Ben Sixsmith On Steve Sailer’s NOTICING
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Ben Sixsmith writes in The Critic on my anthology Noticing:

Why this new book will pass unnoticed

Columnist Steve Sailer’s views on genetics and IQ have placed him beyond the pale for bien pensant reviewers

4 April, 2024
By Ben Sixsmith

One of the most influential and widely-read opinion columnists in the Western world is never published in mainstream outlets. Despite being read by major commentators and politicians, he is almost never named, let alone discussed. Steve Sailer, a 65-year-old Californian, has haunted mainstream discourse for decades.

You can see his name popping up in New York Times columns by David Brooks and Ross Douthat. He is occasionally published in the American Conservative. Yet the extent to which he is perceived as being politically unmentionable has made him the closest thing that opinion commentary has to an outlaw figure.

The once-edgy comedian, Patton Oswalt, quoted Sailer’s line that “political correctness is a war on noticing” on Twitter in 2014 (and has since deleted the tweet). The now-edgy comedian Tim Dillon referenced Sailer’s characterisation of American policy as being “Invade the World, Invite the World” on a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience. Online, there is a running joke about how liberal pieties posted on “X” (formerly Twitter) will attract Sailer’s responses like a crime scene attracts Batman.

Reading Sailer’s new collection Noticing—out on March 26 but unlikely to be reviewed in the New York Times or the London Review of Books—reveals that readers of Sailer’s blogs and columns over the years have at least to some extent been put ahead of the political curve.

He predicted the Iraq War would be a disaster. In the early 2000s he laid out the populist framework that Trump adopted in 2016. He wrote in 2014 that the next big culture war conflagration would be over transgenderism. You don’t have to like his opinions to appreciate that this is a record of analytical substantiveness.

You will encounter many undeniable facts that the journalistic mainstream politely flows around. Whilst everyone was agreeing that black lives mattered in 2020, for example, it was Sailer more than anyone else who pointed out that the American “racial reckoning” had coincided with a massive yet largely ignored spike in murders and road accidents amongst African Americans which claimed thousands of lives that had mattered.

True, the presentation of such facts might be acerbic—Sailer has described H.L. Mencken as a “role model”—but that does not make them less relevant and troubling.

Yet we are dancing around the real question here—why is Sailer unmentionable? It is almost entirely because he is a leading proponent of the view that Arthur Jensen stirred academic controversy with in his 1969 article for the Harvard Educational Review, “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?” Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein all but upended American intellectual life with this view when they authored The Bell Curve in 1994.

This is the contention that human populations have different innate cognitive faculties. In more direct terms, Sailer believes that different races are on average more and less intelligent than each other, and that this probably has a deeply rooted genetic component. I don’t need to spell out why this is controversial. Yes, these are suggested to be average differences, not reflective of individual abilities. (Taller people are, on average, better at basketball than shorter people, but I am a 6’3 uncoordinated mess.) True, this kind of “hereditarian” belief system tends to hold that Jewish and Chinese people, not white people, are the world’s brainiest.

But the argument that racial disparities are more the result of inherited biological differences than structural dysfunction or injustice has depressing implications when it comes to the future, and morbid resonance when it comes to historically oppressive and eliminationist political movements.

So controversial is a belief in what is often called “hereditarianism” that believers are excluded from mainstream intellectual life. This year, the philosopher Nathan Cofnas stepped down from his position at Cambridge University amidst protests against his claim that “the equality thesis is based on lies”. (“There is blood on the hands of Nathan Cofnas,” one student protester was reported to have said, though it is unclear whose blood it was.) The sociologist Noah Carl was dismissed from a fellowship at Cambridge in 2019 for his similar belief in what an open letter called “the discredited race sciences”.

“Discredited” is the important adjective here. The controversial nature of a belief is not necessarily determined by its truth or falsity. Is what Sailer argues true? Many experts in the fields of human intelligence and genetics maintain that is not. Richard E. Nisbett’s Intelligence and How to Get It argues that environmental factors rather than genetic factors are the dominant influence on human intelligence. The philosopher and intelligence researcher James R. Flynn encountered Jensen’s arguments about racial differences in 1969 and dedicated much of his career to arguing against them. Flynn did much to document the “Flynn Effect”, which refers to long-term improvements in IQ scores around the world (though its effects appear to have stalled if not reversed in many places more recently).

I would point out that both Professor Flynn wrote me to praise my review of his 2007 book, and so did Mrs. Flynn, who wrote to thank me for how much her husband enjoyed it.

Read the whole thing there.

Also, buy my book in paperback for $29.95. There’s an unlimited number of paperbacks Passage Publishing can print, so the more the merrier. On the other hand, Passage has committed to publishing only 500 leatherbacks at the exorbitant price of $395.00, with the large majority of them already having sold.

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