Saturday, July 9, 2016

Stephen Franks: Genetic challenges for genuine liberalism

Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own by Garett Jones has attracted little public attention in New Zealand, despite celebration of the Otago Longitudinal Study, and the international fame of Otago University’s Prof Jim Flynn. The book draws heavily on the research conducted after his shattering insight established the Flynn Effect.

The Hive Mind thesis is that a nation’s average intelligence can predict and probably determines whether a society can reliably achieve economic and cultural and political institutions and outcomes that we commonly consider good.

Hive Mind wisely steers clear of deep discussion of genetics (and race) in its astonishing nation to nation comparisons. They correlate high wealth and successful institutions, with high national average IQs (and low with low).

Hive Mind is essentially upbeat, because it is clear that average intelligence can be raised. It argues that nations with low averages could and will achieve much more as conditions are changed to generate higher average intelligence.

But now summarises current science reporting on one of the issues so prudently avoided by the author of Hive Mind.

Genetics and intelligence differences: five special findings says that nature (genes) trump nurture conclusively for intelligence. And of course nearly everyone has heard something of the many studies showing that intelligence is the best predictor for common relative measures of individual economic, social and health success.

This area of science is a slow slip intellectual earthquake. It could collapse some of our the key political verities (sacred and immune from question since eugenics and Nazis discredited all challengers) the way Darwin undermined established religion. The report is not dumbed down enough for me to understand it confidently. But there is enough to tell me we are heading toward some knowledge that could be as awkward for democracies (and as tempting to dark forces) as Darwinism was for the Victorians.

The liberal establishment may try to ignore the contradictions for as long as possible. Currently for non-scientists it is simply a heresy to be marginalised. It has not even reached the challenger status of bio-engineering, which the Green clerics are fighting to keep out of disciplined national debate. But religious loons, even establishment ones, eventually get swept away if they fail to develop intellectual ways to reconcile (abandon or render meaningless) wishful falsehood (Adam and Eve) with established fact (evolution).

That at least is the confident expectation of our civilisation.

But other outcomes are possible. The Islamic world was far ahead of the warrior culture primitives from Europe for several hundred years. But when it came to competition between the priestly class and the other intellectuals the former won. They banned knowledge that could imply the Koran did not contain all that was necessary for a [virtuous] life. I was fascinated in Samarkand by the astronomy developed by one of their great rulers. He calculated the circumference of the earth while Europeans were still worrying about falling off the edge.

But even he could not survive when the imans ganged up and had him and his brilliant scholars killed, to create a Central Asia version of the Dark Ages.

Hopefully our establishment will respond as it did eventually to 19th century science. There are very good reasons for concern about connecting inheritance, including racial inheritance, to intelligence. Racism needs little encouragement. But we need to work out how to live with inherited differences without embedding inherited privilege in our law and government.

The US Founding Fathers (some of whom were as near to atheist as political prudence allowed them) were concerned that their constitution could not work without the social glue and bounds of fervent Christian belief. We may be right to wonder if it is possible to keep racism out of the exercise of coercive state power, if there is widespread disbelief in the fond official conviction that we can all be born with equal potential.

We should be trying to develop a coherent reset now, to avoid being swept away by the forces we’ve rightly fought for decades. The winners could be neo-clerical oppressors (suppressing unwelcome knowledge and ruling as the arbiters of what may be thought and said) or the more commonly feared meritocratic indifference to the poor, or even racists who think they no longer need to apologise.

What if “the poor are always with you” by birth-decreed definition despite the very best a determined welfare state can do.  With Bill English and Paula Bennett trying mentoring, social investment and other “interventions”, the hand-up is getting a good fresh go.

But assortative mating (e.g at tertiary education campuses) may be stretching the tails at both ends of the distribution.  Is it making the vital capacities to postpone gratification, and persistence (for example) less evident and less possible for many? Can institutions that assume and rely on general self respect, self reliance and self control survive if they must cater for people who would prefer, and prosper better in, more paternalistic (authoritarian) environments? Can we create new institutions or mechanisms that respond to such differences? Without the risk of us being all put in them, or the unwanted or dangerous aspect of their cultures infusing all institutions? There is literary and folk memory of satisfaction for many in military careers and master/servant relationships we now officially regard as demeaning.

Such institutions or mechanisms might not be compatible with the pervasive hind sight lawyer exposure and micro-management we have evolved.

I suspect the drunken and drug addled despair of Aboriginal communities in Australia could be how our families might respond if our intelligence in tracking and living in an impossible environment suddenly became irrelevant, and a significant proportion of our whanau were unlikely to be able to follow and contribute to the conversation of those who’ve rendered our special skills and aptitudes worthless. From Australia’s struggles, it is not obvious that liberal individualism, or  ”non-judgmental” (values indifferent, non-authoritarian?) welfarism can create a setting to remedy that despair.

It might need a more realistic recognition of the wish of some communities for a kind of chosen rule that is more paternalistic and communitarian. Can such communities co-exist alongside communities that want more individualistic liberty, (and its accompanying self-reliance)?

Stephen Franks is a principal of Wellington law firm Franks & Ogilvie and a former MP. He blogs at


paul scott said...

Its interesting to see that political scientists like Jones and Flynn are catching up with research which biologists like Edward Wilson showed in the the 1970's.
And of course biologists don't necessarily have quite that same timid failure to associate genetic characteristics with race or sex.
A possible reason we have the Flynn effect at all, is that he Flynn is not a regressive, I mean, progressive academic.
The Blank slate theory has been consigned to historical darkness, since I was on a Taranaki cheese farm.

Even Google [ but not facebook ] has a list of IQ by Nation.
This gives a near linear correspondence of National wealth to National IQ.
Except North Korea which population is marked at 106 IQ.
Now how did IQ researchers get into North Korea. Maybe they extrapolated the results from South, and assigned results.
And how do researchers measure IQ? Thats right by recognition of blotches, dots and lines in different patterns.
No wonder the Gambians have low IQ, they don't do blotches and dots and circles.

I don't doubt the basic findings, but they are common knowledge.
If you want to take it further you can do a regional analysis by straight forward social applications.
Like, go to the Gore for a week. Then come over here to Thailand and ask the Bangkokians about them poor Isaan farmer up North without tractor.
Bangkok will tell you. @ They are slow village, and don't forgot the North West Thai they dumb also very much".
and China IQ 105 ?? Laos, Vietnam, Thailand about 95.

Comparative year reports show that regions like Germany with open Immigration to colonisers from Islam have a drop in average IQ.
Germany now doing its best, has give away video showing stone age people how to have sex with white people
And we can see Muldoon [ bless his memory ] was right.
Every New Zealander that leaves for Australia raises the average IQ of both Countries.

Common knowledge is that there are Regional, racial and sexual biological characteristics.
Its just that regressive academics are fudgy cake stupid. They should be confined to research on grasshoppers.

Unknown said...

" IQ is what the tests measure. "
This is (or was) conveyed to hundreds of thousands (if not millions ) of first year psychology students for the best part of a century in the West.
And what do the tests measure? The answer to this lies with the way the tests are validated. And nearly all the IQ tests used on a mass basis have been evaluated by correlating with grades in school.
In short, these tests measure the extent to which a person is "school bright". And anybody who has been to school knows that one can be bright at school and rather hopeless at everything else, and vice versa.
So IQ scores can be influenced by everything that influences performance at school, of which "genetic intelligence" whatever that might be is but one component.
International comparisons of IQ scores are therefore an indicator of the level of school brightness of the population, and casual observation of the data suggests that is a reasonable conclusion.
Indeed, factor analytic studies show that scores on the most widely used IQ tests correlate most strongly with verbal / language skills which are essential for success at school, but may be less important in other areas of life.
Flynn showed that IQ scores in populations have improved over time correlated with improved schooling, literacy, public health and social improvement generally while the gene pool could be assumed to remain more or less static.
International comparisons of IQ scores make sense as indicators of the general level of "school brightness" but do not provide any useful guide to the "genetic superiority" or otherwise of a population.

Dianna said...

It continues to amaze me how people argue about the value of genetics in any breeding situation, be it cows, dogs, horses or humans. Genetics will certainly profoundly influence physical appearance, intellectual ability and performance. From my observations of a lifetime of intense interest in such matters and the simple application of well known methods of ordinary measurement, such as Vilfredo Pareto's rule of 80/20, it is obvious that inferior genetics will produce inferior progeny approximately 80% of the time. You do not see horse breeders presenting stock at the Karaka sales that have been bred from any old stallion or mare, from inferior sires and dams, do you? So people need to realize, no matter how unpalatable the truth may be, that the same natural phenomenon of genetic influence that applies to other living organisms, also applies to humans. If it doesn't suit your particular set of values or political ambitions, then too bad. As they say, the truth ain't always pretty, but it also gives one confidence in the future, as once you accept the truth of genetics, you have knowledge of what to expect.

Bob Culver said...

The sad thing is that the more intellectually able are now discouraged from producing families. Careers and materialism are seen as all important. It is depressing to see many very intelligent women with no or few children. House prices near where many intelligent people work require diligent contribution by women into their thirties. Meanwhile, however little requirement there is for their services in modern society, the on average less intelligent are rewarded with a maintained, insulated state house, an income, and spared the tedium of work provided they multiply prolifically. Equal pay and opportunity and welfare works to lower average IQ. The only balance is the myriad immigrants from high IQ China, but it would likely make for better long term stability if the more able of those from the culture which built modern NZ went forth and multiplied, as they did in Victorian times.

paul scott said...

Prof Flynn appears in a you tube production called " Race, IQ, Genetics, and Denial".