Posted on February 19, 2014

The Unfortunately Innate Nature of Intelligence

Fred Reed, Takimag, February 19, 2014

Human races are subspecies of Homo sapiens [sic], just as Basset Hounds and Chihuahuas are subspecies of dog. The breeds of neither are precise genetic categories: In the words of the heroic John Derbyshire, genetically “what you see is a continuum with some pretty sharp clines.” Yet the genetic commonalities are sufficient to be obvious: At a glance one can distinguish between a Japanese and a Norwegian, or a Siberian wolfhound and a dachshund.

Anyone having experience with dogs knows that these admirable creatures differ in intelligence. Border Collies are simply smarter than pit bulls. Since there is no political penalty for noticing this, it is widely noticed and not disputed. Yet if subspecies of Bowser differ markedly in intelligence, it would seem to follow that subspecies of humans, who differ in color, hair, biochemistry, facial features, brain size, and so on, might also differ in intelligence. That is, there is no prima facie biological reason for believing that they cannot. There are many political incentives.

In the case of Fido, the differences clearly are not cultural, but genetic. If genetic differences in intelligence can exist between subspecies of dogs, why may they not between subspecies of humans?


The genetic differences between such geniuses as Newton, Einstein, Shakespeare, or Hawking, and the guy in the next cubicle are vanishingly small; the effects of these tiny differences are not. A difference of only one amino residue on the beta chain of hemoglobin causes sickle-cell anemia. The genetic difference is infinitesimal, the results catastrophic.

In short, the notion that small differences in DNA cannot have massive effects is observably wrong.

Here we should note the dual modes of viewing intelligence, specifically Normal Mode and Racial Mode.

In Normal Mode, we all know what we mean by intelligence, and we all recognize that people vary greatly in how much of it they have. If John could read classical Greek at age three and graduated in mathematics from CalTech at fifteen, we would all agree that he was bright. If I said at a cocktail party, “Whoa! That gal Therese is smarter than five whips wired in parallel. Anybody got her phone number?” no one would tell me that I was a bigot or that Therese had exactly the same intelligence as everyone else. Rather they would say that I just knew a good thing when I saw it.

In Group Mode, everything changes according to the group being discussed. If I said that Jews were smart, and adduced all manner of achievements over the centuries, no one would deny it. Similarly for the Chinese. If I said, however, that Australian aborigines were inferior in IQ, I would be told as follows: Intelligence does not exist; it is a social construct; it is culturally determined; it can’t be measured; it has no genetic basis; the tests are biased; lack of achievement is caused by discrimination, or institutional racism running through Australian society, or geographic considerations. Whereas if I said that Italians were of low intelligence, the response would be to produce counter evidence; in the case of the aborigines it would be to give all manner of reasons why there was no counter evidence.


If no such differences in IQ existed, those around the world who produce and pay taxes might reasonably tell their welfare classes to stop being parasites and do their part. If, on the other hand, some groups are genuinely dim, the problem changes. You cannot blame people for being what they were born, and you cannot expect them to do what they cannot. The social-Darwinist approach — “Scratch, dog, who can, and the devil take the rest” — is cruel. If some cannot function, or find work, in a rapidly automating economy with high endemic unemployment, what do you do? To make matters worse, those who cannot compete intellectually tend to develop a cultural aversion to the whole idea.

It is when gradations of intelligence and hence of prosperity correlate closely with visible distinctions — for example, when north Asian students in California swamp Berkeley, greatly outperforming Caucasians — that anger arises. If dull-witted whites live in broken-down trailers in the pine barrens of the South, no one much cares. But if American Indians, racially distinct, live similarly on reservations, it is a political issue. And that is what we face, no matter how hard we pretend otherwise.