQs. I've certainly heart plenty of people impute it to "a culture that values education," "parental pressure to succeed," or something similar. As for their intentions, they must deny race because it implies that there are real, substantial differences between human population groups, which contradicts the current highest moral principle of our society, that all persons and peoples must be totally equal.

Hermes said...

Looks like it's time for a new rule at Wise Man's Heart: comments attempting to narrow down my real-life identity, including but not limited to confirmed facts or speculation about which medical school I attend, are not allowed. Anonymous, I had to delete your entire comment rather than remove the offending line because Blogger does not have a comment-editing feature. I'll respond to your other comments if you would like to repost them without attempting to "out" me.

Anonymous said...

Hey, sorry about that. I didn't mean anything by it, I thought you had mentioned it somewhere, I didn't know you wanted to remain anonymous.

In any case, the my main point was that I am not sure you can apply IQ tests to a whole country, and compare it to another country, without standardizing for socio-economic, educational, and even nutritional levels.

Hermes said...

I've decided I can't be too careful. You seem pretty civil, but as we all know, not everyone is that way. A couple of weeks ago I made a few posts on SDN forums (Student Doctor Network, for my readers who don't know) about racial differences in intelligence, and one poster said I was a "rage-filled misogynistic neo-Nazi" who would experiment on blacks because I consider them "subhuman" and would refuse to treat a dying Mexican girl because she was an illegal immigrant. This person then proceeded to gather some information about me from my posting history (when, 2 years ago, I was discussing the application and interview process just like everyone else,) post it all in one summary post, and suggest that someone else finish the job, find out my name and which school I attend, and send a note to my dean.

I really can't risk such a thing at this stage in my life. While I could probably beat any attempt at disciplinary action on grounds of freedom of conscience, since fortunately we dont' have "hate speech" laws yet, saying that of course I don't advocate experimenting on people without their consent or withholding life-saving treatment, one never nows how one might get blacklisted in a strictly off-the-books way.

As for trans-national IQ comparisons, as I've said, I haven't read up on IQ enough to know about the methodology of the tests, but I do know that at least within a single nation, the USA, such factors have been controlled for and the differences persist.

Anonymous said...

If they were indeed controlled, why does there continue to be a rise in the average IQs of those groups over the decades?

I think this is too simplistic. First, I do not know if a test has yet been designed that can truly measure something as nebulous as intelligence. Second, even if such a perfect test existed, it would likely not be any of the ones currently out on the market. The fact is that if I have two days with someone, I bet I can improve their score by quite a bit. Many of them have lots of question about basic word and number manipulation, which are techniques that are learned if you deal with numbers a lot. An illiterate person would do horribly on every test so far designed.

Personally, I do not understand this pre-occupation with race. I can understand the want to preserve the culture that you speak of, but I do not believe that culture is inexorably tied to race as you seem to believe it is.

Of course, I am a first-generation immigrant to the US who comes from a a 'low-IQ' population, so perhaps my views are as biased as yours, but even so, I certainly feel that I have adopted the culture and the values of the prevailing culture of the United States as much as anyone.

Obviously my race is different, but I'd be interested to hear why you think that point is impossible to reconcile with being an American.

Hermes said...

I don't know much about the Flynn effect, but I don't see how the fact that all groups' IQs have been rising over the years proves that the differences between groups aren't innate. It's not as though, say, sub-Saharan Africans have been catching up to East Asians.

I've heard the argument that we can't precisely define intelligence before, and I think it's a moot point. Even if you say that we don't know what IQ really measures, we do know that whatever it does measure has a high predictive value. That was one of the themes of The Bell Curve the strong correlation between IQ and all kinds of measures of success in life, ranging from wealth to being accident prone (again, this is after controlling for socioeconomic background, race, parents' level of education, and other factors.)

And that ties into why the topic of IQ and race matters. There are many reasons to want to restrict immigration; IQ is just one of them. But, while we might be able to absorb a small number of people from foreign groups who have a lower average IQ (and even then we'd probably take the more intelligent ones from within that group,) attempting to import a large number will inevitably transform our society into one that's closer to the type such people currently inhabit. If you look at nations ruled by lower-IQ groups, they're very different from America and not the kind of place most Americans want to live. As I've put it before, if we bring millions of Mexicans here we will make America much more like Mexico, and that is not what most of us want.

Anonymous said...


All groups have not been rising at the same rate. These 'lower' IQ groups have been increasing their IQ, and indeed ARE indeed catching up to the other groups at a very fast rate.

Here is a graph to illustrate:

Hermes said...

I just looked at the Wikipedia article again, and it doesn't seem so clear-cut: it says some interpretations of the data suggest that scores are rising mainly at the lower end while others think they are rising across-the-board. I'm not saying it's out of the question that there's any "catching up," just that the evidence isn't as solid as you suggested.

Furthermore, I don't think I or anyone else have suggested that intelligence is totally genetic. It's been hard to nail down, and I believe the best figure the authors of The Bell Curve were able to come up with was somewhere between 40 to 80%. That leaves a lot of room for other potential factors like nutrition which may help explain the Flynn effect, but which also don't imply that there is no innate or genetic element.

I notice that according to the chart you posted, the gains that have been made by blacks amount to about 5 IQ points at best, which is less than the difference between the means of blacks and whites (90 vs. 100).

Ben said...

Excellent articles by Linda Gottfredson debunking some of the logical fallacies used to attack IQ tests, and a comment on Flynn's latest.

Ben said...

"honestly do deny a genetic basis for Ashkenazi Jews' high IQs."

The Cochran/Harpending paper suggested this had a genetic basis.