Michael Lind: ”Against The Eugenicons” Like Murray And Sailer
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A lot of name-calling flung at Charles Murray and myself in this strawman-stomping screed by Texas centrist Michael Lind in Compact:

Against the Eugenicons

Michael Lind

I’ve always liked fellow opinion journalist Michael Lind even though he dislikes me. I’ve learned a lot from him, although it doesn’t appear from this article that he’s learned much of anything from me.

His centrist political standpoint strikes me as interesting: I believe he’s from the Hill Country of central Texas, and I get the impression he sympathizes with the centrist German American culture of the region and finds it more constructive than the conservative Scots-Irish and lowland Southerner WASP culture of much of the rest of Texas. German and Scandinavian regions of America like Wisconsin and Minnesota tend to be among our better places. But who speaks for German-America after 1917?

In May 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump promised, “Five, 10 years from now—different party. You’re going to have a worker’s party.” In the presidential and midterm elections since 2016, the GOP has picked up more working-class black and Hispanic voters, while losing more college-educated whites to the Democrats, in defiance of progressive predictions. But it will be impossible for the Republican Party to win over more working-class white and nonwhite voters by adopting pro-worker policies—as long as a substantial share of GOP donors, journalists, think-tankers, and activists structure their politics around hereditarian theories that claim that the patterns of class and race in America and the world are the result of unalterable DNA.

Call them the eugenic conservatives, or “eugenicons.”

I’ve never heard the term “eugenicon” before. I guess it means I’m an icon of good genes.

Seriously, I’ve never been enthusiastic about the policies of 20th century eugenics. On the other hand, just as I admire Robert J. Oppenheimer as a scientist without admiring his having been a Stalinist fellow traveler, but am also not approving of his Red Scare cancellation, I am similarly not impressed by the ongoing cancellation of great scientists who were eugenics enthusiasts in their day, such as the man who hired Oppenheimer to teach at Caltech, its founding president and Physics Nobel laureate Robert A. Millikan.

Today, however, if you spend any time on Twitter—or whatever it’s now called—you are bound to run into users who throw around phrases like “bell curve” and “cognitive elite” that were given wide currency by Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein in their 1994 book, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Murray and Herrnstein made sweeping assertions about genes, IQ, and racial disparities. As critics, including yours truly, demonstrated at the time, the authors relied on publications by figures like the late J. Philippe Rushton, originator of the brain-to-penis-ratio theory of intelligence, some of them sponsored by the eugenicist Pioneer Fund. Not just liberals and leftists, but also many conservatives and neoconservatives like Thomas Sowell and Nathan Glazer pointed out the flaws in the book.

Murray has enjoyed an influential career in the decades since. … Unfortunately, such practices lend credence to the claims of today’s eugenicons that they, too, represent a valid school of science unjustly censored by the left. Moreover, they can appeal to conservative opponents of the woke left on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Last but not least, when people see legitimate nonracist viewpoints being stigmatized by the left as “racist,” it is natural that some will give the benefit of the doubt to anyone accused of racism.

But claims to intellectual martyrdom can be made by adherents of any pseudoscience, from flying-saucer theorists to believers in Atlantis. It is significant, therefore, that the hereditarians who have gained wide audiences on the American right aren’t credible, academically trained geneticists, but rather amateurish, sometimes pseudonymous influencers who, instead of writing scholarly books or doing serious reporting, win over audiences by cracking wise on Twitter or rambling on Substack.

Perhaps the most influential is Steve Sailer, a businessman-turned-journalist who popularized the term “human biodiversity.” Sailer publishes his musings in Taki’s and VDare, the latter named after the first white child born in Britain’s American colonies, and is the author of a book published by the VDare Foundation, America’s Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama’s “Story of Race and Inheritance.” Half-breed, get it? …

It can be true at the same time, however, that most neo-hereditarian writings fall into an opposite trap, presenting race as the master-key for understanding every social and political issue. Neo-hereditarians are the type of people the cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt condemned as “terrible simplifiers.” Their generalizations flatten, and falsify, reality.

Personally, I’m fascinated by the workings of Galton’s useful dichotomy of nature and nurture. Disentangling them is a particular challenge, and represents the big leagues of social thought, but it’s not always impossible. For example, the historically unprecedented increases in the rates of black deaths by homicide and traffic fatality in the few weeks following George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020 can’t be attributed to a sudden change in nature because genes don’t change that fast.

Eugenicons abuse statistics in much the same way that the “antiracist” left does. For instance, consider the standard progressive claim that white Americans as a group own vastly more wealth than black Americans. But when you control for class, it turns out that working-class whites aren’t that much wealthier than working-class blacks.

Why stop with merely controlling for class when analyzing differences in wealth? If you control for wealth, then it turns out that nobody, no matter what their race, differs in wealth!

In the same way, eugenicons write about the IQ scores of “whites,” “blacks” and “Hispanics,” using conventional US Census categories or similarly loose definitions of the races.

So, Michael, if we used more precise groupings than standard U.S census categories, would IQ score gaps get smaller… or larger? Try thinking about that question carefully.

For example, drawing on his 2009 dissertation, “IQ and Immigration Policy,” the conservative commentator Jason Richwine argued for changing American immigration policy to admit fewer Hispanics on the basis of a Hispanic “immigrant IQ deficit.”

The problem is that terms like “non-Hispanic white” and “Hispanic,” even when used by the Census Bureau, are decidedly arbitrary and unscientific. Lumping together a Greek-American with a Norwegian-American to get a generic “non-Hispanic white” IQ score, and then lumping together, say, a Mayan from Yucatan with an Argentine of wholly Italian ancestry to get a generic “Hispanic” IQ score, and then comparing the two numbers as though the results tell you anything significant about “races,” is an exercise that confirms nothing except the old adage of computer programmers: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

I see this argument all the time. It’s quite popular, even though it’s self-evidently backward. What Lind is saying is that the U.S. government’s system of racial-ethnic categorization by self-identification is sloppier than if it had the precise genetic ancestry results.

And indeed it is. But the fact that self-identified race, for all its flaws, and even the government’s very woozy Hispanic ethnic category, still correlates with various social science statistics is evidence for the strength of the underlying correlation. Despite all the noise in the data caused by using unverified self-identification, we can still see the patterns.

For example, say baseball has just been invented and you are trying to figure out which positions are the better hitters. But the box scores of batting performances you’ve been handed only record players as outfielders, infielders or the battery (pitchers and catchers). Well, that’s pretty noisy data. You notice the battery players are pretty bad hitters on average and the outfielders appear to be a little faster than the infielders from the number of triples they hit. But due to the lack of precise defensive categorization, there’s a lot of noise in the data.

You then demand box scores on which each of the nine defensive positions is broken out separately. You immediately notice that pitchers are bad hitters, 2nd basemen and shortstops tend to be light hitters, while first basemen tend to be among the heaviest hitters.

Recently, we’ve begun to see huge databases with IQ scores and genetic ancestry, such as the Philadelphia Neurodevelopment study and the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) gold standard database. Using these we can compare self-identification, precise genetic ancestry, and cognitive test scores.

And, yes, we do get more precision from knowing the genetic ancestry within self-identified groups. For example, among the 10,000 10-year-olds given the NIH’s standard cognitive tests, those whose parents identified them as “white Mexican” turned out to be 61% white by DNA with an average IQ of 92. While those identified as “other Mexican” by their parents were 44% white by ancestry, with an average IQ of 89.

There’s a huge push going on to deny researchers access to these kinds of state-of-the-art databases—for example, tenured professor Bryan Pesta of Cleveland State has been fired for conducting this type of analysis—precisely because they can help answer ancient questions in the race IQ debate. For example, here is Margaret Mead’s highly sensible 1926 paper “The Methodology of Racial Testing: Its Significance for Sociology.” The great cultural anthropologist criticized, quite reasonably, then current methods of estimating racial admixture when testing for IQ, and she looked forward to new technological breakthroughs to improve admixture studies. We now have the technology, but do we have the courage to answer Mead’s 97-year-old questions?

… As they made sweeping pronouncements about supposed racial characteristics and the dangers of race-mixing, the eugenicists of old scarcely took notice of the sheer arbitrariness of their supposedly “scientific” categories, which were, in fact, often little more than aesthetic judgments. The early race theorist Johann Blumenbach, for example, to whom we owe the “scientific” identification of the “Caucasian” race, said he took “the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus … because its neighborhood … produces the most beautiful race.”

Blumenbach in the 1700s assembled the world’s best collection of human skulls, from which he came up with a model of 5 continental-scale races that still holds up pretty well today in the DNA era. He named the white race “Caucasian” because the skull he thought most shapely came from the Caucasus. I presume he figured that’s where the Garden of Eden must have been and that Germans and the like were slightly degraded copies of the original whites from the border of Europe and Asia. Until Darwin, intellectuals tended to assume that organisms deteriorated with each generation, rather like 1970s Xerox copies got fuzzier the more often you made a copy of a copy.

I try to look at old scientists like Blumenbach and Oppenheimer from a glass-half-full standpoint. Blumenbach accomplished a lot considering all the difficulties, physical, cultural, and conceptual, that scientists faced at the time. Similarly, Oppenheimer’s accomplishments are more important than his active sympathy for Stalinism.

Anyway, this is all just of antiquarian interest. If Lind wants to have something to say relevant to 21st century science, instead of taking potshots at Blumenbach in the 18th century, he should try his hand at taking potshots at, say, superstar Harvard geneticist David Reich.

A sense of the scholarly rigor of the “race-realist”/human-biodiversity movement is provided by a 2000 exchange in VDare between the writer Razib Khan and Sailer. Khan wrote:

Most of the evidence also seems to point to New World Indians’ scoring slightly below whites. Thus, Mestizos (white-Indian mixes) would have slightly lower IQs than whites, while Eurasians (white-East Asian crosses) would have slightly higher IQs. The correlation between the increasing blondeness of high-IQ Eurasians would be somewhat mitigated if the less intelligent Eurasian men happened to import intelligent East Asian women to make up for their competitive disadvantage on the marriage market, while the more intelligent Eurasians would marry less intelligent blondes (i.e., European derived females).

To which Sailer replied: “If white women don’t wise up to [the] rewards of marrying geeks, the Eurasian kids of the future will tend to do extremely well on the math portion of the SAT and thus will be well set to prosper in the increasingly technology-dominated economy.”

Science at work, ladies and gentlemen.

Take a look at the graph above from the huge database of the half billion dollar ongoing ABCD project. Our early, goofy speculations seem to have turned out fairly accurate.

As all of this shows, race-realist “science” seldom rises above the level of stereotypes: Westerners are disciplined by nature, Africans aren’t, Asians by nature are math nerds, blond women are dumb.

One of my goals is to come up with new and/or more refined stereotypes: e.g., major league rightfielders tend more often to be African American while third basemen tend more often to be white Americans. And then to come up with plausible theories of nature and nurture for why that pattern evolved over the generations. (There’s a long, rather dull story in American baseball cultural history of why third basemen weren’t expected to be strong hitters up until about the early 1950s, about the time when the first fast, hard-hitting black rightfielders appeared in MLB: Aaron, Clemente, Robinson, et al.)

In the decades and centuries to come, all sorts of group differences in biology, including perhaps group differences in various kinds of intelligence, may well be identified. But this will be done in laboratories and other controlled settings by actual scientists, by geneticists and biologists and physicians. …

Lind is out of touch with the top scientists of the 2020s. They don’t confide in him.

It won’t be done by right-wing shock jocks poring over statistical tables and publishing their “research” in trade-press books and club newsletters written and edited by their fellow true believers.

If tenured professors like Pesta, Negy, and Wax continue to have their careers threatened for crimethink, scientific progress in important areas of the human sciences will increasingly come from non-academics.

In today’s era of left-wing suppression of legitimate topics of discussion, eugenicons lure readers by claiming that they alone dare to discuss taboo questions. Among these: Why do black Americans as a group commit proportionally more violent crimes than some other ethnic and racial groups with similar levels of poverty? And why have Jews been so successful in many professions in Europe and the United States since the 18th century? The eugenicon tells us that we must choose between only two approaches: woke leftism, which attributes all disparities among groups to ongoing white racism, and hereditarian “realism,” which teaches that black people have “criminogenic” bodies, while there are other mysterious genes that explain why so many Jewish-Americans are accomplished violinists, academics, and standup comedians.

The number of homicide deaths suffered by blacks in 2020 was 36% higher than in 2019. I strongly doubt that black genes changed 36% in one year. Instead, on May 25, 2020, culture lurched radically toward encouraging black criminality.

But theories invoking class and culture provide a third and more plausible set of answers. In his 2005 book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, Sowell argued persuasively that black Southerners took the honor-conscious, violence-prone culture that they shared, and share to this day, with Southern whites to Northern cities during the Great Migration.

Nah, the narrowing of the Overton Window to exclude Charles Murray meant that culture-only centrists like Lind became the new Extreme Right to be squeezed out in turn, which is why Lind is publishing this in Compact rather than the New York Times Magazine.

… The intellectuals I have cited can’t be dismissed as woke leftists. Sowell is a celebrated conservative, whose work on ethnicity and race is far more rigorous than that of Murray. Latzer writes for conservative publications, and his book was canceled before publication by Columbia University Press and denounced by radical leftists, who reject not only genetic, but also cultural explanations for group disparities. Yet Latzer appears to be all but unknown to the numerous conservatives who read Murray, Sailer, and Hanania.

I’ve read Latzer’s book and posted about him here and here. It’s good. You should read it.

Meanwhile, many on the right revere Sowell for his free-market economics but seem to ignore his debunking of hereditarian theories. This can’t simply be because Sowell is black, while Murray and Sailer and Hanania are white (by the standards of the 2020s, if not of the 1920s). Instead, a certain kind of conservative seems to find reductive explanations of group disparities based on race more palatable than complex ones that include culture and class.

Sowell’s a great guy, but his critique of The Bell Curve was not strong. Anyway, The Bell Curve was 29 years ago. When is somebody going to come along and do the scientific investigation that once and for all disproves The Bell Curve?

A lot of people are convinced that that must have already happened. Yet, when I ask them, they can never seem to quite recall the name of that popular scientific hero who did the landmark study that debunked The Bell Curve.

If the eugenicons were without influence, they could safely be ignored. The problem is that the they have a large and apparently growing influence within the conservative establishment, and are even finding a sympathetic hearing in New York’s so-called post-left scene: some former Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialists of America types who—owing to bitterness over cancellation, publicity-driven addiction to épater les bourgeois, or both—now increasingly toy with “race realism.”

… And indeed, on April 22, Hanania called for a new “Enlightened Centrism,” or “EC.” His list of EC thinkers consisted mostly of libertarian-leaning pundits. Those on the center left in his list included Matthew Yglesias and Noah Smith, who share conventionally libertarian views of trade and immigration; and his candidates for the EC right consisted mostly of eugenicons like Steve Sailer, with a few conventional libertarians like Megan McArdle and Virginia Postrel mixed in.

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