Race, intelligence, and anti-racist prejudice (Was: Genetic Evolution)

Tom Lathrop (tlathrop@netcom.com)
Sun, 29 Jan 1995 19:03:03 GMT

This article starts out as a debate on the possibility of racial
differences in intelligence (in particular why you cannot use the
recent separation of the races to rule it out), and turns into a
discussion of egalitarian prejudice. I could probably make two posts
out of this, but the first part motivates the second, so I hope the
reader will bear with me to the end.

In article <3fnp5p$dld@ixnews3.ix.netcom.com>,
Lane Singer <lsd@ix.netcom.com> wrote:
>In <tlathropD23uEH.Mor@netcom.com> tlathrop@netcom.com (Tom Lathrop) writes:
>>I pointed out that, while a 15 point black/white IQ difference would be
>>quite significant in terms of human affairs, in terms of the difference
>>in intelligence between humans and our nearest cousins, the Chimpanzee,
>>such a difference is really rather small. 15 IQ points is around one
>>standard deviation, and is well within the range of normal human
>>variation. If we were talking about height one standard deviation
>>would be a few inches.
>>So how long would it take for a relatively minor difference such as
>>this to arise between two populations? I don't know for sure, but it
>>seems to me that any period of time measured in tens of thousands of
>>years would be plenty. If you disagree, then you need to give me some
>>estimate of how long *you* think it would take, and support it.
>>Otherwise you are simply not justified in claiming that the new genetic
>>studies show that there hasn't been enough time for such a difference
>>to arise.

>It's a bit silly to discuss how long it would take when we don't know
>what environmental factors would act with selective influence. Not all
>mutations are responsive to selection. In fact, the vast majority of
>mutations are selectively neutral.

In fact, evolution can take place with no mutations at all.

But I must agree that "it's a bit silly... when we don't know". That
*was* my point after all. And it's *your* argument that requires that
such a judgement be made, not mine.

>Also, we haven't defined what types of genes are involved in intelligence.
>Would it be genes that code for the various neurotransmitters? Genes that
>influence brain structure? Those that direct the different elements of
>the endocrine system? All of them and more? Probably.

Again, we don't know, do we?

>Now, unless there is some external force acting on these characteristics
>that would impede the survival of the human (such as a mental illness)
>most of the mutations are likely to be selective neutral. So, given a
>moderately low selective coefficient, it would take about 115,000 years
>for a new allele to replace an old one in a given population. This is
>for just one gene. Of course, the other genes would be undergoing
>random genetic drift as well, but with such an evolutionary force,
>the title describes it well: random. Things change because they
>cannot stay the same, but they may or may not change for the better,
>and most likely the effect of the change will be neutral.

Lane, this argument is so weak that it's barely worth answering. I
asked you how long you thought would be necessary for the average IQ of
two isolated populations to drift apart by 15 points. You mutter
something about a assuming a "low selective coefficient" (but Lane,
isn't that what we are arguing about?), and then wave your hands and
come up with 115,000 years. For one gene? For 15 IQ points? What?!?

If you meant 115,000 years for a 15 point difference, you are already
in trouble. Would that mean 76,000 years for a 10 point difference
(the possible value of the American black/white difference corrected
for environment)? Already that's around the time of Cavalli-Sforza's
African/non-African split. Throw in a factor of two and you've got the
35,000 years that modern man has been in Europe. Are you really sure
your calculation is accurate to a factor of two Lane. :-)

But the real problem is much deeper than that; you've forgotten that
evolution doesn't require mutation. There is a reason why a 15 point
IQ difference between human populations must be considered "small",
while the difference between humans and chimps is "large". The reason
is that, since 15 IQ points is one standard deviation, well within the
range of normal human variation, the genes necessary to make such a
change ALREADY EXIST WITHIN THE POPULTION! No new mutations are

It wouldn't take 115,000 years to raise a human population's IQ by 15
points. If we were willing to breed humans like racehorses we could
probably do it in a few generations, because the necessary genes are
already there! Normal human intelligence is entirely outside the
Chimpanzee "bell curve", so to get from there to here is a big project,
requiring many new mutations. That's why the distance from them to us
is "big". But the human population already contains all the genes
required for Einsteins or Gumps, and moving a population's intelligence
by one standard deviation one way or the other within that range only
requires a change in the frequency of those genes. That's why such a
change is "small" from an evolutionary perspective.

In fact, if you were a little more flexible in your approach, you could
probably attack me from the other direction and argue that human
intelligence must be unrelated to race because its genetic basis is too
malleable, too easily changed, for it to have any correlation with
anything as ancient as the separation of human racial groups. But you
want more than that; you want to use recent genetic studies to prove
that "there is no such thing as race", and that therefore it is
*impossible* for whites to be smarter than blacks. I think it's
interesting the way that your commitment to anti-racist thinking blinds
you to any fact that doesn't lead where you want to go. For example,
consider the final paragraph of my last post...

>>But I'm getting tired of this, so I want to ask you one final thing.
>>Do you remember how all this started? I said that recent genetic
>>studies had shown that "the deepest genetic division in the human race
>>lies between Africans and non-Africans", and you denied this. Will you
>>have the integrity now to admit you were wrong, or at least that
>>Cavalli-Sforza supports me on this point? Or are your politics too
>>rigid to allow even that?

I've made this challenge more than once, I've quoted Cavalli-Sforza
repeatedly saying exactly this (e.g., my quotes from pages 83 and 154
of The History and Geography of Human Genes, the book we've been
discussing for so long) and yet you ignore me. You can't defend your
position, but you just can't bring yourself to admit you were wrong
either, not even on this one point. Which leads me to wonder why I'm
even discussing this with you. If you're so emotionally bound to one
point of view that you can't back off even when the source we are
discussing directly contradicts you, how can I ever hope for any
flexibility on your part when the facts are even the least bit

I have to say I think this is typical of anti-racist thinking. You are
*very* quick to accuse your opponents of prejudice, and therefore
intellectual dishonesty. Sometimes the accusations have merit. But
you ignore how the intense emotional commitment that the typical
anti-racist brings to his cause can *also* be a source of prejudice
(pre-judgement). For many people, to accept that whites are smarter
than blacks would *hurt*. It would seem to justify all the terrible
things that have been done to blacks, all the abuse they've suffered
over the years. For many people, this isn't a question of scientific
fact, it is a question of good and evil, and for such a person to be
truly objective would be as difficult as for a devout Christian to be
truly objective on the existence of God.

Of course being prejudiced doesn't automatically mean you are wrong.
The devout Christian and the devout anti-racist could both turn out to
be right in the end. And prejudice certainly does exist on both
sides. That's why this sort of debate is so difficult. The person who
is prejudiced will use good arguments if he has them, but the important
thing is his unwavering commitment to his position, and if he has no
good arguments then he will use bad arguments and *honestly* believe
them to be good. I think its important to establish that racists are
not the only people who can fall into this trap. We should acknowledge
that the deep emotional involvement so many anti-racist liberals (and
conservatives!) have with this issue leaves them equally vulnerable.

More so in fact, because this sort of prejudice, when it is recognized
at all, is usually treated not as a source of intellectual dishonesty
but as a virtue and a sign of moral superiority (much the way
Christians treat "faith"), and therefore goes largely unexamined. I
think this sort of unexamined prejudice accounts for much of the
hysteria and emotionalism of the whole anti-Bell Curve campaign, as
well as the stubborn "no such thing as race" irrationality of the Left
on any discussion touching on race and intelligence. Whether or not
the anti-racists are right or wrong remains an open question. But it
is perfectly clear that emotionally many of them could not bear to be
wrong, and we should keep this in mind when considering the arguments
of people like Stephen Gould or Leon Kamin, whose politics and
sympathies I believe lean as far to the left as Charles Murray's do to
the right. Prejudice is never a virtue, not even anti-racist

Tom Lathrop | Politics: A strife of interests masquerading
tlathrop@netcom.com | as a contest of principles. -- Ambrose Bierce