News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Review of Race: the Reality of Human Differences by Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele (2004)

Don't know what I was smoking when I wrote the first draft of this review this morning. When I'm away from a given style of writing for a while, in this case, critical prose, I completely fuck it up the first time or so when I get back to it... So, I'm taking the bastard down and re-doing her.
Second Attempt follows (I only looked at the first fifth of it, if that much. I've got too much stuff on the go. No time!!):
Review of Race: the Reality of Human Differences by Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele (2004)
This was quite an interesting and well-written book, one that I will read, quote, and refer to again, without a doubt. But, first a couple of throwaway paragraphs, apologetics for having read and, even worse, enjoyed this profane work.

First of all, I have my doubts per the significance of IQ. So much in life depends on methodology. We all meet sluggish people who get along well in life by being steady, nose to the grindstone. We all meet fast maniacs who seem in a rush to dig their own graves. Slow can lead to pensiveness and focus, just like speed can lead to frivolity and shallowness. Along the way to watching a couple of hundred videos of authors being interviewed, I was surprised not to find any correlation between intelligence (or at least the intelligence required to speak well and not waste the audience’s time) and mental quickness. Acuity, at least that which works for writing, doesn’t seem to correlate with manifestly high IQs. Some writers of high-quality content-jammed, insight-infested books yet speak so damn slowly that I literally can’t suffer to watch them on video or listen to their radio interviews.

Another problem is the lower speed and probably lower IQs of the average urban Taiwanese vs. other urban Chinese around the region, Indonesia and north China in particular. Taiwan is the butt of jokes all over Greater China. I was mocked endlessly in Malaysia for speaking Taiwanese Mandarin. The slang in China for the Taiwanese is the replacement of ‘taibao’ (Taiwanese compatriot) with ‘daiboa’ (Dumb compatriot). And yet the Taiwanese are among the wealthiest and probably are the happiest Chinese in the region. And surely it is this often dimwitted happiness, due to the relative ease and simplicity of the local lifestyle, that doesn’t require people to be that smart. The same phenomenon can be seen in the English ex-colonies (Canada and the US for example. Simple, happy ex-colonists.) Are the IQs of these ex-colonists lower? Probably. But is their racial stock different? I doubt it. Environment, social environment especially, makes such a difference.

To the book: On page 24, the authors start pulling apart a PBS special entitled Race: the Power of an Illusion which promotes the PC message that race is a social contract. A social contract? Who would have thought? Who could have thought?

How does such nonsense gain currency?

Via the ambitious wordsmith. This species of academic takes a dubious pleasure in pushing and pulling at facts – in this case, the existence of racial characteristics – by claiming that skin color, hair type, facial morphology and so forth are only skin deep. In other words, skin deep is only skin deep and is therefore only skin deep and thus only skin deep.

I have little argument with racial characteristics having negligible impact on intelligence (they’re certainly not negligible with regard to sports, altitude acclimatization, immunity to disease, inherited disease, alcohol and lactose tolerance, etc.). But to claim that racial characteristics are in fact wholly imaginary; worse, a sort of deliberate ploy and endgame of a huge conspiracy of ignoramuses, such as myself, well that just leaves me flummoxed and tired.

Besides, why all emotional racket about inherited IQ? Most of what constitutes intelligence today is in fact just disciplined adherence to a methodology well-suited for our age of commerce and information overload. These methodologies are usually filched from someone else, mine certainly is: as far as I can determine it's a mongrel welter of Scottish/English/Greco-Roman/Philosophe methods and principles. All of this was pioneered by various high IQ genius and pioneers who cleared the way for the naive, the inert, and everyone else.
Take the genius of capitalism. It works great because it’s so simple. Even a moron, to cite a common exempler of the captains of industry breed, can run a corner store. Many morons do in fact and earn more per annum than many top-flight white-collar wage-slaves. So which person, if income is the arbiter of things and given that most of us work mostly for monetary ends, is the most intelligent when all is said and done? The corner store running philistine with a new Lexus or Yours Truly, getting wet in the rain on a second-hand scooter? I’m poor as a church mouse. I'm 40 years old. How intelligent, really, has my decision-making been so far?
Back to the 'social contract' hustle. Was I just dreaming the whole time? Or are certain professorial herds dreaming borrowed lavender dreams awash with the usual lofty rhetoric that deliberately defies parsing and which aims, given today's transformation of the victim into the morally correct hero (in effect beatifying failure and translating it into something reverential), to induce good feelings at the expense of common sense.

It's all so very familiar, in the eternal manner of the manufacturers of religions, patriotic slogans, and ideologies for the chic. 'Race as a social contract' becomes another preposterous entry into the cannon of ever-failing mirages and monkeyshines that respected professors drum into credulous students. Every season a new cannon of thought ends up peer-pressuring its way through the faculty, though not before a mess of doubtful blinking and trembling accompanies the fearful apostasy of departing the old faith, last year’s or last season's cannon. The formally overeducated emerge at the end of the day armed with a grab-bag of logical inversions and worthy slogans: i.e. fully conversant with what passes for this season's intellectual fashions, the new improved faith, the revealed truth. Until that same truth is falsified by next year's hirsute apostle and fellow traveler.

Organizing a faith, parochial or secular, is mostly got started by hawking rhetorical, theoretical, and ethereal goods in an effort to troll for herbivores, already lowing for a leader, their udders painful if not milked. To boldly mix metaphors: Having tickled the fish, one must get oneself into the saddle and ride herd. Inspiring belief, i.e. parochial or secular faith in the incredible, is mostly about fetching fidgety crowds with freshly-scented salvos of moving rhetoric: i.e. it’s about passing off the same old bill of goods but in new packaging. It's about lining up the modest blank-cartridges and proud stuffed-shirts that compose the majority of every population the planet has ever known. This crew of eternal followers and movement-joiners lacks the wherewithal and self-assurance required for pugnacious grappling with new ideas and new idea-mongers. For without putting claims to the fire, there is no way to distinguish between fact and fiction.

My point is: this book is essentially doing battle with academic cant: the cant makers, its franchises and account executives.

This is another book in which Stephen Jay Gould gets caught overreaching himself in polemic and founders horribly comfortably in the eternal American uplift. It's worth remembering that the uplift has been responsible for such prodigies as the banning of cigarettes on the theory that fags, as opposed to pipes, inspired masturbation and other citified debaucheries; plus Prohibition on the theory that just one sip of hooch and it's a straight tumble down to Gin Lane, beating the wife along the way. It also gave us the Drug War which operates on the theory that the sight of a pill of raw opium is a temptation beyond refusing which shall turn us all into Chinamen prostrate on teak beds, pipe in hand, the house triple-mortgaged, the children sold into slavery.

Stephen J. made a name for himself writing monthly articles on paleontology and evolution, spoiling good work by dumbing it down with baseball metaphors and personalizing it with anecdotes from the proletariat. But the formula worked and he blossomed from a young professor and writer in the wings, into the Lord of popular science and, finally, the avuncular Patron Saint of the field. He went out with a glow, and the glimmer of his ghost keeps marching on amongst us still. I used to be one of his biggest fans.

However, following the footsteps of many a successful Hollywood actor and actress, he began to feel his public duty: to lead the untaught masses to a New Canaan. Like many another Messiah, in the interest of truth, he promptly abandoned the facts. In the interest of leadership, he abandoned the aforementioned sense in favor of the aforementioned good feelings, lavender rhetoric, the technique of turning of unpalatable truths on their head and, most importantly, of righting wrongs by packaging them as rights. The masses can't be trusted to think on their own: this is the old left-wing do-gooder mantra, predicated on the healthy supposition, shared by both sides of the political aisle, that everyone else is stupid. The difference is that part of today's right wing, or, more accurately stated, the entirety of the libertarian wing, is in favor of letting people make their own mistakes in their own time on the theory that everyone is capable of learning. That's the theory.
The social contract nature of race, i.e. that race is an illusion (ex: Michael Jackson), was proven beyond a reasonable doubt on PBS via a panel of expert witnesses (i.e. high-priced, high-class fact-checkers) and the testing of mtDNA. On the PBS show, tissue samples were gleaned from the inside of the cheeks of several students. From page 24 of the book I'm reviewing: Then the students examined six selected mtDNA markers and used them to guess which other student's DNA would be most like theirs. The authors counter that the PBS experiment, in effect, stacked the deck. First, the number of markers used in the experiment was below the standard of 13 required by the FBI crime labs for even an individual identification. A good analogy would be political opinion polling. In order to get a valid result, the pollster must sample enough people.

Then the authors question why mtDNA was even used, when this is a form of DNA that only passes through the maternal line, thus not reflecting the potential racial characteristics of the paternal line.

Page 25: The usual pattern found in recorded history is that a small number of intruding males in a dominant position, either as powerful conquerors or rich merchants, mate with a much larger number of indigenous females. The top prize in this regard, perhaps, goes to Genghis Khan and his Mongol Golden Horde. One Y-chromosome study has shown that one every 200 males alive today, mostly in Asia, is descended from the great Khan.

This caught my attention because Mencken mentioned the same sort of thing back in the 1920s, offending readers yet again with a commonsense observation. In other words DNA can now be employed to demonstrate what was obvious to observers a century ago. Now, even that majority of liberal arts academia which is flummoxed and harried by information, facts and figures, schools of thought, politically correct shibboleths and other fashions of the season into chronically doubting its own senses can relax a bit. With the publishing of this book, as with the publishing of The Bell Curve, several truths are out. From the perspective of some, they've escaped, they're on the loose. However, all and sundry can take a breather, relax, take a load off. For the lightening rod is working.
For as usual with the liberal arts, truth has reemerged not due to the fearlessness of academia and its famed protections for the campus heretic, but because the majority of that supreme herd of pedigreed blanks long ago chucked up intellectual courage in favor of letting the occasional heckler up to the podium, pump an awkward truth into the air, and take his salvo of rotten tomatoes. With someone else scandalizing the audience and become infamous, the hacks can begin to state plainly, first double-checking the coast is clear, what has been obvious to even itself for ages.
In the UK, the best example of this in action that I can think of is best-selling amateur historian David (alleged holocaust denier) Irving. He stated decades ago that Hitler didn't order the killing of the European Jews, that Hitler's anti-Jewish bias was a political tactic to win votes. That Hitler's loony underlings commissioned the dreadful business. That Hitler, like Marx, like many other ethnic Germans from the south of Germany or from Austria, reserved his murderous contempt for the people of the Balkans. Well, after years of being attacked as a proto-Nazi by those who knew better, his peers in academia, guess who now agrees with his assessment? A growing number of his peers in academia, as a reading of pertinent book reviews reveals. (No one was more surprised to see this than me, I must say.) As far as I can tell, the major names conducting related reseach in academia were only bold when it became safe to do so. I.e. when European anti-Israeli sentiment began to peak during the late 1990's and newspaper-readers could now accept the false premise that denying Hitler killed the Jews was tantamount to being anti-Jewish. In other words, with the public's revival of racism, David Irving, an avowed non-racist, was now acceptable to the public.
On page 27 the author states, "the same ethical philosophers have shown much less interest in disabusing their readers off "the moralistic fallacy," that is, arguing that since, according to many moral codes, humans ought not be aggressive, rapacious, or prejudiced, therefore, we are not - the scientific evidence be damned. We have already noted the recent tendency of proceeding from what one thinks ought to be to what is. One corollary of the moralistic fallacy has been the argument that since "race" is really a social construction, and a very evil one at that, used to justify European colonialism and the enslavement and extermination of native peoples, the study of "race" inherently leads to "racism" in both thought and deed."

This illogical, feel-good or feel-bad manner of thinking is naturally most common in the serially dishonest. Being in the habit of trimming and hedging one’s own opinions, it is only natural to expect others to do the same. A lack of transparency, i.e. personal honesty and integrity, makes it next to impossible to challenge the ideas that these pathological types cherish. But this paranoid pathology is less and less mainstream. These days, the media increasingly aggressively attacks any and all received wisdoms and is more and more fact-driven.

And given the broad range of expression from the mainstream media to blogs, the very public success of respectable personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby, the steady increase in interracial dating, and the exposure through Internet porn that penis size does not directly correlate to a woman's pleasure during sex, makes it seem quite unlikely to me that an open discussion of race would lead to racism. For that matter, Internet porn has led to a significant drop in the frequency of sex in many nations, Japan in particular for example. One of the long-standing causes of tension between blacks and whites in America was sexual. Now that many men derive sexual release primarily from Internet porn, and only secondarily from women, and the fact that anyone with eyes in their head can see that porn stars impaled on 14 inch penises still masturbate to beat the band, suggests to me that sex as a source of inter-racial tension is far less than what it was before.

Furthermore, the United States has come a long way over the last 400 years. IQs have jumped across the board in American schools (probably a result of TV, a savvier culture, and improved nutrition, and despite public education's decline) something upwards of 30 points since the end of WWII. These days, truth has a much higher value and esteem. Rhetoric, the opiate of the yokel, is in decline as evidenced by the growing popularity for nonfiction works, as opposed to novels. These days, the former is just as likely to become a bestseller as the latter. And, notably, biography has become a consistent best-seller. Much of biography consists in deconstructing glory and media spin, and in unearthing the dirt on individuals. This popularity is in part motivated by the already growing skepticism of the reading public and in turn reinforces and deepens that skepticism and embellishes it with understanding, pragmatism, and an Olympian mindset.

In other words, it is only the inert, untutored, and childlike mind which can accept the notion that race might inherently lead to the racism of yesteryear. And yet, it is precisely this mindset that one finds throughout humanities graduates. So much for liberal arts programs as finishing schools for ironing out the crudities of high school graduates. They're not even up to that challenge anymore.

Yet another example is the reaction of the US government to the 9/11 attacks. Within days, GW Bush visited a mosque to demonstrate ecumenicalism. That the United States would stop on a dime and return to the South of the 1960's seems so unlikely as to suggest that the advocate just wants to stir up the animals.

From page 32: in the case of race, the consensus view in contemporary social sciences that Western European culture, and it alone, falsely and self-serving constructed such a view of human variation and then imposed it on the rest of humanity until our minds were liberated with the advent of deconstructionism. An outgrowth of postmodernist philosophy, deconstructionism denies that any signs can establish ultimate meaning. It "deconstructs" scientific statements, claiming to reveal their hidden, underlying racial, sexual, and political biases.

In other words, the age-old trick of the media maven and politician: invent a bogus issue and propose to cure it via a bogus nostrum, in this case, deconstructionism. The latter is a remake in terms of its operating philosophy of the ancient inscrutable arts of Kabbalah, decoding Bible codes, numerology, astrology, animism and all the other failed worldviews and exploded eschatologies, bully-ragged and hunted to near extinction by the workers of the Information Age. Marxism and Communism were invented to save us from the evil of greed by a Messiah who faked his statistics and made mooching off others a well-paying life-long obsession. Christianity, a collective pilfering and 3rd century AD committee-edited welter of timeless Fertile Crescent myths, professes to save us from a devil which does not exist while it's conceptions of human immorality and wickedness reached their executive climax in that great success known as the Dark Ages. Adherence to Commandment Ten, thou shalt not covet, squelched European economies for a thousand years and continues to impoverish the votaries of Islam. Capitalism is founded on thou shalt covet. Which is why Great Communicator, GW, commanded the faithful after 9-11 to go shopping.

Page 72: the author points out that Stephen J. Gould, in his book The MisMeasure of Man, a history and polemic gallantly opposing what had already been defeated, racism, Gould points out that Samuel George Morton, a 18th-century researcher had botched measurements of cranial capacity employed to account for racial differences in intellectual ability. For example, Morton had written that "52 Caucasians skulls he measured had the highest average cranial capacity (87 in.³); his 10 Mongolians were next at 83; and 18 Malays at 81; 147 American (Indian) at 80; and finally 29 Ethiopians skulls at 78 in.³.

The PBS documentary states that his measurements more than "made systematic errors in favor of his assumptions" that whites should have "decided and unquestioned superiority over all the nations of the earth." Gould accused Morton of bungling. However, William Stanton, off the American school anthropology, concluded that Morton's measurements were "painstaking" and taken with "great care" to "ensure accuracy." The skulls have been re-measured recently as well and the errors made in measuring attributed to Dr. Gould, since called to his rightful place in Heaven, and not to Morton, who can presently be reached in Hell.

In other words because Morton's innocent pursuit of the truth might mislead the masses, a group inflammatory and unfortunately liable to orgies of bad thinking when granted access to the facts, Gould headed Morton off at the pass. He trumped up authoritative professorial opinions and juggled counterfactual facts, sonorously priming the pump of PC and greasing the pole of truth. In his own mind, he fought fire with fire, but to my mind, in so doing he reduced himself to the level of the professional patriot, the blathering pedagogue suspicious of his own teachings, to being just another tinpot Messiah gloriously leading a people he privately suspected were not worth the leading and who would achieve nothing worthwhile once they got there. In other words, more accidental comedy.

Anyway, time to wrap this review up. This is actually quite a good book, one that does not insult the intelligence of the reader, and which has the supremely ironical role of being a polemic from the fringe which argues for the accuracy of platitudes. Platitudes such as: there are differences between races, just as there are differences between individuals and these differences constitute larger differences than those which separate sub-species of chimpanzee or subspecies of gorilla.

What could be more obvious? Are there blond-maned chimpanzees? Ruddy-skinned chimpanzees? Chimpanzees with folded eyelids? And how could these exterior differences not be matched by interior differences, i.e. to the various organs, to the immune system, the skeletal structure, and so forth? Humans have prospered over a much broader range of territories and climates than the great apes and the historical success of our species as a whole has quite clearly produced varying physiology and morphology, just as it has with all other species. To deny that these differences could exist is tantamount to denying evolution. Either God make people in divergent forms or they evolved that way. And, evolution means change, means difference.

Unlike many, I do not believe that two wrongs make a right. Fibbing, whether minimizing or exaggerating, about racial differences is silly. Decision-making should be based as much as possible on facts and not wishful thinking.

And besides, what are people so worried about out? To suggest that in this day and age the scientific assessment of these differences would somehow lead Western society to a moral collapse and a revival of the barbarism of racial discrimination is tantamount to suggesting that all of the advances that have been made in terms of relieving sexual discrimination would be set back to Day One by a book revealing there are differences between male and female physiologies.

But is it really all that ridiculous? Hardly. I was a good student and swallowed much of the same reassuring blather at one time, and that time was not so long ago. Just a handful of years in the past. That a book is vigorously attacked (and it's chief author briefly in danger of losing his tenure at UC Berkeley) for attempting to demonstrate the truth of platitudes is surely an absurdity. But I suppose we can take solace in the fact that all other ages have had, and will continue to have, absurdities peculiar to theirs.

A tempest in a teapot. Life goes on.

Biff Cappuccino

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