When Smart People Write Dumb Things

     “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:

  1. Employees,
  2. Friends,
  3. 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.”


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  1. I read Sarah’s site at least once per week.  I gave up on Vox Day years ago.  Still, when she pops off with stupidity such as this, I think back upon what VD used to say about SH, “she is not and will never be an American.”

    Perhaps she’ll grow out of it.  As I said recently on Gab:  “The January 2015 me would be horrified if not disgusted by what the April 2021 me believes and writes.”  In another six years, if I survive, that may be true yet again.

    1. Don’t be too hard on Sarah, Clayton. Most Americans hold the same opinion as she does. It might not comport with the facts — I don’t think so, anyway — but it’s been drummed relentlessly into young people’s heads since the late Sixties. Also, there’s a tremendous social downside to differing with that opinion. For most people, it’s enough to prevent them from looking for and soberly considering the evidence. I get away with it for…well, let’s just say “other reasons.”

    • Sarah Hoyt on April 7, 2021 at 11:14 AM

    I can VERY EASILY defend it.
    Look, in the village, at 10, someone came into the school and gave us an IQ test. The people who did well were PREDICTABLY those who came from hyper-literate backgrounds and were reading and ciphering before entering school.

    In most sub-saharan countries, they’re testing kids who have no experience of SITTING STILL, much less holding a pen or concentrating on writing and reading. School is still fucking spotty.
    And then when they do badly this SOMEHOW is racial inferiority.

    THINK before you call me stupid.

    1. I didn’t call you stupid, dear. Note what I did say: “Sarah’s reasonably bright.” However, I don’t think your defense is adequate. It’s anecdotal at best. The researchers who’ve done the testing — there’ve been at least three sets — have been meticulously careful about it. Remember, they risk being castigated as the worst sort of racist scum if their methodology is shown to be prejudicial.

      Remember the vitriol that was poured onto Arthur Jensen, Charles Murray, and Richard Herrnstein. These are not men who would be careless about their own reputations.

        • Sarah Hoyt on April 7, 2021 at 5:12 PM

        I am NOT your dear and  am ecstatic you consider me “fairly bright.” I’m fairly sure my IQ dwarfs yours by several deviations, so I AM entitled to comment on this.

        No. Also bullshit. Until you answer my points, I’m not required to do any more “defense.”
        You don’t understand how IQ tests — or soft sciences — work. But then I remember your running around with your hair on fire over COVID.

        Repeat after me: turning the left on its head doesn’t make me right. The truth is FAR MORE complex than that.

        Sure, on my blog someone brought up the Bell Curve, and honestly the problems with statistical analysis in that.  That was not why the left opposed it. They opposed it on the principle that everyone should be tabula rasa.

        Saying humans aren’t tabula rasa isn’t the same as saying that IQ measures anything meaningful for life. For one the factors I gave you are all real. For another, SO IS CULTURE. Tribal culture — trust me, I grew up in largely tribal/local linked culture. — where perhaps doing better than your cousin at anything isn’t the best idea.

        FYI someone on my blog has tracked the source of these “tests” and it’s one of the most rubbish studies ever published.

        And if I sound really upset at you? I am. An honest person would debate this on my blog, not come to his blog to act like an ass. PFUI. You’re intellectually dishonest. And you know it. And it shows.

        1. Hm. Well, after that heap of insults and derision, I dare say I have no further reason to argue with you, dear. As for our respective IQs, think what you like.

          The reason I posted this here, rather than igniting the subject at your blog, was out of courtesy and consideration: not to consume your server space with my opinions nor to festoon it with a barrage of commentary tangential to your larger point. After all, this is where my op-eds properly belong, just as your op-eds properly belong at your site. But as I see that that respect is not reciprocated, the matter has ceased to be significant.

          Have a nice life.

  2. IQ is one of many factors, including time preference choice and self-control, which is also differentiated by race.  I doubt that without native help I’d last a month in Sub-saharan Africa.  Hell, I doubt I’d last that long in Portugal.  Those few who have the mental capability survive and adapt.  The rest either die or become a permanent underclass.

    Permanent separation is the only way forward.  “A place for everyone and everyone in their place.”

      • Sarah Hoyt on April 7, 2021 at 5:06 PM

      Except that ALL OF THOSE FACTORS are culturally influenced.
      Look, I’ve done my time in the trenches of social sciences. You can’t distinguish race from culture, unless you do a highly targeted study of adopted kids, which no one has done.
      By the way, another side of this is that American blacks are actually mostly caucasian (Yes, I know what people claim, but it’s not true.) and that they were getting perfectly adapted/successful until the Great Society, and then the wheels come off.

      CULTURE, not race.

      Note, I’m not saying this to say we should encourage open immigration or whatever. CULTURE goes so deep it’s the equivalent of race for a given individual. I’m saying it to point out eugenics programs and such crazy beliefs are not reality-aligned.

  3. I remember applying for a job, acing the test, then being rejected. The person who delivered the bad news said, basically, Look. You are Too Smart for this job. Based on our experience, it’s likely you will quickly become bored and quit – or, worse from our perspective, do a half-ass job.

    They were right. Eventually, I learned to ‘dumb it down’ for the interviews/testing, and did manage – for a time – work those kinds of jobs. But, the guy was right, as I did get bored in short order.

    As for the sad state of marriage, the mating of two ambitious and academically smart people not only tends to produce overly high-strung children, but also makes a lousy life. Too alike and competitive to have a happy marriage.

    No, the wife is not necessarily less intelligent, but her interests need to be in areas that will not compete with her husband. The boss marrying his secretary is an excellent example of that pairing.

    But, but, but…what about intellectual stimulation?

    Eh. In my experience, most men would rather have an admiring woman who is eager to hear him talk about his accomplishments. If she understands, nice. But not essential.

    • Michael Stone on April 8, 2021 at 9:24 AM

    I always liked reading Sarah’s site.

    It’s a shame she can’t bring anything besides vitriol and insults to the discussion.

    1. Many people dislike to be contradicted, or called “uninformed,” even on a single subject. Some react worse than others…dare I say it: Women especially so. When the topic is as emotionally charged as the correlations between race and intelligence, it’s almost to be expected that someone will blow a fuse. In these closing years of my life, I’ve tried not to let it get to me. “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” and so forth.

      “Tests are not unfair. Life is unfair. The tests measure the results.” — Thomas Sowell

    • Evil Franklin on April 8, 2021 at 6:15 PM

    Culture and race become intertwined to the point that they are indistinguishable.

    I read an article a few decades ago.  The man was writing an anecdotal account of conversing with a negro somewhere in the south of Africa.  He had been living with a tribe for some time.  At one point he asked someone if they had a dictionary of the language.  The person responded asking what was a dictionary.  After it being explained his comment was something to the effect “Why, we know all of the words that are needed.”

    The people of Africa know what they need to survive.  After millennia of life there is no more required.  They may be very bright, but, they see no need to expand their knowledge or change their culture.  It’s only when an outside force is imposed upon them that they adapt.  But, as evidenced by South Africa and Zimbabwe, remove that outside force and they will revert.

    It has been suggested that negroes in America were at least 400 years behind culturally and knowledgeably when they were originally brought to America.  Personally, I believe they are still far behind the European culture.  And, it seems that they have infected the “elite” with their lack of improvement.

    George Soros is noted as saying that the negro race is easily manipulated.  Apparently he believes as well.

    President Johnson suggested something similar.

    It appears that the worlds rich and powerful believe that most of mankind is the same.  To them ridding the world of several billion of its’ inhabitants is a sound idea.

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