Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK?

Idang Alibi of Abuja, Nige­ria writes on the James Wat­son af­fair:

A few days ago, the No­bel Lau­re­ate, Dr. James Wat­son, made a re­mark that is now gen­er­at­ing wor­ld­wide up­roar, es­pe­cially among blacks. He said what to me looks like a self-ev­i­dent truth. He told The Sun­day Times of Lon­don in an in­ter­view that in his hum­ble opinion, black peo­ple are less in­tel­li­gent than the White peo­ple...

An in­trigu­ing open­ing. Is Idang Alibi about to take a po­si­tion on the real heart of the up­roar?

I do not know what con­sti­tutes in­tel­li­gence. I leave that to our so-called schol­ars. But I do know that in terms of or­ganis­ing so­ciety for the benefit of the peo­ple liv­ing in it, we blacks have not shown any in­tel­li­gence in that di­rec­tion at all. I am so ashamed of this and some­times feel that I ought to have be­longed to an­other race...

Darn, it’s just a lec­ture on per­sonal and na­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity. Of course, for Afri­can na­tion­als, tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for their coun­try’s prob­lems is the most pro­duc­tive at­ti­tude re­gard­less. But it doesn’t en­gage with the con­tro­ver­sies that got Wat­son fired.

Later in the ar­ti­cle came this:

As I write this, I do so with great pains in my heart be­cause I know that God has given in­tel­li­gence in equal mea­sure to all his chil­dren ir­re­spec­tive of the colour of their skin.

This in­trigued me for two rea­sons: First, I’m always on the look­out for yet an­other case of the­ol­ogy mak­ing a falsifi­able ex­per­i­men­tal pre­dic­tion. And sec­ond, the pre­dic­tion fol­lows ob­vi­ously if God is just, but what does skin colour have to do with it at all?

A great deal has already been said about the Wat­son af­fair, and I sus­pect that in most re­spects I have lit­tle to con­tribute that has not been said be­fore.

But why is it that the rest of the world seems to think that in­di­vi­d­ual ge­netic differ­ences are okay, whereas racial ge­netic differ­ences in in­tel­li­gence are not? Am I the only one who’s ev­ery bit as hor­rified by the propo­si­tion that there’s any way what­so­ever to be screwed be­fore you even start, whether it’s genes or lead-based paint or Down’s Syn­drome? What differ­ence does skin colour make? At all?

This is only half a rhetor­i­cal ques­tion. Race adds ex­tra con­tro­versy to any­thing; in that sense, it’s ob­vi­ous what differ­ence skin colour makes poli­ti­cally. How­ever, just be­cause this at­ti­tude is com­mon, should not cause us to over­look its in­san­ity. Some kind of differ­ent psy­cholog­i­cal pro­cess­ing is tak­ing place around in­di­vi­d­u­ally-un­fair in­tel­li­gence dis­tri­bu­tions, and group-un­fair in­tel­li­gence dis­tri­bu­tions.

So, in defi­ance of this psy­cholog­i­cal differ­ence, and in defi­ance of poli­tics, let me point out that a group in­jus­tice has no ex­is­tence apart from in­jus­tice to in­di­vi­d­u­als. It’s in­di­vi­d­u­als who have brains to ex­pe­rience suffer­ing. It’s in­di­vi­d­u­als who de­serve, and of­ten don’t get, a fair chance at life. If God has not given in­tel­li­gence in equal mea­sure to all his chil­dren, God stands con­victed of a crime against hu­man­ity, pe­riod. Skin colour has noth­ing to do with it, noth­ing at all.

And I don’t think there’s any se­ri­ous scholar of in­tel­li­gence who dis­putes that God has been defini­tively shown to be most ter­ribly un­fair. Never mind the air­tight case that in­tel­li­gence has a hered­i­tary ge­netic com­po­nent among in­di­vi­d­u­als; if you think that be­ing born with Down’s Syn­drome doesn’t im­pact life out­comes, then you are on crack. What about lead-based paint? Does it not count, be­cause par­ents the­o­ret­i­cally could have pre­vented it but didn’t? In the be­gin­ning no one knew that it was dam­ag­ing. How is it just for such a tiny mis­take to have such huge, ir­re­vo­ca­ble con­se­quences? And re­gard­less, would not a just God damn us for only our own choices? Kids don’t choose to live in apart­ments with lead-based paint.

So much for God be­ing “just”, un­less you count the peo­ple whom God has just screwed over. Maybe that’s part of the fuel in the burn­ing con­tro­versy—that peo­ple do re­al­ize, on some level, the im­pli­ca­tions for re­li­gion. They can ra­tio­nal­ize away the im­pli­ca­tions of a child born with no legs, but not a child born with no pos­si­bil­ity of ever un­der­stand­ing calcu­lus. But then this doesn’t help ex­plain the origi­nal ob­ser­va­tion, which is that peo­ple, for some odd rea­son, think that adding race makes it worse some­how.

And why is my own per­spec­tive, ap­par­ently, un­usual? Per­haps be­cause I also think that in­tel­li­gence defic­its will be fix­able given suffi­ciently ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy, biotech or nan­otech. When truly huge hor­rors are be­lieved un­fix­able, the mind’s eye tends to just skip over the hideous un­fair­ness—for much the same rea­son you don’t de­liber­ately rest your hand on a hot stove­burner; it hurts.