24 July 2019

The Abolition of Genius

This is a new, hardback edition of Charles McCreery’s book, The Abolition of Genius.

The book contains an analysis of the relationship between genius and money. It proposes the controversial thesis that the possession of a private income, either by the genius or by his or her patron, has been a necessary condition of the productivity of the great majority of geniuses throughout history.

McCreery’s analysis is illustrated with many instructive, and sometimes surprising, examples. Among the individuals whose financial circumstances are discussed in the book are those shown on the front cover: Wagner, Hume, Einstein, Galileo, Kant, Schopenhauer, Schubert and Nietzsche.

There is a Look-Inside function on the Amazon pages.
Amazon USA
Amazon UK

‘This is a courageous, well-argued and timely book’ – Professor H.J. Eysenck

22 July 2019

Stephen Jay Gould and The Bell Curve

If ability is at least partly inherited, then it is likely that social classes will arise. If social class is partly explained by genes, then the theory that class is entirely due to ‘unfair’ advantages is false.

If it is not known how much social class is due to genetic and how much to other factors, then it cannot be assumed that intervention will move things towards a ‘fairer’ position. This may explain the reactions of writers such as Stephen Jay Gould to The Bell Curve.*

One of the central arguments of The Bell Curve is that America’s upper class is an elite with relatively high average IQ, which has arisen because intelligence is partly heritable. Gould asserts that this argument requires
the validity of four shaky premises, [i.e. intelligence] must be depictable as a single number, capable of ranking people in linear order, genetically based, and effectively immutable. If any of these premises are false, the entire argument collapses.**
The validity of The Bell Curve’s explanation of class does not depend on intelligence being ‘immutable’. Gould seems to be confusing questions of fact with questions of policy.

Nor does the explanation depend on intelligence being depictable as a single number. Whether intelligence, or ability in general, is heritable is a separate question from how well a single variable, such as IQ, is capable of measuring it.


* Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve, Free Press 1994.
** Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, Penguin 1997, p.368.

30 June 2019

Financing special education

From Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man:
The difference between strict hereditarians and their opponents is not, as some caricatures suggest, the belief that a child’s performance is all inborn or all a function of environment and learning. [...] The differences are more a matter of social policy and educational practice.

Hereditarians view their measures of intelligence as markers of permanent, inborn limits. Children, so labelled, should be sorted, trained according to their inheritance and channelled into professions appropriate for their biology. Mental testing becomes a theory of limits.

Antihereditarians [...] test in order to identify and help. Without denying the evident fact that not all children, whatever their training, will enter the company of Newton and Einstein, they emphasize the power of creative education to increase the achievements of all children, often in extensive and unanticipated ways. [...]

A partially inherited low IQ might be subject to extensive improvement through proper education. And it might not. The mere fact of its heritability permits no conclusion. *
The debate about heritability of IQ has become less about the science of whether, and to what extent, intelligence is inherited; and more about the politics of whether resources should be devoted to helping those with a relatively low measured IQ to ‘catch up’.

What Gould, and others, tend to omit from their discussions is the question of whether ‘should’ in this context means voluntary or compulsory contributions.

It might mean that people should be encouraged to donate to voluntary organisations who would then provide what Gould refers to above as ‘proper education’. In practice, however, it usually means that the government should devote tax revenue to the problem, implying that the ‘contributions’ are to be collected coercively.

* Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, Penguin 1997, pp.182-183, 186.

14 June 2019

John Stuart Mill — blank-slate collectivist?

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
The following extract* from John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography is cited in Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate.
I have long felt that the prevailing tendency to regard all the marked distinctions of human character as innate, and in the main indelible, and to ignore the irresistible proofs that by far the greater part of those differences, whether between individuals, races, or sexes, are such as not only might but naturally would be produced by differences in circumstances, is one of the chief hindrances to the rational treatment of great social questions, and one of the greatest stumbling blocks to human improvement.

This tendency [...is] so agreeable to human indolence, as well as to conservative interests generally, that unless attacked at the very root, it is sure to be carried to an even greater length than is really justified by the more moderate forms of intuitional philosophy. [italics added]
Mill makes it clear that a reason for his dislike of the idea of innate characteristics is his associating it with ‘conservative interests’. Mill was presumably hostile to ‘conservative interests’ because he thought of himself as a ‘social reformer’.

It is not clear what Mill could have meant by ‘irresistible proofs’ that individual differences are predominantly due to environment. There was little statistical data on the issue of human heritability when he wrote this in the 1870s.

Nowadays prejudice against innate characteristics, on the grounds that belief in them is an obstacle to social reform, has become a common attitude.

* Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, Penguin Books, 2003, p.18.

05 June 2019

You cannot serve two masters

In the standard Gospels it is often necessary to make rather extreme substitutions for anything that makes sense to emerge. None of the Gospels appears to be much less than a century later than the life of the supposed person, and the suppression of anything interesting does not take anything like that long; it probably happens more or less immediately.

So consider:
No man can serve two masters ... You cannot serve God and Mammon.
What this may really mean is: You cannot serve both the individual/reality and society.

This was the fundamental conflict between the Gnostics and Pauline Christianity. The Gnostics devalued social goings-on. Pauline Christianity conflated God and society, which gave it much greater marketability. The concept of God was swallowed up in, and dissolved into, the much more dominant concept of society, or ‘other people’.

It may be observed that maintaining more than one source of significance is decentralising. The source of significance which normally obliterates all others is society. Society is not, however, a possible focus of centralisation, being fundamentally a decentralising influence.

So the fundamental conflict, for anyone proceeding in the direction of centralisation, is that between the individual and society, or objective reality and society.

15 May 2019

Compulsory education and Prussia - part 2

Further to the previous post, there is another quotation from Murray Rothbard’s history of compulsory education* which makes it very clear that people were forced to do what was prescribed for them to do.
[...] under the absolute monarchy of Frederick William III [...] there were stringent laws obliging parents to send their children to the schools. Children must attend the schools between the ages of seven and fourteen, and no excuses were permitted except physical inability or absolute idiocy. Parents of truants were warned, and finally punished by fines, or by civil disabilities, and as a last resort, the child was taken from its parents and educated and reared by the local authorities. [p.26]

* Murray N. Rothbard, Education: Free and Compulsory, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999.

08 May 2019

Compulsory education

Frederick William I
(1688 - 1740)
Compulsory education involves the transfer of the power to make decisions about a child’s education from the child’s parents to the state.

Compulsory education has been a feature of industrialised nations for a long time; it is rarely questioned nowadays. This does not mean it is justified, or acceptable.

The eighteenth century Germanic state Prussia was a pioneer in the development of compulsory education, as Murray Rothbard notes.*
It was King Frederick William I who inaugurated the Prussian compulsory school system, the first national system in Europe. In 1717, he ordered compulsory attendance of all children at the state schools, and, in later acts, he followed with the provision for the construction of more such schools. [...]

These beginnings were carried forward by his son Frederick the Great, who vigorously reasserted the principle of compulsory attendance in the state schools, and established the flourishing national system [...]

Under King Frederick William III, the absolute State was greatly strengthened. His famous minister, von Stein, began by abolishing the semi-religious private schools, and placing all education directly under the Minister of the Interior. In 1810, the ministry decreed the necessity of State examination and certification of all teachers. In 1812, the school graduation examination was revived as a necessary requirement for the child’s departure from the state school, and an elaborate system of bureaucrats to supervise the schools was established in the country and the towns.
These are what Rothbard believes to have been some of the effects of compulsory state education:
[...] since the State began to control education, its evident tendency has been more and more to act in such a manner as to promote repression and hindrance of education, rather than the true development of the individual. Its tendency has been for compulsion, for enforced equality at the lowest level, for the watering down of the subject and even the abandonment of all formal teaching, for the inculcation of obedience to the State and to the “group” rather than the development of self-independence, [and] for the deprecation of intellectual subjects.
* Murray N. Rothbard, Education: Free and Compulsory, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999.

03 April 2019

Robert Nozick on ‘rights’

Libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick on the individual’s rights versus the state’s rights:
Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights). So strong and far-reaching are these rights that they raise the question of what, if anything, the state and its officials may do. How much room do individual rights leave for the state? [...]

Our main conclusions about the state are that a minimal state, limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified; that any more extensive state will violate persons' rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified [...]*
When political philosophers discuss ‘rights’ they usually overlook the fact that ‘rights’ are an imaginary concept. The concept may be a convenience but it does not have objective reality and it cannot be proven.

It is possible to imagine a society in which each person knew what his possessions were, and knew that only he could make use of them. But in practice it would be difficult and complicated to protect each person's property ‘rights’ from everyone else. Discussions of how this might be done should not be confused with defining what a ‘right’ might be.

* Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, Basic Books, 1974, p.ix.

18 March 2019

Intelligence and intimidation

IQ (intelligence quotient) as a single measure of intelligence started to become prominent with the inception of compulsory education. Those in charge of schools and colleges wanted to be able to select those most likely to succeed academically.

The idea of IQ now seems to be considered dubious by the academic and educational establishments, and IQ tests are regarded with suspicion.

Also regarded with suspicion — particularly among those paid to intervene in other people’s lives — is the idea that intelligence has a significant heritable component.

For example, a Guardian editorial described recent research linking IQ to specific genes as ‘problematic’ and ‘troubling’. Apparently this is because the results might undermine demands for more intervention to iron out inequality.

The prejudice against the possibility of IQ heritability is not confined to left-wing journalists. The editorial refers to academics who argue that ‘the heritability of human traits is scientifically unsound’.

The editorial tries to imply guilt by association, conflating heritability with genetic testing and eugenics. The scientists responsible for the research are disparaged as ‘hereditarians’, and their arguments are described as ‘advocacy’.

Ironically, the editorial complains that the research has created ‘an intimidatory atmosphere’. In the area of IQ, it is those who try to make the idea of heritability seem morally unacceptable who are the real intimidators.

24 February 2019

Churchill, America and socialism

The rise of Nationalsozialismus in Germany was only one element in the more or less continuous socialist onslaughts on European capitalist, or aristocracy-based, civilisation. Nationalsozialismus ruined the British Empire, which had to put all its resources into opposing it. Britain could not have done otherwise, because the insularity which had protected it from invasion was no longer effective against modern technology.

Churchill knew that America’s support was indispensable, but America, which was far enough removed to treat this as a European problem, initially held out against him.

Of course this was the way things always were; countries did not support one another against external threats unless it was in their own interests to do so. America, at this time, recognised no obligation to defend civilisation against socialism, nor of course has any country done so at any time.

America came into the war at a late stage when all seemed lost. At first, the plan seemed to be to make Britain pay for the aid it received. I remember a system called Lend-Lease under which food, to be paid for after the war, arrived from America. Powdered dried egg, dried milk, and so on. In practice, the envisaged repayment after the war never materialised.

While America recognised no generalised obligation to aid civilised countries against the onslaughts of socialism, it has no doubt made plenty of donations to uncivilised countries without expecting repayment. As, of course, Britain has also done; making loans in ‘aid’ to ‘developing’ countries and then writing them off altogether or ‘re-scheduling’ them when they were not repaid.

Trade protectionism is supposed to be a bad thing. However, it is probably necessary for a country that has started to fall to socialism, as Britain has. Employment laws and welfare benefits raise the production costs of British goods. British manufacturers are in no position to compete with the flood of imports from countries where workers still work to keep themselves alive, and where the cost of their work is largely determined by how much they are willing to do it for.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.