The Primacy of Genes

I vividly remember 3 times in my life being intellectually startled.  I’d be happily reading along, then, suddenly…..bam, whoa! No way.  How can that be?  The first was quantum physics (the double slit experiment, etc.); second, Friedrich fricking Nietzsche; and third, Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene (1976).  I gasped ‘Oh my God’ out loud in a library after learning that genes are the most essentially important, determinative aspect of any biological organism – especially humans.  Evolutionary natural selection enables genes to replicate themselves.  Dawkins writes:

They did not die out, for they are past masters of the survival arts. But do not look for them floating loose in the sea; they gave up that cavalier freedom long ago. Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control.  They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.

We are lumbering robots controlled by genes.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Dawkins answer – the egg; a chicken is just the eggs way of making another egg so that the genes inside it keep on keeping on.  Chapter 12 of Charles Murray’s Human Diversity (2020) is Abilities, Personality, and Success, highly heritable human traits.  Science has answered the question:  Which came first – intelligence or socio-economic status?   Intelligence came first, which in turn produces high socio-economic status.  It’s genetic.  Smart parents attain higher economic status and produce smart kids, which then do the same.  The genetic lottery drives everything.  The Left hates this knowledge and actively tries to suppress it for ideological reasons.  Fortunately, current cancel culture will be temporary because you can’t suppress scientific truths forever, as we’ll see here in the coming months.

Proposition #9 of Murray’s 10 things we do not need to argue about anymore (even though people still do) is:  Class structure is importantly based on differences in abilities that have a substantial genetic component.

Murray writes in a later chapter that “the debate about nature versus nurture is not just one of many issues in social science.  It is fundamental for everything involving human behavior.”  Next week, we’ll learn if there is anything anybody can do to improve inherited personality, abilities and social behavior.

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Orientation Break

This is a brief pause to our tour of Charles Murray’s new book.  The overarching purpose of this blog is to gradually assemble an irrefutable array of material fortifying my Schelling Fence* position that governmental efforts to redistribute wealth are immoral, ineffective and destructive to the political economy and culture.  I’m coming up on 6 years of weekly, consistent research and writing on this theme and have yet to find any credible argument validating Marxists criticisms of capitalism or statist views supporting an expanded welfare state.

I’ll continue to do it – week after week searching for any possible cogent article or book out there that would challenge the fact that wealth redistribution is a stupid idea.  Every week I Google ‘wealth redistribution’, click on the ‘news’ button, and then read the articles.  Here’s an example of a recent one arguing for wealth confiscation and redistribution from a British “working class academic”:

https://www.rt.com/op-ed/511828-britain-needs-wealth-tax/

She concludes:  “Today I don’t want to get rid of the rich – I just want to tax them until their eyes bleed.” 

Nice!  That’s not a reasoned argument – it’s just raging, misguided envy, hatred and jealousy.  It’s all they’ve got.  Our wealth, well-being and American lifestyles are secure – safe from leftist resentment, anger and dumb ideas.  Talk to y’all next Tuesday.

* Scott Alexander (Slate Star Codec) taught me the outer limits of reason and argument.  A Schelling Point/Fence is a pre-commitment to vigorously defend a position (e.g. forcible wealth redistribution is wrong!) that is calculated to be correct using Bayesian reasoning and Game Theory. As I re-watched one of my favorite movies, War Games (1983), and re-perused my 2nd edition copy of Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944), it occurred to me that awareness of Game Theory and Information Theory are becoming increasingly important to understanding our complex world.

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Good Parenting or Good Genes

Chapter 11 of Human Diversity (2020) brings us to proposition #8 of Murray’s “10 things we don’t have to argue about anymore”.  The first 7 are about race and sex – we’ll steer clear of those because of cancel culture controversy from people who still want to viciously argue against science in order to defend a tyrannical leftist orthodoxy.  Propositions 8-10, on the other hand, are about socio-economic status – good War Chest material.

Proposition #8 is that the shared environment usually plays a minor role in explaining personality, abilities, and social behavior.  The shockingly counterintuitive truth is that childhood family upbringing does not significantly impact adult cognitive repertoires.  I always thought that the way parents raise children makes a huge difference in how they turn out.  It does not.  That is a remarkably unexpected piece of scientific knowledge with extraordinary implications; so much so that many intelligent people refuse to believe it for political reasons – or emotional ones [I am upset at the thought that all the care, love, effort, time and energy my wife and I invested into raising our son and daughter did not and could not make much of a difference in their adult cognitive toolkits – but it’s true].

Take solace in knowing that although good parenting does not affect IQ or personality much, it nonetheless establishes a child’s foundational values, outlook and attitudes, which contribute to their happiness and fulfillment beyond economic or professional achievement.  If I (someone receptive to Murray’s work) had trouble swallowing this scientific finding, imagine the hostility and scorn that the ideologically entrenched fling at it.  That’s the most interesting aspect of this story – vitriolic objections to scientific findings – more on that as we reach the end of the book.

Next week, we get to proposition #9 of things we don’t need to argue about anymore even though people still do – and quite bitterly at that.

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The Genetic Lottery and Fairness

GeneticLottery

Part III of Human Diversity (2020) addresses the assertion that class is a function of privilege; not merit, character or hard work.  I was on the side of the debate vigorously against a dark, leftist orthodoxy narrative that sees class as just a manifestation of oppression:

A. The system is rigged in favor of heterosexual, white, wealthy males who oppress everyone else and pass their privilege down to the next generation.

My prior view (perhaps idealistically conservative) was:

B. Class is a function of character, determination and hard work (bourgeois values) which are passed down to the next generation.

Both are in contrast to a third view; Murray’s more correct explanation of class:

C. Class is a function of the genetic lottery PLUS character, determination, hard work and a post birth luck.

And this third explanation of class is becoming increasingly obvious, more undeniably true because of two epochal reasons:

  1. Technology, the economy and legal system are growing more complex, making the value of the cognitive ability to deal with complexity soar; and
  2. The American education system has become open to all who are qualified, which has created a new cognitive elite

This is all bad news for the mass poor (the non-cognitive elite) as detailed in books like Murray’s Coming Apart (2012), Average is Over (2013) by Tyler Cowen, and The New Class War (2020) by Michael Lind.  Murray ties wealth and intelligence together in 4 chapters:  Chapter 10 – establishes the heritability of cognitive repertoires.  Chapters 11 and 12 demonstrate that these inherited cognitive repertoires are profoundly important to success in life.  Chapter 13 explains that outside/Government interventions don’t work because the effects they have on personality, abilities and social behavior are inherently constrained.

 

There is indeed a genetic lottery for cognitive ability.  Murray explains the scientific definition of heritability with an example – SAT scores.  Ordinary public high school SAT scores are in the range of 400-1,600 [low heritability because of the variance ratio].  An elite private high school may be in the range of 1,500-1,600 [very high heritability because denominator of the variance ratio is much smaller than the ordinary school].  The narrower score range at the private school population means those students inherited their cognitive abilities [from their parents’ DNA, not superior upbringing or a good ‘ole boy network].

 

Murray’s most striking point:   As society does a better job of enabling all of its citizens to realize their talents, the heritability of those talents will rise.  It is a statistical necessity.  Inheritance of valuable IQ, social behavior, personality and other ability is growing in importance.  Is this unfair?  We’ll see latter in Murray’s conclusion that advanced societies have replaced one form of unfairness with another.  The old unfairness was that talented people were prevented from realizing their potential because of artificial barriers rooted in powerlessness, discrimination and lack of opportunity.  The new unfairness is that success is a matter of luck in the genetic lottery.  But this new unfairness is better, more just, less artificial, because…. a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  It’s also deeply baked into our Nation’s philosophical roots, as we’ve seen here often [e.g. my 4/4/18 posts were on the new aristocracy in which we all reside].

Next week, we move to why parental attempts to foster self-discipline, grit and ambition in their children really don’t make much of a difference.  As a success-oriented parent, I was shocked at this!

 

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The Wealth Gene

I wrote here on 9/27/16 about the genetic basis for why certain humans are wealthy:

…wealth and poverty have become structural. The children of the poor stay poor and the children of the rich stay rich.  Socioeconomic class is entrenched over many generations.  ….The birth lottery is not random for mass affluent parents.  Their children have already won.

Chapters 10-13 of Human Diversity – The Biology of Gender, Race and Class (2020) presents what we know about the heritability of socio-economic class.  We indeed know these things – the only controversy (level of uncomfortableness) is how one reacts.  Bad, negative over reactions abound, which is why Charles Murray is seen as a provocative figure.  Read this review:

https://www.newstatesman.com/class-race-genetics-science-human-diversity-charles-murray-review

That reviewer takes a dismal, pessimistic view of the book calling Murray positively dishonest.  He alleges that the book is posing as brave resistance to tyrannical orthodoxy and will be used by right wingers to strengthen the most entrenched and damaging hierarchies in our society.  He’s not happy with Murray pointing out that people have fundamentally different brains, capabilities and inclinations – the poor will always be poor because their genes make them less able to achieve jobs that bring wealth.  Public policy interventions do not work.  You cannot escape your genetic destiny.  Sorry if you drew the short straw in the DNA casino.  There’s nothing you can do about it.

I don’t see it that way, not just because my clients are winners in the birth lottery, but also because scientific reality need not be depicted in such a dark, dreary, hopeless light.  Murray anticipates harsh reactions to his highlighting a truth that “raises hackles for so many people because it smacks of self-satisfaction with the way things are and indifference toward those who were unlucky in the genetic lottery”. 

Ultimately, we’ll see that it’s about the ongoing Nature vs. Nurture argument.  Clearly both matter; but how much of what a human is comes from nature/genes and how much comes from the environment/nurture?  Progressives think human minds are 100% nurture and 0% nature – tabula rasa, social construction of identity and all that nonsense.  But that’s just a wrong exaggeration made for ideological reasons.  Genetic differences obviously have more than a 0% impact on us and Murray establishes scientifically that genetic differences are substantially material to human success.

That need not be so upsetting – especially to those who can directly address the fundamental questions of human existence – head on, without embarrassment or fear.  Let’s get to the truth, even if it hurts.  Murray’s propositions (particularly on wealth) are demonstrably true despite the furor surrounding his work.  We will be zeroing in on the wealth gene here in the coming weeks.

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Christmas Gift of Knowledge

TreasureKnowledgeGift

Human Diversity – The Biology of Gender, Race and Class (2020) is a progress report on the demolition of a leftist orthodoxy that is impeding human knowledge in the social sciences.  The problematic sameness premise is the stubborn idea that everyone’s the same despite biological differences.  Race, gender and class variations are alleged to be entirely social constructs with no basis in biology. 

The first 3 parts of the book are explorations, framed by Murray’s analogy to 3 archeological digs, of buried cities of knowledge, which are at very different excavation levels:

  1. The dig for gender differences is well underway – lots of artifacts and the outline of the buried city has been identified.
  2. The race differences dig is in its early stages – promising areas have been located and initial probes establish that there’s something down there worth investigating.
  3. The dig for socio-economic class is pretty much done.  Scholars are now returning to the site with newly developed tools with which to analyze the artifacts.

It’s sad that people have to be on guard against committing thought crimes; students whine for protection against ideas and speech; and cancel culture constrains honest discourse.  Murray calls out this widespread intellectual corruption.  The good news is that we are now watching the orthodoxy get overthrown.  Continuing to defend the idea that everyone is the same is making them look silly.

Murray is cautious because the current level of animosity and paranoia is comparable to the medieval church’s repression of Galileo’s discovery.  But there’s nothing to fear – no monsters in the closet – no forbidden knowledge.  Murray sidesteps all the angry accusations that he is a purveyor of racist pseudoscience by focusing on facts – the low hanging fruit, “things we don’t have to argue about anymore”.  Nonetheless, allegations that he’s misusing science in the service of bigotry and oppression are the guaranteed responses to findings that people indeed have differing genetic cognitive repertoires.

I’m not afraid of controversy, not under the thumb of a university or woke corporate culture, but I am still going to avoid the risk that something I write here might be construed as sexist or racist.  Therefore, lets jump right to the “Class is A Function of Privilege” section.  It is the lowest of Murray’s low hanging fruit – the most undeniable and thoroughly excavated of the 3 cities of knowledge.  Besides, as an estate planning attorney with a fully mature trusts and estates practice, I understand inherited wealth and power pretty well.  I’m also an intensely persistent explorer of the moral philosophy of wealth, so it’s right down my alley.

Come with me on a journey through what is known about heritability and social class.  We start on page 203 next Tuesday, opening our holiday gift of awareness wrapped up nicely by Charles A. Murray.  Merry Christmas from The Estate Planning War Chest!

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Elites Should Be Worried

Before we start our next project I have to tell you about a book I considered covering but then decided not to after studying it:  The Parasitic Mind – How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense (2020) by Gad Saad.  It was just published in October.  Its thesis is pretty much the same as Cynical Theories – How Activist Scholarship Makes Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity – And Why This Harms Everybody (2020), which we walked through here from 9/9/20 to 11/24/20.

The author of the The Parasitic Mind has a more aggressive style and is a bit self-aggrandizing in his presentation of the ideas.  Here’s a review of the book that amused me:

https://merionwest.com/2020/12/09/gad-saads-the-parasitic-mind-a-reasonable-premise-gone-awry/

That reviewer is a young, smart lefty criticizing the intellectual rigor of Saad’s work. Nestor de Buen makes some good points – The Parasitic Mind is polemic, tendentious and one-sided.  It has zero chance of changing the minds of its ideological opponents.  But I don’t think Saad cares.  He’s just gleefully piling on to a surging reality that will eventually topple the sanctimonious orthodoxy of elites in power.  I enjoyed the book but of course I am member of the swelling choir Saad is preaching to.

There is an undeniable, rapidly growing body of knowledge highly critical of social justice activism because it’s getting much more difficult to defend it.  Anti-social justice warrior books and articles have indeed become a genre of literature – and I’m a fan.  It leads us to the new book Human Diversity (2020) by Charles A. Murray.  Murray may be the mightiest messenger of the news that the self-anointed, self-righteous elites in power are being harshly dethroned by the irresistible forces of logic, reason and science.  The intellectual cowards at Harvard may hate him but Murray’s voice cannot be silenced.  Truth is truth even if the Left tries to dub it “racist pseudoscience”.  Murray defends his work extraordinarily well (and has done so since The Bell Curve (1994)) because he knows the outrage social justice warriors are gunning for him.

Murray uses the analogy of 3 (race, gender and class) archeological digs to parse the issues – an analogy also used in the book America’s Revolutionary Mind (2019) that we explored last year:

We’ll dodge the controversy in the race and gender digs and focus just on the socio-economic class site.  Next week, we begin an expedition into an already excavated archeological ideas dig to see if we can locate its treasure trove of knowledge:

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Wealth Inequality is Natural. It is Not Imposed

ScalesCloseUp

A 5 year ongoing weekly blog on why wealth redistribution public policy is immoral and impractical would not be complete without mentioning Thomas Piketty’s Capital and Ideology (2019).  His previous book Capital in the 21st Century (2013) caused quite a stir but its ideas were quickly refuted.  The new 1,150 page book also fails to make a compelling case for tackling the “inequality problem” by confiscating wealth from some people in order to re-distribute it to others.  Our wealth is safe from irrational leftist ideology.  Even militant lefty Paul Krugman isn’t buying Piketty’s notion of a forced “fair” global political economy.

Piketty and others misunderstand reality because they think it’s only human ideas that create reality.  It’s the fallacious everything is a social construct argument that we spent the last 11 weeks thoroughly refuting.  Wealth inequality, according to Piketty, is neither economic nor technological; it is ideological and political.  He scoffs at the argument that inequality has a basis in “nature” (he puts the word nature in sneer quotes).  Piketty tries to invent the notion of “inequality regimes” that he argues are contrived legitimizations and justifications for inequality. 

Piketty makes the same moral mistake as John Rawls’ veil of ignorance.  If you were designing a political/economic/legal system and didn’t know where you will be in it, you’d make it more egalitarian because what if you ended up on the bottom.  But guess what.  It is not being designed; it already naturally exists and we all know where we are in it.   An “inequality regime” is not selected and then imposed.  Our political economy is the result of very long-term, vastly complex, natural free market forces and liberalism.  Inequality is economic.  It’s math.  All competitive endeavors (human and in nature) are governed by a wildly skewed power law function (not a symmetrical bell curve).  Read my 8/14/17, 8/22/17 and 8/29/17 posts.  Equality is NOT natural.  Inequality is natural.

Bad ideas may be in best-selling books and fund exorbitant salaries in the diversity/inclusion sham industry, but they remain, demonstrably and unequivocally, false.  The real threats to truth are cancel culture, anti-free speech bullies.  Victor Davis Hanson writes that the culprits are progressives and leftist elites in publishing, the media, Silicon Valley, academia, entertainment and government.  They so lack confidence in the logic and persuasiveness of their own arguments that, in fear, they increasingly try to ban whatever bothers them.  Fortunately, they are not succeeding.  Next Tuesday, we begin a new War Chest project as we turn from a book that falsely asserts that inequality is caused by purposefully, malevolent oppression, to a book that scientifically proves inequality is a natural phenomenon.  Human Diversity:  The Biology of Gender, Race and Class (2020) by Charles A. Murray.

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Elite Overproduction

This is the graphic from a 10/24/20 article in The Economist – “Can too many brainy people be a dangerous thing?”  It illustrates an increasingly obvious and troublesome social phenomenon – elite overproduction.  Universities keep cranking out tons of degreed “Kings of Knowledge” – arrogant know-it-alls who then get smacked in the face by reality.  They are frustrated and angry.

This was predicted by Peter Turchin.  Blogger Scott Alexander wrote reviews of both his books on the topic, to which Turchin responded. 

Read these if you really want to understand why so many bitter elites are upset.  There’s a lawyer/PhD glut! – too many people with credentials and not enough jobs to pay them all well.  This large, seething cohort of people with advanced degrees perceives themselves to be unfairly on the losing side of life.  As Turchin put it:

Elite overproduction generally leads to more intra-elite competition that gradually undermines the spirit of cooperation, which is followed by ideological polarization and fragmentation of the political class. This happens because the more contenders there are, the more of them end up on the losing side. A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions.

Finally, this article explains the problem with academia and the graduates they mass produce.  It’s not intolerance – it’s simply false worldviews:

They must be (and are now being) discredited.  Large swaths of academia deserve to be mocked and ignored.  Their resentment is the result of a refusal to accept reality.  Fortunately, this is all cyclical.  Things will eventually get better.  Until then, tighten the clasps of your War Chest of knowledge, wealth and power.  A lot of people, who think they’re really smart, feel strongly that you should not have those things.

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The Marketplace of Ideas

Marketplace

Chapter 10 of Cynical Theories (2020) brings us to the conclusion of this important book. In the competitive marketplace of ideas, good, valuable, successful ideas like liberalism, capitalism and science rise to the level of knowledge.  Bad, faddish, false ideas like Social Justice Theory are fake knowledge – they hide from the marketplace of ideas.  Pluckrose and Lindsay masterfully exposes the proponents of these ideas for what they are –> WRONG.

Postmodern Theory and liberalism are opposites.  Liberalism is a self-correcting, knowledge producing system of reason and evidence.  Postmodernism is the antithesis because of its conspicuous unwillingness to engage in debate and “cancel” anyone attempting to engage its ideas as white fragility or privilege preserving.  Critical Theory is bad, not just because it’s wrong/immoral (it is) but also because it attempts to cheat by avoiding the marketplace – it hides from the light of reason and evidence like a scattering cockroach.

I’m not exaggerating; well, maybe a little.  The authors do have respect for the concerns, goals and motivation behind Social Justice but whole heartedly reject its applied turn.  They lament the radical skepticism, nihilism and destructive cynicism attacking human Enlightenment (liberalism, rationalism and empiricism).  They highlight what is considered knowledge and truth and what is not.   The book, Kindly Inquisitors:  The New Attacks on Free Thought (1992) articulates liberalism’s contribution to the “reality industry”.  Liberal science referees conflicting claims to truth using two principles:  1) no one gets final say; and 2) no one has personal authority over knowledge (there is no racial or sexual knowledge, there’s just knowledge).  We have freedom of belief and speech, but NOT freedom of knowledge.  You are free to believe anything you wish and argue for anything you want, but to claim that such beliefs are knowledge and demand that they be respected as such is bullshit.  It’s wrong to coddle humans by censoring certain ideas believed to cause psychological pain or “epistemic violence”.  Historically oppressed groups get no special consideration in the battle for truth – everyone competes in the same marketplace of ideas – best ideas win. 

The fundamental tenants of postmodernism go up in flames:

Knowledge is a social construct – no it’s not!

Discourse is merely the wielding of power – no it’s not!

Categories must be blurred because of oppression – nope.

Language is power and must be tightly restricted – nope.

Knowledge depends on culture – nope.

Group identity is the only thing that matters – nope.

Lindsay and Pluckrose warn that Social Justice thought is like gasoline on the identity politics fire of the extreme Right.  Arguing that it is acceptable to be prejudiced against white people, men, heterosexual or cisgender people does not go over well with the far Right.  It emboldens and enrages them.

They conclude the book with an important legal principle – secularism (separation of Church and State) – no matter how certain you may be that you are in possession of the truth, you have no right to impose your belief.  We all have the inalienable right to reject the moral mandates of any ideology without blame.  The belief that knowledge is just a cultural construct used to enforce power can be submitted to the marketplace of ideas.  Social Justice thought should not be censored or ignored – it must be engaged and defeated in the marketplace of ideas so it can die a natural death.  Let us arm ourselves with War Chest awareness that these “ideas are demonstrably bad, ethically incoherent and cannot withstand scrutiny without imploding and disappearing in a puff of contradictions”.

Finally, throughout this project I have scanned for push back on the book.  There’s not much and its pretty tepid – for example:

https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-a-new-front-in-the-culture-wars-cynical-theories-takes-unfair-aim-at-the-humanities-148524

If the authors are combatants in the culture wars – they are freedom fighters – Rambos of reason lighting up the dark, weak warriors of the tyrannical Social Justice Left. 

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