What happens when the world of what may be true collides with the world of what we desperately want to be true?
It can get very ugly, very quickly.
So, when political scientist Charles Murray published a book in 1994 concerning intelligence, The Bell Curve, in which one chapter is devoted to the understanding of the role of race and IQ, these worlds collided and it was not pretty.
Since this book was written nearly 25 years ago, Murray has been all but officially banned from the social scientific community and universities -his life and well-being threatened.
In this one chapter, his scientific inquiry led him to the conclusion that race does play a role in IQ in the main, with plenty of outliers. To summarize a complex conclusion based on many variables, his research concluded that of all the populations on the planet, Asians possessed the highest IQ, then something along the lines of whites, blacks and Hispanics.
When I first heard of this book, my first questions were, “What’s the point? Even if there are racial differences in IQ what would be the practical application of such data?”
After listening to an interview with Murray, I never received an altogether satisfying response. He warns of a potentially dangerous “cognitive elite” and something along the lines that social policy should be the product of good science. I am thinking he means policies such as affirmative action, though I am not entirely certain.
He does not sound like a racist, then again, very few real racists sound like racists.
Whether or not Murray is a genius, racist asshole or something in between, is not the point of this blog. I am not a fan of Murray nor have the background or understanding of the brain’s inner workings and its interplay with neuroscience to even have an opinion…and I would bet you don’t either.
I do know the claim that certain groups lack sufficient intellectual skills is one that has been used to argue for slavery, racism, sexism, Jim Crow laws, and eugenics, just to name a few. No level-headed champion of social causes would ever want Murray’s research to be even remotely true.
And this is the point of this blog and the cognitive dissonance I am currently experiencing: When does the search for what may be true need to take a backseat to what that search may cause in terms of social fallout and injustice? If it turns out to be true, that is all racist assholes would need to justify their intolerable and hate-filled views.
I realize that in 2018 we are striving for an equal playing field for all, though I know with absolute certainty there are a lot of people way, way, way smarter and more intelligent than I (in fact I am not smart enough to know if that last word before this parenthesis was supposed to be “I” or “me” or even “myself”). I do think it is an interesting study to find out the effects of intelligence on society and what the advantages the “cognitive elite” have over myself and others while seeking strategies for a more level playing field.
Yet if such a study would cause social upheaval and used to justify injustice, is the price of seeking answers to these questions simply too high?
To illustrate, I recently read a scientific journal article that stated genetic researchers are finding out certain human beings have more Neanderthal DNA than previously believed. “East Asians have about 2.3 to 2.6 percent Neanderthal DNA, while people from western Europe and Asia have retained about 1.8 to 2.4 percent DNA. African populations have virtually none because their ancestors did not mate with Neanderthals.”
I could not help but think that what if those numbers were flipped and African populations were part Neanderthal and not whites and Asians? If this opposite were true, would it be worth reporting this scientific discovery knowing this could propel a racist narrative for those hungry to confirm their racist bias? What is the purpose of reporting such a finding at all if it means providing fodder for evil agendas, i.e. idiots?
Yet as one who concurrently likes to read and seek out such interesting information, I am squarely “in tension.”
I am keenly aware of the role confirmation bias plays in the human psyche -the path of least resistance is simply seeking out “confirming” information and stimulus that provides the backing for what we want to be true and discard the rest. Also, as one who attempts to critically think, the path of least resistance is never the preferred path.
The easiest thing to do in the case of Charles Murray is to discredit the man as a racist asshole and move forward…and maybe he is, yet maybe he is not. Maybe he is man that loves to study one’s intellect and its role in culture, and, for whatever reason, race is studied as part of that larger equation.
I could not tell you.
Perhaps honest scientific inquiry can simultaneously move society backward and forward at the same time. I have far more questions than answers: Is the “truth” always worth seeking out? If scientific inquiry divides people, is there a good point to it? Why study anything by race…why not just study the human race? What are the ethical considerations science must adopt when conducting such research? Or should scientists just do science and allow the social chips to fall how and where they may?
I’ll write another blog when I figure these out and let you know. In the meantime, I have a feeling many more worlds will be colliding in the near future.