“We’re all fools, most of our lives. It’s unavoidable.” –Jean Valjean in Les Miserables
Everyone, at some point in his life, says or does something he later regrets. It’s part and parcel of human fallibility. It’s also a solid foundation for one of the Redeemer’s least-appreciated sayings:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. [Matthew 7:1-5]
Neverthess, we humans are an argumentative species – and as long as we do it properly, that is essential for our betterment. What’s tripped my trigger this morning is a statement from F&SF writer Sarah Hoyt:
Because you know, the stupid theories — and some of them are very stupid indeed, like the idea that…the fact that sub-Saharan tribal populations score worse on IQ tests means they’re dumber…
Sarah’s reasonably bright. She also writes decently. But the above is about as uninformed a statement as you can find anywhere. I doubt she could defend it without either dismissing all the contrary evidence as “biased” or redefining the very quality IQ tests are designed to assess: general intelligence, the ability to perform the operations of abstract reasoning.
Every test aims to evaluate some specific characteristic. Every test embeds assumptions about what responses to what stimuli will cause that characteristic to appear…or not. The discipline that studies abstract reasoning, its efficacy, and its reliability labors ceaselessly to discover what questions most reliably probe for those things, and what answers will demonstrate them. Aware that environment is critical to the development of general intelligence, and that language and its mastery can reveal or conceal that quality, they design specific tests for specific populations.
And far more often than not, they get it right. The demonstration is simple: IQ scores correlate strongly with success in occupations that require abstract reasoning and the manipulation of symbols for that purpose. Thomas Sowell, among others, has said that unambiguously.
Sub-Saharan populations native to those regions test low on the IQ tests designed for their environments and languages. In numerical terms, the mean among such testees – in other words, the axis of symmetry of their bell curve – falls at about 70. This result has been reproduced by several researchers.
If we trust the design and composition of the tests – and as I said above, they are custom-designed for the testee populations – then we would conclude that the great majority of those testees would be unsuited to occupations that require abstract reasoning, particularly at a high level. In colloquial terms, they’re not smart enough for those jobs. Whether the reason is nature, nurture, or some combination of the two, the results are what matter.
What Sarah appears to dislike about this is that it provides a basis for that ultimate horror of the bien-pensants, discrimination. In point of fact, it does — which is a good thing. We routinely discriminate when choosing our spouses, our friends and associates, our service vendors, and our employees. It’s both logical and constructive, as long as the discriminant (no, not that discriminant ) is genuinely related to the purpose to be served.
Selecting for intelligence adequate to the purpose to be served is essential to dealing with individuals on their merits. A genius inventor who seeks associates for the following three categories:
- A wife,
…will select for characteristics that differ among the three categories, including different levels of general intelligence. As an illustration, genius tends to correlate with a dominant personality, which makes it unlikely that geniuses will marry one another…or if they do, that they’ll be happy with the match. However, geniuses can and do make friends with other geniuses…as long as they’re all willing to argue abstruse points of various kinds without drawing their guns.
In short: while Sub-Saharan Africans may be superbly adapted to their environment, that does not mean that they’re intelligent by the meaning of the word as it has always been used. Redefining intelligence away from abstract reasoning power merely introduces confusion into the discussion – and such confusion is perfect grist for the mills of those who seek to foment discord.
Remain firm about the meanings of words. Without fixed meanings on which we agree ab initio, discussion is impossible, arguments cannot be settled, and divisions among us become immutable. That’s the case even when the facts strike one as unpleasant, or (God help us all) “unfair.”