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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Book Review - The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life

This book is essentially about a fear the authors have about the future that they are terrified of expressing. They know (and rightly) that if they share their fear, most people wont be able to hear them or even consider what they are trying to say. Most people will just fly off the handle and attack.

Which is why this book in written in such a way that it is very hard to read. I felt like half the time the authors were trying very hard to not say anything. It seemed like the points they were trying to make were almost hidden and almost all were apologized for.

Because I believe above all in freedom and respect, and because I only think in terms of individuals, not groups, what the authors have to say is irrelevant to me. Interesting at times, but irrelevant.

But here it is, what Herrnstein and Murray worked so hard to not say over the course of their book:

1. IQ exists! Some people are actually smarter than other people! *The higher your IQ, the greater your capacity to handle complex mental work. [I often find that handling complex mental work depends a lot on one's interest in the work so I would be curious to know how IQ tests account for that.]

2. How smart people are affects every area of their lives!

3. Smarter people are better at everything!

Now here is something worth saying! Why I find this assertion interesting is that it is the opposite of the "10,000 hour rule" that everyone takes for granted as truth. Herrnstein and Murray claim that some people could put 10,000 hours into something and still not be a genius at it and possibly, if their IQ is low enough, would never reach the genius level. Other people, people with high IQs, could reach the genius level of a given field in far fewer than 10,000 hours. I am going to check this general idea off as "true in my own experience." This reminds me of how many people can be farmers, but how few think to farm like Joel Salatin.

4. Intelligence is not all nurture. In fact it's part nature (no less than 40% no more than 80%) yet all of our government policies are written as if intelligence were all nurture.

5. Smarter people have better lives.

It entertains me a little that H & M worked so hard to (over) prove everything they wanted to say and yet didn't really pay attention to this point, assuming that everyone would agree that more money, slightly less divorce and more degrees equals a better life. I know way more happy people who are not very bright than I know very bright people who are very happy. And, I will quote myself here: the top 1% of Americans have better college degrees and make a lot more money, but they are still overweight and unhealthy—lots of colds and even more medical problems, they are even more likely to be on prescription drugs and especially mood altering ones. They will spend just as much time watching TV and be slightly less likely to get divorced (as the bottom 99%). I don't care about money and degrees. Fat people on Prozac don't have "better lives". *I got my stats from some government website. I think the CDC.

6. The lowest of the low generally have IQs bordering on mental retardation, but there are plenty of people with just as low IQs who do fine in life. 

7. School does an excellent job of funneling the best and brightest into top colleges.

I really think H & M should read The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America or The Underground History of American Education or anything that would help them to understand the true purpose of public education so let's just be clear here: school does an excellent job of funneling the brightest "soldiers" from the rest of the pack. Bright children with high enough self-esteem to not want to teacher-please for 30 years are not funneled. 

8. High IQ folk are the best workers. [Again, I would be curious to know what roles motivation, interest and passion play in  the "best worker" contest.]

9. Our country has a high IQ elite running the place, who, because they are so comfortable with complexity, make the legal system overly complex for the rest of us.

Woo hoo! Let's simplify! Does anyone else think these guys would have gotten more supporters for their argument if they had said our legal system was one big ball of bad feng shui instead of that the average American is just too dumb to function within it?


10. Low IQ people have more children than high IQ people. H & M think we need to figure out a way to get smart women to have more babies.

11. But more importantly, they want us to stop messing with evolution. Because right now, we subsidize the babies of the low IQ folk, causing them to have more babies, and causing the survival of those who are not actually fit for survival.

For 100 years, we as a culture have been at war with death. Death is not a part of life. It's not okay. It's bad. It's failure and we can't accept it. We can't allow people to die. Even if they want to die. Even if they have serious health problems. Even if our best and brightest have to devote their entire lives to the cause--no one can be allowed to die!

12. Black people have a lower IQ average than white people but there are plenty of black people with very high IQs and plenty of white people with very low ones. 

If you believe in freedom and respect like I do, you judge individuals not groups and an individual's intelligence is irrelevant to the fact that everyone gets equal opportunity to pursue happiness to the best of his or her ability.


First, this book is tragic. Great atrocities in history have been committed by people just trying to force other people to do what they believe is right. And, at its core, this book is no different: how can we make them nasty poor folk be more like those lovely middle class folk?

Herrnstein and Murray say it well at the beginning--they can't tell you anything about John Doe by knowing his IQ. There is too much variation and nurture is too important. All they can tell you about is groups. And the only reason anyone wants to know about groups is to control them. This book is only useful information to those "in power" who wish to force those not in power to be something other than what they are.

Second, I have empathy for H & M and all those who think they have to "save" the world. It must be so scary to think that our nation's average IQ is declining and that we have to get dumb people to behave differently. What a daunting task. I imagine they are quite angry at American policies that enable dumb people to have more children than smart people. And I imagine they are even angrier that they are forced to spend their money on things they consider to be morally wrong.

Third, this book reminds me of what I have read about Hunter-Gatherer--that they have very low IQs. This fascinates me. We all know that average American probably couldn't last a day in their shoes and also that researchers continually assert that Hunter-Gatherers are very happy so.... who is better of? I value genetic diversity and cultural diversity; I am so glad there are people who can survive in the wild in addition to people who can study philosophy. 

World governments are always claiming that Hunter-Gathers need to be saved from being themselves. We see this on television constantly--pleas for donations because the "rural poor" of some place needs schools. Hunter-Gathers just need education and then they would have "better" lives! Most people don't know this is all cover-up for the real agenda of every government in the world that can't stop terrorizing its native inhabitants (and if you think the US has stopped terrorizing our natives, think again. Canada is even worse.)

Hunter-Gathers and the rural poor are not banging down the doors of government buildings and wealthy people's houses asking how they can be more like them. Hunter-Gatheres and the rural poor usually *but not always* exhibit a level of physical health not known to Westerners. Imagine 500 people all with perfectly straight, white teeth, never having had braces and never having had cavities despite their failure to even own a toothbrush. Not to mention all the other Western health problems they don't suffer from. These people DO NOT need to be more like us. In fact, we have a few things to learn from them. We may have lower infant mortality, but they don't have homelessness or heart disease!

The reason our governments are always trying to "educate" these people is that Hunter-Gatherers and the rural poor don't need us. They are not part of the system. And our governments want them to be part of the system. What governments really want is for these people to not exist. Our governments are the Borg, seeking to assimilate everyone. They sell it as education, but our type of education destroys more lives of Hunter-Gatherers than it ever helps. Why do we think we have the right to force people to do what we think is best for them? Until people are ASKING for help, no one should be "helping" them. 

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