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.