Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own by Garett Jones has attracted little public attention in New Zealand, despite celebration of the Otago Longitudinal Study, and the international fame of Otago University’s Prof Jim Flynn. The book draws heavily on the research conducted after his shattering insight established the Flynn Effect.
The Hive Mind thesis is that a nation’s average intelligence can predict and probably determines whether a society can reliably achieve economic and cultural and political institutions and outcomes that we commonly consider good.
Hive Mind wisely steers clear of deep discussion of genetics (and race) in its astonishing nation to nation comparisons. They correlate high wealth and successful institutions, with high national average IQs (and low with low).
Hive Mind is essentially upbeat, because it is clear that average intelligence can be raised. It argues that nations with low averages could and will achieve much more as conditions are changed to generate higher average intelligence.
But now Nature.com summarises current science reporting on one of the issues so prudently avoided by the author of Hive Mind.
Genetics and intelligence differences: five special findings says that nature (genes) trump nurture conclusively for intelligence. And of course nearly everyone has heard something of the many studies showing that intelligence is the best predictor for common relative measures of individual economic, social and health success.
This area of science is a slow slip intellectual earthquake. It could collapse some of our the key political verities (sacred and immune from question since eugenics and Nazis discredited all challengers) the way Darwin undermined established religion. The Nature.com report is not dumbed down enough for me to understand it confidently. But there is enough to tell me we are heading toward some knowledge that could be as awkward for democracies (and as tempting to dark forces) as Darwinism was for the Victorians.
The liberal establishment may try to ignore the contradictions for as long as possible. Currently for non-scientists it is simply a heresy to be marginalised. It has not even reached the challenger status of bio-engineering, which the Green clerics are fighting to keep out of disciplined national debate. But religious loons, even establishment ones, eventually get swept away if they fail to develop intellectual ways to reconcile (abandon or render meaningless) wishful falsehood (Adam and Eve) with established fact (evolution).
That at least is the confident expectation of our civilisation.
But other outcomes are possible. The Islamic world was far ahead of the warrior culture primitives from Europe for several hundred years. But when it came to competition between the priestly class and the other intellectuals the former won. They banned knowledge that could imply the Koran did not contain all that was necessary for a [virtuous] life. I was fascinated in Samarkand by the astronomy developed by one of their great rulers. He calculated the circumference of the earth while Europeans were still worrying about falling off the edge.
But even he could not survive when the imans ganged up and had him and his brilliant scholars killed, to create a Central Asia version of the Dark Ages.
Hopefully our establishment will respond as it did eventually to 19th century science. There are very good reasons for concern about connecting inheritance, including racial inheritance, to intelligence. Racism needs little encouragement. But we need to work out how to live with inherited differences without embedding inherited privilege in our law and government.
The US Founding Fathers (some of whom were as near to atheist as political prudence allowed them) were concerned that their constitution could not work without the social glue and bounds of fervent Christian belief. We may be right to wonder if it is possible to keep racism out of the exercise of coercive state power, if there is widespread disbelief in the fond official conviction that we can all be born with equal potential.
We should be trying to develop a coherent reset now, to avoid being swept away by the forces we’ve rightly fought for decades. The winners could be neo-clerical oppressors (suppressing unwelcome knowledge and ruling as the arbiters of what may be thought and said) or the more commonly feared meritocratic indifference to the poor, or even racists who think they no longer need to apologise.
What if “the poor are always with you”ť by birth-decreed definition despite the very best a determined welfare state can do. With Bill English and Paula Bennett trying mentoring, social investment and other “interventions”, the hand-up is getting a good fresh go.
But assortative mating (e.g at tertiary education campuses) may be stretching the tails at both ends of the distribution. Is it making the vital capacities to postpone gratification, and persistence (for example) less evident and less possible for many? Can institutions that assume and rely on general self respect, self reliance and self control survive if they must cater for people who would prefer, and prosper better in, more paternalistic (authoritarian) environments? Can we create new institutions or mechanisms that respond to such differences? Without the risk of us being all put in them, or the unwanted or dangerous aspect of their cultures infusing all institutions? There is literary and folk memory of satisfaction for many in military careers and master/servant relationships we now officially regard as demeaning.
Such institutions or mechanisms might not be compatible with the pervasive hind sight lawyer exposure and micro-management we have evolved.
I suspect the drunken and drug addled despair of Aboriginal communities in Australia could be how our families might respond if our intelligence in tracking and living in an impossible environment suddenly became irrelevant, and a significant proportion of our whanau were unlikely to be able to follow and contribute to the conversation of those who’ve rendered our special skills and aptitudes worthless. From Australia’s struggles, it is not obvious that liberal individualism, or ”non-judgmental” (values indifferent, non-authoritarian?) welfarism can create a setting to remedy that despair.
It might need a more realistic recognition of the wish of some communities for a kind of chosen rule that is more paternalistic and communitarian. Can such communities co-exist alongside communities that want more individualistic liberty, (and its accompanying self-reliance)?