Charles Murray: One of America's Most Important Thinkers or Victim of Brain-eating Memetic Parasite?
Print Friendly and PDF

From the Noahpinion blog by economist Noah Smith:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How Charles Murray changed my mind Author: Noah Smith

I always get a lot of pushback from liberals when I say that Charles Murray is one of America’s most important thinkers, or that he’s changed my mind in big, deep, fundamental ways. So let me explain.

First of all, The Bell Curve, of which I’ve only read part (the part about race), strikes me as relatively unimportant and counterproductive. …

But The Bell Curve is not the Murray book that changed my thinking. That book was Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.

Before I read Coming Apart, I was relatively unconcerned with the situation of the American lower middle class. I knew that their incomes had slightly declined, and that their economic risk had increased. But compared to people in poor countries, they seemed very well-off. Also, they weren’t particularly nice people in high school. So I pretty much disregarded their problems.

Coming Apart totally changed my mind.

But a month later:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

“Race and IQ”: a brain-eating memetic parasite Author: Noah Smith

… Perhaps the most potent and deadly memetic parasite I know of is called “Race and IQ”. This is the belief that average differences in measured IQ across different consensus-defined racial groups are really, really important to society.

That’s the core belief, but there are some associated ones.

The first is a persecution complex. “Race and IQ” people believe that they are oppressed rationalists/empiricists fighting the good fight against mainstream/liberal culture, which is engaged in a massive effort to deny or cover up The Truth. …

The second is the certainty that the aforementioned average IQ gaps are due entirely to deep, fundamental (but always unspecified or hypothesized) genetic differences between broad racial ancestries, rather than to things like selective immigration.

The third is the belief that "Race and IQ" is responsible for many or even most of the economic phenomena in the world - the wealth and poverty of nations, growth rates, savings rates, bubbles, etc.

Furthermore, “Race and IQ” seems to act as a sort of gateway drug. Once people’s brains have been infected with this parasite, they become more susceptible to stereotypes of all kinds. Soon, they will believe every stereotype about women, about gays, about Jews, about “Latin lovers,” about Germany and Greece – about anything and anyone. The older the stereotype, and the more associated with right-wing politics it is, the more likely they are to believe it.

In fact, this brain parasite has been around for a long time. In The Great Gatsby, a character suddenly starts spouting the “Race and IQ” canon:

“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?”

Oh, boy, Tom Buchanan … Now that’s original!

(By the way, it’s not well understood that Fitzgerald is engaging in self-parody here, as Waugh would so often do. Fitzgerald’s own views on race and immigration were pretty close to Tom Buchanan’s as he made clear in a letter to Edmund Wilson — and ought to be obvious if you read Gatsby closely.)

If you read blogs, you’ve probably seen a few “Race and IQ” zombies infesting comment sections. But the scary thing about this memetic parasite is that it has shown an ability to (occasionally) infect even the most intelligent minds. It ate James Watson’s brain. It might or might not have eaten William Shockley’s brain. It has probably eaten the brains of one or two economists over the years. It’s sad and scary to see a once powerful mind reduced from exploring the mysteries of the Universe to exploring this lazy, tired, mostly-irrational worldview. …

I think finding a cure for this brain parasite would yield substantial rewards for public health.

I’m reminded of a high school football player who is assigned in European History class to do a Powerpoint presentation in class on the High Renaissance.

He winds up lingering, effusively on a six foot high projection of Michelangelo’s David.

A few days later, after enduring some gibes from his buddies on the team, he comes up with a great plan one evening to quell any Doubts: Lets go bash some gays!


Print Friendly and PDF