One marvels that a creed widely doubted in private, unsupported by evidence, and manifestly incorrect, can become compulsory in a society, shape its policy, and arouse furious support. Radical egalitarianism is such a creed — the notion that people, both individually and in groups, are born equal and, preferably, identical. It would then follow that all differences arise from nurture.
What if they don’t?
As a matter of daily experience we observe that some individuals are bigger, smarter, better athletes, superior artists, better singers. It isn’t all nurture: Raise me as Michael Jordan was raised, and I would still be short and slow. We also observe that some groups consistently excel others. We pretend otherwise because the penalties for not pretending are severe. Most of us know we are pretending.
There is at the University of Ontario a scholar named J. Philippe Rushton, much in disrepute among the clergy of nurturism. He is a sociobiologist, a member of an outcast class holding that much of behavior is biologically shaped. His book, Race, Evolution, and Behavior, is intensely reviled among the keepers of proper thought.* It purports to describe and explain differences in intelligence and behavior among races. This we must never, ever do.
I don’t give it blanket endorsement, but its central thrust is sufficiently in accord with daily experience as to be worth pondering. In outline:
The IQ of East Asians (Koreans, Chinese, Japanese) is about 106, of Eurowhites 100, “blacks” in America 85, blacks in Africa 70. He does not in the book deal with Jews, but Ashkenazi Jews average 115. The East Asians have a particular advantage in mathematics.
The moment one recites the statistics, frantic counterarguments arise. Race doesn’t exist or, contradictorily, isn’t important. Intelligence doesn’t exist, can’t be defined, or can’t be measured. Tests are biased. In short, anything that gives an undesired answer undergoes summary rejection.
Now, readers may reach such conclusions as they think best. But allow me two questions and an assertion. The first question: Do you not know some people who are unquestionably smarter than some others? The second question: Given that races demonstrably differ in appearance, size, bodily proportions, biochemistry, brain size, and a thousand other things, is there any obvious reason why they should not vary in intelligence? In behavior?
The assertion: The people who devise tests of intelligence, as anyone may discover by reading, are neither fools, nor bigots, nor unaware of the problems of testing. Dismiss them only after much reading and careful thought.
The thesis of the sociobiologists is as follows: Men evolved about 200,000 years ago in Africa. Some migrated to Europe about 100,000 years ago and, then being in genetic isolation from Africa, evolved into the Caucasian race. Roughly 40,000 years ago some of the Caucasians migrated to Asia and, in genetic isolation, evolved into East Asians.
Life in northern Europe, runs the argument, was far more difficult than it had been in Africa because of, if nothing else, harsh winters. Survival required not just the intelligence to keep warm but also cooperation, forethought, planning, and cohesion. The people who would become East Asians, living in still more difficult conditions, needed more of these qualities. Those who survived had them.
This may be true. It may not. In evolutionary circles, plausibility trades as evidence. Yet it fits.
Says Rushton, on the basis of many years of research, there exists a clear gradient in many things from yellow to white to black. Asians have somewhat larger brains than whites who have substantially larger brains than blacks. Measured aggressiveness follows the same pattern of a small gap between yellow and white and a larger gap between white and black. The pattern applies for other characteristics: East Asians are lowest in testosterone levels, latest in entering puberty, lowest in size of genitals, degree of criminality, sex drive, rates of fertility, rates of divorce and promiscuity. Blacks are at the other extreme, with whites falling between.
Rushton is no fool. He knows that some of these things are influenced by variables other than the innate. He knows the pitfalls in cross-cultural measurement. Yet, he asserts, the pattern remains. In the United States, for example, crime is very low among East Asians, academic performance very high, divorce rare, families small.
In short, his thesis is that while environment obviously matters in determining outcomes, our capacities and behavior are very much influenced by genetics. The idea is not new, merely forbidden. Rushton et al however make a careful evidentiary case that is not easily ignored, unless you have determined in advance to ignore it.
Nurturists disagree with the sociobiologists. Behavior that seems racial, they argue, is in fact determined by culture. The question is tricky. Culture may itself be to a considerable extent the expression of biology. If East Asians are by nature less aggressive than whites, perhaps because of lower levels of testosterone, one would expect the lack of aggressiveness to be embodied in the culture. That is, naturally quiet people will raise their children to be quiet and be inclined to value courtesy. The nurturist can then say, “Aha! Just as I thought. Socially ingrained.” Maybe. Maybe not.
A shift in the intellectual climate seems to be in the offing. Increasingly we see a clash between the compulsory view that we are all identical at birth, which would happily allow the eradication of various inequalities and of crime; and the quietly held but growing recognition that if we are inherently different, as seems to be the case, we will unavoidably have different results.
The question cannot easily be studied. The nurturists are politically in the saddle, and so research into racial differences is verboten. One may ask, of course: Why do the correct fear investigation, unless they know, or suspect, that they are wrong? It is assuredly true that, in the past, theories of racial superiority have often emanated from virulent nationalists who have sought to place their own stock at the top of the heap. The inevitable comparison is with Hitler, a dark squatty little thing convinced of the superiority of blonde Aryan supermen.
In Rushton’s case we are dealing with something else. A white Canadian who believes in yellow supremacy is hardly aggrandizing himself. I am myself a purebred Euro-mongrel without known trace of Asian or Jewish ancestry. I’d like to regard Scots/English/Huguenot cocktails as the pinnacle of civilization, and those in cowboy hats as the better of the best. I don’t see the evidence. Rushton’s gradient accords with my observations whether I like it or not. Perhaps we had better get used to Chinese mathematicians.
* Amazon has it.