Figure One shows the basic structure of the argument made by proponents
of "heritable intelligence".
THE "HERITABLE INTELLIGENCE" ARGUMENT
|Three sets of empirical observations||
|Interpretation of observations in terms of "heritable intelligence" and its measurement by IQ||
|Policies discriminating and oppressing on the basis of "intelligence"|
Observation 1: Quite disparate tests of "intellectual skill" have something
in common statistically. In statistical terms, they are all positively intercorrelated
and thus - in even more technical language - have some common variance and
load positively on the first principal component of their correlation matrix.(4)
Observation 2: IQ tests predict later success in many fields of endeavor.
Granted, the prediction is imperfect, but it is present for any number of
fields. The highest correlations between tests and success (occupational status
and/or salary) occur for those tests that load most highly on the first principal
Observation 3: The IQ scores of genetically related people correlate, with
the correlation increasing as the genetic relationship becomes closer. Environment
is acknowledged to affect IQ scores, but this correlation pattern remains
even when controlling for social class, education, race, gender, and the
like (Herrnstein & Murray 1994:105.).
These three sets of empirical results are then interpreted as reflecting
the presence of a unitary, heritable, socially significant mental faculty
("intelligence"), measurable by IQ tests. This interpretation then becomes
the justification for various discriminatory, oppressive policies - either
against specific groups thought to have less "intelligence" or simply against
the "less intelligent" in general.
Opponents of such policies have opposed them through four types of attacks:
1. We should dismiss, ignore, or even suppress the entire discussion before it starts.
2. The empirical data are invalid.
3. We cannot conclude from the data (a) the existence of this hypothetical concept called "intelligence", (b) the validity of "its" measurement by IQ tests, (c) "its" heritability, or (d) differences in "it" among ethnic or racial groups.
4. The existence of measurable "heritable intelligence", even with differences
among groups, does not obviate the normative evil of policies that discriminate
or tend to oppress on the basis of "intelligence".
The next section of this work (Section 1) presents a variety of these attacks and argues that each is logically invalid, politically counterproductive, and/or normatively weak.
Section 2 presents a stronger line of attack, based on a prima facie-plausible, alternative hypothesis for the patterns found in the empirical data, namely, that these patterns are the natural result of a society more-or-less-arbitrarily organized to differentially employ and reward one set of skills.(6) In other words, "intelligence" denotes not a "natural" ability but instead a social construct brought into statistical existence in consequence of the oppressive, discriminatory policies embedded in social organization around a particular set of skills. This "arbitrary social construct" hypothesis anticipates and accounts for the statistical patterns found in the data, and reveals that the use of the construct, "heritable intelligence", reflects and supports an ethically arbitrary, and therefore oppressive, social organization. The existence of a plausible alternative hypothesis, one with radically different policy implications, undercuts the "hereditary intelligence" position.
Section 3 explores in a preliminary way the implications of the "arbitrary social construct" hypothesis. It argues that the hypothesis flows out of a prior-to-society perspective, and that this perspective permits, justifies, and points the way toward a society based on an acceptance and appreciation of people's diverse capacities and a politics based on discourse.
Section 4 is devoted to a defense and clarification of the "arbitrary social construct" hypothesis to meet the many problems to which it at first blush appears subject.
This work will cite little specific empirical research. As mentioned earlier,
"heritable intelligence" is an issue of long standing, not one tied to any
single work. Today the debate focuses on The Bell Curve; yesterday
it focused on Arthur Jensen's work; tomorrow it will focus on something else.
These works themselves rest on much other work.(7)
This work takes the position that the empirical claims are most likely correct,
on the whole, and thus it is most likely futile to pursue a strategy of refuting
this or that bit of research.(8) The attempt
to create a discursive politics within a society supporting diversity is
served better by this work's reinterpretation of the empirical claims than
by an heroic, and likely doomed, resistance to them.
Response: This attack is not an attack on the truth of the claim but rather an appeal to ignore the claim. There are several problems with such a tactic. First, the use to which a truth is put has no bearing on its truth status. One can note that an empirical observation has unfortunate consequences - "Gee, if we didn't have gravity, people wouldn't fall down and bump their heads" - , but this is a false trail. If the facts are as represented, proponents of "heritable intelligence" will simply point to the facts over and over again, making such critics as Beardsley and Gould seem blindly oppositional. We may use the prospect of the bad consequences as a motivation to examine the empirical evidence more closely or to reinterpret their meaning, but bad consequences are not an argument against the facts. Indeed, the charge of racism sometimes seems to be made backwards: the racism of the investigator is judged by the acceptability of h/her results.
Second, our society is divided over (or at least confused about) these issues to such an extent that we have to deal directly with them; there is no elite capable of suppressing this issue; we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. And even if such a hegemonic elite exists, it cannot be taken for granted that it would want to oppose these claims.
Finally, we have to ask if we really want to advocate a politics devoted
to the suppression of discourse, particularly when that suppression is organized
around what really amounts to name-calling ("far-right", etc.).(10) Pushing this point to the extreme, do we wish
to create or support the existence of an elite capable of suppressing discourse?
Attack 2. "Such empirical research should not be carried out, nor should its implications be discussed, because such research and discussion would exacerbate tensions that could tear society apart."(11)
Response: Certainly tensions will arise from the anger of people who feel
that society has discriminated against them. In the face of arguments justifying
such discrimination, and in the face of social policy supporting it, such
people will conclude that they have no stake in the society. However, there
are other sorts of tensions in the society as well: tensions arising from
the anger of people who see their well-being and their children's threatened.
If such people are offered no better explanation for the difficulties they
face, then arguments targeting the "hereditarily stupid" will find ready
acceptance. The fact is that people are hurting and scared, and if we do
not clearly explain the true sources of that pain and fear, then ready-to-hand
targets will be found. Politicians say, "You can't defeat someone with no
one." In the absence of persuasive explanations and positive policy directions,
the effort to suppress discussion will be read by many as simply a dismissal
of their concerns.
Attack 3. "In a context where intelligence is so overemphasized, saying that intelligence is innate causes people to give up trying to use whatever other talents they can bring to bear."(12)
Response: This attack has two problems. First, it acquiesces in the claim that "stupid people's" lack of "intelligence" says something normatively important about them. Certainly in our society this lack says something about their life-chances and the oppression they will face, but this is a far cry from acquiescing in the assumption that these lesser life-chances and oppressions are objectively determined and therefore normatively acceptable - or at least neutral.
Second, having hypothesized the existence of a "less-intelligent" class,
this attack adopts a paternalistic attitude toward it. "They may be stupid,
but perhaps if we hide it from them, they'll be happier." Such an attitude
creates politics predicated on "protecting" each other from unpleasant truths,
undercutting the possibility of a politics based on discourse, embodying
mutual respect (instead of paternalism) and a clear view of the world (instead
of polite fictions). If "intelligence" were innate, by what right
would we hide this fact from others? Whose authority have we to decide that
others "shouldn't give up"?
Response: Falsification certainly occurs, but it is no guarantee of the
invalidity of the theory. For example, the Mendelian theory of inheritance
is now firmly established, even though it now appears that Gregor Mendel falsified
his results to make his data conform more closely to his theory. Falsification
should make us more careful in examining and replicating research, but it
does not alter the need to examine evidence.
Attack 2. "Since the researchers or funding agencies have 'far right' or 'racist' political commitments, their interpretations, research methods, or even data will be slanted to reach their predetermined conclusions, and hence may be dismissed without specific examination."(14)
Response: It is surely hard to untangle the web of normative claims, empirical findings, subjective judgments about the validity thereof, and emotional reactions to the complex world. But this argument cuts both ways. To repeat the argument made earlier, do we really want the brutal politics that follows from a rejection of discourse?
Ad hominem arguments are logically invalid, since they attack the
claimant but not the claim. They are normatively invalid if one takes as
the purpose of politics, as this work does, not the defeat of one actor by
another but rather the discovery of truth, the reconciliation of disputants,
and the reestablishment of mutual understanding. Ad hominem attacks
are basically arguments that we should pay no attention to the other; do we
really desire (or could we even win) the brutal politics that follows from
this rejection of discourse? Similar considerations apply to the attempt to
suppress discussion on the grounds of its bad policy implications.(15) Finally, ad hominem arguments are politically
weak, since the proponents of "heritable intelligence" are too strong to
be ignored and will not vanish because we speak ill of them.(16)
Response: Proponents of "heritable intelligence" have provided both data
and an explanation of the correlations, an explanation that resonates with
widespread ordinary observation. Their explanation will carry the day - deserves
to carry the day - unless opponents provide an alternative explanation. The
attack as stated above is true only in the narrow sense that further argument
is required to establish causality, not in a sweeping denial that intercorrelations
are meaningful. Such a denial could be used to deny examination of any
statistical regularity, so its radical application is logically invalid and
has a head-in-the-sand quality that makes it politically counterproductive.(18)
Attack 2. "The view of intelligence as a unitary ability is not valid, since factor analysis of the data reveals a multiplicity of factors, not an all-explaining, unitary 'intelligence' factor. This multiplicity is made clearer after the rotation of factors. Therefore intelligence is multifaceted, not a single concept."(19)
Response: Unquestionably people have diverse skills; unquestionably the
reduction of "intelligence" to a single number represents a simplification
of mental reality. But critics need to explain how, if "intelligence" is in
the final analysis multifaceted, (1) diverse tests are positively intercorrelated,(20) (2) the tests that most clearly focus on "intelligence"
(as commonly understood) are most central to what is common among all of
the tests,(21) and (3) this central factor
correlates with social success and occupational prestige.(22) Without some plausible alternative explanation,
the "multiple-intelligence" criticism cannot call "heritable intelligence"
claims into question.(23) For similar reasons
it is irrelevant that several principal components of the correlation matrix
can be combined and rotated to reveal the presence of several sub-types of
tests; the unipolarity of the first principal component - the positive intercorrelations
mentioned above - remains to be explained.
Attack 3. "'Intelligence' is not a valid concept, since several types of evidence contradict the image of 'intelligence' as a fixed, innate capacity. IQ scores can change through life, modified by education and experience. The effect of environment is also shown, albeit indirectly, by the change in IQ scores over recent decades. The test-retest variability of IQ scores also shows that 'intelligence' is not a fixed, innate capacity. Group or even individual differences in 'intelligence' can be attributed to bad teaching, low expectations, differential school funding, poor social conditions, and many other environmental factors."(24)
Response: This is a straw-man argument, pretending that the oppressive, discriminatory implications of "heritable intelligence" research only apply when "intelligence" is completely resistant to alteration and/or when IQ tests are perfect measures of that "intelligence". Unfortunately, these oppressive, discriminatory implications remain as long as "intelligence" is to some extent resistant to modification and IQ tests measure "intelligence" with some accuracy.
There are few tests for which one cannot train, and there will certainly
be practical difficulties in testing for this inherent "intelligence". But
the tests of "intelligence" are relatively stable, and so its proponents can
fall back on the argument that in the imperfect world of psychological measurement,
some variation in scores must be expected and, not being particularly large,
do not falsify the theory of an underlying, stable "intelligence". At best,
this objection can only argue that the use of IQ scores needs to be toned
down in proportion to their inaccuracy.
Attack 4. "IQ is not a valid measure of 'intelligence', since the definition of 'intelligence' is racist and the measures are constructed to favor one race over another. This undercuts the concept of 'intelligence', and certainly undercuts the findings of racial differences in 'intelligence'."(25)
Response: Many IQ tests are likely culturally biased, and any such bias casts into doubt conclusions about inter-racial differences. But the problem posed by the "heritable intelligence" proponents is deeper than the inflammatory issue of racial differences, and we should recognize the full weight of it. If "intelligence" is indeed heritable, then somewhere, sometime, some group will be shown to have a genetically greater or lesser endowment of "intelligence" than some other group. Ultimately, we would have to confront and answer the question of whether the possession of "intelligence" can justify discriminatory policies. The issue we must confront is the meaning and heritability of "intelligence", not racial differences.
This objection is close to the mark in pointing out that "intelligence"
is defined relative to a dominant social group. It goes askew, however, when
instead of demonstrating the moral arbitrariness of the concept, it only
argues that different races have the same amount of this desirable thing.
It is not much of a gain when one oppressed group, claiming it has been incorrectly
measured, lets another group be oppressed by a corrected measure.
Attack 5. "The data do not show that IQ is heritable."
Response: The literature is massive on both sides; this work will certainly not decide such an extensive, complex issue, or even shed much light on it. This work's basic argument, however, is that the heritability of our capacities has, when viewed in the proper light, different and perhaps happier implications than we have been led to believe.
Furthermore, the present authors are persuaded that we humans inherit much
of our capacities: not just physical appearance, but also personality and
cognitive skills. In our view, stubborn, endless opposition to the possibility
of heritability is a blind alley, and if intelligence really is heritable,
continued stubborn opposition will only weaken us.
Response: This is where the second empirical observation (see p.6) comes into play. While society certainly recognizes and even rewards a variety of skills, the set most reliably recognized and rewarded is the set captured by the concept, "intelligence", making this privileging of "intelligence" a natural consequence of social life.(27) Critics cannot subvert this claim of naturalness simply by railing at it. The present work tries to show how "intelligence" is socially constructed and rewarded (instead of "natural"), thus providing the necessary subversion.
In addition, this attack accepts the reification of "intelligence" and agrees that its absence is a deficiency, so when the day is done, this attack can only be counterproductive.
Finally, this objection is weak even on its own terms. Since "high-intelligence"
people can also have these other strengths, the objection cannot stand against
oppressive, discriminatory policies. It argues at best that other strengths
should be considered in understanding social success, while admitting that
"low-intelligence" folks start with a strike or two against them.
Attack 2. "The genetic variation between races is much less than the genetic variation among individuals within a single race. Applied to 'intelligence' in particular, it is easy to find African-Americans who score higher on IQ tests than some European-Americans, or higher than the European-American average, or higher than most or all European-Americans."(28)
Response: These things may be true, but they have little bearing on the policy debate. The existence of a few exceptional cases proves nothing; the claims buttressing the "heritable intelligence" arguments are about an overall pattern of genetic ability. It is pointless to advance one exception when the other side can advance cases in support.
In addition, this attack accepts that discrimination on the basis of "intelligence" is fine, even though the concept of "intelligence" itself is problematic, as described below, and even though its application will result in racial groups being treated differently from each other on the average. Suppose it were proven that African-Americans had exactly the same average "intelligence" as European-Americans, but our society continued to oppress and discriminate against "low-intelligence" citizens. Would we not still wish to resist such policies as oppression of the diversity of people's capacities? Conversely, suppose it were conclusively demonstrated that African-Americans had substantially below-average "intelligence"; would that justify a continued discrimination against and oppression of them?
The issue of racial differences taps into a deep-seated conflict in American
society, and so the debate over "heritable intelligence" tends to get organized
around that, even though the existence of such differences is not a logically
We now turn to a set of three normative attacks on the policies implied
by the "heritable intelligence" hypothesis. Since these three attacks each
fail in the same way, they are stated together and then replied to en bloc.
Attack 3. (The "Rawlsian" attack): "Since intelligence is an arbitrary asset OR since intelligence is a trait that society has chosen to focus on, society has no justification for rewarding or punishing people on the basis of that asset, except insofar as differential rewards make the least fortunate better off."
Attack 4. (The "liberal/compensatorian" attack): "It is important to give people a stake in society to induce them to buy into the social contract. To put this bluntly, it is more expensive and dangerous to suppress people than to placate them. Compensation for or reversal of environmental or genetic deprivation can be done without much expense. Since IQ is not everything, we should allow people to develop their skills using other means."(30)
Attack 5. (The "communitarian" attack): "Since a sense of community,
a sense that 'we're all in this together', is one of the highest goods available
to us, we ought to help the less fortunate members of our community."
We are sympathetic to these lines of attack, but their normative grounds are inadequate. Their problems arise from their common assumption of some "best" skill(s). No matter what skill we choose - "intelligence" is as arbitrary a choice as any other -, a society oriented around that skill is subject to the following problems:
>> Orienting to and then rewarding "intelligence", we oppress ourselves, in that even if we are highly "intelligent", we are rewarded only for developing that part of ourselves. The richness of our own experience and sense of self is degraded.
>> Focusing on and then rewarding "intelligence", we deprive ourselves of the enjoyment of other skills.
>> Focusing on and then rewarding "intelligence", we decrease our sense of social solidarity, which is an important good, as the communitarians have it.
>> People not possessing "intelligence" will be inhibited from nurturing their own abilities, the society providing neither money nor a forum for exercising the abilities they do have.
>> People not possessing "intelligence" will tend to be viewed and treated with less respect, even under these alternative moral frameworks. "Sure," the attitude is likely to be, "we're all in this together, but jeez I wish we didn't have to drag you along as well." And for the "unfortunates", a shame and social stigma that they do not have what society values.
In short, the myth of "intelligence" oppresses us all.
To summarize the argument so far: The usual attacks made on the "heritable intelligence" thesis are logically fallacious, politically weak, and/or morally suspect. This statement is not meant to advance the theories being attacked but simply to assert that such attacks have failed. This failure makes their continued use counterproductive, opening us (people resisting the inappropriate use of IQ and the concept of "intelligence") up to mockery, encouraging our opponents, and disheartening our allies. Our opponents point to the illogical, discredited arguments and claim, with justification, "We're not being heard" or "You've got your heads in the sand" or "You've made up your minds in advance."
Especially counterproductive are the many arguments that buy into the very
oppression we want to oppose. For example, race-oriented arguments that African-Americans
are just as intelligent as European-Americans imply, "It's o.k. to discriminate
against genuinely stupid people, but African-Americans aren't, as a class,
genuinely stupid." If no stronger lines of attack were available, we might
choose to continue such attacks, but given the more fundamental, powerful
line of attack advanced later, we should quit making these bad arguments.
ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT MENTAL AND PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
* Everyone(31) is born with an equal capacity for mental development, where "mental development" includes all brain-related skills, not just "intelligence".
* Physically-based characteristics are heritable.
* Physically-based characteristics increase their strength and complexity in proportion to their use. This use is increased by rewards given to each characteristic and is diminished by such things as chronic anxiety and malnourishment.
* In the above respects mental characteristics are like other physically-based
ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT HOW OUR EXISTING SOCIETY TREATS THESE CHARACTERISTICS:
* Our society is organized to differentially solicit, employ, and reward a certain set of characteristics.
* People possessing these favored characteristics are rewarded, both psychologically (in terms of social prestige) and monetarily (another form of social prestige).
* These characteristics correspond, generally, to the capacities ordinarily
understood as "intelligence".(32)
REINTERPRETATION OF THE EMPIRICAL GROUNDS OF IQ:
* The correlation among different "intelligence" skills reflects not the "reality" and unity of the concept but rather the fact that lack of the favored skills degrades all mental functioning. On the average, people who have the socially rewarded "intelligence" skills are able to support all mental functions at a higher level than people who do not have such skills.
* The association of "intelligence" with social success reflects not the inherent virtue of these skills but rather that society is organized to use and reward them. That is why the tests that load most heavily on the first principal component are also the best predictors of later success.
* The hereditary nature of "intelligence" reflects that all physically-based
characteristics are heritable. The fact that "intelligence" is affected by
environment as well as heredity reflects that all physically-based characteristics
are thus jointly affected.(33) The fact that
all capacities are affected by both heredity and environment is why controlling
for environmental influences does not eliminate the intercorrelation among
different aspects of mental functioning.
The following computations for hypothetical data demonstrate how this alternative
hypothesis generates the empirical patterns on which the "heritable intelligence"
Index scores on "intelligence" and eleven other "skills" were generated
for 400 hypothetical subjects. Each of the twelve skills had a range from
0 (no skill whatsoever) to 10 (complete skill). Using a random number generator,
each respondent was given skills in this range subject only to the restriction
that the total of all skills was equal to 60, reflecting our first assumption
above. The first subject, for example, had skill levels of
6 4 6 5 4 6 5 1 4 6 6 7
with the sum = 60, as required. Each separate skill, therefore, has a
roughly normal distribution with a mean of 5 and a standard deviation of
1.58. It was assumed that social success was based primarily on "intelligence";
this was modeled by the equation
Success = 5*"intelligence" + 1*sum of 11 other "skills" + error
In other words, it was assumed that in this hypothetical society, "intelligence"
was five times as important as any of the other "skills" in determining social
success. Given the formula, the "true score" (without the error component)
would average 80 - an average contribution of 5*5=25 for "intelligence", plus
an average contribution of 1*5 = 5 for each of the eleven other "skills, for
a total of 80. The error term was generated by a random number generator with
a uniform distribution over the integers from -40 to +40. The error for the
first subject, for example, was -7. Computing Success for this first subject,
5*6+1*4+1*6+1*5+1*4+1*6+1*5+1*1+1*4+1*6+1*6+1*7 + -7 = 77
as the Success score for this case. Actual Success scores ranged from a
low of 27 to a high of 128.
The correlations among the twelve "skills", shown to two decimal places,
are as follows:
1.00 -.14 -.11 -.07 -.03 -.08 -.07 -.10 -.07 -.09 -.09 -.10
1.00 -.07 -.20 -.11 -.03 -.03 -.09 -.07 -.03 -.10 -.11
1.00 -.11 -.05 -.13 -.15 -.15 -.07 -.03 -.12 -.08
1.00 -.04 -.13 -.07 -.01 -.08 -.01 -.07 -.09
1.00 -.18 -.11 -.08 -.12 -.13 -.06 -.12
1.00 -.05 -.14 -.13 -.03 -.02 -.07
1.00 -.10 -.10 -.09 -.04 -.15
1.00 -.07 -.15 -.10 -.11
1.00 -.02 -.19 -.10
1.00 -.15 -.07
Notice that all the intercorrelations are slightly negative, as we would expect since the skill scores have a fixed sum: one skill score being high would require that the other skill scores would have to be a little lower, on the average, to maintain the fixed sum of 60.
The first principal component of this matrix has the following loadings
for the twelve skills:
+.19 -.41 -.17 +.44 +.37 -.34 -.01 +.34 -.11 -.14 +.13 -.07
Notice, as we would expect, that the loadings are bipolar (i.e., both positive
and negative). Notice also that loading on "intelligence" - the first loading
- is only the fourth highest of the loadings. Since the "intelligence" variable
has no special status in these hypothetical data, we would expect this. Finally,
notice that these results show none of the patterns employed by the proponents
of "heritable intelligence" to buttress their case.
We now introduce a model of oppression: we assume that society fully supports people's level of intelligence, but degrades their other skills in proportion to their "intelligence".(34) This represents the idea that society will permit someone with the highest level of "intelligence" not only the full use of that intelligence but also full enjoyment of all other skills. Someone with no "intelligence" whatsoever will not only have a lack of intelligence but - having no "intelligence" to make h/her way in the world - will have no use of any other skill.
The above hypothetical scores were then transformed using this assumption.
The first subject, for example, now has the scores
6.0 2.4 3.6 3.0 2.4 3.6 3.0 6.0 2.4 3.6 3.6 4.2
Recomputing the intercorrelations using this transformed data, we obtain
the matrix shown below, representing the correlations among the twelve "skills",
to two decimal places, under the assumption that oppression exists and degrades
all non-"intelligence" skills:
1.00 .63 .57 .66 .65 .67 .65 .59 .64 .70 .63 .61
1.00 .29 .30 .35 .42 .37 .32 .46 .41 .35 .31
1.00 .33 .36 .31 .27 .23 .28 .39 .28 .30
1.00 .39 .34 .42 .37 .39 .38 .39 .32
1.00 .34 .34 .35 .36 .40 .38 .33
1.00 .42 .30 .36 .48 .41 .37
1.00 .32 .35 .40 .40 .30
1.00 .33 .30 .32 .27
1.00 .43 .28 .33
1.00 .33 .39
Notice that the pattern here is quite different from the previous one. Now, despite the fact that the intercorrelations of the "innate" skills are slightly negative, all the skills as modified by a broad oppression are now positively intercorrelated, just as all the various tests of cognitive skill intercorrelate. We see that this pattern of intercorrelation arises from the application of a broad "oppression" to the "innate skills".(35)
The first principal component of this new matrix has the following loadings:
+.43 +.27 +.24 +.28 +.28 +.29 +.28 +.25 +.27 +.30 +.27 +.26
Notice now that the first factor is unipolar (i.e., all variables load positively on it). Notice also that the "intelligence" loading - again, the first loading - is now the largest of the loadings by far: .43, while the other loadings range only between .24 and .30. Again, these results show the pattern employed by the proponents of "heritable intelligence" to buttress their case: a unipolar first factor, taken to show that all cognitive skills are connected, and the highest loading being on that skill most taken to be "intelligence".
Now recomputing Success scores based on these new data (and using the same
errors as before), we find that Success correlates as follows with the twelve
+.96 +.62 +.55 +.63 +.61 +.65 +.63 +.56 +.61 +.67 +.62 +.58
Again, we find the pattern taken to validate the concept of "intelligence":
all cognitive skills correlate positively with Success, but the skill that
correlates best by far is the first, the one thought to most centrally measure
This analysis of hypothetical data proves nothing by itself; rather, it casts doubt upon the "heritable intelligence" theory, because the statistical patterns advanced by the proponents of "heritable intelligence" have more than one explanation.
Of course, theorists need not challenge alternative explanations that have no plausibility - say, that the statistical patterns are really due to invisible Martians fooling with the intelligence tests. As noted earlier, the proponents of "heritable intelligence" have an explanation for the data, an explanation with some face validity. To undercut their explanation requires an alternative hypothesis which itself has some plausibility, which itself has some strength.
It is accordingly important to note here that the alternative hypothesis of an "arbitrary social construct" uses plausible assumptions to obtain its results: that without any oppression, everyone would have the same overall "quantity" of cognitive skill;(36) that cognitive skills are all degraded by oppression; and that our society is organized to differentially recognize and reward one specific skill (or set of skills), thus gauging the level of oppression according to the level of that skill.
Furthermore, this alternative hypothesis undercuts the "heritable intelligence"
hypothesis in yet another way: by explaining away its face validity. Even
in a society in fact following the assumptions of the "arbitrary social
construct" hypothesis, people will nonetheless find "intelligence"-based oppression
"natural". Everyday observation will show that "intelligence" is rewarded
and that "the intelligent" show this capacity in many areas. Since data appear
to show that mental capacities are inherited, books like The Bell Curve
can appear to bemoan the hereditarily "stupid" with one hand and take away
any sense that social inequalities can be remedied, on the other. In other
words, the "arbitrary social construct" hypothesis not only explains the
data supporting the "hereditary intelligence" position but also explains
why it has a superficial face validity. In view of these challenges to its
interpretations, the "hereditary intelligence" position must find critical
tests that distinguish its predictions from those of this alternative hypothesis.
It may be that Rawlsian-type considerations may persuade us to encourage the development of some set of skills on the grounds that they maximally benefit the worst-off in such a society - citizens without those skills, presumably.(37) But even more than that, the differential encouragement of some skills must be justified to all in practice, not just as the conclusion of some metaphysical argument. If society is truly to encourage "the development and exercise of as many skills as possible", the public forum has to hear, fully consider, and make its collective decisions in mutual recognition of each citizen's perspective.
It will be obvious that we are here following Habermas's discourse ethics, based on the universalization principle "(U)":
all affected can accept the consequences and the side effects its general observance can be anticipated to have for the satisfaction of everyone's interests (and these consequences are preferred to those of known alternative possibilities for regulation) (Habermas 1990:65).
This is not the place to attempt a detailed exposition and justification
of discourse ethics; we simply note that in its deliberate demand for consideration
of all perspectives and the agreement of all affected, it is consonant with
a society seeking the development, exercise, and appreciation of whatever
skills may exist.
A. Objection: "Regardless of the abstract merits of this perspective, and however nice the fable of the Pseudopodians is, it is irresponsible to advance an argument (that the set of cognitive skills we call intelligence can be inherited) that will in practice be used by others to support further discrimination against the 'hereditarily stupid'."
Response: This is a legitimate concern. Intellectuals have a responsibility to weigh the consequences of expounding their theories.
A variety of considerations lead us to believe that we are better off making this argument than not. As claimed earlier, we believe the empirical regularities will continue to appear, and we will forever be on the defensive trying to deny them: unable to prevent the consequences we oppose and delegitimizing our concerns by trying. In addition, our current arguments frequently buy into the underlying cause of oppression, thus perpetuating it at one level while trying to fight it at another level. For example, arguments that (e.g.) Blacks are as intelligent as Whites fail to point out the circular nature of the definition of "intelligence". Failing to subvert the very premises of IQ, we accept the perspective on the world whose consequences (racism, other oppression) we are trying to oppose. Whatever momentary, tactical victories we win in such a discourse, we are shoring up the foundations of the oppression: the legitimacy of the system by which the concept of intelligence has been created and by which people who evidence it get rewarded.
B. Objection: "This work seems to support the tracking policies of schools today. It says that there are indeed 'high intelligence' and 'low intelligence' students, that the difference is to some degree heritable and unchangeable, and that we ought to educate them differently. Is that true?"(38)
Response: Before agreeing or disagreeing, we have to note that the very phrasing of this objection buys into the existing view of different tracks as being of different quality and the people in them as being of different value. So our initial response to this question is opposition to a system of tracking that embodies and perpetuates the very view of "intelligence" that this work seeks to undermine.
Tracking is a problem not in itself but because our society does not value the diversity of skills. If we genuinely valued the diversity of human talents, the variety of skills being taught would not be assigned relative value. Magnet schools, for example, embody an attitude that different skills are valued.(39) In contrast to "tracking" systems, magnet schools allow children to develop the skills meaningful to them.(40)
C. Objection: "Your position seems to support voucher systems for public schools, so that parents can support and even create the variety of schools suitable for their children's diverse needs and talents."
Response: As currently constructed, voucher proposals would increase the funding and quality disparities between schools as wealthy parents supplemented the vouchers to allow their children to attend high-quality, high-tuition schools, while opposing broad-based school taxes. This would severely damage the social equality promoted (however poorly) by the current system of public school financing. Until a voucher system is proposed that fosters an educational system supporting diversity, this perspective argues against vouchers.
D. Objection: "Your suggestion seems to argue for a return to the 'separate but equal' doctrine, but in their decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court said that 'Separate is inherently unequal' because of the social opprobrium of one track or the other. Are you disagreeing with that?"
Response: Segregation was based on a forced separation between ascriptively designated groups, not on free associations within a citizenry sharing a common respect for diversity. To rejoice in diversity is the antithesis of unequal treatment. Our argument does not require segregation at all; there is no reason not to have classes mixed along many lines.
E. Objection: "So now it's all right to hold stereotypes such as (say) African-Americans are good athletes and have natural rhythm?"(41)
Response: First, in a society long suffering from extensive oppression and discrimination, we do not know what people's talents are. For example, singing, dancing, and athletics may have been / continue to be outlets differentially open to African-Americans.
Second, we should not buy into the idea, implicit in the objection, that these other talents are inherently less valuable; it is society that makes them so. Thus social evaluations, not the skills themselves, are responsible for this characterization being regarded as a denigration. This work rests on the belief that we would all prefer to live in a society encouraging a multiplicity of talents.
F. Objection: "This seems to support the elimination of remedial programs, such as Head Start. Are you opposed to remedial programs?"(42)
Response: The most important goal is to resist the fundamental oppression: having society only honor a small range of capacities. By focusing on remediation, we buy into this oppression, leaving unchallenged the claim that the absence of one particular type of capacity is a failure requiring correction. Of course, there are some forms of remediation that may reduce the overall oppression in the society, such as programs ensuring food and medical care for all.
If there is no hope of challenging the oppression at this deep level, there remains the fact that not all ability is inherited, and so to the extent that remedial programs ameliorate the existing oppression, they must be supported.
G. Objection: "Perspectives like this imply the guidance or even coercion of people with different abilities to go into the fields 'genetically appropriate' for them. True?"
Response: The empirical question of the heritability of abilities bears on, but does not dictate our response to, the normative issue of how we as a society ought to parcel out positions and responsibilities. Even if people's abilities are affected by heredity, there is little reason to violate their right to attempt different fields. Even if society as a whole benefits from people being assigned fields utilizing their strongest skills, such a restriction ignores the role of desire as a component of performance. And even if the hereditary skills were perfectly correlated with performance, the overall social gain does not yield any authorization to so seriously impair people's ability to pursue their interests and develop their skills as they choose. There may be a point at which such restrictions are useful - the restriction of the Presidency to people over 35 springs to mind -, but such exceptions are only made rarely and in matters of the greatest moment. An imposed "rational distribution" of career opportunities seems indefensible.(43)
H. Objection: "You claim that this approach is politically stronger than, say, the Rawlsian approach, but it seems that both approaches depend on the good will of people in the midst of very hard times. What is so special about your approach?"
Response: The approach taken in this work has at least three virtues and one great liability. The first virtue is its getting at a root cause of oppression, and doing so through a process of discursive engagement that heals our conflicts instead of exacerbating them. In other words, the political action suggested by this approach is consonant with an overall, supportable vision of politics. We can support this vision of politics regardless of the temper of the times, but in addition the temper of the times makes it particularly appropriate, because the post-Depression cultural hegemony of modern reform liberalism has been broken. There are always two alternatives to resolving political conflict: suppression (silencing one side, whether by death or cultural marginalization) or discursive reconciliation. Suppression is no longer available; and so for both moral and practical reasons, we need to pursue reconciliation.
The second virtue of this work's approach is its image of a society that people might actually want to support. People are persuaded by positive images, not by criticisms of their current situation, regardless of those criticisms' accuracy. So in addition to showing the manner in which we are all oppressed, this approach also gives some sense of a different way society might be organized.
Finally, the third virtue of this approach is its recognition that everyone, including both the "intelligent" and whoever else benefits from the current acceptance of the concept, has a personal stake in the success of the change to a different society. The powerful are called upon not to altruistically sacrifice their interests but rather to recognize their truer, deeper interests.
The great liability of this approach is its flying in the face of society's
permeation by the reified concept of "intelligence". Even though this work
problematizes the concept and reconstructs its origins, it is hard to persuade
others (or even to remember oneself) that "intelligence" is only a social
construction. At every turn we find "intelligence" taken as reality, treated
as a reality, rewarded in reality. How does one convince people the world
is round, when everyone can see it's flat? It is cause for hope that we now
recognize that the world is round, but we still require a practical strategy
for changing our social attitudes.
Arguments against the empirical foundations of the IQ argument are worth making . . . as with any other empirical claim. But empirical claims are extremely difficult in practice to prove or disprove. Even direct refutations of certain claims can be overcome by modifications of the underlying theory, leaving the basic implication intact. Scientific discourse is more political than we ordinarily imagine, and we must therefore be careful about the political form in which such discourse is conducted. In particular, we must be careful that we do not devote such intellectual resources to refuting the empirical claims that we are merely neurotically refusing to credit them.(44) In other words, as was said above regarding ad hominem arguments, we desire a society where people listen to each other, and it ill befits this goal to mount a suicidal resistance to data just because we dislike its implications. Furthermore, it seems likely that the empirical claims are correct, at least in their general thrust of showing some heritability of cognitive skills, so that debating the claims eventually becomes mere evidence of a refusal to listen to reason. And finally, we need not mount such a resistance to the empirical claims when they have an interpretation - the "arbitrary social construct" interpretation - that we can support.
Arguments against the empirical claims on the basis of their unfortunate consequences are logically invalid, have no effect on the people who do not see the consequences as terrible or who disagree that these consequences will occur, and, again, are counterproductive to creating a society in which people listen to each other.
Finally, arguments against the policy implications of the empirical claims are problematic because they buy into the institutionalized oppression of people whose mental (or other physical) characteristics do not happen to fit the social structure. It is important to recognize in this connection that we are not proposing a new meritocracy based on diverse talents but rather something different - a society founded on the premise that people's value and worthiness of self-actualization is a birthright rather than something they "earn" through the exercise of inborn ability.
As the fable of Pseudopodia implies, our release from the common conclusions of these studies lies in advancing a plausible, different interpretation of the empirical findings - an alternative hypothesis. Advancing such an alternative shifts the debate from arguments over facts to arguments over the interpretation of these facts. This shift reverses the "realism vs. idealism" debate: it is the proponents of IQ's existence and importance who are fuzzy-minded. They are fuzzy-minded in assuming without proof that intelligence derives from some innate faculty, when they have failed to previously rule out the possibility that their statistical patterns derive from the effects of oppression. They are fuzzy-minded in assuming that people with different talents can be beaten down with the argument that their capacities - the sources of how they experience their meaning as a person - are really worth less than other, "socially-approved" capacities. It is realism, on the other hand, to recognize that a stable, just society must be founded on a firm recognition of people's equal worth, regardless of what skills they may display. So overall, it will be advantageous to shift the ground of debate to the "intelligence"-based oppression within our society and to the way we value and devalue diversity.
To many, the term "diversity" connotes only a banner under which various
whining losers try to conceal and reverse their failure.(45) But true diversity is a vision of society under
which the enormous spectrum of human capacities is respected, a society in
which we honor and appreciate each other in all our facets. It is this appreciation
of true diversity that the present authors find absent not just from the
proponents of "heritable intelligence" but also from its opponents. In this
absence lies no potential for a new freedom but only a perpetuation of the
discrimination and oppression that now afflicts us all.
Dom Paulo Cardinal Arns "Develop the Habit of Peace" The Catholic Worker, LXI (4, June-July, 1994), p.8. This was from an address by Dom Paulo, the archbishop of Sâo Paulo, Brazil, to a Buddhist lay movement in Tokyo, upon receiving their Niwano Peace Prize. Translated by Florence Anderson.
Tim Beardsley (1995). Science and the Citizen: For Whom the Bell Curve Really Tolls. Scientific American 272 (1, January):14-17.
Laura Bell (1995). [Contribution to] Commentary: Reacting to The Bell Curve. Education Week 14(16, January 11):31.
Joan V. Bondurant (1971). Conquest of Violence. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Luigi L. Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi, & Alberto Piazza (1994). The History and Geography of Human Genes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
William A. Covina & David A. Jolliffe, eds. (1995). Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Amitai Etzioni (1995). [Contribution to] Commentary: Reacting to The Bell Curve. Education Week14(16, January 11):29.
J. Eysenck (1971). The IQ Argument: Race, Intelligence and Education. NY: The Library Press.
Thomas J. Farrell (1995). A Defense for Requiring Standard English. In Covino & Jolliffe (1995:667-678).
Steven Fraser (1995). The Bell Curve Wars. New York: Basic Books.
Howard Gardner (1993). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Stephen Jay Gould (1981). The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W. W. Norton.
Jürgen Habermas (1990). Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kati Haycock (1995). [Contribution to] Commentary: Reacting to The Bell Curve. Education Week14(16, January 11):31.
Edward S. Herman (1994). The New Racist Onslaught. Z Magazine 8(12, December):24-26.
Richard J. Herrnstein & Charles Murray (1994). The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. New York: The Free Press.
Jeff Howard & Robert Peterkin (1995). [Contribution to] Commentary: Reacting to The Bell Curve. Education Week 14(16, January 11):32.
Leon J. Kamin (1995). Behind the Curve. Scientific American 272 (2, February):99-103.
Wim Kayzer (1994). "Stephen Jay Gould", one of eight videos entitled "A Glorious Accident: Understanding Our Place in the Cosmic Puzzle" Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities, Inc.
Beth Maschinot (1995). Behind the Curve. In These Times 19(6, February 6):31-34.
Evelyn K. Moore (1995). [Contribution to] Commentary: Reacting to The Bell Curve. Education Week14(16, January 11):31.
Charles Murray (1994-5). [Letter to the editor of The New Yorker.] The New Yorker 70(December 26 / January 2):10 .
Richard John Neuhaus (1994). Going Public. National Review 64(23, December 5):40-41.
John Rawls (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Adolph Reed Jr. (1994). Looking Backward [Review of The Bell Curve]. The Nation259(November 28):654-662.
Jeffrey Rosen & Charles Lane (1995). The sources of The Bell Curve. Pp.58-61 of Fraser (1995).
Iris C. Rotberg (1995). [Contribution to] Commentary: Reacting to The Bell Curve. Education Week14(16, January 11):31-32.
Alan Ryan (1994). Apocalypse now? [Review of The Bell Curve]. The New York Review of Books41(November 17):7-11.
Barbara Sizemore (1995). [Contribution to] Commentary: Reacting to The Bell Curve. Education Week14(16, January 11):29-30.
Robert E. Slavin (1995). [Contribution to] Commentary: Reacting to The Bell Curve. Education Week14(16, January 11):30-31.
Charles Spearman (1904). "General Intelligence," Objectively Determined and Measured. American Journal of Psychology 15:201-293.
Sribala Subramanian (1995). The story of our genes: a landmark study flattens The Bell Curve, proving that racial differences are only skin deep. Time 145(2, January 16):54.
Max Weiner & Bruce S. Cooper (1995). [Contribution to] Commentary: Reacting to The Bell Curve. Education Week 14(16, January 11):32.
1. Inquiries should be directed to Professor Stephen Chilton / Department of Political Science / University of Minnesota - Duluth / Duluth, MN 55812-2403 (U.S.A.)
2. Throughout this work, "intelligence" will be placed in quotation marks to pave the way for the argument that this concept arises from how we organize our society, not from some psycho-physiological reality. Even though the concept is useful in understanding how things work within our existing society, that is, taking our current social arrangements uncritically, the point of the work is that the concept has no more fundamental value. The quotation marks remind us not to slip into an uncritical acceptance of existing social arrangements.
Note that "us" in the previous sentence, and throughout this work, refers to opponents of discriminatory, oppressive policies justified by arguments based on "intelligence".
Quotation marks will not be used when discussing the concept as it appears within the perspective of people who regard it as unproblematic - e.g., Herrnstein and Murray.
Quotation marks will also not be used around "IQ", since IQ is merely a measure. If this work were to deal with criticisms of IQ measures (e.g., as culturally biased), then the term would be problematic and would also be enclosed in quotation marks. Such criticisms are not the focus of this work, however.
3. See Gould (1981) for a history of research into racial differences, including the origins of "intelligence" research.
4. This first principal component was named "g" by Charles Spearman, for "general intelligence"; it is the foundation of IQ tests. The acknowledged imperfection of the individual measures does not obviate g's claim to meaning.
5. In other words, in the "heritable intelligence" interpretation, the highest correlations are for those tests that most centrally and reliably tap "intelligence". See Eysenck (1971:55).
6. We need to make clear here that our reference to "one set of skills" (i.e., those cognitive skills making up "intelligence") is not the obverse of other cognitive skills but rather of all other skills, cognitive and noncognitive (reaction time; coordination; leg strength; etc.) alike.
7. The Bell Curve's 280 pages of appendices, notes, and bibliography became a minor story in themselves.
8. We are not saying that "heritable intelligence" research is exempt from critical scrutiny, nor that any particular piece of that research is correct.
9. For examples of this line of attack, see Beardsley (1995) and Gould's remarks in Kayzer (1994).
10. The Right has long accused the Left of such suppression - witness the constant attacks on the "liberal media" -, and it is disturbing to find such suppression actually being advocated.
The suppression one seeks today will be turned against one tomorrow. "Point not the goal until you plot the course / For means and ends to man are tangled so / That different means quite different ends enforce -/ Conceive the means as ends in embryo" (Bondurant 1971:xiii).
11. For an example of this line of attack, see Bell (1995) and Neuhaus (1994).
12. For an example of this line of attack, see Howard & Peterkin (1995).
13. For an example of this line of attack, see Herman (1994).
14. For an example of this line of attack, see Rosen & Lane (1995).
15. Here and elsewhere our reliance on Habermas's "discourse ethics" should be apparent. For one description of discourse ethics, see Habermas (1990:43-115).
16. "... the most profoundly creative way to overcome enemies is to make them our friends. But this involves a series of painful acts. A constant decision never to achieve our goals by destroying or humiliating others" (Arns, 1994:8).
17. For an example of this line of attack, see Gould (1981:24 & elsewhere).
18. Gould (1981:252) does mention a reasonable alternative explanation - basically the same alternative proposed in this work - but never pursues it.
19. For an example of this line of attack, see Kayzer (1994). Gardner (1993) outlines a theory of multiple intelligences. For an example of the "factor rotation" line of attack, see Gould (1981:252-255).
20. Eysenck (1971:49), citing the original work of Spearman (1904). This observation is more or less equivalent to the observation that all tests load positively on the first principal component.
22. See Eysenck (1971:55).
23. A further problem with these explanations is that they can easily be taken to just substitute a slightly more diverse set of mental capacities for the singular "intelligence". And even if we accept the existence of multiple intelligences, there is no good normative argument for rewarding these different intelligences equally, so the oppression continues.
24. For examples of these lines of attack, see Haycock (1995), Rotberg (1995), Weiner & Cooper (1995), Bell (1995), and Moore (1995).
25. We are indebted to Linda Miller-Cleary for mentioning this objection.
26. For an example of this line of attack, see Etzioni (1995).
27. See footnote 21, supra.
28. This argument appears in Subramanian (1995), a review in Time Magazine of a genetic atlas of the world (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994). See also Sizemore (1995).
29. Such works as The Bell Curve make a point not to dwell on this aspect of the debate. Murray and his defenders repeatedly point out that only one chapter of The Bell Curve looks at racial differences.
30. For an example of this line of attack, see Slavin (1995) - although Slavin would likely reject the genetic tie-in.
31. Barring damage from such physical-developmental injuries as fetal alcohol syndrome, maternal malnourishment, thalidomide, etc., of course.
32. Many people point to the high salaries of (say) sports stars as a refutation of this claim. But the example does not support their argument: comparatively little money is pumped into sports; it is the small number of players that gives them high salaries. But for every Michael Jordan making a jillion dollars a year, and for every dozen ordinary NBA players, there are hundreds of thousands of NBA wannabes who will never see a nickel.
33. The heritability of these properties means that those with "intelligence" and those with other mental faculties can become increasingly differentiated from each other over generations.
34. Mathematically, we assume that people's "intelligence" score remains wherever it is, and that their other scores are altered by the factor of the "intelligence" score divided by ten. In other words, people with the maximum "intelligence" score have their other skills unchanged; people with lesser "intelligence" scores have their other skill levels decreased by the extent to which their "intelligence" is less than its maximum.
35. This pattern of results is not dependent on use of this particular formula to model oppression. Any broad degradation of other skills with a positive relationship to "intelligence" will result in the same positive intercorrelations.
36. Or in any case, there would be less difference.
37. The encouragement of such skills could certainly never be used as a basis for the oppression and exclusion of those without them.
38. We are indebted to Dick Hudelson for raising the possibility of this objection.
39. Of course, the curricula constituting the schools are primarily those valued by society, so magnet schools are not yet free of the underlying oppressive system of social valuation.
40. This is not a blanket endorsement of the magnet school concept. The administrative and physical separation of the different schools inhibits a shared sense of appreciation for diverse talents, and we need to ensure that there remains a variety of skills taught and appreciated within each school. There is the potential problem of magnet schools using entrance exams to control who is allowed to enter. And ultimately, we must resolve the problem of how supply and demand are to be matched while supporting a wide variety of magnet programs and the free choice of students among them.
41. We are indebted to Dick Hudelson for raising the possibility of this objection.
42. ibid. Farrell (1995) raises a related objection by arguing that the acceptance by teachers of non-standard English is itself racist in effect, since it implies that (e.g.) minority children cannot learn or, more devilishly racist, should not be taught the standard English necessary for success in society. (For the full flavor of this debate, see Farrell's list of citations.)
43. This view of the situation is obviously strongly influenced by John Rawls's analysis in A Theory of Justice (1971).
44. Brad Blanton: "A neurotic is a person for whom the world has to be other than it really is."
45. When we allow the concept of diversity to be dragged down into a debate over "goals" vs. "quotas", we have lost, because neither of these honors the core sensibility. The reversal of past discrimination is a worthy goal, but as long as it means only an equal right to participate in an oppressive system, a system rewarding only certain capacities, it loses much of its moral force and certainly loses its force for advancing true diversity.
46. Dick Hudelson points out that most aspects of humanity have a natural variation; why not available attention? Could it not be that some people simply have more than others. I suppose this is possible, but it seems difficult to test. We would have to remove all social and experiential barriers to functioning (i.e., be able to compare people with equal or no distress), and we would also have to know all the available skills or areas on which people can put their attention. Since these seem impossible to achieve even in theory, the proposition is untestable. Perhaps this is an argument for not trying to reward people in terms of available attention.
47. One justification of naturalness is the role of twin studies: twins
separated at birth are found to have correlated IQs. But the "available attention"
perspective explains this as well: the configuration of skills can well be
inherited (and the twin studies show this, in that twins seem to have astonishingly
similar interests), but since some twin pairs have skills that load heavily
on IQ tests and other twin pairs have other skills, the IQ tests yield a
The planet of Pseudopodia had a society of advanced beings, who called themselves "the people", as beings tend to do in their own language. These people had a wonderful anatomy: each of them was born with a unique collection of different-shaped limbs, which grew over time and were of great use both in helping them with a variety of chores and in amusing themselves. Some limbs were particularly suited for coring fruits, some for doing somersaults, some for climbing their version of trees, some for running fast, and so on through a vast variety of shapes. Some people had limbs with no known function. Such limbs were put to use wherever they could be, although their relative disuse meant that they never developed as fully as the limbs with established uses. Occasionally, however, someone invented a game or task for which the limb appeared perfectly suited, and such invention was always an occasion for great rejoicing, the date of the invention being celebrated for centuries afterwards, particularly by the people endowed with the limb, so that during historical periods of great creativity there were often more holidays than work days. Even without an official holiday as an excuse, people were likely at any moment to show off their talented limbs in some impromptu demonstration. An audience never failed to gather, applaud, and join in as each person "showed her stuff", whether she be master of some rare limb or even an infant growing her first limb, for in Pseudopodia everyone was unselfconscious, having from birth a firm understanding that her talents were entirely admirable.
People had by no means the same set of limbs; in fact, there was an enormous variation in form and function among the limbs. However, everyone seemed to have the same number of limbs (and an extensive and interesting variety of them, too), or if fewer limbs, then a correspondingly greater size and dexterity. In fact, things had been so wonderfully arranged by their beneficent Creator, or maybe just Nature, that taking both number and size into account, everyone had been given the same "quantity" of limb. Recognition of this had given rise long ago to a happy egalitarianism among the people. Recognizing the equality evident in their forms, they shared freely among themselves. Those whose limbs had no known function made shift to help as best they could, and far from being stigmatized by their odd limbs, they were encouraged to work in the institutes devoted to inventing and elaborating arts, games, and tasks befitting those limbs.
The genetic makeup of the people was such that their limbs were affected by both heredity and environment, much as our own are. Different limb forms seemed to be associated with different genes, and it was often said that such-and-such a limb "ran in the family". But limbs were also subject to the influences of use and environment. When people relied mainly on only a few of their many limbs, those limbs tended to grow stronger and become more finely controlled, while the other limbs tended to atrophy and stiffen with age. Still, cases had been known where a person took up a new limb late in life, and the newly favored limb inevitably grew, strengthened, and functioned like its earlier-used mates.
This happy society was disrupted when - o woeful day! - a conquering tribe arrived from afar who had limbs particularly suited to ... to ... well, the chroniclers had difficulty expressing it, since no such limbs had been seen before, but we humans know what those long limbs with razor edges and needle tips were good for. In short order, the newcomers - we can call them "Sworders", though the other Pseudopodians had a rude name for them - came to rule the Pseudopodians.
The Sworders themselves honored those with the longest and sharpest limb - honor that could always be prompted and reaffirmed by a few pointed "reminders" if necessary. And the longer-sworded received not just honor but also food; in their constant competition among each other, Sworders were able to command food in proportion to their limb. Sworder philosophers had long justified this practice as merely a matter of survival of the fittest. It was obvious that those with the longest and sharpest limbs were best able to survive, since those without such limbs tended to die young, either from malnutrition or from the "reminders" administered them by their sharper- and longer-limbed brethren. The Sworders therefore let Nature take its course, accepting malnutrition of the poorly-sworded in order to keep them from weakening the race - either immediately, by using up food supplies better devoted to the growth of people with the more useful swords, or in the long run, by passing on their genetic inferiority.
This doctrine was only reinforced by the easy conquest of Pseudopodia, whose former happy situation had ignored Nature's demand for Natural selection, represented in the collective person of the Sworders, and so the conquerors imposed their culture upon Pseudopodia, as Nature had obviously decreed. The Sworders were not racists, however; the Pseudopodians lacked both honor and food not because of their ancestry but rather for their lack of Nature's favored limb.
Malnutrition. The Pseudopodians discovered what their simple but adequate diet had not shown them before: that malnutrition made all their limbs - whether sword or feather duster - weaker, shorter, clumsier. The older Pseudopodians mourned the deformation of their children, but the children themselves, and their children thereafter, having never seen what their limbs might be, began to see their lessened forms as the natural way of things - indeed, as another reflection of their own disgracefully short Swords.
Centuries later, the two populations had blended somewhat, and the terms "Sworders" and "Pseudopodians" had become archaic. Philosophers began to examine closely the nature of limb skill within the population and its relation to success and social status. Their researches were skillfully done, their methods subtle and precise, and their conclusions clear and unsurprising. After examining a wide variety of limb types, and after being sure to study people from a wide variety of genetic backgrounds, they found that every form of limb skill was positively correlated with every other. Looking at the descendants of the Sworders, who had long fed well, they found every variety of limb relatively powerful (though obviously not all equal), while among the descendants of the Pseudopodians they found every variety of limb relatively weak. In consequence of these patterns, limb skills all intercorrelated positively, so that factor analyses repeatedly yielded a single, unipolar first factor. These results convinced the philosophers that limb skill was unitary; some people had it, and some didn't, but these differences tended to show themselves in all limb types.
Further studies revealed that the best measure of overall limb skill, the test that best divided the skilled from the unskilled, was the "long, sharp limb test" -- i.e., did this person have a long, sharp limb? Since the differentiation among people had long depended on the length and sharpness of the one particular limb, it was not surprising that the "long, sharp limb test" loaded highly on the first factor. Curiously, however, the philosophers found a different interpretation for this phenomenon: following common knowledge, and perhaps even influenced by the length and sharpness of their own sword limb, they held that a long, sharp limb was the mark of special talent.
It was soon discovered, and this finding made the philosophers nervous, that limb skill was hereditary. This nervousness peaked when the philosophers observed that people at the bottom of the social heap - the descendants of the original Pseudopodians, though the philosophers had no way of knowing that - simply had less limb skill, on the average, than those on the top - the descendants of the Sworders. This was particularly pronounced in the best test they had - the "long, sharp limb test". Clearly, they thought, genetics had simply condemned those on the bottom to their position.
These latter-day Sworders were good people within their lights, of course. The days of raid and conquest were long gone, and they pitied the poor, crippled people on the bottom. But in the face of this genetic deficiency, all the Sworders could do, and do it they did, was provide the underlings with some basic food and medical care, and some scholarships for the occasional lucky child born with long, sharp limbs. But otherwise, all continued mostly as it had, for they believed the analyses were plain, and one cannot fly in the face of Nature. After all, even in those modern times, they agreed, one had to keep in mind the survival of the fittest.
The University of Minnesota is
an equal opportunity educator and employer.
Copyright © 2004 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.