Intelligence If Any: Its Care and Feeding

Today, fun with genetics, specifically genetic determination of intelligence and behavior. In doing this we will seek to annoy as many people as possible. (This column prides itself on being an equal-opportunity irritant. ) First, reference to amusing contradictions in IQ theory as offered by IQists and such as the Human Biodiversity Movement (hbd).

Let’s start with Colombia, since I know the country reasonably well. Colombians are said to have a mean IQ of 84. This is quite dim, below hamsters but better than turnips. Yet they run  airlines, telecommunications, and all the things one associates with modern cities. How is this?

There is no contradiction here provided that IQists say clearly, without the usual evasion, that a mean IQ of 84 is sufficient to produce enough people with enough intelligence do these things. But then it follows that American blacks, mean IQ 85, can also run modern cities and airlines and so on. Why don’t they? Since the cause is not low intelligence (they are a bit smarter than Colombians), it must be because of social factors, such as discrimination, or institutional obstacles.

This is great fun as it has the invariably conservative IQists agreeing with their liberal opponents. Hbd folk thus become Social Justice Warriors.

A common response from IQists is that, Fred, any population will produce a few intelligent people, and these obviously are the ones doing the mentally demanding work. Well, yes, any distribution will produce some, bright folk but can it produce enough? (And would this not also apply to blacks? The money question here is why two  populations with essentially equal IQs produce such very different outcomes.)

Those espousing the theory of a few intelligent people doing all the thinking may not realize how much intelligence of various levels one needs to operate a modern society. Consider:

Most countries have large numbers of banks, often several in towns of any size. The clerks in these do not need to be geniuses, but they have to understand exchange rates, SWIFT codes, intermediate banks, interest rates, and so on. They cannot be dummies. The computers on their desks are networked to each other, so someone must establish and maintain the network. They are also linked to corporate, probably in the capital city, requiring wide-area engineers and programmers who can maintain the software. Banks have ATMs, requiring more technicians and networking. Again, not Stephen Hawking, but all pulled from a population (mean IQ 84) in which fewer than one in six has the average white American’s IQ of  100.

The same considerations holds across the economy. Dentists can’t be stupid, nor can their professors in dental school, nor the people who sell and maintain their equipment. The Honda dealership needs people who can repair engines covered in mysterious wires and tubes like malign linguini, who can use diagnostic computers, who can maintain same, who can handle accounting and inventory. The telecom net needs very smart programmers, hardware geeks, and the helpline techs who talk distraught customers through the innards of their modems when something goes wrong. The airlines need pilots, people to train pilots, to maintain radar and avionics and high-bypass turbofans. Hospitals are littered with surgeons and specialists who had to be trained by others, as well as CAT scanners and MRI and optical-coherence tomography machines. And someone maintains these.

At what point as we go down the IQ scale does the distribution cease to provide enough people at various levels of intelligence to make the society function?  Below 84 obviously. Eighty? Seventy? Determining this would be statistically tricky, but the failure of IQists to tie theory to observation, or to address glaring contradictions,  makes their arguments unconvincing.

Or might there–shudder–be something wrong with IQ as a measure of intelligence?

A staple of hbd theory is that people came dim-witted out of Africa and then, moving to cold regions, evolved intelligence to stay alive in harsh conditions. (It seems to me they would have to be stupid to go live in frigid lands. After all, Africa was big, warm, full of food, and largely unoccupied. But what do I know?) Curiously, Eskimos live in about the coldest places around and, say IQists, are not too bright.

Something that confuses me, as a depressing number of things do, are the Indians of the Americas. The northern ones never did much of anything brain-wise. They are supposed to have a mean IQ of 85–that is, higher than that of Colombians, who repair avionics. Most odd. The Indians of Mesoamerica, meaning sort of southern Mexico and Guatemala, have mean IQ 83.  Yet they invented writing, a base-twenty exponential number system complete with zero, the wheel, five floor buildings of poured concrete, and big cities. I would not have associated vigesimal exponentiation with an IQ of 83. Yet today they exhibit substantial mental torpor. Go figure.

Another and somewhat disconcerting belief of hbd is that our personalities, and therefore behavior, are largely genetically determined. That is, we are not moral of not, conservative or liberal, religious or atheist because of thought and free choice but because our genes dictate these things. Psychologists have compiled tables  purporting to show, for example, the heritability of openness to new ideas is at .8, sexual promiscuity .5, and so on. (I made those up, but you can google for tables.)

The disconcerting part is that the evidence seems to support this. Any dog breeder will tell you that both character and intelligence are innate: Border collies, Chihuahuas, and timber wolves inherently have different approaches to things. Blank slates they are not. In humans, twin studies clearly show a high degree of genetic determination of character. Further, I note before going into hiding, races are subspecies of humans as breeds are subspecies of dogs.

The belief in genetic control leads to a couple of interesting situations. The first is the problem of the observer being part of the system observed. The conservative hbder (almost all are) is arguing that his political views are not the result of logic but of his genetic make-up, like eye color. This makes unnerving sense. People raised in the same suburb, attending the same school, watching the same movies and similar home lives often end up with diametrically opposed politics.

A second curiosity is this: Suppose that as genetics advances, as it rapidly does, we find that certain sequences indicate an  eighty percent chance that the individual will engage in violent behavior. When he commits assault and battery, should the court give him only twenty percent of the normal sentence on the grounds that eighty percent was genetic and thus beyond his control? Then there is the question often asked of what to do if the genetic profile of a six-year-old shows him unmistakably to be a psychopath.

On the subject of violence, hbd types point out that  rates of homicide are substantially higher in Latin America than in, say, white Europe and the white population of th e US.. This is true. It is exceedingly true in Mexico. Inevitably hbders conclude that the violence must be genetic in provenance.

Perhaps. However it is entertaining to pick a date–1900 will serve–and ask how many wars, with how many accompany dead, have been launched by a Latin American country against any other country. Then do the same for the white race. Add up the dead. Start with WWI and WWII. How many wars are white countries fighting now? How many are Latin American fighting?

One might easily conclude that whites are far more violent than Latin Americans or Orientals, though given to doing their killing in organized groups. Since the pattern holds over long periods of time, it might seem genetic.

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