Tuesday, November 13, 2007

IQ, Racism, & Self-Worth

I've long argued with friends that IQ is meaningful only in the context of its use; it can show that certain people are smarter - at least in certain ways - than others. That's just about all it's good for; it doesn't make any one person better than any other in any way. Yesterday, James Taranto made the same point, but wrote it far better than I can (because he is a far superior writer than I; this makes him a better writer, not a better person):
Note that "the presumption that we are all fundamentally equal" is quite different from the notion "that all races are equal." The former is a moral principle, a premise about the basic dignity of every individual; the latter is an empirical presumption about group averages in measurable traits. Someone with an IQ of 80 is as human as someone with an IQ of 120; and this is so regardless of whether the average IQ of one race is different from that of another.

What worries people like those in the Times story is that racial differences in IQ or other traits seem to lend empirical support to racist theories. But those theories are qualitatively wrong, so that no empirical evidence could make them right. If all individuals are of equal dignity and worth regardless of IQ, then a group is not fundamentally superior or inferior to another group by virtue of differences in average IQ.

It seems that some very smart people mistakenly think that intelligence is a measure of fundamental worth. Maybe they're a little too impressed with their own brilliance.

I couldn't help but recall a post a friend wrote a couple of months back where a number of people essentially argued similar points. In that post, Chana questioned whether a day of reckoning would come:
We have dismissed pseudo-scientific findings of the past that suggested that there was a difference and we were to act on it, such as in the matter of eugenics or in stating that black/ "negro" people had different brains or lesser intellects.

Here is what I am wondering, however:

What if one day in the future we were to advance to the point where people really could scientifically prove the intellectual superiority of one race over another? Suppose white people really were genetically wired to be smarter than black people? Then what? What happens to our carefully crafted tolerant and politically correct culture?
While many people noted that that day has already come to some extent, the problem is the premise in the first place, as Taranto noted. Why are we basing the inherent worth of people not on their simple status as human beings, but on their traits? As I responded then:
The best approach is (IMHO) one that does not pretend we are all the same, but that acknowledges the differences and innate skills we all bring to the table - and utilizes those differences wisely.
It is foolish to think we are all the same and therefore we are equal; we are not all the same at all. To believe we are all the same and that any measure which says otherwise is bad science is simply dumb; more importantly, it can be dangerous as science shows just how different we all are. There are those who will point to those differences and say "Well, since we're not all the same, we must not be equal, either." Rather, we are a world of different people that often share many traits and talents with one another... and often, not. This is what makes us special; this is what makes us human.

One's self-worth need not be tied to what talents they lack or skills they don't seem to have. Rather, they should be tied to how well they function in spite of all that they go up against.


  1. "One's self-worth need not be tied to what talents they lack or skills they don't seem to have."

    Phew! I was getting a little nervous.

    "Rather, they should be tied to how well they function in spite of all that they go up against."


  2. D'oh!!!

    Hehe :)

    Apple, JA, Moshe - Thanks

  3. At the end of the day, you still have to size up and treat everyone on his/her own merits.