Are “Nerds” Just a Hollywood Stereotype?

Yes, MIT has a football team.

The other day on Twitter, Nick B. Steves challenged me to find data supporting or refuting his assertion that Nerds vs. Jocks is a false stereotype, invented around 1975. Of course, we HBDers have a saying–“all stereotypes are true,” even the ones about us–but let’s investigate Nick’s claim and see where it leads us.

(NOTE: If you have relevant data, I’d love to see it.)

Unfortunately, terms like “nerd,” “jock,” and “chad” are not all that well defined. Certainly if we define “jock” as “athletic but not smart” and nerd as “smart but not athletic,” then these are clearly separate categories. But what if there’s a much bigger group of people who are smart and athletic?

Or what if we are defining “nerd” and “jock” too narrowly? Wikipedia defines nerd as, “a person seen as overly intellectual, obsessive, or lacking social skills.” I recall a study–which I cannot find right now–which found that nerds had, overall, lower-than-average IQs, but that study included people who were obsessive about things like comic books, not just people who majored in STEM. Similarly, should we define “jock” only as people who are good at sports, or do passionate sports fans count?

For the sake of this post, I will define “nerd” as “people with high math/science abilities” and “jock” as “people with high athletic abilities,” leaving the matter of social skills undefined. (People who merely like video games or watch sports, therefore, do not count.)

Nick is correct on one count: according to Wikipedia, although the word “nerd” has been around since 1951, it was popularized during the 70s by the sitcom Happy Days. However, Wikipedia also notes that:

An alternate spelling,[10] as nurd or gnurd, also began to appear in the mid-1960s or early 1970s.[11] Author Philip K. Dick claimed to have coined the nurd spelling in 1973, but its first recorded use appeared in a 1965 student publication at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.[12][13] Oral tradition there holds that the word is derived from knurd (drunk spelled backward), which was used to describe people who studied rather than partied. The term gnurd (spelled with the “g”) was in use at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by 1965.[14] The term nurd was also in use at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as early as 1971 but was used in the context for the proper name of a fictional character in a satirical “news” article.[15]

suggesting that the word was already common among nerds themselves before it was picked up by TV.

But we can trace the nerd-jock dichotomy back before the terms were coined: back in 1921, Lewis Terman, a researcher at Stanford University, began a long-term study of exceptionally high-IQ children, the Genetic Studies of Genius aka the Terman Study of the Gifted:

Terman’s goal was to disprove the then-current belief that gifted children were sickly, socially inept, and not well-rounded.

This belief was especially popular in a little nation known as Germany, where it inspired people to take schoolchildren on long hikes in the woods to keep them fit and the mass-extermination of Jews, who were believed to be muddying the German genepool with their weak, sickly, high-IQ genes (and nefariously trying to marry strong, healthy German in order to replenish their own defective stock.) It didn’t help that German Jews were both high-IQ and beset by a number of illnesses (probably related to high rates of consanguinity,) but then again, the Gypsies are beset by even more debilitating illnesses, but no one blames this on all of the fresh air and exercise afforded by their highly mobile lifestyles.

(Just to be thorough, though, the Nazis also exterminated the Gypsies and Hans Asperger’s subjects, despite Asperger’s insistence that they were very clever children who could probably be of great use to the German war effort via code breaking and the like.)

The results of Terman’s study are strongly in Nick’s favor. According to Psychology Today’s  account:

His final group of “Termites” averaged a whopping IQ of 151. Following-up his group 35-years later, his gifted group at mid-life definitely seemed to conform to his expectations. They were taller, healthier, physically better developed, and socially adept (dispelling the myth at the time of high-IQ awkward nerds).

According to Wikipedia:

…the first volume of the study reported data on the children’s family,[17] educational progress,[18] special abilities,[19] interests,[20] play,[21] and personality.[22] He also examined the children’s racial and ethnic heritage.[23] Terman was a proponent of eugenics, although not as radical as many of his contemporary social Darwinists, and believed that intelligence testing could be used as a positive tool to shape society.[3]

Based on data collected in 1921–22, Terman concluded that gifted children suffered no more health problems than normal for their age, save a little more myopia than average. He also found that the children were usually social, were well-adjusted, did better in school, and were even taller than average.[24] A follow-up performed in 1923–1924 found that the children had maintained their high IQs and were still above average overall as a group.

Of course, we can go back even further than Terman–in the early 1800s, allergies like hay fever were associated with the nobility, who of course did not do much vigorous work in the fields.

My impression, based on studies I’ve seen previously, is that athleticism and IQ are positively correlated. That is, smarter people tend to be more athletic, and more athletic people tend to be smarter. There’s a very obvious reason for this: our brains are part of our bodies, people with healthier bodies therefore also have healthier brains, and healthier brains tend to work better.

At the very bottom of the IQ distribution, mentally retarded people tend to also be clumsy, flacid, or lacking good muscle tone. The same genes (or environmental conditions) that make children have terrible health/developmental problems often also affect their brain growth, and conditions that affect their brains also affect their bodies. As we progress from low to average to above-average IQ, we encounter increasingly healthy people.

In most smart people, high-IQ doesn’t seem to be a random fluke, a genetic error, nor fitness reducing: in a genetic study of children with exceptionally high IQs, researchers failed to find many genes that specifically endowed the children with genius, but found instead a fortuitous absence of deleterious genes that knock a few points off the rest of us. The same genes that have a negative effect on the nerves and proteins in your brain probably also have a deleterious effect on the nerves and proteins throughout the rest of your body.

And indeed, there are many studies which show a correlation between intelligence and strength (eg, Longitudinal and Cross-Sectional Assessments of Age Changes in Physical Strength as Related to Sex, Social Class, and Mental Ability) or intelligence and overall health/not dying (eg, Intelligence in young adulthood and cause-specific mortality in the Danish Conscription Database (pdf) and The effects of occupation-based social position on mortality in a large American cohort.)

On the other hand, the evolutionary standard for “fitness” isn’t strength or longevity, but reproduction, and on this scale the high-IQ don’t seem to do as well:

Smart teens don’t have sex (or kiss much either): (h/t Gene Expresion)

Controlling for age, physical maturity, and mother’s education, a significant curvilinear relationship between intelligence and coital status was demonstrated; adolescents at the upper and lower ends of the intelligence distribution were less likely to have sex. Higher intelligence was also associated with postponement of the initiation of the full range of partnered sexual activities. … Higher intelligence operates as a protective factor against early sexual activity during adolescence, and lower intelligence, to a point, is a risk factor.

Source

Here we see the issue plainly: males at 120 and 130 IQ are less likely to get laid than clinically retarded men in 70s and 60s. The right side of the graph are “nerds”, the left side, “jocks.” Of course, the high-IQ females are even less likely to get laid than the high-IQ males, but males tend to judge themselves against other men, not women, when it comes to dating success. Since the low-IQ females are much less likely to get laid than the low-IQ males, this implies that most of these “popular” guys are dating girls who are smarter than themselves–a fact not lost on the nerds, who would also like to date those girls.

 In 2001, the MIT/Wellesley magazine Counterpart (Wellesley is MIT’s “sister school” and the two campuses allow cross-enrollment in each other’s courses) published a sex survey that provides a more detailed picture of nerd virginity:

I’m guessing that computer scientists invented polyamory, and neuroscientists are the chads of STEM. The results are otherwise pretty predictable.

Unfortunately, Counterpoint appears to be defunct due to lack of funding/interest and I can no longer find the original survey, but here is Jason Malloy’s summary from Gene Expression:

By the age of 19, 80% of US males and 75% of women have lost their virginity, and 87% of college students have had sex. But this number appears to be much lower at elite (i.e. more intelligent) colleges. According to the article, only 56% of Princeton undergraduates have had intercourse. At Harvard 59% of the undergraduates are non-virgins, and at MIT, only a slight majority, 51%, have had intercourse. Further, only 65% of MIT graduate students have had sex.

The student surveys at MIT and Wellesley also compared virginity by academic major. The chart for Wellesley displayed below shows that 0% of studio art majors were virgins, but 72% of biology majors were virgins, and 83% of biochem and math majors were virgins! Similarly, at MIT 20% of ‘humanities’ majors were virgins, but 73% of biology majors. (Apparently those most likely to read Darwin are also the least Darwinian!)

College Confidential has one paragraph from the study:

How Rolling Stone-ish are the few lucky souls who are doing the horizontal mambo? Well, not very. Considering all the non-virgins on campus, 41% of Wellesley and 32% of MIT students have only had one partner (figure 5). It seems that many Wellesley and MIT students are comfortingly monogamous. Only 9% of those who have gotten it on at MIT have been with more than 10 people and the number is 7% at Wellesley.

Someone needs to find the original study and PUT IT BACK ON THE INTERNET.

But this lack of early sexual success seems to translate into long-term marital happiness, once nerds find “the one.”Lex Fridman’s Divorce Rates by Profession offers a thorough list. The average divorce rate was 16.35%, with a high of 43% (Dancers) and a low of 0% (“Media and communication equipment workers.”)

I’m not sure exactly what all of these jobs are nor exactly which ones should count as STEM (veterinarian? anthropologists?) nor do I know how many people are employed in each field, but I count 49 STEM professions that have lower than average divorce rates (including computer scientists, economists, mathematical science, statisticians, engineers, biologists, chemists, aerospace engineers, astronomers and physicists, physicians, and nuclear engineers,) and only 23 with higher than average divorce rates (including electricians, water treatment plant operators, radio and telecommunication installers, broadcast engineers, and similar professions.) The purer sciences obviously had lower rates than the more practical applied tech fields.

The big outliers were mathematicians (19.15%), psychologists (19.26%), and sociologists (23.53%), though I’m not sure they count (if so, there were only 22 professions with higher than average divorce rates.)

I’m not sure which professions count as “jock” or “chad,” but athletes had lower than average rates of divorce (14.05%) as did firefighters, soldiers, and farmers. Financial examiners, hunters, and dancers, (presumably an athletic female occupation) however, had very high rates of divorce.

Medical Daily has an article on Who is Most Likely to Cheat? The Top 9 Jobs Unfaithful People Have (according to survey):

According to the survey recently taken by the “infidelity dating website,” Victoria Milan, individuals working in the finance field, such as brokers, bankers, and analysts, are more likely to cheat than those in any other profession. However, following those in finance comes those in the aviation field, healthcare, business, and sports.

With the exception of healthcare and maybe aviation, these are pretty typical Chad occupations, not STEM.

The Mirror has a similar list of jobs where people are most and least likely to be married. Most likely: Dentist, Chief Executive, Sales Engineer, Physician, Podiatrist, Optometrist, Farm product buyer, Precision grinder, Religious worker, Tool and die maker.

Least likely: Paper-hanger, Drilling machine operator, Knitter textile operator, Forge operator, Mail handler, Science technician, Practical nurse, Social welfare clerk, Winding machine operative, Postal clerk.

I struggled to find data on male fertility by profession/education/IQ, but there’s plenty on female fertility, eg the deceptively titled High-Fliers have more Babies:

…American women without any form of high-school diploma have a fertility rate of 2.24 children. Among women with a high-school diploma the fertility rate falls to 2.09 and for women with some form of college education it drops to 1.78.

However, among women with college degrees, the economists found the fertility rate rises to 1.88 and among women with advanced degrees to 1.96. In 1980 women who had studied for 16 years or more had a fertility rate of just 1.2.

As the economists prosaically explain: “The relationship between fertility and women’s education in the US has recently become U-shaped.”

Here is another article about the difference in fertility rates between high and low-IQ women.

But female fertility and male fertility may not be the same–I recall data elsewhere indicating that high-IQ men have more children than low IQ men, which implies those men are having their children with low-IQ women. (For example, while Bill and Hillary seem about matched on IQ, and have only one child, Melania Trump does not seem as intelligent as Trump, who has five children.)

Amusingly, I did find data on fertility rate by father’s profession for 1920, in the Birth Statistics for the Birth Registration Area of the US:

Of the 1,508,874 children born in 1920 in the birth registration area of the United states, occupations of fathers are stated for … 96.9%… The average number of children ever born to the present wives of these occupied fathers is 3.3 and the average number of children living 2.9.

The average number of children ever born ranges from 4.6 for foremen, overseers, and inspectors engaged in the extraction of minerals to 1.8 for soldiers, sailors, and marines. Both of these extreme averages are easily explained, for soldier, sailors and marines are usually young, while such foremen, overseers, and inspectors are usually in middle life. For many occupations, however, the ages of the fathers are presumably about the same and differences shown indicate real differences in the size of families. For example, the low figure for dentists, (2), architects, (2.1), and artists, sculptors, and teachers of art (2.2) are in striking contrast with the figure for mine operatives (4.3), quarry operatives (4.1) bootblacks, and brick and stone masons (each 3.9). …

As a rule the occupations credited with the highest number of children born are also credited with the highest number of children living, the highest number of children living appearing for foremen, overseers, and inspectors engaged in the extraction of minerals (3.9) and for steam and street railroad foremen and overseer (3.8), while if we exclude groups plainly affected by the age of fathers, the highest number of children living appear for mine and quarry operatives (each 3.6).

Obviously the job market was very different in 1920–no one was majoring in computer science. Perhaps some of those folks who became mine and quarry operatives back then would become engineers today–or perhaps not. Here are the average numbers of surviving children for the most obviously STEM professions (remember average for 1920 was 2.9):

Electricians 2.1, Electrotypers 2.2, telegraph operator 2.2, actors 1.9, chemists 1.8, Inventors 1.8, photographers and physicians 2.1, technical engineers 1.9, veterinarians 2.2.

I don’t know what paper hangers do, but the Mirror said they were among the least likely to be married, and in 1920, they had an average of 3.1 children–above average.

What about athletes? How smart are they?

Athletes Show Huge Gaps on SAT Scores” is not a promising title for the “nerds are athletic” crew.

The Journal-Constitution studied 54 public universities, “including the members of the six major Bowl Championship Series conferences and other schools whose teams finished the 2007-08 season ranked among the football or men’s basketball top 25.”…

  • Football players average 220 points lower on the SAT than their classmates. Men’s basketball was 227 points lower.
  • University of Florida won the prize for biggest gap between football players and the student body, with players scoring 346 points lower than their peers.
  • Georgia Tech had the nation’s best average SAT score for football players, 1028 of a possible 1600, and best average high school GPA, 3.39 of a possible 4.0. But because its student body is apparently very smart, Tech’s football players still scored 315 SAT points lower than their classmates.
  • UCLA, which has won more NCAA championships in all sports than any other school, had the biggest gap between the average SAT scores of athletes in all sports and its overall student body, at 247 points.

From the original article, which no longer seems to be up on the Journal-Constitution website:

All 53 schools for which football SAT scores were available had at least an 88-point gap between team members’ average score and the average for the student body. …

Football players performed 115 points worse on the SAT than male athletes in other sports.

The differences between athletes’ and non-athletes’ SAT scores were less than half as big for women (73 points) as for men (170).

Many schools routinely used a special admissions process to admit athletes who did not meet the normal entrance requirements. … At Georgia, for instance, 73.5 percent of athletes were special admits compared with 6.6 percent of the student body as a whole.

On the other hand, as Discover Magazine discusses in “The Brain: Why Athletes are Geniuses,” athletic tasks–like catching a fly ball or slapping a hockey puck–require exceptionally fast and accurate brain signals to trigger the correct muscle movements.

Ryan Stegal studied the GPAs of highschool student athletes vs. non-athletes and found that the athletes had higher average GPAs than the non-athletes, but he also notes that the athletes were required to meet certain minimum GPA requirements in order to play.

But within athletics, it looks like the smarter athletes perform better than dumber ones, which is why the NFL uses the Wonderlic Intelligence Test:

NFL draft picks have taken the Wonderlic test for years because team owners need to know if their million dollar player has the cognitive skills to be a star on the field.

What does the NFL know about hiring that most companies don’t? They know that regardless of the position, proof of intelligence plays a profound role in the success of every individual on the team. It’s not enough to have physical ability. The coaches understand that players have to be smart and think quickly to succeed on the field, and the closer they are to the ball the smarter they need to be. That’s why, every potential draft pick takes the Wonderlic Personnel Test at the combine to prove he does–or doesn’t—have the brains to win the game. …

The first use of the WPT in the NFL was by Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys in the early 70s, who took a scientific approach to finding players. He believed players who could use their minds where it counted had a strategic advantage over the other teams. He was right, and the test has been used at the combine ever since.

For the NFL, years of testing shows that the higher a player scores on the Wonderlic, the more likely he is to be in the starting lineup—for any position. “There is no other reasonable explanation for the difference in test scores between starting players and those that sit on the bench,” Callans says. “Intelligence plays a role in how well they play the game.”

Let’s look at Exercising Intelligence: How Research Shows a Link Between Physical Activity and Smarts:

A large study conducted at the Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden, reveals that young adults who regularly exercise have higher IQ scores and are more likely to go on to university.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and involved more than 1.2 million Swedish men. The men were performing military service and were born between the years 1950 and 1976. Both their physical and IQ test scores were reviewed by the research team. …

The researchers also looked at data for twins and determined that primarily environmental factors are responsible for the association between IQ and fitness, and not genetic makeup. “We have also shown that those youngsters who improve their physical fitness between the ages of 15 and 18 increase their cognitive performance.”…

I have seen similar studies before, some involving mice and some, IIRC, the elderly. It appears that exercise is probably good for you.

I have a few more studies I’d like to mention quickly before moving on to discussion.

Here’s Grip Strength and Physical Demand of Previous Occupation in a Well-Functioning Cohort of Chinese Older Adults (h/t prius_1995) found that participants who had previously worked in construction had greater grip strength than former office workers.

Age and Gender-Specific Normative Data of Grip and Pinch Strength in a Healthy Adult Swiss Population (h/t prius_1995).

 

If the nerds are in the sedentary cohort, then they be just as athletic if not more athletic than all of the other cohorts except the heavy work.

However, in Revised normative values for grip strength with the Jamar dynamometer, the authors found no effect of profession on grip strength.

And Isometric muscle strength and anthropometric characteristics of a Chinese sample (h/t prius_1995).

And Pumpkin Person has an interesting post about brain size vs. body size.

 

Discussion: Are nerds real?

Overall, it looks like smarter people are more athletic, more athletic people are smarter, smarter athletes are better athletes, and exercise may make you smarter. For most people, the nerd/jock dichotomy is wrong.

However, there is very little overlap at the very highest end of the athletic and intelligence curves–most college (and thus professional) athletes are less intelligent than the average college student, and most college students are less athletic than the average college (and professional) athlete.

Additionally, while people with STEM degrees make excellent spouses (except for mathematicians, apparently,) their reproductive success is below average: they have sex later than their peers and, as far as the data I’ve been able to find shows, have fewer children.

Stephen Hawking

Even if there is a large overlap between smart people and athletes, they are still separate categories selecting for different things: a cripple can still be a genius, but can’t play football; a dumb person can play sports, but not do well at math. Stephen Hawking can barely move, but he’s still one of the smartest people in the world. So the set of all smart people will always include more “stereotypical nerds” than the set of all athletes, and the set of all athletes will always include more “stereotypical jocks” than the set of all smart people.

In my experience, nerds aren’t socially awkward (aside from their shyness around women.) The myth that they are stems from the fact that they have different interests and communicate in a different way than non-nerds. Let nerds talk to other nerds, and they are perfectly normal, communicative, socially functional people. Put them in a room full of non-nerds, and suddenly the nerds are “awkward.”

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people are not nerds, so many nerds have to spend the majority of their time in the company of lots of people who are very different than themselves. By contrast, very few people of normal IQ and interests ever have to spend time surrounded by the very small population of nerds. If you did put them in a room full of nerds, however, you’d find that suddenly they don’t fit in. The perception that nerds are socially awkward is therefore just normie bias.

Why did the nerd/jock dichotomy become so popular in the 70s? Probably in part because science and technology were really taking off as fields normal people could aspire to major in, man had just landed on the moon and the Intel 4004 was released in 1971.  Very few people went to college or were employed in sciences back in 1920; by 1970, colleges were everywhere and science was booming.

And at the same time, colleges and highschools were ramping up their athletics programs. I’d wager that the average school in the 1800s had neither PE nor athletics of any sort. To find those, you’d probably have to attend private academies like Andover or Exeter. By the 70s, though, schools were taking their athletics programs–even athletic recruitment–seriously.

How strong you felt the dichotomy probably depends on the nature of your school. I have attended schools where all of the students were fairly smart and there was no anti-nerd sentiment, and I have attended schools where my classmates were fiercely anti-nerd and made sure I knew it.

But the dichotomy predates the terminology. Take Superman, first 1938. His disguise is a pair of glasses, because no one can believe that the bookish, mild-mannered, Clark Kent is actually the super-strong Superman. Batman is based on the character of El Zorro, created in 1919. Zorro is an effete, weak, foppish nobleman by day and a dashing, sword-fighting hero of the poor by night. Of course these characters are both smart and athletic, but their disguises only work because others do not expect them to be. As fantasies, the characters are powerful because they provide a vehicle for our own desires: for our everyday normal failings to be just a cover for how secretly amazing we are.

But for the most part, most smart people are perfectly fit, healthy, and coordinated–even the ones who like math.

 

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Navigation and the Wealth of Nations

Global Determinants of Navigational Ability, by Coutrot et al:

Using a mobile-based virtual reality navigation task, we measured spatial navigation ability in more than 2.5 million people globally. Using a clustering approach, we find that navigation ability is not smoothly distributed globally but clustered into five distinct yet geographically related groups of countries. Furthermore, the economic wealth of a nation (Gross Domestic Product per capita) was predictive of the average navigation ability of its inhabitants and gender inequality (Gender Gap Index) was predictive of the size of performance difference between males and females. Thus, cognitive abilities, at least for spatial navigation, are clustered according to economic wealth and gender inequalities globally.

This is an incredible study. They got 2.5 million people from all over the world to participate.

If you’ve been following any of the myriad debates about intelligence, IQ, and education, you’re probably familiar with the concept of “multiple intelligences” and the fact that there’s rather little evidence that people actually have “different intelligences” that operate separately from each other. In general, it looks like people who have brains that are good at working out how to do one kind of task tend to be good at working out other sorts of tasks.

I’ve long held navigational ability as a possible exception to this: perhaps people in, say, Polynesian societies depended historically far more on navigational abilities than the rest of us, even though math and literacy were nearly absent.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the authors got enough samples from Polynesia to include it in the study, but they did get data from Indonesia and the Philippines, which I’ll return to in a moment.

Frankly, I don’t see what the authors mean by “five distinct yet geographically related groups of countries.” South Korea is ranked between the UK and Belgium; Russia is next to Malaysia; Indonesia is next to Portugal and Hungary.

GDP per capita appears to be a stronger predictor than geography:

Some people will say these results merely reflect experience playing video games–people in wealthier countries have probably spent more time and money on computers and games. But assuming that the people who are participating in the study in the first place are people who have access to smartphones, computers, video games, etc., the results are not good for the multiple-intelligences hypothesis.

In the GDP per Capita vs. Conditional Modes (ie how well a nation scored overall, with low scores better than high scores) graph, countries above the trend line are under-performing relative to their GDPs, and countries below the line are over-performing relative to their GDPs.

South Africa, for example, significantly over-performs relative to its GDP, probably due to sampling bias: white South Africans with smartphones and computers were probably more likely to participate in the study than the nation’s 90% black population, but the GDP reflects the entire population. Finland and New Zealand are also under-performing economically, perhaps because Finland is really cold and NZ is isolated.

On the other side of the line, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Greece over-perform relative to GDP. Two of these are oil states that would be much poorer if not for geographic chance, and as far as I can tell, the whole Greek economy is being propped up by German loans. (There is also evidence that Greek IQ is falling, though this may be a near universal problem in developed nations.)

Three other nations stand out in the “scoring better than GDP predicts” category: Ukraine, (which suffered under Communism–Communism seems to do bad things to countries,) Indonesia and the Philippines. While we could be looking at selection bias similar to South Africa, these are island nations in which navigational ability surely had some historical effect on people’s ability to survive.

Indonesia and the Philippines still didn’t do as well as first-world nations like Norway and Canada, but they outperformed other nations with similar GDPs like Egypt, India, and Macedonia. This is the best evidence I know of for independent selection for navigational ability in some populations.

The study’s other interesting findings were that women performed consistently worse than men, both across countries and age groups (except for the post-90 cohort, but that might just be an error in the data.) Navigational ability declines steeply for everyone post-23 years old until about 75 years; the authors suggest the subsequent increase in abilities post-70s might be sampling error due to old people who are good at video games being disproportionately likely to seek out video game related challenges.

The authors note that people who drive more (eg, the US and Canada) might do better on navigational tasks than people who use public transportation more (eg, Europeans) but also that Finno-Scandians are among the world’s best navigators despite heavy use of public transport in those countries. The authors write:

We speculate that this specificity may be linked to Nordic countries sharing a culture of participating in a sport related to navigation: orienteering. Invented as an official sport in the late 19th century in Sweden, the first orienteering competition open to the public was held in Norway in 1897. Since then, it has been more popular in Nordic countries than anywhere else in the world, and is taught in many schools [26]. We found that ‘orienteering world championship’ country results significantly correlated with countries’ CM (Pearson’s correlation ρ = .55, p = .01), even after correcting for GDP per capita (see Extended Data Fig. 15). Future targeted research will be required to evaluate the impact of cultural activities on navigation skill.

I suggest a different causal relationship: people make hobbies out of things they’re already good at and enjoy doing, rather than things they’re bad at.

 

 

Please note that the study doesn’t look at a big chunk of countries, like most of Africa. Being at the bottom in navigational abilities in this study by no means indicates that a country is at the bottom globally–given the trends already present in the data, it is likely that the poorer countries that weren’t included in the study would do even worse.

Politics are Getting Dumber

You don’t need to watch the video. I haven’t watched the video. I’m only highlighting it because it starts with a moronic question.

Meanwhile, in the social justice warriors vs inanimate objects department:

Kick that statue! Yeah! You show that big chunk of metal who’s boss!

And in inanimate objects vs. inanimate objects:

CNN is impressed by the fact that statues (normally) don’t move.

This one is stupid on several levels–the statue itself, erected by a male-dominated industry to celebrate “female empowerment,” infantilizes women by symbolically depicting them as a small, stupid child who doesn’t know enough to get out of the way of a charging bull.

You know, I could keep posting examples of stupidity all day.

Mob mentality is never good, but it seems like political discourse is getting progressively stupider.

It takes a certain level of intelligence to do two critical things:

  1. Understand and calmly discuss other people’s opinions even when you disagree with them
  2. Realize that cooperating in the prisoner’s dilemma is long-term better than defecting, even if you don’t like the people you’re cooperating with

Traditional “liberalism”* was a kind of meta-political technology for allowing different groups of people to live in one country without killing each other. Freedom of Religion, for example, became an agreed-upon principle after centuries of religious violence in Europe. If the state is going to promote a particular religion and outlaw others, then it’s in every religious person’s interest to try to take over the state and make sure it enforces their religion. If the state stays (ostensibly) neutral, then no one can commandeer it to murder their religious enemies.

*”Liberal” has in recent years become an almost empty anachronism, but I hope its meaning is clear in the historical context of 1787.

Freedom of Speech, necessary for people to make informed decisions, has recently come under attack for political reasons. Take the thousands of protestors who showed up to an anti-Free Speech rally in Boston on Sat, August 19th.

The Doublespeak is Strong with this One

Of course no one likes letting their enemies speak, but everyone is someone else’s enemy. Virtually every historical atrocity was committed by people convinced that they were right and merely opposing evil, despicable people. Respecting free speech does not require liking other people’s arguments. It requires understanding that if you start punching Nazis, Nazis will punch you back, and soon everyone will be screaming “Nazi!” while punching random people.

Edit: apparently one article I linked to was a hoax. Hard to tell sometimes.

Now, Free Speech has often been honored more as an ideal than a reality. When people are out of power, they tend to defend the ideal rather strongly; when in power, they suddenly seem to lose interest in it. But most people interested in politics still seemed to have some general sense that even if they hated that other guy’s guts, it might be a bad idea to unleash mob violence on him.

In general, principles like free speech and freedom of religion let different people–and different communities of people–run their own lives and communities as they see fit, without coming into direct conflict with each other, while still getting to enjoy the national security and trade benefits of living in a large country. The Amish get to be Amish, Vermonters get to live free or die, and Coloradans get to eat pot brownies.

But that requires being smart enough to understand that to keep a nation of over 300 million people together, you have to live and let live–and occasionally hold your nose and put up with people you hate.

These days, politics just seems like it’s getting a lot dumber:

Cat that nearly died after being attacked by a thug “because he looks like Hitler” has now recovered despite losing an eye.

An attempt to answer some questions on IQ

I recently received a few IQ-related questions. Now, IQ is not my specialty, so I do not feel particularly adequate for the task, but I’ll do my best. I recommend anyone really interested in the subject read Pumpkin Person’s blog, as he really enjoys talking about IQ all the time.

  1. I wanted to ask if you know any IQ test on the internet that is an equivalent to the reliable tests given by psychologists?

I suppose it depends on what you want the test for. Curiosity? Diagnosis? Personally, I suspect that the average person isn’t going to learn very much from an IQ test that they didn’t already know just from living (similarly, I don’t think you’re going to discover that you’re an introvert or extrovert by taking an online quiz if you didn’t know it already from interacting with people,) but there are cases where people might want to take an IQ test, so let’s get searching.

Pumpkin Person speaks highly of the Wechsler Intelligence Scales (it comes in adult and child versions.) According to Wikipedia:

The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) is an IQ test designed to measure intelligence and cognitive ability in adults and older adolescents.[1] The original WAIS (Form I) was published in February 1955 by David Wechsler, as a revision of the Wechsler–Bellevue Intelligence Scale, released in 1939.[2] It is currently in its fourth edition (WAIS-IV) released in 2008 by Pearson, and is the most widely used IQ test, for both adults and older adolescents, in the world.

Since IQ tests excite popular interest but no one really wants to pay $1,000 just to take a test, the internet is littered with “free” tests of questionable quality. For example, WeschlerTest.com offers “free sample tests,” but the bottom of the website notes that, “Disclaimer: This is not an official Wechsler test and is only for entertainment purposes. Any scores derived from it may not accurately reflect the score you would attain on an official Wechsler test.” Here is a similar wesbsite that offers free Stanford-Binet Tests.

I am not personally in a position to judge if these are any good.

It looks like the US military has put its Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery online, or at least a practice version. This seems like one of the best free options, because the army is a real organization that’s deeply interested in getting accurate results and the relationship between the ASVAB and other IQ tests is probably well documented. From the website:

The ASVAB is a timed test that measures your skills in a number of different areas. You complete questions that reveal your skills in paragraph comprehension, word knowledge, arithmetic reasoning and mathematics knowledge. These are basic skills that you will need as a member of the U.S. military. The score you receive on the ASVAB is factored into your Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) score. This score is used to figure out whether you qualify to enlist in the armed services. …

The ASVAB was created in 1968. By 1976, all branches of the military began using this test. In 2002, the test underwent many revisions, but its main goal of gauging a person’s basic skills remained the same. Today, there is a computerized version of the test as well as a written version. The Department of Defense developed this test and it’s taken by students in thousands of schools across the country. It is also given at Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS).

Naturally, each branch of the United States armed services wants to enlist the best, most qualified candidates each year. The ASVAB is a tool that helps in the achievement of that purpose. Preparing to take the ASVAB is just one more step in the journey toward your goal of joining the U.S. armed services. …

Disclaimer: The tests on this website are for entertainment purposes only, and may not accurately reflect the scores you would attain on a professionally administered ASVAB test.

The blog Random Critical Analysis gives a thorough rundown of the correlation between ASVAB and IQ scores (they are highly correlated) along with the SAT and ACT.

Additionally, there are a couple of tests linked here in Lipscomb’s Intelligence Course Lab : Classical IQ Test from Psychology Today and IQTest.com.

Drawing a page from Pumpkin Person’s book, I recommend taking several different tests and then comparing results. Use your good judgment about whether a particular test seems reliable–is it covered in ads? Does random guessing get you a score of 148? Did you get a result similar to what you’d expect based on real life experiences?

2. Besides that I wanted to ask you how much social class and IQ are correlated?

A fair amount.

Thanks to Tino Sanandaji

With thanks to Pumpkin Person

Really dumb people are too dumb to commit as much crime as mildly dumb people

IQ by country–red = low; purple – high. Source Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I do wonder why he made the graph so much bigger than the relevant part
Lifted gratefully from La Griffe Du Lion’s Smart Fraction II article
Oh, there you are, correlation
Lifted gratefully from La Griffe Du Lion’s Smart Fraction II article

When dumb children are born to rich people, they tend to do badly in life and don’t make much money; they subsequently sink in social status. When smart children are born to poor people, they tend to do well in life and rise in social status. Even in societies with strict social classes where moving from class to class is effectively impossible, we should still expect that really dumb people born into wealth will squander it, leading to their impoverishment. Likewise, among the lower classes, we would still expect that smarter low-class people would do better in life than dumber ones.

This is all somewhat built into the entire definition of “IQ” and what people were trying to measure when they created the tests.

3. Basically do traditional upper classes form separate genetic clusters like Gregory Clark claims?

I haven’t read Clark’s book, but I’m sure the pathetic amount of research I can do here would be nothing compared to what he’s amassed.

There are a number of studies on assortative mating and IQ, eg: Spouse similarity for IQ and personality and convergence:

A similar pattern of spousal association for IQ scores and personality traits was found in two British samples from Oxford and Cambridge. There was no indirect evidence from either sample to suggest that convergence occurred during marriage. All observed assortative mating might well be due to initial assortment.

Assortative mating for psychiatric disorders and psychological traits:

This article reviews the literature on assortative mating for psychological traits and psychiatric illness. Assortative mating appears to exist for personality traits, but to a lesser degree than that observed for physical traits, sociodemographic traits, intelligence, and attitudes and values. Concordance between spouses for psychiatric illness has also been consistently reported in numerous studies. This article examines alternative explanations for such observed concordance and discusses the effects of assortative mating on population genetics and the social environment.

Do assortative mating patterns for IQ block upward social mobility?

In the Minnesota Twin Family Study, assortative mating for IQ was greater than .3 in both the 11- and 17-year-old cohorts. Recognizing this, genetic variance in IQ independent of SES was greater with higher parental SES in the 11-year-old cohort. This was not true, however, in the 17-year-old cohort. In both cohorts, people of higher IQ were more likely to have ‘married down’ for IQ than people of lower IQ were to have ‘married up’. This assortative mating pattern would create greater genetic diversity for IQ in people of higher IQ than in people of lower IQ. As IQ is associated with SES, the pattern could be one reason for the observation of greater genetic variance in IQ independent of SES with greater parental SES in several samples. If so, it could block upward social mobility among those already in lower-SES groups. I discuss possible involved mechanisms and social implications.

The role of personality and intelligence in assortative mating:

Assortative mating is the individuals’ tendency to mate with those who are similar to them in some variables, at a higher rate than would be expected from random. This study aims to provide empirical evidence of assortative mating through the Big Five model of personality and two measures of intelligence using Spanish samples. The sample consisted of 244 Spanish couples. It was divided into two groups according to relationship time. The effect of age, educational level and socioeconomic status was controlled. The results showed strong assortative mating for intelligence and moderate for personality. The strongest correlations for Personality were found in Openness, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness.

Assortative mating for IQ and personality due to propinquity and personal preference:

The role of personal preference as an active process in mate selection is contrasted with the more passive results of limitations of available mates due to social, educational, and geographical propinquity. The role of personal preference estimated after removing the effects of variables representing propinquity was still significant for IQ and Eysenck’s extraversion-introversion and inconsistency (lie) scales, even though small.

Related: Heritability estimates versus large environmental effects: the IQ paradox resolved:

Some argue that the high heritability of IQ renders purely environmental explanations for large IQ differences between groups implausible. Yet, large environmentally induced IQ gains between generations suggest an important role for environment in shaping IQ. The authors present a formal model of the process determining IQ in which people’s IQs are affected by both environment and genes, but in which their environments are matched to their IQs. The authors show how such a model allows very large effects for environment, even incorporating the highest estimates of heritability. Besides resolving the paradox, the authors show that the model can account for a number of other phenomena, some of which are anomalous when viewed from the standard perspective.

 

4. Are upper class people genetically more intelligent? Or is there an effect of regression to the mean and all classes have about equal chances to spawn high IQ people?”

Stephen Hsu has a relevant post on the subject: Assortative mating, regression and all that: offspring IQ vs parental midpoint:

…James Lee, a real expert in the field, sent me a current best estimate for the probability distribution of offspring IQ as a function of parental midpoint (average between the parents’ IQs). James is finishing his Ph.D. at Harvard under Steve Pinker — you might have seen his review of R. Nesbitt’s book Intelligence and how to get it: Why schools and cultures count.

The results are stated further below. Once you plug in the numbers, you get (roughly) the following:

Assuming parental midpoint of n SD above the population average, the kids’ IQ will be normally distributed about a mean which is around +.6n with residual SD of about 12 points. (The .6 could actually be anywhere in the range (.5, .7), but the SD doesn’t vary much from choice of empirical inputs.)…

Read Hsu’s post for the rest of the details.

In short, while regression to the mean works for everyone, different people regress to different means depending on how smart their particular ancestors were. For example, if two people of IQ 100 have a kid with an IQ of 140, (Kid A) and two people of IQ 120 have a kid of IQ 140, (Kid B), Kid A’s own kids are likely to regress toward 100, while Kid B’s kids are likely to regress toward 120.

We can look at the effects of parental SES on SAT Scores and the like:

SAT scores by race and parental income

Personally, I know plenty of extremely intelligent people who come from low-SES backgrounds, but few of them ended up low-SES. Overall, I’d expect highly intelligent people to move up in status and less intelligent people to move down over time, with the upper class thus sort of “collecting” high-IQ people, but there are obviously regional and cultural effects that may make it inappropriate to compare across groups.

Hope that has been useful.

What Mental Traits does the Arctic Select for?

Apropos Friday’s conversation about the transition from hunting to pastoralism and the different strategies hunters employ in different environments, I got to thinking about how these different food-production systems could influence the development of different “intelligences,” or at least mental processes that underlie intelligence.

Ingold explains that in warm climes, hunter-gatherers have many food resources they can exploit, and if one resource starts running low, they can fairly easily switch to another. If there aren’t enough yams around, you can eat melons; if not enough melons, squirrels; if no squirrels, eggs. I recall a study of Australian Aborigines who agreed to go back to hunter-gatherering for a while after living in town for several decades. Among other things (like increased health,) scientists noted that the Aborigines increased the number of different kinds of foods they consumed from, IIRC, about 40 per week to 100.

By contrast, hunters in the arctic are highly dependent on exploiting only a few resources–fish, seals, reindeer, and perhaps a few polar bears and foxes. Ingold claims that there are (were) tribes that depended largely on only a few major hunts of migrating animals (netting hundreds of kills) to supply themselves for the whole year.

If those migrating change their course by even a few miles, it’s easy to see how the hunters could miss the herds entirely and, with no other major species around to exploit, starve over the winter.

Let’s consider temperate agriculture as well: the agriculturalist can store food better than the arctic hunter (seal meat does not do good things in the summer,) but lacks the tropical hunter-gatherer’s flexibility; he must stick to his fields and keep working, day in and day out, for a good nine months in a row. Agricultural work is more flexible than assembly line work, where your every minute is dictated by the needs of the factory, but a farmer can’t just wander away from his crops to go hunt for a months just because he feels like it, nor can he hope to make up for a bad wheat harvest by wandering into his neighbor’s fields and picking their potatoes.

Which got me thinking: clearly different people are going to do better at different systems.

But first, what is intelligence? Obviously we could define it in a variety of ways, but let’s stick to reasonable definitions, eg, the ability to use your brain to achieve success, or the ability to get good grades on your report card.

A variety of mental traits contribute to “intelligence,” such as:

  1. The ability to learn lots of information. Information is really useful, both in life and on tests, and smarter brains tend to be better at storing lots and lots of data.
  2. Flexible thinking. This is the ability to draw connections between different things you’ve learned, to be creative, to think up new ideas, etc.
  3. Some form of Drive, Self Will, or long-term planning–that is, the ability to plan for your future and then push yourself to accomplish your goals. (These might more properly be two different traits, but we’ll keep them together for now.)

Your stereotypical autistic, capable of memorizing large quantities of data but not doing much with them, has trait #1 but not 2 or 3.

Artists and musicians tend to have a lot of trait #2, but not necessarily 1 or 3 (though successful artists obviously have a ton of #3)

And an average kid who’s not that bright but works really hard, puts in extra hours of effort on their homework, does extra credit assignments, etc., has a surfeit of #3 but not much 2 or 1.

Anyway, it seems to me like the tropical hunting/gathering environment, with many different species to exploit, would select for flexible thinking–if one food isn’t working out, look for a different one. This may also apply to people from tropical farming/horticulturalist societies.

By contrast, temperate farming seems more likely to select for planning–you can’t just wander off or try to grow something new in time for winter if your first crop doesn’t work out.

Many people have noted that America’s traditionally tropical population (African Americans) seems to be particularly good at flexible thinking, leading to much innovation in arts and music. They are not as talented, though, at Drive, leading to particularly high highschool dropout rates.

America’s traditionally rice-farming population (Asians,) by contrast, has been noted for over a century for its particularly high drive and ability to plan for the future, but not so much for contributions to the arts. East Asian people are noted for their particularly high IQ/SAT/PISA scores, despite the fact that China lags behind the West in GDP and quality of life terms. (Japan, of course, is a fully developed country.) One potential explanation for this is that the Chinese, while very good at working extremely hard, aren’t as good at flexible thinking that would help spur innovation. (I note that the Japanese seem to do just fine at flexible thinking, but you know, the Japanese aren’t Chinese and Japan isn’t China.)

(I know I’m not really stating anything novel.) But the real question is:

What kind of mental traits might pastoralism, arctic pastoralism, or arctic hunting select for?

Comments on Chauncey Tinker’s Intelligence, Concentration, and IQ Tests

A while back, Chauncey Tinker wrote a post on Intelligence, Concentration, and IQ Tests:

I do not believe that IQ tests measure intelligence. Rather I believe that they measure a combination of intelligence, learning and concentration at a particular point in time. …

You may wish to read the whole thing there.

The short response is that I basically agree with the bit quoted, and I suspect that virtually everyone who takes IQ tests seriously does as well. We all know that if you come into an IQ test hungover, sick, and desperately needing to pee, you’ll do worse than if you’re well-rested, well-fed, and feeling fine.

That time I fell asleep during finals?

Not so good.

Folks who study IQ for a living, like the famous Flynn, believe that environmental effects like the elimination of leaded gasoline and general improvements in nutrition have raised average IQ scores over the past century or two. (Which I agree seems pretty likely.)

The ability to sit still and concentrate is especially variable in small children–little boys are especially notorious for preferring to run and play instead of sit at a desk and solve problems. And while real IQ tests (as opposed to the SAT) have been designed not to hinge on whether or not a student has learned a particular word or fact, the effects of environmental “enrichment” such as better schools or high-IQ adoptive parents do show up in children’s test scores–but fade away as children grow up.

There’s a very sensible reason for this. I am reminded here of an experiment I read about some years ago: infants (probably about one year old) were divided into two groups, and one group was taught how to climb the stairs. Six months later, the special-instruction group was still better at stair-climbing than the no-instruction group. But two years later, both groups of children were equally skilled at stair-climbing.

There is only so good anyone will ever get at stair-climbing, after all, and after two years of practice, everyone is about equally talented.

The sensible conclusion is that we should never evaluate an entire person based on just one IQ test result (especially in childhood.)

The mistake some people (not Chuancey Tinker) make is to jump from “IQ tests are not 100% reliable” to “IQ tests are meaningless.” Life is complicated, and people like to sort it into neat little packages. Friend or foe, right or wrong. And while single IQ test is insufficient to judge an entire person, the results of multiple IQ tests are fairly reliable–and if we aggregate our results over multiple people, we get even better results.

As with all data, more tests + more people => random incorrect data matters less.

I think the “IQ tests are meaningless” crowd is operating under the assumption that IQ scholars are actually dumb enough to blindly judge an entire person based on a single childhood test. (Dealing with this strawman becomes endlessly annoying.)

Like all data, the more the merrier:

Thanks to Jayman
Thanks to Jayman

So this complicated looking graph shows us the effects of different factors on IQ scores over time, using several different data sets (mostly twins studies.)

At 5 years old, “genetic” factors, (the diamond and thick lines) are less important than “shared environment.” Shared environment=parenting and teachers.

That is, at the age of 5, a pair of identical twins who were adopted by two different families will have IQ scores that look more like their adoptive parents’ IQ scores than their genetic relatives’ IQ scores. Like the babies taught to climb stairs before their peers, the kids whose parents have been working hard to teach them their ABCs score better than kids whose parents haven’t.

By the age of 7, however, this parenting effect has become less important than genetics. This means that those adopted kids are now starting to have IQ scores more similar to their biological relatives than to their adoptive relatives. Like the kids from the stair-climbing experiment, their scores are now more based on their genetic abilities (some kids have better balance and coordination, resulting in better stair-climbing) than on whatever their parents are doing with them.

By the age of 12, the effects of parenting drop to around 0. At this point, it’s all up to the kid.

Of course, adoption studies are not perfect–adoptive parents are not randomly selected and have to go through various hoops to prove that they will be decent parents, and so tend not to be the kinds of people who lock their children in closets or refuse to feed them. I am sure this kind of parenting does terrible things to IQ, but there is no ethical way to design a randomized study to test them. Thankfully, the % of children subject to such abysmal parenting is very low. Within the normal range of parenting practices, parenting doesn’t appear to have much (if any) effect on adult IQ.

The point of all this is that what I think Chauncey means by “learning,” that is, advantages some students have over others because they’ve learned a particular fact or method before the others do, does appear to have an effect on childhood IQ scores, but this effect fades with age.

I think Pumpkin Person is fond of saying that life is the ultimate IQ test.

While we can probably all attest to a friend who is “smart but lazy,” or smart but interested in a field that doesn’t pay very well, like art or parenting, the correlation between IQ and life outcomes (eg, money) are amazingly solid:

Thanks to

Thanks to Pumpkin Person

Thanks to
And if this makes us feel mercenary, well, other traits also correlate:
Shamelessly stolen from Jayman's post.
Shamelessly stolen from Jayman.

The correlation even holds internationally:

Source Wikipedia
Map of IQ by country. Source: Wikipedia.

I do wonder why he made the graph so much bigger than the relevant part
Lifted gratefully from La Griffe Du Lion’s Smart Fraction II article

There’s a simple reason why this correlation holds despite lazy and non-money-oriented smart people: there are also lazy and non-money-oriented dumb people, and lazy smart people tend to make more money and make better long-term financial decisions than lazy dumb people.

Note that none of these graphs are the result of a single test. A single test would, indeed, be useless.

To be continued…

Cathedral Round-Up #13: Do Universities do Anything Good?

A commentator last month asked if universities do anything good, so I though I would begin this month’s Cathedral Round-Up by searching for some good news.

Caltech seems to be still doing real research:

click to enlarge

And some researchers at MIT are collaborating with folks at Mass General Hospital to improve methods for placing epidurals:

More than 13 million pain-blocking epidural procedures are performed every year in the United States. Although epidurals are generally regarded as safe, there are complications in up to 10 percent of cases, in which the needles are inserted too far or placed in the wrong tissue.

A team of researchers from MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital hopes to improve those numbers with a new sensor that can be embedded into an epidural needle, helping anesthesia doctors guide the needle to the correct location.

Since inserting a giant needle into your spine is really freaky, but going through natural childbirth is hideously painful, I strongly support this kind of research.

Meanwhile, of course:

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(note: I don’t have the link to the PDF.)

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LSAT results by ethnicity

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Picture 12

 

Picture 13

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Forbes notes:

More than half of Americans under the age of 25 who have a bachelor’s degree are either unemployed or underemployed. According to The Christian Science Monitor, nearly 1 percent of bartenders and 14 percent of parking lot attendants have a bachelor’s degree.

Adding additional degrees is no guarantee of employment either. According to a recent Urban Institute report, nearly 300,000 Americans with master’s degrees and over 30,000 with doctorates are on public relief. …

Unless you have a “hard” skill, such as a mastery of accounting, or a vocational certificates (e.g., in teaching) your liberal arts education generally will not equip you with the skill set that an employer will need.

Obviously colleges still do some good things. Much of the research I cite here in this blog originated at a college of some sort. And of course, if you are careful and forward thinking, you can use college to obtain useful skills/information.

But between the years, money, and effort students spend, not to mention the absurd political indoctrination, college is probably a net negative for most students.

A few doctors in the 1400s probably saved the lives of their patients, but far more killed them.

Caveat emptor.

Do small families lead to higher IQ?

Okay, so this is just me thinking (and mathing) out loud. Suppose we have two different groups (A and B) of 100 people each (arbitrary number chosen for ease of dividing.) In Group A, people are lumped into 5 large “clans” of 20 people each. In Group B, people are lumped in 20 small clans of 5 people each.

Each society has an average IQ of 100–ten people with 80IQs, ten people with 120IQs, and eighty people with 100IQs. I assume that there is slight but not absolute assortative mating, so that most high-IQ and low-IQ people end up marrying someone average.

IQ pairings:

100/100    100/80    100/120    80/80    120/120 (IQ)

30                 9                9                 1               1            (couples)

Okay, so there should be thirty couples where both partners have 100IQs, nine 100/80IQ couples, nine 100/120IQ couples, one 80/80IQ couple, and one 120/120IQ couple.

If each couple has 2 kids, distributed thusly:

100/100=> 10% 80, 10% 120, and 80% 100

120/120=> 100% 120

80/80 => 100% 80

120/100=> 100% 110

80/100 => 100% 90

Then we’ll end up with eight 80IQ kids, eighteen 90IQ, forty-eight 100IQ, eighteen 110 IQ, and 8 120IQ.

So, under pretty much perfect and totally arbitrary conditions that probably only vaguely approximate how genetics actually works (also, we are ignoring the influence of random chance on the grounds that it is random and therefore evens out over the long-term,) our population approaches a normal bell-curved IQ distribution.

Third gen:

80/80  80/90  80/100  90/90  90/100  90/110  100/100  100/110  100/120  110/110  110/120  120/120

1             2            5             4            9             2              6                9               5              4             2             1

2 80         4 85      10 90      8 90     18 95      4 100       1,4,1       18 105     10 110        8 110       4 115        2 120

3 80, 4 85, 18 90, 18 95, 8 100, 18 105, 18 110, 4 115, and 3 120. For simplicity’s sake:

7 80IQ, 18 90IQ, 44 100IQ, 18 110IQ, and 7 120IQ.

Not bad for a very, very rough model that is trying to keep the math very simple so I can write it blog post window instead of paper, though clearly 6 children have gotten lost somewhere. (rounding error???)

Anyway, now let’s assume that we don’t have a 2-child policy in place, but that being smart (or dumb) does something to your reproductive chances.

In the simplest model, people with 80IQs have zero children, 90s have one child, 100s have 2 children, 110s have 3 children, and 120s have 4 children.

oh god but the couples are crossed so do I take the average or the top IQ? I guess I’ll take average.

Gen 2:

100/100    100/80    100/120    80/80    120/120 (IQ)

30                 9                9                 1               1            (couples)

60 kids        9 kids       27 kids       0              4 kids

6, 48, 6

So our new distribution is six 80IQ, nine 90IQ, forty-eight 100IQ, twenty-seven 110IQ, and ten 120IQ.

(checks math oh good it adds up to 100.)

We’re not going to run gen three, as obviously the trend will continue.

Let’s go back to our original clans. Society A has 5 clans of 20 people each; Society B has 20 clans of 5 people each.

With 10 high-IQ and 10 low-IQ people per society, each clan in A is likely to have 2 smart and 2 dumb people. Each clan in B, by contrast, is likely to have only 1 smart or 1 dumb person. For our model, each clan will be the reproductive unit rather than each couple, and we’ll take the average IQ of each clan.

Society A: 5 clans with average of 100 IQ => social stasis.

Society B: 20 clans, 10 with average of 96, 10 with average of 106. Not a big difference, but if the 106s have even just a few more children over the generations than the 96s, they will gradually increase as a % of the population.

Of course, over the generations, a few of our 5-person clans will get two smart people (average IQ 108), a dumb and a smart (average 100), and two dumb (92.) The 108 clans will do very well for themselves, and the 92 clans will do very badly.

Speculative conclusions:

If society functions so that smart people have more offspring than dumb people (definitely not a given in the real world,) then: In society A, everyone benefits from the smart people, whose brains uplift their entire extended families (large clans.) This helps everyone, especially the least capable, who otherwise could not have provided for themselves. However, the average IQ in society A doesn’t move much, because you are likely to have equal numbers of dumb and smart people in each family, balancing each other out. In Society B, the smart people are still helping their families, but since their families are smaller, random chance dictates that they are less likely to have a dumb person in their families. The families with the misfortune to have a dumb member suffer and have fewer children as a result; the families with the good fortune to have a smart member benefit and have more children as a result. Society B has more suffering, but also evolves to have a higher average IQ. Society A has less suffering, but its IQ does not change. Obviously this a thought experiment and should not be taken as proof of anything about real world genetics. But my suspicion is that this is basically the mechanism behind the evolution of high-IQ in areas with long histories of nuclear, atomized families, and the mechanism suppressing IQ in areas with strongly tribal norms. (See HBD Chick for everything family structure related.)

 

 

Is Capitalism the only Reason to Care about Intelligence? (pt 3)

Finishing up with our discussion, (in response to a reader’s question):

  1. Why are people snobs about intelligence?
  2. Is math ability better than verbal?
  3. Do people only care about intelligence in the context of making money?

Now, this is the point in the conversation where somebody tends to say something like, “My cousin / little sister /uncle is retarded, but they are still a beautiful, wonderful person and I love them as much as everyone else, and therefore it is mean to say that smart people are higher status than dumb people.”

It is good that you love your family. You should love your family. I am sure your relatives are lovely people, and you enjoy their company, and would be worse off without them.

But by the same token, I am grateful for the fact that I have never had polio, smallpox, or Ebola. I am thankful that I did not die in childbirth (my own or my childrens’.) I am thankful for life-saving surgeries, medications, and mass-vaccination campaigns that have massively reduced the quantity of human suffering, and I happily praise the doctors and scientists who made all of this possible.

That is why doctors and scientists are higher status than dumb people, and why math-smart people (who tend to end up in science) believe that they should have more status than verbal-smart people.

But on to #3--what is this “intelligence” and “money” connection? (And why does our questioner think it is so bad?)

The obvious answer is no, people don’t only care about intelligence in the context of making money. People also care about enjoying music and reading good books and having fun with their friends, having pleasant conversations and not dying of cancer.

But people are practical creatures, and their first priority is making sure that they and their children will eat tomorrow.

In a purely meritocratic society, more intelligent people will tend to end up in professions that require more intellect and more years of training, which will in turn allow them to demand higher wages. (So will people with rare physical talents, like athleticism and musical ability.) Unintelligent people, by contrast, will end up in the jobs that require the least thought and least training, where they will soon be replaced by robots.

The incentive to pay your doctor more than your trash collector is obvious.

The truly bright and creative, of course, will go beyond merely being employed and actually start companies, invent products/processes, and generally reshape the world around them, all of which results in making even more money.

The truly dull, by contrast, even when they can get jobs, tend to be impulsive and bad at planning, which results in the loss of what little money they have.

We do not live in a purely meritocratic society. No one does. We make efforts to that end, though, which is why public schools exist and employers are officially not supposed to consider things like race and gender when hiring people. Which means that our society is pretty close to meritocratic.

And in fact, the correlation between IQ and wealth/income is remarkably robust:

 

Thanks to Pumpkin Person
Thanks to Pumpkin Person
Thanks to Tino Sanandaji
Thanks to Tino Sanandaji
Thanks to
Thanks to Tino Sanandajii
Thanks to
Thanks to The BCA Blog

It even holds internationally:

Thanks to La Griffe du Lion
Thanks to La Griffe du Lion
Source Wikipedia
Source Wikipedia Dark Red < Red < Tans < Light Blue < Dark Blue < Purple

There are a few outliers–the gulf oil states are far richer than their IQs would predict, due to oil; China is poorer than its IQ predicts, which may be due to the lingering effects of communism or due to some quirk in the nature of Chinese intelligence (either way, I expect a very China-dominant future)–but otherwise, IQ predicts average per cap GDP quite well.

Here people tend to bring up a few common objections:

1. I know a guy who is smart but poor, and a guy who is dumb but rich! Two anecdotes are totally sufficient to completely disprove a general trend calculated from millions of data points.

Yes, obviously some really smart people have no desire to go into high-paying fields, and devote their lives to art, music, volunteering with the poor, raising children, or just chilling with their friends. Some smart people have health problems, are unfairly discriminated against, live in areas with few jobs, or are otherwise unable to reach their potentials. Some dumb people luck into wealth or a high-paying job.

It would be a strange world indeed if IQ were absolute destiny.

But the existence of outliers does not negate the overall trends–smarter people tend to get jobs in higher-paying fields and manage their money more effectively; dumb people tend to get jobs in lower-paying fields and manage their money ineffectively.

2. Maybe everyone is equally smart, but just expresses it in different ways. (Corollary form: IQ is just a measure of how good you are at taking IQ tests.)

Either we mean something when we say “intelligence,” or we do not. If we want to define “intelligence” so that everyone is equally smart, then yes, everyone is equally smart. If we want to know if some people are better than others at doing math, then we find that some people are better than others at doing math. Are some people better than others at reading? Yes. Are some people better than others at football? Yes.

If you transported me tomorrow to a hunter-gatherer community, and they gave me a test of the skills necessary for survival there, I’d flunk (and die.) They’d conclude that I was an idiot who couldn’t gather her way out of a paper bag.

Very well, then.

But neither of us lives in a hunter-gatherer society, nor do we particularly care about the skills necessary to survive in one. If I want to know the kinds of intelligence that are necessary for success in industrial societies–the kind of success that may have led to the existence of industrial societies–then you’re looking at normal old “intelligence” as people conventionally use the term, measured by IQ scores, the SAT, vague impressions, or report cards.

3. “You’ve got causality backwards–people with money send their kids to expensive prep schools, which results in them learning more, which results in higher IQ scores. These “smart” kids then use family connections/prestige to land good jobs, resulting in higher wealth.”

Luckily for us, we have adoption studies.

Thanks to Jayman
Thanks to Jayman

Quoting Jayman:

As this shows, the heritability of IQ and of behavioral traits is consistently high, reaching into the 0.8-0.9+ range. This means, out of a group of people, at least 80-90% of the overall differences between them (known as the “variance” in statistical parlance) can be attributed to genetic differences between them. This chart shows that this becomes most evident in adulthood, when genes have been given a chance to fully express themselves. I have summed this up in a neat set of rules:

Heredity: 70-80%

Shared environment: 0%

Something else [random chance]: 30-20%

In other words, adopted kids end up with the IQ scores you’d predict from looking at their biological parents, not their legal parents. Baring extremes of poverty or abuse, the way your parents raise you–including the quality of the schools you attend–has very little long-term effect on IQ.

On a related note, massively increased school expenditures since the ’80s has done very little to test scores:

Thanks to
Thanks to The BCA Blog

Jayman continues:

IQ doesn’t lend itself to much environmental manipulation – indeed, interventions that attempt to boost IQ have all met with failure. As well, IQ remains predictive even when measured in youth. It is predictive even when one controls for things like socioeconomic status (say during childhood). Indeed, the best control for this, looking at different siblings within a family, finds that IQ is predictive of real world outcomes between siblings – the sibling with the higher IQ tends to do better.

These are in addition to the fact that there are visible physiological correlates with IQ, such as head and brain size, as well various anatomical features of the brain, such as cortical thickness (Pietschnig et al, 2014, Shaw et al, 2006, Menary et al, 2013, Karama, Deary, et al, 2011). Indeed, a recent research team found that they were able to accurately gauge IQ from brain MRI imagery alone (correlation of 0.72 between prediction based on imagery and test-measured IQ – Wang et al, 2015 – see also Steve Hsu, Information Processing: IQ prediction from structural MRI).

4. Your map is racist.

That’s the million dollar objection, isn’t it?

Everybody wants to know why some groups or countries out perform other groups or countries, but no one likes to be told that they–or a group that they belong to–are less intelligent than others. No one wants to be in the red; everyone wants to blame their troubles on someone else.

Thus a great deal of debate; some people want to prove that the wealth and poverty of nations depends on IQ, and some people want to prove that it does not. No matter your personal opinions on the matter, it’s pretty hard to have a discussions about IQ without the debate resurfacing.

Incidentally:

SAT scores by race and parental income
SAT scores by race and parents’ income (Thanks to Jayman and The Unsilenced Silence)

Now, I fully believe that rich people enroll their kids expensive test-prep classes, which result in small increases in SAT scores over students who’ve never seen the test before (an effect that wears off once classes are over.) It may also be that people from countries where schools barely exist look at a test and have no idea what you want them to do with it, regardless of intelligence. But if parental income were the entire story, rich whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians ought to all get similar SAT scores, (with the exception of verbal scores for ESL-students,) and poor whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians ought to all get similar, lower scores. Instead, the children of wealthy Black parents have worse SAT scores than the children of poor whites and Asians. (Except Asian verbal scores, which are pretty bad at the low end–probably an ESL-artifact.)

Regardless, a certain kind of intelligence appears to be useful for building certain kinds of societies.

Conclusion:

Yes, there are lots of reasons to value intelligence, like making art and enjoying a good book. And there are many lifestyles that people enjoy that do not require making lots of money, nor do they have much to do with capitalism. But there exists, nonetheless, a fairly reliable correlation–at the group level–between average IQ and income/wealth/development level. Most people don’t care about this because they want to exploit each other and destroy the environment, but because they want to be well-fed, healthy, and happy.

Is Capitalism the only reason to care about Intelligence? pt 2

Continuing with yesterday’s discussion (in response to a reader’s question):

  1. Why are people snobs about intelligence?
  2. Is math ability better than verbal?
  3. Do people only care about intelligence in the context of making money?

1. People are snobs. Not all of them, obviously–just a lot of them.

So we’re going to have to back this up a step and ask why are people snobs, period.

Paying attention to social status–both one’s own and others’–is probably instinctual. We process social status in our prefrontal cortexes–the part of our brain generally involved in complex thought, imagination, long-term planning, personality, not being a psychopath, etc. Our brains respond positively to images of high-status items–activating reward-feedback loop that make us feel good–and negatively to images of low-status items–activating feedback loops that make us feel bad.

The mental effect is stronger when we perform high-status actions in front of others:

…researchers asked a person if the following statement was an accurate description of themselves: “I wouldn’t hesitate to go out of my way to help someone in trouble.” Some of the participants answered the question without anyone else seeing their response. Others knowingly revealed their answer to two strangers who were watching in a room next to them via video feed. The result? When the test subjects revealed an affirmative answer to an audience, their [medial prefrontal cortexes] lit up more strongly than when they kept their answers to themselves. Furthermore, when the participants revealed their positive answers not to strangers, but to those they personally held in high regard, their MPFCs and reward striatums activated even more strongly. This confirms something you’ve assuredly noticed in your own life: while we generally care about the opinions of others, we particularly care about the opinions of people who really matter to us.

(Note what constitutes a high-status activity.)

But this alone does not prove that paying attention to social status is instinctual. After all, I can also point to the part of your brain that processes written words (the Visual Word Form Area,) and yet I don’t assert that literacy is an instinct. For that matter, anything we think about has to be processed in our brains somewhere, whether instinct or not.

Better evidence comes from anthropology and zoology. According to Wikipedia, “All societies have a form of social status,” even hunter-gatherers. If something shows up in every single human society, that’s a pretty good sign that it is probably instinctual–and if it isn’t, it is so useful a thing that no society exists without it.

Even animals have social status–“Social status hierarchies have been documented in a wide range of animals: apes,[7] baboons,[8] wolves,[9] cows/bulls,[10] hens,[11] even fish,[12] and ants.[13]” We may also add horses, many monkey species, elephants, killer whales, reindeer, and probably just about all animals that live in large groups.

Among animals, social status is generally determined by a combination of physical dominance, age,  relationship, and intelligence. Killer whale pods, for example, are led by the eldest female in the family; leadership in elephant herds is passed down from a deceased matriarch to her eldest daughter, even if the matriarch has surviving sisters. Male lions assert dominance by being larger and stronger than other lions.

In all of these cases, the social structure exists because it benefits the group, even if it harms some of the individuals in it. If having no social structure were beneficial for wolves, then wolf packs without alpha wolves would out-compete packs with alphas. This is the essence of natural selection.

Among humans, social status comes in two main forms, which I will call “earned” and “background.”

“Earned” social status stems from things you do, like rescuing people from burning buildings, inventing quantum physics, or stealing wallets. High status activities are generally things that benefit others, and low-status activities are generally those that harm others. This is why teachers are praised and thieves are put in prison.

Earned social status is a good thing, because it reward people for being helpful.

“Background” social status is basically stuff you were born into or have no effect over, like your race, gender, the part of the country you grew up in, your accent, name, family reputation, health/disability, etc.

Americans generally believe that you should not judge people based on background social status, but they do it, anyway.

Interestingly, high-status people are not generally violent. (Just compare crime rates by neighborhood SES.) Outside of military conquest, violence is the domain of the low-class and those afraid they are slipping in social class, not the high class. Compare Andrea Merkel to the average German far-right protester. Obviously the protester would win in a fist-fight, but Merkel is still in charge. High class people go out of their way to donate to charity, do volunteer work, and talk about how much they love refugees. In the traditional societies of the Pacific Northwest, they held potlatches at which they distributed accumulated wealth to their neighbors; in our society, the wealthy donate millions to education. Ideally, in a well-functioning system, status is the thanks rich people get for doing things that benefit the community instead of spending their billions on gold-plated toilets.

You may recall from “Slate Star Codex finds Aristocracy, doesn’t notice,” the quoted descriptions of social status among birds in “Contra Simler on Prestige,” (from Kevin Simler’s Social Status: Down The Rabbit Hole):

The Arabian babbler … spends most of its life in small groups of three to 20 members. These groups lay their eggs in a communal nest and defend a small territory of trees and shrubs that provide much-needed safety from predators.

When it’s living as part of a group, a babbler does fairly well for itself. But babblers who get kicked out of a group have much bleaker prospects. These “non-territorials” are typically badgered away from other territories and forced out into the open, where they often fall prey to hawks, falcons, and other raptors. So it really pays to be part of a group. … Within a group, babblers assort themselves into a linear and fairly rigid dominance hierarchy, i.e., a pecking order. When push comes to shove, adult males always dominate adult females — but mostly males compete with males and females with females. Very occasionally, an intense “all-out” fight will erupt between two babblers of adjacent rank, typically the two highest-ranked males or the two highest-ranked females. …

Most of the time, however, babblers get along pretty well with each other. In fact, they spend a lot of effort actively helping one another and taking risks for the benefit of the group. They’ll often donate food to other group members, for example, or to the communal nestlings. They’ll also attack foreign babblers and predators who have intruded on the group’s territory, assuming personal risk in an effort to keep others safe. One particularly helpful activity is “guard duty,” in which one babbler stands sentinel at the top of a tree, watching for predators while the rest of the group scrounges for food. The babbler on guard duty not only foregoes food, but also assumes a greater risk of being preyed upon, e.g., by a hawk or falcon. …

Unlike chickens, who compete to secure more food and better roosting sites for themselves, babblers compete to give food away and to take the worst roosting sites. Each tries to be more helpful than the next. And because it’s a competition, higher-ranked (more dominant) babblers typically win, i.e., by using their dominance to interfere with the helpful activities of lower-ranked babblers. This competition is fiercest between babblers of adjacent rank. So the alpha male, for example, is especially eager to be more helpful than the beta male, but doesn’t compete nearly as much with the gamma male. Similar dynamics occur within the female ranks.

And from Jim’s Blog, “A Lost Military Technology“:

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, wealthy private individuals substantially supported the military, with a particular wealthy men buying stuff for a particular regiment or particular fort.

Noblemen paid high prices for military commands, and these posts were no sinecure.  You got the obligation to substantially supply the logistics for your men, the duty to obey stupid orders that would very likely lead to your death, the duty to lead your men from in front while wearing a costume designed to make you particularly conspicuous, and the duty to engage in honorable personal combat, man to man, with your opposite number who was also leading his troops from in front.

A vestige of this tradition remains in that every English prince has been sent to war and has placed himself very much in harm’s way.

It seems obvious to me that a soldier being led by a member of the ruling class who is soaking up the bullets from in front is a lot more likely to be loyal and brave than a soldier sent into battle by distant rulers safely in Washington who despise him as a sexist homophobic racist murderer, that a soldier who sees his commander, a member of the ruling classes, fighting right in front of him, is reflexively likely to fight.

(Note, however, that magnanimity is not the same as niceness. The only people who are nice to everyone are store clerks and waitresses, and they’re only nice because they have to be or they’ll get fired.)

Most people are generally aware of each others’ social statuses, using contextual clues like clothing and accents to make quick, rough estimates. These contextual clues are generally completely neutral–they just happen to correlate with other behaviors.

For example, there is nothing objectively good or bad for society about wearing your pants belted beneath your buttocks, aside from it being an awkward way to wear your pants. But the style correlates with other behaviors, like crime, drug use, and aggression, low paternal investment, and unemployment, all of which are detrimental to society, and so the mere sight of underwear spilling out of a man’s pants automatically assigns him low status. There is nothing causal in this relationship–being a criminal does not make you bad at buckling your pants, nor does wearing your pants around your knees somehow inspire you to do drugs. But these things correlate, and humans are very good at learning patterns.

"The New Age Traveler"
The New Age Traveler” can be yours for a mere $26,000!

Likewise, there is nothing objectively better about operas than Disney movies, no real difference between a cup of coffee brewed in the microwave and one from Starbucks; a Harley Davidson and a Vespa are both motorcycles; and you can carry stuff around in just about any bag or backpack, but only the hoity-toity can afford something as objectively hideous as a $26,000 Louis Vutton backpack.

All of these things are fairly arbitrary and culturally dependent–the way you belt your pants can’t convey social status in a society where people don’t wear pants; your taste in movies couldn’t matter before movies were invented. Among hunter-gatherers, social status is based on things like one’s skills at hunting, and if I showed up to the next PTA meeting wearing a tophat and monocle, I wouldn’t get any status points at all.

We tend to aggregate the different social status markers into three broad classes (middle, upper, and lower.) As Scott Alexander says in his post about Siderea’s essay on class in America, which divides the US into 10% Underclass, 65% Working Class, 23.5% Gentry Class, and 1.5% Elite:

Siderea notes that Church’s analysis independently reached about the same conclusion as Paul Fussell’s famous guide. I’m not entirely sure how you’d judge this (everybody’s going to include lower, middle, and upper classes), but eyeballing Fussell it does look a lot like Church, so let’s grant this.

It also doesn’t sound too different from Marx. Elites sound like capitalists, Gentry like bourgeoisie, Labor like the proletariat, and the Underclass like the lumpenproletariat. Or maybe I’m making up patterns where they don’t exist; why should the class system of 21st century America be the same as that of 19th century industrial Europe?

There’s one more discussion of class I remember being influenced by, and that’s Unqualified Reservations’ Castes of the United States. Another one that you should read but that I’ll summarize in case you don’t:

1. Dalits are the underclass, … 2. Vaisyas are standard middle-class people … 3. Brahmins are very educated people … 4. Optimates are very rich WASPs … now they’re either extinct or endangered, having been pretty much absorbed into the Brahmins. …

Michael Church’s system (henceforth MC) and the Unqualified Reservation system (henceforth UR) are similar in some ways. MC’s Underclass matches Dalits, MC’s Labor matches Vaisyas, MC’s Gentry matches Brahmins, and MC’s Elite matches Optimates. This is a promising start. It’s a fourth independent pair of eyes that’s found the same thing as all the others. (commenters bring up Joel Kotkin and Archdruid Report as similar convergent perspectives).

I suspect the tendency to try to describe society as consisting of three broad classes (with the admission that other, perhaps tiny classes that don’t exactly fit into the others might exist) is actually just an artifact of being a three-biased society that likes to group things in threes (the Trinity, three-beat joke structure, three bears, Three Musketeers, three notes in a chord, etc.) This three-bias isn’t a human universal (or so I have read) but has probably been handed down to us from the Indo-Europeans, (“Many Indo-European societies know a threefold division of priests, a warrior class, and a class of peasants or husbandmen. Georges Dumézil has suggested such a division for Proto-Indo-European society,”) so we’re so used to it that we don’t even notice ourselves doing it.

(For more information on our culture’s three-bias and different number biases in other cultures, see Alan Dundes’s Interpreting Folklore, though I should note that I read it back in highschool and so my memory of it is fuzzy.)

c5933(Also, everyone is probably at least subconsciously cribbing Marx, who was probably cribbing from some earlier guy who cribbed from another earlier guy, who set out with the intention of demonstrating that society–divided into nobles, serfs, and villagers–reflected the Trinity, just like those Medieval maps that show the world divided into three parts or the conception of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.)

At any rate, I am skeptical of any system that lumps 65% of people into one social class and 0.5% of people into a different social class as being potentially too-finely grained at one end of the scale and not enough at the other. Determining the exact number of social classes in American society may ultimately be futile–perhaps there really are three (or four) highly distinct groups, or perhaps social classes transition smoothly from one to the next with no sharp divisions.

I lean toward the latter theory, with broad social classes as merely a convenient shorthand for extremely broad generalizations about society. If you look any closer, you tend to find that people do draw finer-grained distinctions between themselves and others than “65% Working Class” would imply. For example, a friend who works in agriculture in Greater Appalachia once referred dismissively to other people they had to deal with as “red necks.” I might not be able to tell what differentiates them, but clearly my friend could. Similarly, I am informed that there are different sorts of homelessness, from true street living to surviving in shelters, and that lifetime homeless people are a different breed altogether. I might call them all “homeless,” but to the homeless, these distinctions are important.

Is social class evil?

This question was suggested by a different friend.

I suspect that social class is basically, for the most part, neutral-to-useful. I base this on the fact that most people do not work very hard to erase markers of class distinction, but instead actively embrace particular class markers. (Besides, you can’t get rid of it, anyway.)

It is not all that hard to learn the norms and values of a different social class and strategically employ them. Black people frequently switch between speaking African American Vernacular English at home and standard English at work; I can discuss religion with Christian conservatives and malevolent AI risk with nerds; you can purchase a Harley Davidson t-shirt as easily as a French beret and scarf.

(I am reminded here of an experiment in which researchers were looking to document cab drivers refusing to pick up black passengers; they found that when the black passengers were dressed nicely, drivers would pick them up, but when they wore “ghetto” clothes, the cabs wouldn’t. Cabbies: responding more to perceived class than race.)

And yet, people don’t–for the most part–mass adopt the social markers of the upper class just to fool them. They love their motorcycle t-shirts, their pumpkin lattes, even their regional accents. Class markers are an important part of peoples’ cultural / tribal identities.

But what about class conflicts?

Because every class has its own norms and values, every class is, to some degree, disagreeing with the other classes. People for whom frugality and thrift are virtues will naturally think that people who drink overpriced coffee are lacking in moral character. People for whom anti-racism is the highest virtue will naturally think that Trump voters are despicable racists. A Southern Baptist sees atheists as morally depraved fetus murderers; nerds and jocks are famously opposed to each other; and people who believe that you should graduate from college, become established in your career, get married, and then have 0-1.5 children disapprove of people who drop out of highschool, have a bunch of children with a bunch of different people, and go on welfare.

A moderate sense of pride in one’s own culture is probably good and healthy, but spending too much energy hating other groups is probably negative–you may end up needlessly hurting people whose cooperation you would have benefited from, reducing everyone’s well-being.

(A good chunk of our political system’s dysfunctions are probably due to some social classes believing that other social classes despise them and are voting against their interests, and so counter-voting to screw over the first social class. I know at least one person who switched allegiance from Hillary to Trump almost entirely to stick it to liberals they think look down on them for classist reasons.)

Ultimately, though, social class is with us whether we like it or not. Even if a full generation of orphan children were raised with no knowledge of their origins and completely equal treatment by society at large, each would end up marrying/associating with people who have personalities similar to themselves (and remember that genetics plays a large role in personality.) Just as current social classes in America are ethnically different, (Southern whites are drawn from different European populations than Northern whites, for example,) so would the society resulting from our orphanage experiment differentiate into genetically and personalityish-similar groups.

Why do Americans generally proclaim their opposition to judging others based on background status, and then act classist, anyway? There are two main reasons.

  1. As already discussed, different classes have real disagreements with each other. Even if I think I shouldn’t judge others, I can’t put aside my moral disgust at certain behaviors just because they happen to correlate with different classes.
  2. It sounds good to say nice, magnanimous things that make you sound more socially sensitive and aware than others, like, “I wouldn’t hesitate to go out of my way to help someone in trouble.” So people like to say these things whether they really mean them or not.

In reality, people are far less magnanimous than they like to claim they are in front of their friends. People like to say that we should help the homeless and save the whales and feed all of the starving children in Africa, but few people actually go out of their way to do such things.

There is a reason Mother Teresa is considered a saint, not an archetype.

In real life, not only does magnanimity has a cost, (which the rich can better afford,) but if you don’t live up to your claims, people will notice. If you talk a good talk about loving others but actually mistreat them, people will decide that you’re a hypocrite. On the internet, you can post memes for free without havng to back them up with real action, causing discussions to descend into competitive-virtue signalling in which no one wants to be the first person to admit that they actually are occasionally self-interested. (Cory Doctorow has a relevant discussion about how “reputations economies”–especially internet-based ones–can go horribly wrong.)

Unfortunately, people often confuse background and achieved status.

American society officially has no hereditary social classes–no nobility, no professions limited legally to certain ethnicities, no serfs, no Dalits, no castes, etc. Officially, if you can do the job, you are supposed to get it.

Most of us believe, at least abstractly, that you shouldn’t judge or discriminate against others for background status factors they have no control over, like where they were born, the accent thy speak with, or their skin tone. If I have two resumes, one from someone named Lakeesha, and the other from someone named Ian William Esquire III, I am supposed to consider each on their merits, rather than the connotations their names invoke.

But because “status” is complicated, people often go beyond advocating against “background” status and also advocate that we shouldn’t accord social status for any reasons. That is, full social equality.

This is not possible and would be deeply immoral in practice.

When you need heart surgery, you really hope that the guy cutting you open is a top-notch heart surgeon. When you’re flying in an airplane, you hope that both the pilot and the guys who built the plane are highly skilled. Chefs must be good at cooking and authors good at writing.

These are all forms of earned status, and they are good.

Smart people are valuable to society because they do nice things like save you from heart attacks or invent cell-phones. This is not “winning at capitalism;” this is benefiting everyone around them. In this context, I’m happy to let smart people have high status.

In a hunter-gatherer society, smart people are the ones who know the most about where animals live and how to track them, how to get water during a drought, and where that 1-inch stem they spotted last season that means a tasty underground tuber is located. Among nomads, smart people are the ones with the biggest mental maps of the territory, the folks who know the safest and quickest routes from good summer pasture to good winter pasture, how to save an animal from dying and how to heal a sick person. Among pre-literate people, smart people composed epic poems that entertained their neighbors for many winters’ nights, and among literate ones, the smart people became scribes and accountants. Even the communists valued smart people, when they weren’t chopping their heads off for being bourgeois scum.

So even if we say, abstractly, “I value all people, no matter how smart they are,” the smart people do more of the stuff that benefits society than the dumb people, which means they end up with higher social status.

So, yes, high IQ is a high social status marker, and low IQ is a low social status marker, and thus at least some people will be snobs about signaling their IQ and their disdain for dumb people.

BUT.

I am speaking here very abstractly. There are plenty of “high status” people who are not benefiting society at all. Plenty of people who use their status to destroy society while simultaneously enriching themselves. And yes, someone can come into a community, strip out all of its resources and leave behind pollution and unemployment, and happily call it “capitalism” and enjoy high status as a result.

I would be very happy if we could stop engaging in competitive holiness spirals and stop lionizing people who became wealthy by destroying communities. I don’t want capitalism at the expense of having a pleasant place to live in.

Part 3 tomorrow.