Precies de acceptatie van verschillen in intellectuele aanleg houdt pleidooi in *voor sociale politiek van redistributive taxation (inkomensherverdeling),
*voor maatschappelijke correctie op inequities of nature. (Omgevingsdeterminisme van veel Vlaamse sociologen remt dit debat af).
Visie van Toby Young (zoon van Michael Young - auteur van The Rise of Meritocracy van 1956).
One of the most common accusations made against those of us who point out that IQ is a stronger predictor of a persons life chances than their parents socio-economic status, and that IQ is about 50 per cent heritable in adolescence, rising to 80 per cent in adulthood, is that were right-wing Social Darwinists, appealing to these facts to justify extreme levels of inequality.
So its disappointing to see Ball repeating that smear. Im actually more sympathetic to the opposite point of view: the fact that the distribution of material wealth is linked to the distribution of genetic wealth and weve done nothing to deserve our genetic endowments
is an argument for more redistributive taxation, not less . As the philosopher Alan Ryan put it, A belief in the importance of inherited differences need not lead to apocalyptic conservatism.
What are the implications for education policy?
Most psychologists and geneticists who engage with this subject, going back at least as far as Jensen, think that once we have accumulated more knowledge about the link between genetic differences and individual differences in behaviour, intelligence and personality we can start to design personalised learning programmes for each child based on his or her innate proclivities, thereby maximising their potential. Ball summarises this view as follows: This would not be about the vague and contested notion of learning styles, but a more rigorous analysis of how certain genetic profiles respond better to particular types of problem or environment.
Im not a fan of personalised learning and took part in a debate on this point with Kathryn Asbury, a senior lecturer in psychology in education at York and co-author of a book called G is for Genes. ....
Some of the implications of the latest genetic research are guaranteed to provoke and goad liberals, however diplomatically theyre couched, just as the findings of earlier generations of intelligence researchers were furiously contested by the left. Take the debate about why poor children under-perform in standardised tests. One of the most common criticisms of grammar schools is that only a tiny percentage of the children admitted to them are on free school meals (FSM) just 2.4 per cent, according to a recent report. That is cited as evidence that their admissions arrangements are biased in favour of middle class children; the argument being that, if they were fair, their FSM admission figures would match the percentage of FSM children in Englands secondary schools as a whole (12.9 per cent in 2016-17).
But that criticism assumes that IQ is distributed randomly among Englands schoolchildren, which we know isnt the case. At present, children on free school meals make up six per cent of high-attaining children at the age of 11 as measured by their performance in Key Stage 2 tests (i.e. children likely to pass the 11+). True, thats more than double the percentage currently admitted to grammars and we should do our best to address that but its lower than youd expect if the distribution of cognitive ability was genuinely random.
The standard progressive explanation for the under-representation of children from disadvantaged backgrounds among high-performers on standardised tests is that various environmental factors conspire to impede their cognitive development poor nutrition, chaotic home life, low parental expectations, etc . and a number of policies have been introduced to compensate for this. Thats one reason left-wing intellectuals have been so hostile to intelligence researchers who suggest theres a strong genetic component to how children from different backgrounds perform in tests, although nurture clearly plays a part as well.
So its naïve to imagine that these same people wont object to the latest findings of behavioural scientists, using GWAS data, which point to the same conclusion. I recently co-authored a paper with Robert Plomin, whom Philip Ball correctly describes as one of the leading experts on the genetic basis of intelligence, looking at the differences in exam performance between pupils attending selective and non-selective schools. We found that the higher the socio-economic status of a childs parents, the higher that childs polygenic score for years of education (one of the genetic markers linked to intelligence). Similar discoveries have been made in Australia and New Zealand. Not surprisingly, one of the most hostile responses to the paper was by Eric Turkheimer, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and a leading critic of the view that differences in childrens cognitive ability are strongly influenced by their genes. He particularly didnt like the finding about middle-class childrens polygenic scores. (You can read that paper here I was one of several-co-authors and made a very minor contribution.)
More generally, I dont expect the left to abandon its environmental determinism without a fight, even though its now scientifically indefensible. The nub of the issue was identified by EO Wilson, the Harvard biologist who attracted the ire of left-wing scientists in the 1970s when he suggested that sociology and Darwinian biology could be combined to explain many facets of human behaviour:
When the attacks on sociobiology came from Science for the People, the leading radical left group within American science, I was unprepared for a largely ideological argument. It is now clear to me that I was tampering with something fundamental: mythology. Evolutionary theory applied to social systems is an extension of the great Western traditions of scientific materialism. As such, it threatens to transform into testable hypotheses the assumptions about human nature made by some Marxist philosophers. Its first line of evidence is not favourable to those assumptions, insofar as most traditional Marxists cling to a vision of human nature as a relatively unstructured phenomenon swept along by economic forces extraneous to human biology. Marxist and other secular ideologies previously rested secure as unchallenged satrapies of scientific materialism; now they were in danger of being displaced by other, less manageable biological explanations.
That same view of human nature that all human differences can be explained away with reference to economic and historical forces and have no basis in biology underlies many current progressive orthodoxies, such as the belief that gender is a social construct. Indeed, this Durkheimian notion of human beings as entirely the product of their social environment underlies the post-modernist critique of contemporary bourgeois society, with its hetero-normative values and oppressive patriarchal hierarchy. Like Marx, post-modernists believe that mans true nature is reducible to the totality of social relations, that individuals are nothing more than the embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests, and that everything comes down to the struggle for power. I wouldnt expect an uncritical acceptance of the new genetics from that quarter.
Many eminent behavioural scientists have long maintained that individual differences in intelligence and personality are linked to genetic differences and have been vilified for it by their left-wing colleagues. But this latest evidence surely decides the debate in their favour. Its now just flat out wrong to think that varying levels of ability and success are solely determined by economic and historical forces. That means its a dangerous fantasy to think that, once youve eradicated socio-economic inequality, human nature will flatten out accordingly that you can return to year zero, as the Khmer Rouge put it.
On the contrary, biological differences between human beings will stubbornly refuse to wither away, which means that an egalitarian society can only be maintained by a brutally coercive state that is constantly intervening to correct the inequities of nature. Seen in this light, its not surprising that nearly every hard left socialist experiment has resulted in the suppression of free speech, the imprisonment and torture of political dissidents, economic stagnation, mass starvation, etc. The standard response from Marxist apologists for Stalin and other Communist dictators is to say you cant make an omelette without breaking eggs. To which Orwell retorted, Wheres the omelette?
Philip Ball may point to the above and say, Whats that if not a Darwinian defence of inequality? But Im not advocating survival of the fittest or trying to justify the current Gini coefficient in Britain and America. I think its indisputable that the body of knowledge thats been built up by behavioural scientists in general, not just behavioural geneticists, threatens some of the core tenets of progressivism one reason academics working in these fields are targeted by left-wing hate mobs. But that doesnt means the findings of evolutionary psychologists, sociobiologists, cognitive neuroscientists, biosocial criminologists, and so on, inevitably lead to Alan Ryans apocalyptic conservatism.
On the contrary, I think theyre compatible with a wide range of political arrangements, including at a pinch Scandinavian social democracy. (You can read a lecture I gave on which political viewpoints are threatened by the behavioural sciences, and which arent, here.) But progressive liberals are going to have to do some serious re-thinking once they move beyond the fingers-in-ears phase and take on board the work thats being done in these fields, particularly the new genetics.
I interviewed Charles Murray about this for a Radio 4 documentary I presented last year and he thinks were only a few years away from some kind of collective nervous breakdown by the left. In particular, hes concerned that once left-wing intellectuals finally let go of environmental determinism they may veer too far in the opposite direction and embrace gene editing technologies like CRISPR-Cas9 to try to create the perfect socialist citizen:
I think that we will see the intellectual orthodox blank slate stuff go by the wayside by 2025.
Because if you follow whats going on in genetics and in neuroscience, its happening so fast that I think by 2025 any sociologist that tries to write about what causes what without taking genes into account will no longer be able to be taken seriously. I think its on its last legs. Its a decade away from being blown up by genetic advances. But once that happens, its going to be very interesting to see the reaction. You have right now a lot of cognitive dissonance whereby people in academia are saying things they dont really believe. Its slowly becoming apparent to them that theres a great deal of tension between what theyre saying out loud and what they want to believe, and whats true. And when that rubber band is let loose its going to snap back way too far in the other direction if were not careful.