Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Inheritance, IQ, and the generations

I highly recommend this pdf article that discusses the discovery of IQ gains over time. The fact is that IQ has been increasing at a fairly dramatic rate within a given population over time.
What conclusions must we draw about previous generations? Did most of them suffer from mental retardation? Jensen (1981, p. 65) emphasized the limitations of those with low IQ. He noted that someone with a Wechsler IQ of 75 or below may be a keen baseball fan and yet be vague about the rules, unsure of how many players make up a team, unable to name the teams his or her home team plays. How reasonable is it to assume that 70% of late 19th century Britons could not, even if it were their chief interest, understand the rules of cricket?
In essence, IQ gains have been so dramatic that many people born 100 or more years ago would be considered mentally retarded by today's standards, according to their IQ score.

It is completely unclear what this means for IQ, cognitive ability through the generations, and what this tells us about comparing IQ between different groups (e.g. Whites today vs Blacks today, Whites today vs. Whites 60 years ago etc.) The author explores several possibilities, but at heart the mystery remains.

At the end of the article, the author considers where meritocracy stands in a world where there are systematic conginitive differences between races based on genes. Quite obviously, a meritocratic world where people are only rewarded according to their cognitive abilities would consign those races with lower average cognitive abilities to (on average) less wealth, status etc, even if environmental factors were controlled for. The notion of lesser races being perennially poorer is icky in the extreme, so the author comes down against meritocracy and for the standard communitarian utopia "in which the appreciation of beauty, the pursuit of truth, craft skills, being fit, companionship, family feeling, and so forth really counted for more than having above average income and possessions." Personally, I loved the inclusion of "craft skills" and the suggestion that shaping wet clay with bare hands is more virtuous than, say, calculating taxes, developing corporate strategy, or performing an MRI (I presume).

What I thought most naive about the analysis was:
The case against meritocracy can be put psychologically: (a) The abolition of materialist-elitist values is a prerequisite for the abolition of inequality and privilege; (b) the persistence of materialist-elitist values is a prerequisite for class stratification based on wealth and status; (c) therefore, a class-stratified meritocracy is impossible.

To defend the first proposition, the major barrier to abolition of inequality and privilege is greed and status seeking. Progressive taxation, redistribution of wealth, death duties, welfare, public job creation, publicly funded health care and education, all founder on the rocks of the love of money in one's own pocket, the lust for status superior to one's fellows, the desire to confer advantage for
these things on one's family.
The evils listed, desire for wealth, status, and caring for ones family, are at the very core of our humanity. The idea that these can be engineered out is preposterous. Attempts to engineer this out have resulted in the deaths of millions and the impoverishment of, quite literally, billions more. The question should be given humanity's desire for wealth, status, and caring for ones family, what is the best way to engineer society so these impulses result in constructive ends, not destructive ends. (via Statistical Modelling).


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