Tuesday, May 05, 2015


Update: Percentiles corrected.

What to say, what to say...

Everyone is wrong here.

My Bing and MSN news feeds are full of links from liberals commenting on how bad unemployment is, how white people just don't understand the frustration, how endemic the police brutality is, and how unfairly the decent people of Baltimore are being portrayed.  The idea that feelings of powerlessness lead to some semi-justification is common.  Only a few stories that would be cheered by conservatives sneak in.  My FB feed is more mixed, with a lot of the above from my liberal friends, and a lot of complaint from conservative friends that these cities have been run by Democrats for two generations, mayors, councils, police forces, schools, and this is what you get.  Lots of blather from all sides about lack of fathers, lack of opportunity, systemic racism, the nonsense they teach in schools these days...

You can summarise all this yourself better than I can, because some of you have TV and are exposed to the popular culture responses more fully than I am. Takle a moment to recall there standard cliches of the last few weeks.


Two things, one on each "side" irritate me most: conservatives who point to something-or-other and say "I too have experienced prejudice."  No, you really haven't, not so thoroughly, unless perhaps if you have a severe physical or mental disability.  You may have individual incidents of being hated or discriminated against, including prejudice from black people - and you may have lived in an area where some other group was equally ostracised, but the pervasive prejudice experienced by African-Americans is just different. From a hundred meters away people are judging you and you are always trying to get up over.

On the other side, the claim by liberals, especially black journalists, that they understand what the African-Americans in Baltimore are feeling and thinking, is ludicrous.  They are projecting what they themselves are angry about, and assuming that the young men of Baltimore must, simply must, be thinking the same thing.  They are reinforced in this by the genuine downtrodden of Baltimore, and Detroit, and St. Louis, who nod their heads and say "Yeah, that's it."  This gives the journalists the impression that they are giving voice to the voiceless and all that.

It's not true. While there is overlap in the experience of blackness whether you live in inner Baltimore or nicer suburbs, the experience is not the same. Ta-Nehisi Coates does not actually understand that culture.  He could potentially understand it better than I do, but he doesn't because he deludes himself into overlooking the obvious.  That nearly all my life examples of sub 80 IQ are white, I actually have some advantage.  Race is no distraction.

Let me explain what's different. The people who were able to escape the cities and get a leg up in the world are different from those who haven't managed it. There are a lot of qualities that could possibly go into succeeding in life.  The Dungeon and Dragons categories (following the necessary virtues for medieval adventure) were Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma. Of these, only three are that measurable: Strength, Intelligence, and Dexterity. All three are essentially genetic.  We don't know about the others so well, but the dial is starting to point that way for those as well.

Strength and Dexterity still have their uses, especially in athletics and the arts, but they aren't worth what they used to be.

Charisma can indeed overcome a lot of obstacles, but it's hard to count on. Wisdom may be mostly ability to keep one's temper and delay gratification, plus some empathy. Those are turning out to correlate strongly with Intelligence.

It's not the only good survival quality, but it is enormously necessary in Western culture (and increasingly in worldwide cultures), and it is very measurable.

But inner-city Baltimore hasn't got it.  The counties around Baltimore include five of the top nine most affluent areas for African-Americans. Many of those folks came out of Baltimore over the last 40 years. Inner Baltimore, according to its school test scores, has an average IQ of 80 (Black 76, white 86). I don't know much about Baltimore, but I know a fair bit about IQ 80. I don't think most people get how low that is, how limited the abilities of people with those scores are. A hundred years ago, there were still plenty of jobs for them to do.

I believe we are moving into a world where fewer and fewer of us will have (decent) jobs.  The citizens of Baltimore are the canaries in the mine.

Remember percentile scores on your gradeschool standardised tests? 86 is 16th percentile.  80 is 10th percentile.  76 is 4th percentile. 80 is about the lowest score where you can graduate highschool - if you have other good qualities like determination, friendliness, resilience.  Without those, you aren't graduating without help. Consider this graph, which shows what the range of IQ's are for various jobs. If you have a large housekeeping staff where you work, a few might be grandfathered in who score as low as 76.  But usually, the knowledge of chemicals, rules, and techniques require more than that. Restaurant dishwashing is barely in range, bussing tables barely in range. At a construction site, IQ 80 is mostly only able to do what is directly ordered.  Being a carpenter is out of range.

Conservatives have to stop saying that it's just a matter of expecting more from people and not rewarding pathology.  Incentives do work in the real world, but they have to be attainable. I have no idea what will work in Baltimore in the short or long run, but just  being stern and having good role models or higher standards is not going to work.  It's just cruelty.

Liberals need to stop pretending that racism is the cause of failure, just because it sounds more encouraging.  Racism is real and has some effect, but it's not the main cause.  Racism was far worse 50 and 100 years ago, and the more able have benefited from its reduction. But that reduction has not benefited the left half of the bell curve.  It just hasn't. I don't know what will.  But having more blacks on the police force, teaching in the schools, being on City Councils, or getting elected mayor has not had any noticeable effect anywhere on crime rates or test scores.  There are 3000 counties, each with different cultures, demographics, salaries, training, and expectations, and they all have much higher violent crime rates among African Americans.  They can't all be equally racist.


Bonus understanding:  John Derbyshire got in trouble a few years ago for what he called The Talk: Nonblack Version. Derb is a better mathematician than I, but I think he misread the data and got his numbers wrong.  He focused on the 1SD lower score of African-Americans in general, and just assumed that this leftward sliding of the curve applied automatically to the black people he meets. It doesn't.  John Derbyshire does not meet that many African-Americans from the left side of the Gaussian distribution. (Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't meet that many more.) So when he meets a black waitress, she is not, on average, 15 points down the scale from the white waitresses.  5 is more likely, 10 at most.  Within range so that other factors, such as charm, experience, attention to detail, and effort could outweigh the disadvantage.  And when we are considering individuals rather than populations, even that much assumption is as likely to blow up in your face as prove out.


Sam L. said...

A good post to cogitate on.

Jonathan said...

The problem with Derbyshire's article was that he seems pleased with the differences in IQ. A normal person might see if there was a difference, but would not be exulting in it.

Laura said...

Good post, although I would make two quibbles. First, I suspect that at least a portion of the bad test results is due, not to can't, but to won't-- won't cooperate with what the system wants them to do. Given that the system is demonstrably corrupt, callous and incompetent, I'd expect that at least some of the students are simply refusing to seriously try to answer the questions.

But I'll grant you that the average there is well below the nationwide average intelligence. That brings me to my second point: that makes the chaotic, incompetent and ill-resourced schools even more of an outrage. The one chance that these kids have, to make the best of what little they've got, and we hand their futures over to THESE losers?

You're right, that the world is changing, and the options for the least-intelligent are fast disappearing. As a rule of thumb, service workers need to generate about 3 times their salary in revenue for their employers in order to stay in business-- that covers taxes, overhead, insurance, etc. and about breaks even. (In manufacturing, it can be as high as 100x salary, BTW.) That doesn't get you a raise, that keeps you from getting pink-slipped right now. That's as true for me, a PhD engineer, as it is for the cashier at McD's. And the revenue has to be money that customers (who don't know you, nor give a rat's butt about your welfare) choose to take out of their pockets and exchange for your services. That gets harder and harder to do, as engineers like me make it easier and easier for IQ 90+'s to do things for themselves. (We also make it easier and easier for the totally unemployed to be fed, housed, clothed, etc., if that helps.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

i grant that the "won't's" may be more numerous in discouraged populations, but that would likely be a pretty accurate proxy for how hard they tried at other things, too.

james said...

So what needs restructuring?
Education--we need to think about what we mean by it and who can benefit from what.
Family and dependency: some method for pooling resources (each individually inadequate for self-sufficiency) but which cumulatively can support the extended family? That is a tough one, in that it demands that the govt recognize institutions outside itself, while the tendency is the opposite direction. (I'll try to elaborate on that some other time)
Rethinking automation at the micro-level. (I don't trust top-down solutions.)

Texan99 said...

Policies that chase all the 80-plus residents of any race out of a central city are just as dangerous as what has traditionally been called "white flight." We may be able to make society work for mixed communities of the whole spectrum of intelligence. I doubt we can fix whole communities of average-80 by pumping in welfare checks and accusing everyone of racism.

As someone at Breitbart said the other day, right now Baltimore is one big real-time infomercial for the NRA and U-Haul. Pretending that the policies that got it where it is are going to do anything but exacerbate the flight of all the citizens who can take care of themselves and make jobs for others is just nuts.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think James's and T99's comments about pooling resources and mixed communities are the most likely solutions to have success. Conservatives tend not to like it because of the glorification of bootstrap accomplishment, and liberals won't like it because the government checkers want to see resources doled out in predictable categories where they can control the flow. But putting energy and money into helping people in the very difficult balancing of shared resources seems like an excellent thing to encourage. Knowing that people need space and freedom, but are now bound to band together, how can we help them do that? Societies have managed it over thousands of years - what can we copy? Economic circumstances will provide lots of incentive. Can we find the twig that turns the stream for at least some of our citizens?

RichardJohnson said...

Having taught in black majority schools, I concur with Laura's point that low test scores among many blacks are not merely a reflection of intelligence, but also of hostility to the educational system.

William Newman said...

"You may have individual incidents of being hated or discriminated against, including prejudice from black people - and you may have lived in an area where some other group was equally ostracised, but the pervasive prejudice experienced by African-Americans is just different. From a hundred meters away people are judging you and you are always trying to get up over."

I think the Caucasian experience in Asia might be able to give the US a run for its money, for the kinds of differences you called out. How likely is Japan or Korea or Taiwan to elect a Caucasian president any time soon? And I have never lived in Asia, and only briefly visited (in the Philippines), but I have been a white guy going to Asian go clubs, and I have seen black guys going to US chess clubs, and while I guess it's possible that deep down the level of prejudice tends to be stronger in the second case, superficially it looked to me like the opposite might be the case.

I do see a qualitative difference, but it's one that you didn't mention: Caucasians tend to enjoy some level of wary respect even in regions and subcultures where we're systematically excluded from positions of respect and trust (political power, banking, socially suitable marriage prospects...): Caucasians may be considered morally unworthy or ritually unclean or too alien to be worth the trouble, may even be considered lazy or stupid or irresponsible in some sense, but it is hard to completely ignore that one should define 'lazy' and 'stupid' and 'irresponsible' narrowly and carefully to work around how Caucasians have displayed an irritating tendency to make H-bombs or sequence your DNA or break your cryptosystems or continue to play a big role in international trade. So when Caucasians face hostility, it tends to be the pattern of hostility that e.g. Jews and overseas Chinese face, not the pattern that Blacks (or separatist American Indians or, um, groups I know a lot less about about --- Gypsies, Koreans in Japan, untouchables in India, untouchable-alikes in Korea and Japan...) face. Blacks (etc.) can face relatively pure negativity untempered with so many awkward historical reminders that given a chance they have shown themselves to be irritatingly effective rivals.

I don't know enough about the history to be sure, but my impression is that the Scots from ca. 1700 to 1800 and US southerners from ca. 1890 to 1990 transitioned from mostly experiencing one kind of hostility to mostly experiencing the other, and perhaps also Koreans and Indians over time intervals that I'm less sure of but were perhaps somewhat shorter.

None of that means that Caucasians won't get treated badly in any given time and place, but it means that odds are they will suffer the usual market-dominant minority mistreatment, which can tend to differ in some ways from the pattern of comprehensively downtrodden minority mistreatment. (Though it can also be awfully similar: e.g., round up Gypsies and Jews and kill 'em all.)

Texan99 said...

I imagine women who try to invade a man's province have a pretty good notion.

Laura said...

In passing: "won't" is far different from "can't" in that it's very much changeable.

So... I assume that some of the difference is fixed, either due to poor genetics, or to permanent damage received from the environment (drug use, lead exposure, abuse, etc.) But there's at least a chunk of the problem due to "won't", not "can't". That breaks down into response to pressure external to the group (financial disincentives to marriage and work, corrupt and incompetent police and schools, etc.) and internal group dysfunctions (machismo and misogyny, disrespect for education, etc.)

Understand that behavior that is dysfunctional in YOUR environment may be entirely adaptive and rational in THEIR environment. For example, interpreting negative comments as "dissing" and being willing to threaten and even carry out physical violence in response. In your (or my) environment, this would be massively negative. But where there is little or no honest enforcement of laws (like inner-city Baltimore), this is a survival necessity: predators start by non-verbal threats, then verbal, then escalate to minor physical confrontation, then escalate again to robbery and assault. Just like lions startling a herd of antelope, looking for one who can't run. The smart reaction is to always scan your environment for the first threat, and respond forcefully and immediately. Just like in Renaissance Italy, or feudal Japan, for that matter. The solution is not, "they're hopeless morons" or "let's just talk slowly to them about Gandhi until they get it"... it's effective policing of fair laws.

So: we should remove the negative external pressures first, and then let's see how much is left over. No need to write them off until that's tried seriously.

ymarsakar said...

Anything you fix, the Democrats will break, as they always have in the past.

Reconstruction included. Republican elections and amendments, included.

Fighting HIV by treating the symptoms of the disease might superficially improve health, but the fundamental problem is still unerased. Pneumonia or an infection can kill someone with AIDS, but that's only because of the HIV. The fundamental issue wasn't the symptom, the race riots or the racism. The fundamental issue was what happened first in American history and that would be the Democrat party and later on the Leftist alliance.

Zimri said...

re, the "point that low test scores among many blacks are not merely a reflection of intelligence, but also of hostility to the educational system."

-The corruption of the educational system is the effect, not the cause.

The best school in the world cannot turn a 75-IQ child into a PhD engineer. What a school *can* do is to keep him off the streets (and her out of child-prostitution) until the age of 18. It may or may not also be able to pound the child into submission.

You work with what you got.

Zimri said...

And to ymarsakar - Please do not equate the Democrats of the 1860s, who often called themselves "Conservatives" on the ballot; with the Democrats of today, who only ever do that as "fiscal", that is to promise more taxes.

Or, if you do, please identify yourself as a Conservative, Inc. hack and do not pretend to understand American history.

Texan99 said...

I suspect that the corruption of the school system is not the direct effect of having lower-IQ students to work with, but of refusing to accept the results of applying one's education philosophy and budget to those students. That is, corruption creeps in when you insist that the lower-IQ students are entitled to higher grades and better jobs, so you just get used to lying. It doesn't help if the teachers are drawn from the resulting pool.

RichardJohnson said...

Can things be improved? Yes. At the 2% white school where I taught one year and also substituted before I taught there, there was a significant change over the years in the pass rate for the state's standardized math tests, from below 20% to about 65%. This improvement took a long time, around 6-7 years. I recall one plan which anticipated changing the pass rate in ONE YEAR from 30% to 90%. Not going to happen.

This improvement did NOT come about by repeatedly taking practice test upon practice test, which is a total waste of time. Rather, it came about by focusing on one skill at a time - such as addition and subtraction of fractions. Take a short test of 5 to ten minutes and from the results of the test focus on each student's weaknesses and focus in on improving them. Rinse and repeat.

This involves very detailed planning- which is far beyond the time budget of a single teacher. This needs to be a collective effort. Result: instead of the teacher as the playwright, the teacher is the actor, the deliverer of the script.

Regarding the inherent attributes of different populations, perhaps this could be seen by this 65% pass rate then being fairly consistent for a number of years. For comparison, predominantly white schools had pass rates of 80-95, as opposed to the 65% at this majority minority school. Can things be improved? Yes, but there are probably limits to how much things can be improved.

RichardJohnson said...

I suspect that the corruption of the school system is not the direct effect of having lower-IQ students to work with, but of refusing to accept the results of applying one's education philosophy and budget to those students.

An anecdote in support. The principal at the school where I taught was adamant that for the first marking period, teachers do all they can to give students a passing grade. In my case this meant that instead of flunking half my students, I flunked less than 10%.

At another majority/minority school, I knew a teacher who was considered a master teacher,with student test scores supporting that claim. The first marking period he taught, he flunked a third of his students. The students, not wanting to flunk, began to work harder.

I suspect that had I flunked more students in the beginning- which my principal did not want me to do- I would have had more attentive students.

Principals do not like to have high flunk rates because of the ensuing irate calls from parents.

Texan99 said...

Our society is convulsed over the notion of what success means, whether it's OK to promote it, and how we should go about that task. For everyone who believes that flunking a third of class would cause many of the failing students to kick themselves into gear, there is someone convinced that criticism instills despair--or at least that it's likely to do so among "disadvantaged" students who lack support at home, etc. And so it probably does, if the message is delivered the wrong way--if, for instance, the culture of the school isn't set up to encourage the kids to try again, of if the school doesn't visibly place a high value on the honesty of grades, so that the students know when they've received a good grade it means that they really have mastered a subject and can take that skill out into the world to improve their lives with.

In a desperate situation like a Baltimore school, it may be true that a lot of kids simply lack the IQ to master an ordinary curriculum. I can swallow that if I have to, but before I believe it about the entire student body I at least want to see them taught by teachers who know their subject (not just union members with education degrees), and graded honestly. Some of them won't care if they fail; some of them have families or peer groups that do nothing to make them want to succeed. But the least we can do is make the education genuinely available to whatever fraction have the horsepower and the will to learn, despite their dreadful living conditions. Maybe we can't expect many Nobel laureates, but we can educate people to the limit of their intellectual capacity instead of letting the schools use them as inert meal tickets: bums on seat for federal dollars.