The danger of human biodiversity to traditionalism

In discussions of Nicholas Wade’s new book, people seem to believe that the idea of human evolution continuing after different human sub-groups split and into historical times is particularly discomforting to liberals.  I think this is backwards.  After all, a key part of the liberal worldview–perhaps the key part–is that the current generation of Westerners is much smarter and more moral than the rest of humanity that has ever lived.  Thus, things that our ancestors or other civilizations didn’t believe (such as the moral imperative of democracy and sexual equality) are known even by the least sophisticated of us as obviously true.  What’s more, we don’t believe these things because they are the dogmas of our tribe which we accept uncritically like past generations of men accepted what they were told; no, we have each arrived at these truths through the use of our own independent Reason, by being the first generation unencumbered by Superstition and Prejudice.

Conservatives have, of course, always mocked this chauvinism of the present.  We have tended to assume that the differences between ourselves and our ancestors are relatively trivial, and that this generation is distinguished only by its hubris.  Thus, we assume customs that were beneficial for them will usually also be so for us, and we give the thinkers and witnesses of the past the same respectful hearing and presumption of credibility that we would give to people today.

However, there is some evidence that IQ has been rising and personal violence has been falling through the centuries.  There is even evidence that the Jews are a superior race in some ways, as the liberals have always treated them.  Suppose it is true that modern people are, on average, much smarter or less violent than ancient or medieval people.  What would follow from that?

Nothing necessarily follows from it.  The genetic enhancements under discussion don’t constitute a change of species (in the biological or metaphysical meaning of “species”), so changes to the natural law during human history are impossible.  Our defense of inherited traditions is also not compromised.  We never defended tradition because our ancestors who developed them were supposed to be so smart.   No one invents traditions; they are emergent phenomena of communities.  Nor did we defend tradition as something that takes the place of reason, as doing the sort of thing reason could do except that most people are (or were up till now) too stupid.  Traditions are suprarational; the truths they embody contain but transcend articulable propositions, so increased intelligence can enhance one’s ability to appreciate them but in no way makes one less in need of them.  Lastly, the conservative instinct to learn from the great minds of the past is as sensible as ever, since none of these were average products of their time.  Even if it could be shown that the average IQ of the great ancient and medieval philosophers is lower than that of the philosophy department in a contemporary university, we are still justified in preferring to study the former’s work because of the much broader perspective it brings.  (After all, very intelligent philosophers of today just parrot the conventional wisdom of the present in very sophisticated ways.)

Nevertheless, the prospect of one of liberalism’s key prejudices being confirmed is certainly vexing.

37 Responses

  1. I can offer an explanation that everyone, both liberals and traditionalists, are sure to reject. That is that belief in God causes positive human evolution. This explains why Western civilization advanced to far. I explain the details here:

  2. Meh. This doesn’t worry me in the least.

    Neoreaction’s focus on IQ worries me somewhat, frankly. Being smart is good, but it’s the arm of the flesh. Should it surprise anyone who’s read the Old Testament that God’s people have some genetic advantages? I’m a smart white dude, and what matters more than any of those three descriptors is following God.

    It’s not like “The Smart Should Rule” even needs to be a core neoreactionary tenet. Just say “the rulers should rule” and you’re done.

    Finally—even if our IQ has been going up over the last few thousand years, anyone who’s lived a little knows that there are certain errors only incredibly smart people can fall into. That doesn’t mean that dumb is better than smart, but it does mean that complete confidence that We Know Best is never justified.

  3. Ongoing evolution does not imply increased intelligence, simply selection for fitness to the environment (which is now, very largely, a social and technological environment). Liberals like to mix a lot of Hegel with their Darwinism, but biology and whig history are two different things. With vast expenditures on education and improved nutrition, we have been able to achieve gains in average cognitive performance, but anyone with eyes can see that Darwinian success (i.e. lots of children) is now being enjoyed by relatively unintelligent people. A very large percentage of our most intelligent females have been effectively sterilized by antinatalist ideology.

  4. In general it doesn’t, but my impression is that the arguments being made (e.g. in “A Farewell to Alms”, which I haven’t read) are that the environment in early modern times selected for smarter, more docile, and more future-oriented people.

  5. The increase on IQ as well as in degree of violence may not be due to genetic changes, but to early age imprinting and epigenetics.

    The first means that the brain grows more and the connections among neurons increase when the child perceives more attention from their parents so that their lifespan will be longer, since elaborated thinking only pays under this perspective. If that is not the case, it is better to have a set of automated behaviours. Low IQ and a small brain is an adaptation for a dangerous life. but either low and high IQ may be the phenotypic result of the same genotype under different situations of infantile stress.

    epigenetics are genetic switches that are passed from parents to children and are switched on and off depending on the conditions that the parents have lived. It carries out the same information and has the same purpose but it comes from the past generation.

    According to this it is clearly possible that these increases on IQ in affluent societies in the past have been produced. It may not be the case that ancient greeks had lower IQs than us. Probably in hundred of years of prosperity, they managed to have very intelligent generations because they had this IQ drift too.

    In the other side, as the New Testament says, It is often that the wishdom is not given to intelligent people, but to very mean ones. Many of the great figures of antiquity, saints and kings and even philosophers which influenced their time, had no formal education, and they lived in harsh conditions. That may be explained because the most important knowledge, is instinctive, and everyone, even the least intelligent ones have. That is logical from the point of view of evolution. what is important and and is useful in any condition, becomes instinctive.

    It is the intelligence the obstacle for wisdom in many cases, since the ideological elaborations of the intellect, made for temporally convenient purposes, can hide the atemporal truth that is instinctively in all of us. That is why revolutionary ideologues can convince easily middle class and intellectuals, but have a very hard time trying to convince workers and low class people.

  6. Does anyone think that the ancient Greeks were dumber than modern Westerners?

    As you likely know, there is some evidence that Victorian Englishmen were significantly smarter than modern Westerners:

  7. Two points:

    Firstly, is it not true that Cro-Magnon men had a considerably larger brain capacity than modern men? Also that some neolithic cave art demonstrated a command of perspective which was subsequently rediscovered in the 12th century?

    Secondly, has not the influence of natural selection, according to materialists the only significant driver of evolution, been greatly weakened by material progress and medical advances, which have ensured the survival of genetic lines which would otherwise have become less common or entirely extinct? Therefore, one could conclude that the genetic pool is becoming progressively weaker, something that may be brought home in the event of future challenge.

  8. “Suppose it is true that modern people are, on average, much smarter or less violent than ancient or medieval people.”

    If it were true, I wouldn’t care because I am generally unperterbed by the theory of evolution, but I am not suffering from the impression that it is true. More efficient wars and higher IQ are not unequivocal proof of human progression. We are, if anything, rapidly becoming more ignorant, bloodthirsty, and degraded by the day. We are also beginning to die out, which suggests a reduction in fitness.

    If anything, it’s time to call Peak Humanity.

  9. I actually wrote about something similar here : Intelligence is Irrelevant

    Obviously, intelligence isn’t irrelevant, but I’ve never been able to grasp the idea that more-efficient forms of killing, and more-refined forms of sexual depravity are somehow superior to the baser sort. It seems more a question of how you want your tomato squashed.

  10. Excellent point made above about the fluctuation of IQ over time and place. There seems to be a maximum IQ, beyond which we become sterile, possibility tracking the civilizational cycle.

    The old wives’ tale of higher education making women barren (which is sort of true) might be harking back to this historical pattern.

  11. Hi Alte,

    I made similar points here:

    IQ differences across time interest me much more than IQ differences across race.

  12. Hello Guerrero Memetico,

    I suspect you’re right that it’s not all genetic, especially given how fast we’ve seen IQs rise among some European populations. However, from my perspective it’s just as annoying to admit that our ancestors were much stupider than us for other reasons. At least, as you say, there probably were pockets of high IQ people, and, as we’re all saying, it doesn’t really matter anyway.

  13. Alte,
    I recall that you are now living somewhere in Bavaria. I’m also in Bavaria now, teaching a short course at the University of Passau. I’ll be at the 7:30 mass at the Dom St. Stephen tomorrow, so if that is where you will be we need to come up with a Throne and Altar secret handshake.

    I’m not sure why this has just occurred to me, but I’m wonder what would have happened to the epistles of St. Paul or the dialogues of Plato if they had had to pass through “peer review.” I understand that identification of a work as canonical or as a classic is somewhat similar to peer review, but surviving the test of time is not identical to the peer review process. Ultimately the knowledge of an age is not determined by its thinkers. It is determined by its editors. An age of great thinkers but moronic editors would be a moronic age.

  14. That is too cool! I’m east of Ingolstadt. How long will you be here? Is the new bishop holding Mass there already? They keep putting his photo in the local newspaper because he’s so pretty, but I don’t know anything about his religious views.

  15. Aargh, Bonald. Your post is much older than mine, so I probably got the idea from you. And here I was all impressed by my own brilliance again.

    Humble pie isn’t that bad, as long as you flavor it right. The trick is to use lots of cinnamon and just a pinch of nutmeg.

  16. “However, from my perspective it’s just as annoying to admit that our ancestors were much stupider than us for other reasons.”

    Isn’t a lot of the increase because of processing speed and visual acquity? They were mentally slower, but life was slower. We’re all getting sort of hyper now, and have to calm ourselves down with food and drugs and sex and video games. We’re the ADHD Generation; brilliant, but wild and self-destructive. Every human gift has a cost, and reversion to the mean is nature’s response to excess.

    I just don’t see this as something on an infinite trajectory.

  17. Alte,
    I’ll be here for another week, and then head down into Austria to spend some time with my wife’s family. My German is very limited, so the good bishop will be able to slip plenty of heresy into his homely without my noticing. I was thinking of driving up to Ingolstadt because I have a mild fascination with Adam Weishaupt and his Illuminati. I have no idea if their old meeting place is known or marked, or even if it still exists, but I’d be interested to see it. Unfortunately my schedule for next week is filling up, so I’ll have to postpone my visit to Ingolstadt.

  18. Oh, Austria. I hope not Vienna. That’s a real cesspool.

  19. No, not Vienna. Much farther south. I grew up in western New York State, and so had an attitude toward New York City that made it easy for me to understand how most Austrians think about Vienna.

  20. Hey Alte, Vienna is a pretty cesspool. Apart from the UN compound (was there last year for a meeting). That is not only a deeper cesspool, but ugly.

    The Sunday I was there I stumbled into a Coptic service, and then sat in the back of a central city mass. Did not partake, of course, as I’m reformed: sitting in a service (twice) and not being able to understand anything but the occasional word is unnerving.

    On intelligence, I wonder how much of the Flynn effect is an artifact of video games allowing people to do progressive matrices faster. If there is such a thing.

    Flynn works at the same place I do and boasts that he turns all his first year students into atheists. He is more that a little in love with himself, and I trust him not at all.

  21. Elaboration as one can’t edit. As if there is such a thing as G or general intelligence: on that subject I remain a skeptic, and I have read my Charles Murray.

  22. […] “Suppose it is true that modern people are, on average, much smarter or less violent than ancient … If it were true, I wouldn’t care because I am generally unperterbed by the theory of evolution, but I am not suffering from the impression that it is true. More efficient wars and higher IQ are not unequivocal proof of human progression. We are, if anything, rapidly becoming more ignorant, bloodthirsty, and degraded by the day. We are also beginning to die out, which suggests a reduction in fitness. If anything, it’s time to call Peak Humanity. […]

  23. I’m increasingly sceptical about IQ tests, since my daughter’s have jumped about 20 points per year, despite the fact that her raw intelligence was obvious in the delivery room. My son has stayed constant over the years, but he’s naturally calmer.

    Mine also increased over 10 points since high school, and I don’t really know why — other than the fact that I drink tons of coffee now. Ten points seems like a big jump to blame on a latte habit.

    I think the tests are a bit overwhelmed by unusual personality types and late bloomers. Everything is normed by age and a major part of the score reflects the ability to sit down and fill out the dull forms for hours and hours.

  24. Not to cast doubt on your maternal intuition, but how could your daughter’s raw intelligence have been obvious in the delivery room?

  25. Alte: a quick google got me this.

    These are estimated g factor loadings, but against homogeneous tests containing only particular item types, as opposed to non-compound heterogeneous tests. Although tending to surprise the lay person, it is not uncommon for tests to have high loadings on item types they do not actually contain themselves. Such loadings reflect the empirical fact that most tests for mental abilities measure primarily g, regardless of their contents; that the major part of test score variance is caused by g, and only a minor part by factors germane to particular item types. It is of key importance to understand that this is a fact of nature, a natural phenomenon, and not something that was built into the tests by the test constructors.

    Type g loading of Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices (I.Q.) on that type
    Verbal -0.41
    Numerical 0.52
    Spatial -0.14
    Logical -0.99
    Heterogeneous -0.46
    There is no overlap between the categories in this table as a result of leaving out compound tests.

    Balanced g loading = -0.29

    Yes, this test has a negative g loading in its upper range. That means higher scores correspond to lower ability levels. This is of course not true for the full range of the test, but only for a tiny segment. It is in fact known from many factor-analytical studies that the Raven matrices tests are among the highest g loaded tests; but such studies deal with the normal range of I.Q., between plus and minus about two standard deviations from 100.

    The correlation may also have been influenced by the fact that Raven scores are often reported with an artificial ceiling at 156, the 99th centile (see above; many 156s), but that influence may go both ways; in other words, without the artificial ceiling the negative correlation might have been even larger!

    Also, in the report on R.A.P.M. raw scores (which are not influenced by reporting with artificial ceiling), a similar negative correlation is found, so apparently it is not the score reporting of psychologists that causes it to be negative.

    Further study of this negative correlation and the point where it starts can better be based on known raw scores, as there exist many different sets of norms for this test (for different countries, ages, and the renormings to correct for the Flynn effect), so one cannot rely on the “IQ”s to correspond consistently to particular raw scores.

    It looks like I was wrong: the Flynn does load for g, but at high intelligences the loading is negative.

    IQ is a compound measurement with a complex relationship to underlying intelligence. It’s better to talk about subtests: something educational psychologists should do, but educationalists want the compound number and attribute far too much meaning to it.

  26. Every civilization has a genetic elite. What we are learning is that certain complex traits (such as intelligence) can change fairly quickly. The HBDers get the Ashkenazi IQ thing wrong because they don’t know their history. The Sephardim dominated Spain at least to the extent that the Ashkenazim dominate us. It seems that this population actually underwent a major disgenic event.

    This has likely happened to many populations throughout the ages, e.g. Athenians, Romans, Us right now(!). Also, remember that there has been non-random mating in every population leading to an elite. Would the Flynn effect emerge if you only tested the elite from one generation to the next? Almost certainly not. If the Flynn effect is even real and not a statistical artifact, it probably comes from a period where the intellectual elite were more likely to make with the non-elite.

  27. “Not to cast doubt on your maternal intuition, but how could your daughter’s raw intelligence have been obvious in the delivery room?”

    It was both of them, but it was even more striking with my daughter. They both had Apgar scores of 10, which is uncommon. Natural deliveries for both, with both being wide-eyed and curious immediately. They were already looking around and responding to voices before they were even cleaned off, which made the experience a bit like an episode of the X-files.

    They were both incredibly sleepless and colicky infants, but the shocking thing about my daughter was how easily she was bored. I delivered and nursed her, which she found interesting and accepted quietly, but as soon as we got back to the room and I laid her down to sleep, she started screaming hysterically. So, I picked her up, and the crying stopped. Wash, rinse, repeat. I eventually gave up and called the nurse, who had no more luck than I did. She took my daughter with her and walked her up and down the hallways for an hour until my husband could take over, so that I could get some sleep. Anytime you’d stop walking or blocked her view, this fire-alarm screeching would start up again. This went on for four hours, until we decided to go home, where my mother could take over a shift and we could get some rest.

    My daughter was born at 6 am and didn’t fall asleep until after midnight. When she woke up, the screaming immediately started up again, and the screaming continued until she started crawling at two weeks. I spent most of that time in doctor’s offices, but she would never recreate the screaming there because it was all so interesting there, and they always just praised her robust health and precocious development, and sent me home. Later, she’d crawl over to whatever interested her, rather than having to scream to get us to take her over there. She’d only scream when something was out of reach.

    She averaged about 8 hours of sleep per night, excluding breaks, with no naps. She still needs little sleep, at 7 years old. Goes to bed at 10 pm and wakes up at 6 pm in a chipper mood. She still needs enormous amounts of intellectual and sensory stimulation, but she can provide that for herself now instead of running us all ragged. She stays up all night reading, sets her Teddy bears up in a game of chess, paints pictures, rides her bike, composes songs on her flute, etc. It’s non-stop.

    She had a speech delay as a toddler, so they were constantly testing her IQ. The tests were so boring and easy for her that she’d just get up and go play tea party in the play kitchen and refuse to continue. They insisted this was proof of her lack of cognitive development and documented that in her school files. They tested her here in Germany last fall, for placement, and the results were… very different.

    It was less my maternal intuition than the constant open-gaped staring from the various pediatric specialists.

  28. TL;DR: They told us she was autistic, then they said she had ADHD, now it turns out that she was just another bored and frustrated genius. We dragged that poor child to a gazillion experts, none of whom apparently had a clue, and the only thing she has is a mild auditory problem and a slight lisp.

    And, yes, you can reliably identify high intellect in newborns. Hold a colorful picture up to their face for ten seconds, then put it away. Place it in front of them again an hour later, and then measure how long it takes them to look away. Generally, the faster they get bored, the smarter they are.

  29. Here’s the thing about IQ tests: They’re only fun to do if they’re hard.

    If your child (and it’s mostly children taking these tests, with adult IQ scores mostly being gestimated based on academic tests or writing samples) is intelligent and headstrong, it’s not unlikely that they’ll just start fooling around, daydreaming, scribbling on the margins, or trying to make it more challenging for themselves.

    My son took a test at age four (again, speech delay because of auditory problems) and he went along with the first hour, but by the second session he was making up his own rules. For one test, for example, he had to build colored block shapes to match the evaluator’s. After the third attempt, she voiced surprise that he was doing them all wrong, as she’d expected it to be his strong suit, when I pointed out that he was purposefully building them all backward, flipped around, or upside-down. I suggested that she get up, walk around to our side of the table (I was sitting behind him on the couch), and then rotate it mentally, and she’d see that it matched.

    He started doing them correctly when I offered him a lollypop (I know, I know), but she told me later that she’d never had that happen before. He started doing the math test holding the pencil in the wrong hand, just for kicks. It was all just a joke to him.

    She was still able to get an accurate result, as it is identical to the more-recent German one, but scoring it must have been a nightmare. After watching both of my kids get tested, and knowing the vast discrepency in my own score… I’m sceptical. No false positives, but I bet that there are plenty of false negatives.

    And we’re not THAT smart. Once you get into the 145+ range, it all starts to get ridiculous.

    As for Flynn, who knows if we got smarter, or if kids are just better at filling in meaningless bubble sheets now? They take so many tests nowadays.

  30. “the Flynn does load for g, but at high intelligences the loading is negative”

    Now that, right there, was fascinating. I’m mostly surrounded by people in the 120-150 range, and that would explain a lot. LOL

  31. Thanks Mr Bonald.

    In the other side, it is certainly possible that the european jewish population had enough pressure to incorporat at least some genes for higher intelligence .The pressure was the investment of the jewish in the european society in money and knowledge, this also determined by the fact that they were goods easily portable under persecution.

    All human groups fluctuate around his own mean IQ value. The fluctuation is dictated by the individual environment and the mean value, by the history of the group along thounsands of years. That was studied by Rushton. The more predictable, the more pays to be intelligent. The less predictable, the better to react fast and think less. The brain is also a spensive tissue that need a lot of calories.

    But intelligence does not make people more moral or with more wisdom. a more predictable environment could mean that what would be physical conflicts in less predictable environments are translated to conflict of power in the social arena. That means that the intelligence is spent in the elaboration of Machiavellian deception of other and oneself, maybe with elaborated ideological constructions, instead on searching for the universal knowledge that is in all o us. On the contrary people with no habit to think, are more close to common sense and they have no incentive to lie themselves and others. The catholic doctrine, the Bible and the Greek philosophy (anamnesis and nous) is full of insight about how the wisdom is in anyone and available to everyone that look (sincerely) for it.

    In the other side, the “theory of evolution” should be called “theory of tradition” since almost 100% of the information comes from our ancestors, only a very, very small part of what is inherited has changed. evolution is an ideological name made with the intention to focus the attention on this tiny variational aspect.

    This is a very good presentation about how a genotype can produce different phenotypes depending on early environment:

  32. There’s also the question of how increases of serious morning sickness are affecting IQ in offspring. A lot of these women used to die, and now (like Princess Kate) they get put on an IV and lie around for months in hospital, and all of the late-stage bed rest seems to have a positive impact on brain formation.

    Add in breastfeeding, maternal diet and supplements, babywearing, midwifery, homemade baby food, and all of the other Nerd Parenting habits, and you’re looking at a 5-point increase in the upper quarter. But only for them. That would raise the mean without leaving the overall population better off.

    “The pressure was the investment of the jewish in the european society in money and knowledge, this also determined by the fact that they were goods easily portable under persecution”

    I.e. the poor got slaughtered in their ghetto, while the elite made like a banana.

    Wasn’t I reading something similar about pre-Industrial Britain and low net-fertility among the poor?

  33. If you have not seen this week’s spectator, it is well worth reading as it argues, in a similar manner, that microevolution is still occurring.

  34. When I read writings from the past, the author and therefore the intended audience seem much more intelligent than the average writer and reader of today. Therefore I look with suspicion on the claim that average IQ is rising. At the intuitive level, moderns seem dumber than pre-moderns. But that’s just my intuitive take.

  35. IQ is a composit number. It’s possible that visual media has raised our IQ in the corresponding test sections, without our expressive speech scores improving any. Reaction might also be up.

  36. To a Christian, IQ doesn’t matter in the sense that we are not going to be judged on how smart we are. St. Peter isn’t going to quiz us on the Summa when we appear at the pearly gates. If God gives some people greater potential intelligence than others, then like all gifts we receive from him we should use it in his service for his glory.

    Liberals, on the other hand, dislike talk of IQ because it undermines their beliefs about equality. Just for the sake of argument, let’s suppose the HBDers are right and blacks and Hispanics have an average IQ one standard deviation below whites, Asians, and Jews. To Christians this shouldn’t matter as we are all called to be virtuous and holy. To liberals, this would render much of our public policy, particularly in education, nonsensical. If HBD became widely accepted then the American people would elect the cryogenically frozen brain of Hitler as president. Or something.

    HBD only becomes problematic if you’re an ateleological reductionist.

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