Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Meandering: HBD

Not any strong point here, just a collection of small ones on the subject of HBD advocacy and counter-advocacy.

Greg Cochran over at West Hunter vents a little about folkswho do not accept the broad outlines of Human Biological Diversity.

Readers here will know that I am generally sympathetic to the HBD arguments for three reasons: they make good arguments based on data; they answer the counterarguments effectively; and the theory accords with things I know from other areas of experience* or study.  But I offer a significant cautionary note here.  I am not trained in biology at a level which allows me to apprehend all the arguments on both sides fully.  I don’t always have the foundational knowledge of genetics, especially, to ever be more than a talented amateur. Some new pile of information my come before me in the next few years which I can neither answer on my own not find credible explanation for from HBD advocates, and my assent would ebb accordingly.

You may say that this caveat should also apply to virtually all the anthropologists, sociologists, and journalists who do comment publicly on such matters, and I won’t disagree.  But I have to be concerned more with what comes out of my mouth or off my keyboard. 

I have said before, we none of us can run the experiments from scratch to prove much of anything.  The reason people believed the sun went around the earth is because it sure as hell looks like it does, day after day.  In our era we grow up with pictures of the solar system to counteract that and give some understanding how the heliocentric explanation might be true. Yet even armed with this, most of us would find it hard to prove even that relatively basic point of astronomy.  We are all almost utterly dependent on the work of others and the information they feed us. This is even more true for experts.

The near-reflexive argument against HBD is that related theories have been used to oppress others in nearly-modern times.  There are ready answers to this, but I find that folks don’t hang around for those long.  There seems to be an attitude similar to Elrond’s about Saruman. “It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the enemy, for good or ill.”  Some knowledge is too dangerous, and in the wrong hands can be destructive. We will speak of this no more. 

This is not very different from the “you are bad people” argument, however it is put.  HBD advocates understandably resent that – wouldn’t you? Replies take the form of “Since you brought it up, this believing stuff for bad reasons, you’ve opened the door to some pretty obvious reasons why it applies back at ya.  If I believe A for convenient reasons, mightn’t you also believe not-A for equally convenient reasons?  Do you really want to go there?”

The observer from Mars might see the justice of this, yet find himself no better off in discerning the truth.  It is true that most HBD advocates are male, and either Caucasian or NE Asian.  Exceptions abound, but that’s still the case.  It is at least possible that I/we are deriving some psychic gain from all this.  I don’t find that in myself, I find the opposite, or at least the echo of the haunting “If you’re so smart why ain’t you rich” cliché that dogs the bright but unambitious.  Still, I see the possibility.

And yet, why would such racists be so willing to include and even salute the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese, not to mention the Jews?  It seems odd.

The anti-HBD convenience of belief remains unexplained – not even attempted, so far as I know.  I am always suspicious of POV’s that never have to justify what’s in it for them.  There is certainly a government, non-profit, and academic industry that is built around the idea that culture explains ‘most everything, and that prejudice is especially what keeps people down.  If that’s not true, there’s lots of folks out of work at some very nice jobs.

But more than that, we all invest a great deal emotionally in our overall worldview.  It is expensive to abandon such things., and we should hardly wonder at the resistance. Nonetheless, I don’t attribute all such resistance to people papering over their worst emotions.  Not wanting to give even indirect encouragement to oppression and prejudice is a decent enough motive, and it is likely at least partly true, even among CEO’s of non-profits with six-figure incomes.  It might be a bit cowardly, or at least incurious intellectually, but we are most of us like that on most issues.

*Quite a varied list, actually. Mental health and heritability of certain conditions; Adoption (personal) and the hazards quietly known in the adoption community; IQ societies and psychometrics; Linguistics and human migrations; Jewish history, plus Mesoamerican and general near-Eastern; Genealogy and remote ancestry; it adds up.


james said...

Part of the reaction may stem from an unexamined belief that intelligence is the measure of human value, and that a more intelligent being is automatically superior.

If you can blame intellectual differences on environment and education, you can still find intrinsic equality, but if those differences are partly heritable and innate, and especially if there are racial differences, then they will be compelled to infer that some men are innately superior to others.

At bottom they (I hope) know that isn't true, and since the conclusion is false they reject the claim of heritability.

I don't think any part of the culture (except maybe science fiction) explicitly makes that connection between value and intelligence, but we pick it up from osmosis somehow--I did, and had to deliberately shake it.

It might be amusing to imagine how those talks about "white privilege" would change if HBD were mainstream. Maybe "From him to whom much has been given much is required"? (No, that'd probably make the instructors break out in hives...)

Sam L. said...

Jame, some men are innately superior to others. But not all men sharing the same characteristics. And we only figure it out by studying one person in comparison to others. Blacks, as a whole, may have a median smartness less that some groups; white groups, too. There are too many dumb people of all colors and creeds.

I don't stack up well against good examples myself.

james said...

"Superiority" needs a little careful parsing. In higher math I'm superior to 99% of the people on the street, but there are guys who can imagine a device and slap it together; something that takes me a lot of design and sometimes wastes an inferior prototype. Could I learn? Maybe--but I don't visualize things the same way, so probably not.

Some people are the ones you turn to in an emergency, others ones you turn to when you have a painful decision. Superior in their domain, not outside it

With respect to skill sets and inherent abilities, I think I will follow the apostle Paul's model and think of them as assigned roles in which we assist each other.

We can also, I think more properly, use "superior" to describe someone's character. While the final judgment on that is God's, we often get a little hint of which people are at least trying to do right.

We don't always develop our gifts without an appropriate environment, and the culture we live in can discourage us from developing our character. There are quite a few points of difference between the US black ghetto culture and what you can find in (much poorer) Africa, despite the huge US media presence there.

To give a weird "for instance", some Christian missions found that they had better luck with Muslim workers than Christian ones--because the Muslims didn't usually drink. Same tribes, slightly different cultures, significant impact on keeping promises to show up for work. (You just have to get used to the fact that a cousin's problem is going to be more important than the boss's hope to get starting building tomorrow.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I am glad the discussion went in this direction. It sometimes seems that those most uncomfortable with HBD concepts have extremely ambivalent attitudes toward g-loaded intelligence - denying out loud its importance while worshiping it in practice and resenting that they don't have more.

That's not just irony and character flaw however. The half-dozen most flat-out brilliant people i have known have been mixed in their attitudes about themselves and others. Some clearly thought they were better than others, though they might give lip service otherwise. But the others would speak wistfully of other qualities they wished they had instead, having real admiration for folks who did have them. Abstract reasoning was just an attribute to them, like height or musical ability.