22 November 2019

Colin Wilson’s The Outsider

Colin Wilson’s book The Outsider, published in 1956, has been described as ‘the classic study of alienation, creativity and the modern mind’. Although the book is not usually associated with existentialism, it provides an introduction to a central theme of existentialism:

the awareness that one is existing, that one has finite capacities and a finite lifetime, and that one has no knowledge of what, if anything, is important.

Such awareness may make one feel sceptical about social conventions.

As The Outsider shows, the consequences of experiencing existential awareness have been portrayed in literature as varying from apathy at one extreme, to madness and violence at the other. There is a common notion that giving up one’s belief in the meaningfulness of society can lead to one wanting to indulge in violent behaviour, even murder.

The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, an important figure in The Outsider, may have contributed to this notion. Some of the central characters of his novels commit cold-blooded murder, and their lack of inhibition seems to be linked to their scepticism about society.

Dostoyevsky, who could be regarded as an Outsider himself, may have felt conflicted about his uneasy relationship with society and hence portrayed Outsiders with ambivalence. He is sympathetic to the scepticism and passion of Outsiders. However, he also partially takes society’s side in condemning them.

This ambivalence on the part of novelists and philosophers towards those who are like them is a recurring theme of The Outsider.

20 October 2019

IQ and identical twins

The following extract is from: Peter Saunders, Social Mobility Myths, Civitas 2010, pp.56-58. (The full publication is available for download at civitas.org.uk.)
Given that intelligence is a function of both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’, and that these two factors are each themselves entailed in the other, it is obviously extremely difficult to partial out their respective influences. But it is not impossible. Hans Eysenck claims that heredity is twice as important as environment in explaining differences in intelligence, and he bases this estimate on the results of repeated experiments carried out over many years by many different researchers. These experiments compare variations in mental ability between people who are unrelated genetically but who share a common environment (e.g. children raised in children’s homes) with variations between people who are genetically related but raised in contrasting environments (e.g. twins raised by different sets of foster parents). Many attempts have been made to discredit this work, but [Eysenck’s] overall conclusion is compelling and incontrovertible.

The strongest experiments focus on the performance of identical (monozygotic) twins as compared with non‐identical (dizygotic) twins. MZ twins share all their genes in common while DZ twins share 50 per cent of their genes. Ignoring Cyril Burt’s disputed findings, and aggregating the results of other researchers whose integrity has never been questioned, Eysenck reports the following average correlations in intelligence test scores:

• MZ twins raised in the same environment = 0.87
• MZ twins reared in separate environments = 0.77
• DZ twins raised in the same environment = 0.53

These figures compare with an average correlation of 0.23 for biologically unrelated individuals who are raised in a common environment (e.g. adopted or foster children), and with a correlation of zero for unrelated children raised in different environments. [...]

If environment were more important than heredity, the relative strength of these correlations should be reversed. Identical twins raised separately should differ more in their scores than non‐identical twins raised together, for they have been subjected to greater environmental variation. The opposite, however, holds true. Even when brought up separately, identical twins score much more similarly on IQ tests than non‐identical twins who were kept together. [...] To the extent that anything is ever proven in social science, the undisputed fact that identical twins brought up separately correlate so much more highly on test scores than non‐identical twins raised together proves that intelligence is based to a substantial degree (perhaps 50 per cent, probably more) on a cluster of genes which we inherit from our parents.
According to Professor Saunders, research on intelligence ‘has clearly demonstrated that we are not all born equal, despite the wishes of egalitarian sociologists that we were.’

Image source: Raul Carabeo.

19 September 2019

Ignoring the heritability of intelligence

Extract from a 2013 article by Ed West on the Spectator’s website:
I’m starting to get the impression that the Guardian isn’t very keen on Michael Gove [...] The latest offering was this, ‘Genetics outweighs teaching, Gove adviser tells his boss’, which was presumably designed to infuriate teachers, about an essay written by Dominic Cummings. This was followed up by a Polly Toynbee piece denying the role of hereditary factors in intelligence [...]

What’s strange is that [Cummings] was saying nothing that isn’t widely accepted; the very significant influence of heritable factors on differences in IQ within a population has been well known for four decades, and yet for political reasons it is ignored in education policy, both here and in the US.
In October 2013, Dominic Cummings, at the time Special Adviser to the then Education Secretary Michael Gove, published a report on education policy, which made reference to the heritability of IQ. This prompted an article* in the Daily Telegraph by geneticist Steve Jones, attacking Cummings. However, it subsequently emerged** that Professor Jones had not actually read Cummings’ report and had based his views on press articles about the report.

* Steve Jones, ‘There’s much more to IQ than biology and DNA’, Daily Telegraph, 14 October 2013
** Dominic Cummings, ‘What I actually said about genes, IQ and heritability’, Daily Telegraph, 15 October 2013

01 September 2019

Æthelflæd - Lady of the Mercians

England in 878 AD
Æthelflæd, the daughter of King Alfred, was a significant figure in early British history. From the time of her husband’s death in 911, until her own death in 918, she ruled the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. Although her title was ‘Lady of the Mercians’, it seems her role was that of queen, an unusual position for a woman in early Britain. The name ‘Æthelflæd’ means ‘noble beauty’.

Æthelflæd showed herself to be an excellent military tactician. She expanded Mercia’s territories to the north, east and west. Even during her husband’s life, building projects and treaties were carried out in her name. After his death, the pace of activity seems to have accelerated: according to a BBC article, numerous towns like Bridgnorth, Tamworth and Stafford were fortified by her, to secure roads and rivers.

In the 9th century most of eastern England was ruled by Danish Vikings, in an area known as the Danelaw. In 917 Æthelflæd captured the Danelaw borough of Derby, and in 918 the Danelaw borough of Leicester. Also in 918, Viking-occupied York offered to accept her rule; however, she died before this could come to fruition.

According to some accounts, she actually led her armies into battle. If true, this would make her an even more remarkable figure, and one of only a handful of women from history who were military leaders.

Æthelflæd seems to have been unfairly neglected by historians. In Michael Wood’s popular book about Saxon Britain, In Search of the Dark Ages, she is mentioned only as being the aunt of King Æthelstan.

The 12th century historian Henry of Huntingdon celebrated Æthelflæd in a poem.*
O Elfleda potens, O terror virgo virorum,
Victrix naturae, nomine digna viri.
Te, quo splendidior fieres, natura puellam,
Te probita fecit nomen habere viri.

[Heroic Elflede! great in martial fame,
A man in valour, woman though in name;
Thee warlike hosts, thee, nature too obey’d,
Conqu’ror o’er both, though born by sex a maid.]

* Extract from poem in Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum. Translation by Tom Arnold, 1879. Map of England courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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.

02 January 2019

Denis Compton: genius cricketer

Denis Compton CBE
(1918 - 1997)
Denis Compton, a cricketer who played in nearly eighty Test matches for England and who was a household name during the 1940s, is widely regarded as one of the top batsmen of all time.
By the late 1930s, Compton was one of England’s finest batsmen, and remained at the top of his profession for some twenty years. His dashing approach to batting and the sheer enjoyment he exuded endeared him to a generation of cricket lovers.

On the England tour of South Africa 1948–49 he scored 300 against North-Eastern Transvaal in just over three hours — still the fastest triple-century ever in first-class cricket.
Compton’s style of playing could be described as inspirational. He became known for inventing new ways of batting which would then be imitated by other players.

His performance could be erratic, and I remember finding it disappointing on occasion. He would sometimes raise one’s expectations, then dash them.

Compton also played professional football, representing England during wartime in a number of friendly matches against allied countries such as France.

Compton seems to have had an unusual personality.
Compton’s absent-mindedness was legendary. Cricketer Colin Cowdrey writes that Compton turned up for the Old Trafford Test of 1955 against South Africa without his kitbag. Undaunted, Compton sauntered into the Old Trafford museum and, borrowing an antique bat off the display, went on to score 158 and 71 runs in the first two innings.

Peter Parfitt, another England Test cricketer, was a speaker at a major celebration in London for Compton’s 70th birthday. He says that Compton was called to the telephone by a lady who had heard about the dinner: eventually he agreed to take the call. “Denis,” she said, “it’s me, your mother. You’re not 70, you’re only 69.”
Extracts are from Wikipedia article about Denis Compton.