29 April 2014

From heredity to genocide?

Today there was a programme on BBC Radio 4 entitled:
Intelligence – born smart, born equal, born different
According to the Radio Times,
The analysis of inherited intelligence is something of a moral maze ... [does research on this topic] really threaten all our utopian ideas of equality?
Francis Galton
(1822 - 1911)
In 1869 Francis Galton published his book Hereditary Genius, exploring the possible genetic basis of high ability. The idea of hereditary ability had already been of long standing when Galton’s book appeared.

The concept of an ‘intelligence quotient’ (IQ) as a measurable predictor of academic success only started to become of serious interest with the rise in state education. However, IQ soon became unfashionable again, perhaps because studies such as those of Cyril Burt suggested there was a significant inherited component to it, which did not fit with the politics of the time. And so research on IQ was gradually expunged from academic awareness.

IQ began to be referred to as ‘the false hypothesis’, as if it had been intrinsically bound up with the assertion of hereditary ability, whereas in fact the heredity idea had been around since well before the nineteenth century. Dismissing the concept of IQ as dubious also made the idea of heredity per se taboo in academic circles, and it now appears to have become something that is not even ‘talked about in polite society’.*

According to the Daily Mail** preview of the programme, Galton’s ideas
were taken up with lethal enthusiasm in many countries in the early 20th century, leading to the theory of eugenics, sterilisation of the ‘unfit’ and, ultimately, Nazi genocide.
This of course is the standard way in which the concepts of heritability and innate intelligence are nowadays made to seem controversial, to the point that it supposedly becomes reasonable to suppress discussion of them. The argument is that they are somehow responsible for the Holocaust, as well as other atrocities.

An alternative line of argument, which seems no less plausible, is that what made the Holocaust, the Gulags, and various other genocides and human rights abuses possible is the notion that the collective has a right to invade the individual’s territory, provided it is done for the benefit of society.

Accepting this line of argument would make concepts such as ‘the interests of society’, the ‘right of the majority’, ‘social justice’ or ‘state planning’ seem ethically dubious, and would point towards such concepts being strenuously avoided in discussion.

However, in practice this line of argument is never applied.

* David Willetts, The Pinch, p.198
** Weekend Magazine, 26 April 2014

My unfunded independent university, which could be publishing analyses of the complex issues involved in the areas of intelligence and heredity, has been effectively censored and suppressed for decades. Meanwhile, misleading and tendentious material on the topics continues to pour out from socially recognised sources.