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:
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.
Flexible thinking. This is the ability to draw connections between different things you’ve learned, to be creative, to think up new ideas, etc.
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?
It’s been a slow week for comments, probably because everyone is still passed out/out of town/tired/sick/busy from all of the holiday revelry. Some of you are still celebrating. Still, I invite you all to come in, take a seat by the fire, pick up a warm mug of cocoa, and enjoy yourselves with some relaxing chat and mingle.
But the stone tools on Naxos appeared to be hewn by Paleolithic people — much more ancient humans, perhaps not members of our species at all.
Since 2013, Carter has co-directed a new round of investigations on Naxos. He and a handful of others working in the region have begun to furnish evidence that humans reached the islands of the Aegean Sea 250,000 years ago and maybe earlier. If those dates are confirmed, it means the first people there were Neanderthals, their probable ancestors, Homo heidelbergensis or maybe even Homo erectus. …
Other researchers insist that much better evidence needs to be discovered to attribute such complex behaviours to Neanderthals and other hominins …
Then, in 1988, archeologists began excavating a collapsed rock shelter on the southern shore of Cyprus. They found about 1,000 bladelets and small tools typically associated with pre-Neolithic people.
“There was a lot of skepticism at first,” said Alan Simmons, an anthropologist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas who was involved in the work. “But once we had all the radiocarbon dates, it came to be accepted.”
The site pushed the peopling of Cyprus back to 12,000 years ago — only a few millennia, but enough to break the Neolithic barrier and establish the presence of hunter-gatherers. Today, the distance to mainland Turkey is about 75 kilometres. Sea levels have fluctuated and the crossing was once shorter, but Cyprus has always been an island.
The discoveries on Cyprus overturned the idea that hunter-gatherers were incapable or unwilling to travel by sea. But the debate was still confined to the activities of our species, Homo sapiens.
In 2008, a Greek-American team of archeologists began searching on the southwest coast of Crete for pre-Neolithic artifacts. They found many from roughly the same era as those on Cyprus. But they also found rough quartz hand axes and cleavers that appeared to be much more ancient.
The team discovered artifacts eroding out of a layer of soil that dated to at least 130,000 years ago, and the tools themselves looked like those archeologists associate with archaic hominin sites on the mainland — ones that are at least 250,000 years old. …
“only about one-quarter of one percent (0.25 percent) of all whites will be violently victimized by a black person this year”
This would mean that its 2,5% every 10 years. A typical american white lives 80 years this would mean their lifelong chance of getting attacked by a black is 20%(!!!) exactly the same number they argue the chance of a women is to be raped in life. The same Tim Wise made a big deal of how high that is. Of course he takes anual number for other crime and lifelong numbers for rape.
Kanazawa (2014), reviewed the data on the research between obesity and IQ. What he found was that those studies that concluded that obesity causes lowered intelligence only observed cross-sectional studies. Longitudinal studies that looked into the link between obesity and intelligence found that those who had low IQs since childhood then became obese later in life and that obesity does not lead to low IQ. … He states that those with IQs below 74 gained 5.19 BMI points, whereas those with IQs over above 126 gained 3.73 BMI points in 22 years, which is a statistically significant difference. Also noted, was that those at age 7 who had IQs above 125 had a 13.5 percent chance of being obese at age 51, whereas those with IQs below 74 at age 7 had a 31.9 percent chance of being obese.
Thanks everyone, and keep up the good work/great comments!
To summarize, our current generous welfare system is making it increasingly difficult for hard working members of society to afford to have children. Lazy and incapable people meanwhile are continuing to have children without restriction, courtesy of those hard working people. Its more than likely that average intelligence is falling as a result of these pressures.
Ever since someone proposed the idea of eguenic (ie, good) breeding, people have been concerned by the possibility of dysgenic (bad) breeding. If traits are heritable (as, indeed, they are,) then you can breed for more of that trait or less of that trait. Anyone who has ever raised livestock or puppies knows as much–the past 10,000 years of animal husbandry have been devoted to producing superior stock, long before anyone knew anything about “genes.”
Historically–that is, before 1900–the world was harsh and survival far from guaranteed. Infant and childhood mortality were high, women often died in childbirth, famines were frequent, land (in Europe) was scarce, and warfare + polygamy probably prevented the majority of men from ever reproducing. In those days, at least in Western Europe, the upper classes tended to have more (surviving) children than the lower classes, leading to a gradual replacement of the lower classes.
The situation today is, obviously, radically different. Diseases–genetic or pathogenic–kill far fewer people. We can cure Bubonic Plague with penicillin, have wiped out Smallpox, and can perform heart surgery on newborns whose hearts were improperly formed. Welfare prevents people from starving in the streets and the post-WWII prosperity led to an unprecedented percent of men marrying and raising families. (The percent of women who married and raised families probably didn’t change that much.)
All of these pleasant events raise concerns that, long-term, prosperity could result in the survival of people whose immune systems are weak, carry rare but debilitating genetic mutations, or are just plain dumb.
So how is Western fertility? Are the dumb outbreeding the smart, or should we be grateful that the “gender studies” sorts are selecting themselves out of the population? And with negative fertility rates + unprecedented levels of immigration, how smart are our immigrants (and their children?)
Data on these questions is not the easiest to find. Jayman has data on African American fertility (dysgenic,) but white American fertility may be currently eugenic (after several decades of dysgenics.) Jayman also notes a peculiar gender difference in these trends: female fertility is strongly dysgenic, while male is eugenic (for both whites and blacks). Given that historically, about 80% of women reproduced vs. only 40% of males, I think it likely that this pattern has always been true: women only want to marry intelligent, high-performing males, while males are okay with marrying dumb women. (Note: the female ability to detect intelligence may be broken by modern society.)
Counter-Currents has a review of Lynn’s Dysgenics with some less hopeful statistics, like an estimation that Greece lost 5 IQ points during the Baby Boom, which would account for their current economic woes. (Overall, I think the Baby Boom had some definite negative effects on the gene pool that are now working their way out.)
Richwine estimates the IQ of our immigrant Hispanic-American population at 89.2, with a slight increase for second and third-generation kids raised here. Since the average American IQ is 98 and Hispanics are our fastest-growing ethnic group, this is strongly dysgenic. (The rest of our immigrants, from countries like China, are likely to be higher-IQ than Americans.) However, since Hispanic labor is typically used to avoid African American (reported 85 average IQ) labor, the replacement of African Americans with Mexicans is locally eugenic–hence the demand for Hispanic labor.
Without better data, none of this conclusively proves whether fertility in the West is currently eugenic or dysgenic, but I can propose three main factors that should be watched for their potentially negative effects:
Welfare–I suspect the greater black reliance on welfare may be diving black dysgenics, but some other factor like crime could actually be at play.
I’m going to focus on the last one because it’s the only one that hasn’t already been explained in great detail elsewhere.
For American women, childbearing is low-class and isolating.
For all our fancy talk about maternity leave, supporting working moms, etc., America is not a child-friendly place. Society frowns on loud, rambunctious children running around in public, and don’t get me started on how public schools deal with boys. Just try to find something entertaining for both kids and grown-ups that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg for larger families–admission to the local zoo for my family costs over $50 and requires over an hour, round trip, of driving. (And it isn’t even a very good zoo.) Now try to find an activity your childless friends would also like to do with you.
Young women are constantly told that getting pregnant will ruin their lives (most vocally by their own parents,) and that if they want to stay home and raise children, they are social parasites. (Yes, literally.) We see child-rearing, like tomato picking, as a task best performed by low-wage immigrant daycare workers.
I am reminded here of a mom’s essay I read about the difference in attitudes toward children in the US and Israel, the only Western nation with a positive native fertility rate. Israel, as she put it, is a place where children are valued and “kids can be kids.” I’ve never been to Israel, so I’ll just have to trust her:
How Israelis love kids, anyone’s kids. The country is a free-for-all for the youngest set, something I truly appreciated only once I started bringing my own children there. When I was a teenager visiting Israel from the States, I noticed how people there just don’t allow a child to cry. One pout, one sob, and out comes candy, trinkets and eager smiles to turn a kid around. That would never happen back home—a stranger give a child candy?!—but in Israel, in a nation that still harbors a post-Holocaust mentality, there is no reason that a Jewish child should ever cry again, if someone can help it.
Incidentally, if you qualify under Israeli health care law, you can get a free, state-funded abortion. Abortion doesn’t appear to have destroyed Israel’s fertility.
Since male fertility is (probably) already eugenic, then the obvious place to focus is female fertility: make your country a place where children are actively valued and intelligent women are encouraged instead of insulted for wanting them, and–hopefully–things can improve.
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:
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:
The correlation even holds internationally:
Map of IQ by country. Source: Wikipedia.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
By the way, guys, I have not been able to write as much as I would like to, lately, so I am dropping the Wed. post and only going to be updating 4 times a week. Hopefully I’ll get more time soon. 🙂
It is very easy to dismiss Appalachia’s problems by waving a hand and saying, “West Virginia has an average IQ of 98.”
But there are a hell of a lot of states that have average IQs lower than West Virginia, but are still doing better. For that matter, France has a lower average IQ, and France is still doing pretty well for itself.
So we’re going to discuss some alternative theories.
(And my apologies to WV for using it as a stand-in for the entirety of Greater Appalachia, which, as discussed a few days ago, includes parts of a great number of states, from southern Pennsylvania to eastern Texas. Unfortunately for me, only WV, Kentucky, and Tennessee fall entirely within Greater Appalachia, and since it is much easier to find data aggregated by state than by county or “cultural region,” I’ve been dependent on these states for much of my research.)
At any rate, it’s no secret that Appalachia is not doing all that well:
The Death of Manufacturing
Having your local industries decimated by foreign competition and workforces laid off due to automation does bad things to your economy. These things look great on paper, where increasing efficiency and specialization result in higher profits for factory owners, but tend to work out very badly for the folks who have lost their jobs.
Indeed, the US has barely even begun thinking about how we plan on dealing with the effects of continued automation. Do 90% of people simply become irrelevant as robots take over their jobs? Neither “welfare for everyone” nor “everybody starves” seem like viable solutions. So far, most politicians have defaulted to platitudes about how “more education” will be the solution to all our woes, but how you turn a 45-year old low-IQ meat packer who just got replaced by a robot into a functional member of the “information economy” remains to be seen.
Of course, economic downturns happen; fads come and go; industries go in and out. The Rust Belt, according to Wikipedia, runs north of Greater Appalachia, through Pennsylvania, New York, northern Ohio, Detroit, etc. These areas have been struggling for decades, but many of them, like Pittsburgh, are starting to recover. Appalachia, by contrast, is still struggling.
This may just be a side effect of Appalachia being more rural; Pittsburgh is a large city with millions of people employed in a variety of industries. If one goes out, others can, hopefully, replace it. But in a rural area with only one or two large employers–sometimes literal “company towns” built near mines–if the main industry goes out, you may not get anything coming back in.
Appalachia has geography that makes it difficult to transport goods in and out as cheaply as you can transport them elsewhere, but then, so does Switzerland, and Switzerland seems to be doing pretty well. (Of course, Switzerland seems to have specialized in small, expensive, easy to transport luxury goods like watches, chocolate, and bank deposits, while Appalachia has specialized in cheap, heavy, unpleasant to produce goods like coal.)
But I am being over-generous: America killed its manufacturing.
We killed it because our upper classes look down their noses at manufacturing; such jobs are unpleasant and low-class, and therefore they cannot understand that for some people, these jobs are the only thing standing between them and poverty. Despite the occasional protest against outsourcing, our government–Republicans and Democrats–has forged ahead with its free-trade, send-everything-to-China-and-fire-the-Americans, import-Mexicans-and-fire-the-Americans, and then reap-the-profits agenda.
Too Much Regulation
Over-regulation begins with the best of intentions, then breaks your industries. Nobody wants to die in a fire or a cave-in, but you can’t regulate away all risk and still get anything done.
Every regulation, every record-keeping requirement, every mandated compliance, is a tax on efficiency–and thus on profits. Some regulation, of course, probably increases profits–for example, I am more likely to buy a medicine if I have some guarantee that it isn’t made with rat poison. But beyond that guarantee, increasing requirements that companies test all of their products for toxins imposes more costs than the companies recoup–at which point, companies tend to leave for more profitable climes.
Likewise, while health insurance sounds great, running it through employers is madness. Companies should devote their efforts to making products (or services,) not hiring expensive lawyers and accountants to work through the intricacies of health care law compliance and income withholding.
The few manufacturers left in Appalachia (and probably elsewhere in the country) have adopted a creative policy to avoid paying health insurance costs for their workers: fire everyone just before they qualify for insurance. By hiring only temp workers, outsourcing everything, and only letting employees bill 20 hours a week, manufacturers avoid complying with employee-related regulations.
Oh, sure, you might think you could just get two 20-hour a week jobs, but that requires being able to schedule two different jobs. When you have no idea whether you are going to be working every day or not until you show up for work at 7 AM, and you’ll get fired if you don’t show up, getting a second job simply isn’t an option.
I have been talking about over-regulation for over a decade, but it is the sort of issue that it is difficult to get people worked up over, much less make them understand if they haven’t lived it. Democrats just look aghast that anyone would suggest that more regulations won’t lead automatically to more goodness, and Republicans favor whichever policies lead to higher profits, without any concern for the needs of workers.
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman recently encapsulated this view in a piece called “Start-Ups, Not Bailouts.” His argument: Let tired old companies that do commodity manufacturing die if they have to. If Washington really wants to create jobs, he wrote, it should back startups.
Friedman is wrong. Startups are a wonderful thing, but they cannot by themselves increase tech employment. Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.
The scaling process is no longer happening in the U.S. And as long as that’s the case, plowing capital into young companies that build their factories elsewhere will continue to yield a bad return in terms of American jobs. …
As time passed, wages and health-care costs rose in the U.S. China opened up. American companies discovered that they could have their manufacturing and even their engineering done more cheaply overseas. When they did so, margins improved. Management was happy, and so were stockholders. Growth continued, even more profitably. But the job machine began sputtering.
The 10X Factor
Today, manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry is about 166,000, lower than it was before the first PC, the MITS Altair 2800, was assembled in 1975 (figure-B). Meanwhile, a very effective computer manufacturing industry has emerged in Asia, employing about 1.5 million workers—factory employees, engineers, and managers. The largest of these companies is Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn. The company has grown at an astounding rate, first in Taiwan and later in China. Its revenues last year were $62 billion, larger than Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), Dell (DELL), or Intel. Foxconn employs over 800,000 people, more than the combined worldwide head count of Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Intel, and Sony (SNE) (figure-C).
Companies don’t scale up in the US because dealing with the regulations is monstrous. Anyone who has worked in industry can tell you this; heck, even Kim Levine, author of Millionaire Mommy (don’t laugh at the title, it’s actually a pretty good book,) touches on the subject. Levine notes that early in the process of scaling up the manufacture of her microwavable pillows, she had dreams of owning her own little factory, but once she learned about all of the regulations she would have to comply with, she decided that would be a horrible nightmare.
I don’t have time to go into more detail on the subject, but here is a related post from Slate Star Codex:
I started the book with the question: what exactly do real estate developers do? …
As best I can tell, the developer’s job is coordination. This often means blatant lies. The usual process goes like this: the bank would be happy to lend you the money as long as you have guaranteed renters. The renters would be happy to sign up as long as you show them a design. The architect would be happy to design the building as long as you tell them what the government’s allowing. The government would be happy to give you your permit as long as you have a construction company lined up. And the construction company would be happy to sign on with you as long as you have the money from the bank in your pocket. Or some kind of complicated multi-step catch-22 like that. The solution – or at least Trump’s solution – is to tell everybody that all the other players have agreed and the deal is completely done except for their signature. The trick is to lie to the right people in the right order, so that by the time somebody checks to see whether they’ve been conned, you actually do have the signatures you told them that you had. The whole thing sounds very stressful.
The developer’s other job is dealing with regulations. The way Trump tells it, there are so many regulations on development in New York City in particular and America in general that erecting anything larger than a folding chair requires the full resources of a multibillion dollar company and half the law firms in Manhattan. Once the government grants approval it’s likely to add on new conditions when you’re halfway done building the skyscraper, insist on bizarre provisions that gain it nothing but completely ruin your chance of making a profit, or just stonewall you for the heck of it if you didn’t donate to the right people’s campaigns last year. Reading about the system makes me both grateful and astonished that any structures have ever been erected in the United States at all, and somewhat worried that if anything ever happens to Donald Trump and a few of his close friends, the country will lose the ability to legally construct artificial shelter and we will all have to go back to living in caves.
The current socio-economic system is designed by rootless, soulless, high-IQ, low-time preference, money-/status-grubbing homo economicus for benefit of those same homo economicus. It is a system for designed for intelligent sociopaths. Those who are rootless with high-IQ and low-time preference can succeed rather well in this system, but it destroys those who need rootedness or those who are who are low-IQ or high time preference.
Kevin says, “Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster.” But he’s wrong, there was a disaster, but no just one, multiple related disasters all occurring simultaneously. …
Every support the white working class (and for that matter the black working class) had vanished within less than a generation. There was a concerted effort to destroy these supports, and this effort succeeded. Through minimal fault of their own the white working class was left with nothing holding them up.
Personally, I lack good first-hand insight into working class cultural matters; I have no idea how much Hollywood mores have penetrated and changed people’s practical lives in rural Arkansas. I must defer, there, to people more knowledgeable than myself.
While death rates have been falling for the rest of the developed world and for America’s blacks and Hispanics, death rates have been rising over the past couple of decades for American whites–middle aged and younger white women, to be exact. They’re up pretty much everywhere, but Appalachia has been the hardest hit.
The first thing everyone seems to cite in response is meth. And indeed, it appears that there is a lot of meth in Appalachia (and a lot of other places):
But I don’t think this explains why death rates are headed up among women. Maybe I’m wrong, (I know rather little about drug use patterns,) but it doesn’t seem like women would be more likely to OD on meth than men. If anything, I get the impression that illegal drugs that fuck you up and kill you are more of a guy thing than a gal thing. Men are probably far more likely to die of alcohol-related causes like drunk driving and cirrhosis of the liver than women, for example, and you don’t even have to deal with criminals to get alcohol.
So, while I agree that drugs appear to be a rising problem, I don’t think they are the problem. (And even still, drug overdoses only beg the deeper question of why more people are using drugs.)
As I mentioned a few posts ago, SpottedToad ran the death rate data by county and came up with three significant correlations: poverty, obesity, and disability. (I don’t know if he looked at meth/drug use by county.)
I, for one, am not surprised to find out that disabled, overweight people are not in the best of health.
Here are SpottedToad’s graphs, showing the correlations he found–I recommend reading his entire post.
Obviously one possibility is that unemployed people feel stressed, binge on cheap crap, get sick, get SSDI, and then die.
But then why are death rates only going up for white women? Plenty of white men are unemployed; plenty of black men and women are poor, fat, and disabled.
Obviously there are a ton of possible confounders–perhaps poor people just happen to make bad life decisions that both make them poor and result in bad health, like smoking cigarettes. Perhaps poor people have worse access to health care, or perhaps being really sick makes people poor. Or maybe the high death rates just happen to be concentrated among people who happen to be fat for purely biological reasons–it appears that the British are among the fattest peoples in Europe, and the Scottish are fatter than the British average. (Before anyone gets their hackles up, I should also note that white Americans are slightly fatter than Scots.)
And as many people have noted, SSI/SSDI are welfare for people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify.
In my correspondence with an observing teacher in the hill country of western Pennsylvania, she reported that in her school a condition was frequent in the families, namely, that the children could not carry prescribed textbook work because of low mentality. This is often spoken of, though incorrectly, as delayed mentality. In one family of eight children only the first child was normal. The mental and physical injuries were increasingly severe. The eighth child had both hare-lip and a double cleft palate. The seventh child had cleft palate and the sixth was a near idiot. The second to fifth, inclusive, presented increasing degrees of disturbed mentality.
In my cabin-to-cabin studies of families living in the hill country of North Carolina, I found many cases of physical and mental injury. Among these cases arthritis and heart disease were very frequent, many individuals being bed ridden. A typical case is shown in the upper part of figure 148 [sorry, I can’t show you the picture, but it is not too important,] of a father and mother and their one child. The child is so badly injured that he is mentally an imbecile. They are living on very poor land where even the vegetable growth is scant and of poor quality. Their food consisted largely of corn bread, corn syrup, some fat pork, and strong coffee.
As the title of the book implies, Dr. Price’s thesis is that bad nutrition leads to physical degeneration. (Which, of course, it does.) He was working back when folks were just discovering vitamins and figuring out that diseases like curvy, pellagra, and beriberi were really nutritional deficiencies; figuring out the chemical compositions necessary for fertile soil; and before the widespread adoption of artificial fertilizers (possibly before their invention.) Dr. Price thought that American soils, particularly in areas that had been farmed for longer or had warmer, wetter weather, had lost much of their nutritional content:
My studies of this problem of reduced capacity of sols for maintaining animal life have included correspondence with the agricultural departments of all of the states of the union with regard to maintaining cattle. The reduction in capacity ranges from 20 to 90 per cent… I am advised that it would cost $50 an acre to replace the phosphorus alone that has been shipped off the land in large areas.
There is an important fact that we should consider; namely, the role that has been played by glaciers in grinding up and distributing rock formations. One glacier, the movement of which affected the surface soil of Ohio, covered only about half the state; namely, that area west of a line starting east of Cleveland and extending diagonally west across the state to Cincinnati. It is important for us to note that, in the areas extending south and east of this line, several expressions of degeneration are higher than in the areas north and west of this line. The infant mortality per thousand live births in 1939 is informative. In the counties north and west of that line, the death rate was from 40 49 per thousand live births; whereas, in the area south and east of that Line, the death rate was from 50 to 87.
It is of particular interest to us as dentists that studies show the percentage of teeth with caries to be much higher southeast of this line than northwest of it.
So I Googled around, and found this map of the last glaciation of Ohio:
Okay, I lied, it’s obviously a map of ACT scores. But it actually does look a lot like the glaciation map.
Australia’s soils, from what I understand, are particularly bad–because the continent’s rocks are so geologically old, the soil is extremely low in certain key nutrients, like iodine. Even with iodine supplementation, deficiencies are still occasionally a problem.
Many of the soils in the state are steeply sloping and tend to be shallow, acidic, and deficient in available phosphorus. As early as the late 19th century progressive farmers used rock phosphate, bone meal, and lime to increase crop yield and quality. Since the mid-20th century farmers have used soil tests and corrected mineral deficiencies. Most crop land and much of the pasture land are no longer severely deficient in essential nutrients. West Virginia has always been primarily a livestock producing state. Land on steep slopes is best suited to producing pasture and hay.
Nutritional deficiencies due to poor soil could have been a problem a century ago, just as Pellagra and hookworms were a problem, but they seem unlikely to be a big deal today, given both modern fertilizers and our habit of buying foods shipped in from California.
Looking at statistics from 2005 (the latest for which mortality rates are available) the researchers found that though coal mining brought in about $8 billion to the state coffers of Appalachian states, the costs of the shorter life-spans associated with coal mining operations were nearly $17 billion to $84.5 billion.
Coal mining areas in Appalachia were found to have nearly 11,000 more deaths each year than other places in the nation, with 2,300 of those attributable to environmental factors such as air and water pollution.
The Nation reports that:
In 2010, an explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in southern West Virginia killed twenty-nine miners. Later that year, an explosion at a West Virginia chemical plant killed two workers and released toxic fumes into the surrounding areas. This past year, West Virginia led the nation in coal-mining deaths. …
One study found that residents of areas surrounding mountaintop-removal coal mines “had significantly higher mortality rates, total poverty rates and child poverty rates every year compared to other…counties.” Another study found that compared to residents of other areas in the state, residents of the state’s coal-mining regions were 70 percent more likely to suffer from kidney disease, over 60 percent more likely to develop obstructive lung diseases such as emphysema and 30 percent likelier to have high blood pressure.
In 2014, the Elk River Chemical spill left 300,000 residents of West Virginia without potable water. Five months later, another spill happened at the same site, the fourth in five years. (The chemicals involved are used int he processing/washing of coal.)
Overloaded coal trucks are a perpetual menace on the narrow, winding roads of the Appalachian coalfields. From 2000 to 2004, there were more than seven hundred accidents involving coal trucks in Kentucky alone; fifty-three people died, and more than five hundred were injured. …
After the coal is washed, a slurry of impurities, coal dust, and chemical agents used in the process remains. This liquid waste, called “coal sludge” or “slurry,” is often injected into abandoned underground mines, a practice that can lead to groundwater contamination. … In public hearings, many coalfield residents have attributed their health problems to water wells polluted after the coal mining industry “disposes” its liquid waste by injecting coal slurry underground. The primary disposal practice for coal slurry is to store it in vast unlined lagoons or surface impoundments created near mountaintop-removal mines. Hundreds of these slurry impoundments are scattered across the Appalachian coalfields. Individual impoundments have been permitted to store billions of gallons of waste. … In 2000 a slurry impoundment operated by the Martin County Coal Company in Kentucky broke through into abandoned mineworks, out old mine portals, and into tributary streams of the Big Sandy River. More than 300 million gallons of coal slurry fouled the waterway for a hundred miles downriver.
So, living near a coal mine is probably bad for your health.
Concentration of Land
Wikipedia claims that land in Appalachia (or maybe it was just WV) is highly concentrated in just a few hands–one of those being the government, as much of Appalachia is national parks and forests and the like. Of course, this could be an effect rather than a cause of poverty.
Appalachia may be “isolated” and “rural,” but it’s quite close to a great many cities and universities. Parts of West Virginia are close enough to DC that people apparently commute between them.
In the early 1900s, so many people left Appalachia for the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest that U.S. Route 23 and Interstate 75 became known as the “Hillbilly Highway.” (BTW, I don’t think Appalachians like being called “hillbillies.”)
Compared to Appalachian areas in Arkansas or Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kentucky are particularly close to the industrial regions and coastal universities. As a result, they may have lost a far larger number of their brightest and most determined citizens.
While the Appalachian states don’t have particularly low IQs, their IQ curve seems likely to be narrower than other states’. West Virginia, for example, is only about 3% black, 1% Hispanic, and 0.5% Asian. MA, by contrast, is 9% black, 11% Hispanic, and 6% Asian. Blacks and Hispanics tend to score lower than average on IQ tests, and Asians tend to score higher, potentially giving MA more people scoring both above and below average, while WV may have more people scoring right around the middle of the distribution. With its brightest folks heading to universities outside the region, Appalachia may continue to struggle.
And finally, yes, maybe there is just something about the kinds of people who live in Appalachia that predispose them to certain ailments, like smoking or over-eating. Perhaps the kinds of people who end up working in coal mines are also the kinds of people who are predisposed to get cancer or use drugs. I don’t know enough people from the area to know either way.
To the people of Appalachia: I wish you health and happiness.
Finishing up with our discussion, (in response to a reader’s question):
Why are people snobs about intelligence?
Is math ability better than verbal?
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:
It even holds internationally:
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.”
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Continuing with yesterday’s discussion (in response to a reader’s question):
Why are people snobs about intelligence?
Is math ability better than verbal?
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.
…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.
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 millionsto 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.
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.
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.
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 warriorclass, 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.)
(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.
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.
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.
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.
ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν, ἀποθνῄσκει νέος — he whom the gods love dies young. (Meander)
Harpending wasn’t particularly young, nor was his death unexpected, but I am still sad; I have enjoyed his work for years, and there will be no more. Steve Sailer has a nice eulogy.
In less tragic HBD-osphere news, it looks like Peter Frost has stopped writing his blog, Evo and Proud, due to Canadian laws prohibiting free speech. (There has been much discussion of this on the Frost’s posts that were carried over on Unz; ultimately, the antisemitism of many Unz commentators made it too dangerous for Frost to continue blogging, even though his posts actually had nothing to do with Judaism.)
Back to our subject: This is an attempt to answer–coherently–a friend’s inquiry.
Why are people snobs about intelligence?
Is math ability better than verbal?
Do people only care about intelligence in the context of making money?
We’re going to tackle the easiest question first, #2. No, math ability is not actually better than verbal ability.
Imagine two people. Person A–we’ll call her Alice–has exceptional verbal ability. She probably has a job as a journalist, novelist, poet, or screenwriter. She understands other people’s emotions and excels at interacting verbally with others. But she sucks at math. Not just suck; she struggles counting to ten.
Alice is going to have a rough time handling money. In fact, Alice will probably be completely dependent on the other people around them to handle money for them. Otherwise, however, Alice will probably have a pretty pleasant life.
Of course, if Alice happened to live in a hunter-gatherer society where people don’t use numbers over 5, she would not stand out at all. Alice could be a highly respected oral poet or storyteller–perhaps her society’s version of an encyclopedia, considered wise and knowledgeable about a whole range of things.
Now consider Person B–we’ll call her Betty. Betty has exceptional math ability, but can only say a handful of words and cannot intuit other people’s emotions.
Betty is screwed.
Here’s the twist: #2 is a trick question.
Verbal and mathematical ability are strongly correlated in pretty much everyone who hasn’t had brain damage (so long as you are looking at people from the same society). Yes, people like to talk about “multiple intelligences,” like “kinesthetic” and “musical” intelligence. It turns out that most of these are correlated. (The one exception may be kinesthetic, about which I have heard conflicting reports. I swear I read a study somewhere which found that sports players are smarter than sports watchers, but all I’m finding now are reports that athletes are pretty dumb.)
Yes, many–perhaps most–people are better at one skill than another. This effect is generally small–we’re talking about people who get A+ in English and only B+s in math, not people who get A+ in English but Fs in math.
The effect may be more pronounced for people at the extremes of high-IQ–that is, someone who is three standard deviations above the norm in math may be only slightly above average in verbal, and vice versa–but professional authors are not generally innumerate, nor are mathematicians and scientists unable to read and write. (In fact, their professions require constantly writing papers for publication and reading the papers published by their colleagues.)
All forms of “intelligence” probably rely, at a basic level, on bodily well-being. Your brain is a physical object inside your body, and if you do not have the material bits necessary for well-being, your brain will suffer. When you haven’t slept in a long time, your ability to think goes down the tubes. If you haven’t eaten in several days (or perhaps just this morning), you will find it difficult to think. If you are sick or in pain, again, you will have trouble thinking.
Healthy people have an easier time thinking, and this applies across the board to all forms of thought–mathematical, verbal, emotional, kinesthetic, musical, etc.
“Health” here doesn’t just include things we normally associate with it, like eating enough vegetables and swearing to the dentist that this time, you’re really going to floss. It probably also includes minute genetic variations in how efficient your body is at building and repairing tissues; chemicals or viruses you were exposed to in-utero; epigenetics, etc.
So where does this notion that math and science are better than English and feelings come from, anyway?
A. Math (and science) are disciplines with (fairly) objective answers. If I ask you, “What’s 2+2?” we can determine pretty easily whether you got it correct. This makes mathematical ability difficult to fudge and easy to verify.
Verbal disciplines, by contrast, are notoriously fuzzy:
riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend
I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair – it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up. My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi presentable.
Best-seller, or Mary Sue dreck?
And what does this mean:
Within that conflictual economy of colonial discourse which Edward Said describes as the tension between the synchronic panoptical vision of domination – the demand for identity, stasis – and the counterpressure of the diachrony of history – change, difference – mimicry represents an ironic compromise. If I may adapt Samuel Weber’s formulation of the marginalizing vision of castration, then colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite. Which is to say, that the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence; in order to be effective, mimicry must continually produce its slippage, its excess, its difference. (source)
If we’re going to argue about who’s smartest, it’s much easier if we can assign a number to everyone and declare that the person with the biggest number wins. The SAT makes a valiant effort at quantifying verbal knowledge like the number of words you can accurately use, but it is very hard to articulate what makes a text so great that Harvard University would hire the guy who wrote it.
B. The products of science have immediately obvious, useful applications, while the products of verbal abilities appear more superficial and superfluous.
Where would we be today without the polio vaccine, internal combustion engines, or the transistor? What language would we be writing in if no one had cracked the Enigma code, or if the Nazis had not made Albert Einstein a persona non grata? How many of us used computers, TVs, or microwaves? And let’s not forget all of the science that has gone into breeding and raising massively more caloric strains of wheat, corn, chicken, beef, etc., to assuage the world’s hunger.
We now live in a country where too much food is our greatest health problem!
If I had to pick between the polio vaccine and War and Peace, I’d pick the vaccine, even if every minute spent with Tolstoy is a minute of happiness. (Except when *spoilers spoilers* and then I cry.)
But literature is not the only product of verbal ability; we wouldn’t be able to tell other people about our scientific discoveries if it weren’t for language.
Highly verbal people are good at communication and so help keep the gears of modern society turning, which is probably why La Griffe du Lion found that national per capita GDP correlated more closely with verbal IQ scores than composite or mathematical scores.
Of course, as noted, these scores are highly correlated–so the whole business is really kind of moot.
So where does this notion come from?
In reality, high-verbal people tend to be more respected and better paid than high-math people. No, not novelists–novelists get paid crap. But average pay for lawyers–high verbal–is much better than average pay for mathematicians. Scientists are poorly paid compared to other folks with similar IQs and do badly on the dating market; normal people frequently bond over their lack of math ability.
“Math is hard. Let’s go shopping!” — Barbie
Even at the elementary level, math and science are given short shrift. How many schools have a “library” for math and science exploration in the same way they have a “library” for books? I have seen the lower elementary curriculum; kindergarteners are expected to read small books and write full sentences, but by the end of the year, they are only expected to count to 20 and add/subtract numbers up to 5. (eg, 1+4, 2+3, 3-2, etc.)
The claim that math/science abilities are more important than verbal abilities probably stems primarily from high-math/science people who recognize their fields’ contributions to so many important parts of modern life and are annoyed (or angry) about the lack of recognition they receive.