Nature over Nurture
I just finished Dr. Charles Murray’s most recent book, Human Diversity, The Biology of Gender, Race and Class. I believed it would be a good complement to the other books I have been reading recently that attempt to explain human economic and political activity in terms of science and psychology instead of philosophy and ideology as has been the norm. Economics has had difficulty in predicting outcomes because classical economic theory assumes that people make rational economic decisions. But Daniel Kahneman, the founder of behavioral economics, and others have shown that people often do not make rational decisions. They often make decisions based on gut feelings that defy rational analysis. And politics is even worse.
In my search for a better understanding of what is really going on, I have studied psychology, neurobiology and, now, genetics. The result has been depressing. We are not the rational actors and we think we are. We react instinctively to external stimuli based on chemicals produced deep within our primordial brains that are directed by genes formed over millions of years of evolution. Rational thought has little to do with which chemicals our brain produces. And it is the assertion of Dr. Murray in his book that our nature-based genetic potential overwhelmingly controls our destiny no matter the nurture we receive from parents or others.
In his book, Dr. Murray uses genetics to debunk much of the doctrine of the progressive left. He begins by going into great detail explaining that gender is not a social construct as is claimed by the identity politics of the left. Men and women are different genetically. This means that not only are their sex organs different, their brains are different. The simple way to describe this difference in thinking is that men relate to things and women relate to relationships. Women are naturally (and genetically) better communicators than men. Language functions in a woman’s brain involves both hemispheres of the brain, while such functions are primarily only in one hemisphere in men (the left). The other hemisphere in the brains of men (the right) is dedicated to visuospatial tasks where men excel over women. This is really how most people think of men and women anyway, and it may seem silly to put a lot of effort into proving this. But one of the contentions of the left, is that the differences between men and women are culturally and socially constructed and different outcomes (such as the number of women in STEM programs) are the result of patriarchal discrimination. Dr. Murray proves that there is, indeed, a difference between men and women. As Dr. Murray puts it, men and women have different toolboxes, and use different tools to solve a problem in order to arrive at a viable solution.
Leftists adhering to identity politics also claim that race is a social construct and that human beings of all “races” share so much DNA that they are indistinguishable and that race was invented by white people to justify the enslavement of black people (even though historically people of all races and colors have been perfectly willing to enslave people of all races and colors including their own without having to come up with such a justification). But Dr. Murray shows in his book that geneticists can identify the race (or as Dr. Murray calls it “ancestral population”) from DNA alone with fairly good accuracy although he also notes that these differences are “minor” and do not imply inferiority or superiority.
Dr. Murray, of course, gained fame (or infamy on the left) from his book the Bell Curve, published in 1994, in which he noted that the distribution of IQ scores for black Americans was lower on the scale than the distribution of white Americans (which, in turn, is lower than the distribution for Asian Americans). These differing test results have been criticized as arising from bias in the preparation of the test or to the retarded development of the frontal cortex due to low socio-economic status (see: How Economic Inequality Inflicts Real Biological Harm, by Robert Sapolsky) or to some other non-genetic cause. Nevertheless, the various IQ tests are generally considered honest attempts to evaluate intelligence by the scientific community. And high IQ is highly correlated to high income and, without implying causality (or needing to), therefore high IQ is also closely associated with high status or class. This fact allows Dr. Murray to negate the concept that high status or class is a result of privilege by showing that it is the result of intelligence. But if this is true, then America’s vaunted social mobility, would be very limited because low IQ people would find it difficult to rise up in status (barring entertainment or athletic abilities), and further, that their children would also be limited because they would likely inherit low IQ genes from their low IQ parents.
This is why I found this book to be depressing. If people are trapped in their socio-economic status by their DNA how are they or their children ever going to achieve their own unique American Dream?
Beyond the scientifically deterministic outlook proposed by Dr. Murray, he goes on to say that our society lives under the subjugation of a “cognitive elite” that finds the current order very comfortable to them but is not so much for everyone else. This cognitive elite is self-sustaining. Because they are in the top echelons for intelligence, they are also top earners of income. They have stable families that allow them to build wealth. And their children are well educated so that they not only inherit intelligence but also wealth which allows the cycle to continue.
This is the top ten percent of America that our progressive left wants to tax out of existence in order to fund their progressive programs for the poor and the middle class. But the leaders of the progressive left are also part of the cognitive elite. That is why Elizabeth Warren clipped coupons on oil leases to send her son to private school. That is why Bernie Sanders has three homes and earned more than a million dollars in both 2016 and 2017.
Societies have always been ruled by elites. India had its Brahmins and France had its Bourbons. Russia had its Tsars and then Stalin and now Putin. Africa has chiefs and kings galore. Even our egalitarian hunter/gatherer ancestors had a chief or leader (although if you only own what you can carry your wealth is limited). Humans are hierarchical animals because of millions of years of evolution. When the elites get too overbearing the non-elites often revolt and throw the bums out. But even the most egalitarian and revolutionary society will, in time, be ruled by a new set of elites. And I suppose cognitive elites are not as bad as some of the militaristic or aristocratic alternatives.
As we approach the 2020 presidential elections, many of the American non-elites are mad at the elites because of income inequality, egged on by elites such as Warren and Sanders. But America already has a substantial wealth transfer system. A transfer system that is only sustainable because of the wealth created by the elites. But the anger and envy caused by income inequality breeds discontent even if the material lives of the non-elites are improving.
The great question we face is why does it seem that America was more equal in the past than it is now? Perhaps we are looking at history through rose colored glasses. But although Alexis de Tocqueville praised our country in his book, Democracy in America, that documented his journeys across America in 1831, he also warned that, “Democratic nations show a more ardent and enduring love of Equality than of Liberty.” This was certainly the case in France. But this was not an endorsement of equality as morally superior to liberty. He felt that government enforced equality (which is the only kind there is), “hinders, restrains, enervates, stifles and stultifies so much that in the end each nation is no more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as its shepherd.”
Walter Scheidel pointed out in his book, The Great Leveler, that income inequality in any society or civilization, tended to become more unequal over time. The only thing that stops this inexorable tendency toward more income inequality was a great disaster; a plague or a famine or a war or a revolution. The disaster would destroy many human lives but also many human institutions. In the recovery from the disaster or the aftermath of conflict, there would be a shortage of humans to do the work of reconstruction. The shortage of workers combined with the elimination of institutions that bound people into the former society gave added value to each survivor, increasing that person’s income and reducing inequality. But after reconstruction and with the establishment of new institutions, the tendency toward income inequality began to be felt once again.
But if genetic predetermination of hierarchy predicts an ever-increasing income inequality and we want to avoid a great leveling disaster or a tyrannical government, how can we create a society where people of all genetic phenotypes can prosper without turning into Tocqueville’s timid, hardworking animals? If it is unlikely that a person of average IQ can become a one-percenter, how do we make that person’s life fulfilling? Given the dissatisfaction expressed by many Americans, it is clear that wealth transfers and entitlements are not doing the job. The government needs to stop enacting policies that hinder, enervate, stifle and stultify people and empower them to take control over their own lives. With empowerment comes responsibilities. More people need to adopt the middle-class values that helped our parents and grandparents succeed – graduate from school, get a job and get married before having kids (which Wendy Wang of the Institute for Family Research has dubbed “the Sequence”). While you’re at it, save some money and buy a house and you are on the way to having a contented life. By the way, these are the same values that the cognitive elite have used to build their wealth.
Government policies that undermine these values should be eliminated. Programs that don’t promote these values should be rethought. Give the people the power and responsibility to control their own lives and they won’t worry so much about what other people have.