01 February 2010

“Consequently, there are no gods”

The reflections on genetics on my previous post may seem disreputable to the modern mind, as perhaps do many of my other reflections referring to genes. Genetic inheritance has been a highly politicised topic for some time, but this now seems to have expanded to the point where any reflections about the heritability of human characteristics are seen as controversial, and hence to be avoided in any kind of research.

There is clearly a strong motivation to believe there is no such thing as inherited ability. This may be harmless as an opinion held by any one individual. It causes a problem if, as has now happened, the viewpoint becomes dominant and turns into the dogmatic belief of a collective. This belief system, of being unwilling to admit that something may be the case and so in practice asserting that it is not the case, has a distorting effect on judgement and can make a society behave unrealistically.

In particular, a refusal to countenance a phenomenon which is seen to have effects that are regarded as distasteful influences many areas of modern academia, in particular in such subjects as history, education and ethics.

As I, and my colleagues, do not share this (and other) dogmatic beliefs which now severely limit almost everything that comes out of established academia, we potentially have an important role to play in correcting these biases. For this reason, we should be being supported. But also for this reason, it is regarded as important that we should not be supported, but suppressed, to the point of pretending we do not exist.

An example of the kind of logic which tends to be employed in determining the research that gets done was provided to me by an Oxford undergraduate who was a product of the comprehensive school system. Among other things, this undergraduate asserted to me that:

(a) state education cannot be bad, as it had managed to get him to Oxford;

(b) ability cannot be inherited because if it were, society would need to assign top positions to aristocrats, which would be intolerable.

These examples may seem crude, but I believe that they are analogous to the hidden logic that drives a lot of the content of modern academia. There is a reverse causality at work, along the lines of “if A were the case, B would follow, but B is not acceptable, therefore A cannot be true.” (Rather reminiscent of Nietzsche saying “If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god? Consequently, there are no gods.”)

Usually, the reasoning that B necessarily follows A is itself flawed. B is often some policy which people seem to feel would have to be followed if A were true, and which they think they would not like, but of course there is no reason why a policy you do not like has to be implemented, just because a new piece of information could be seen as supporting it. Nevertheless, the mere possibility that an objective finding might have policy implications which conflict with ideological preferences is nowadays taken as a reason to avoid any research which might generate the suggestion that it is true.