Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Better for What?

There are some people who are sure they are better than other people, and the most infuriating part of their assumption is that they never seem to ask themselves: better for what? I think all of these people should listen to this song by Leslie Fish.

I have been surfing YouTube a little more, to see what sorts of things get the most views and the most subscribers. In the process, I have discovered Jordan Peterson. In one video, he was discussing IQ with a Dr. Richard Haier. Both of them agreed that IQ was highly heritable. They cited the fact that a person with an IQ below 83 is so unemployable and untrainable that even the US Army will not enlist him. They also discussed how interventions like Head Start, which were meant to improve the intelligence of "at risk" preschoolers only managed to improve academic performance for the first few grades of school, after which the individuals fell back into their previous lower performance, relative to classmates. The conclusion was that low IQ is heritable, can't be fixed by environmental changes, and that it dooms those who have it to being unable to support themselves in our society. But not to worry!  Haier said that since intelligence is so highly heritable, and since we have made great strides in deciphering DNA, we could possibly correct people's intelligence in the future, so that those on the lower end can gain ten or twenty points and become employable.

Wait a minute! Isn't IQ, just like poverty, defined in relative terms? How could you ever get a society where nobody scores in the lowest range?

Attribution:By Dmcq - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

I quote from the Wikipedia:

IQ scales are ordinally scaled.[46][47][48][49][50] While one standard deviation is 15 points, and two SDs are 30 points, and so on, this does not imply that mental ability is linearly related to IQ, such that IQ 50 means half the cognitive ability of IQ 100. In particular, IQ points are not percentage points. On a related note, this fixed standard deviation means that the proportion of the population who have IQs in a particular range is theoretically fixed...

Attempts to fix inequality always seem to flounder when the geniuses in charge of fixing things forget that what they are looking at are relative rather than absolute differences. In absolute terms, we have all been getting smarter. It's called the Flynn Effect.  Raw scores on the various IQ tests have been going up since the tests were first devised, but having a better raw score does not help anyone, because what is being measured by the IQ score is not real intelligence. It's who is better!

Better than whom? Better for what? That is what we should be asking ourselves. What is considered an important skill for survival in one society is useless in another. Survival of the fittest is only survival under particular circumstances. Change the circumstances, and who is more fit also changes.

The variability of human intelligence as measured by IQ scores is a good thing for our species. It means that when the circumstances change, people who are more gifted in areas we undervalue at the moment will be able to thrive and survive, when today's elite flounder and fail. The worst possible thing we could do is to try to artificially tamper with brain structure or the DNA that determines it to guarantee an equal playing field for all from birth. That inequality that the elite are trying to combat is precisely the thing that makes our society function and that could save the human race in a pinch.

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