Race, IQ, and Numerical Distortions

Ten years ago, John Derbyshire, a respected veteran conservative writer, was summarily dismissed by National Review in response to a public outcry over an article about race in America. Derbyshire dived directly into the loaded question of how non-blacks ought to view and treat blacks, both as a race and individually, given the available statistics on crime, social behavior, and most controversially, intelligence. NR’s firing of Derbyshire, though certainly explicable in this era’s political and commercial climate, was, I contend, a cowardly decision — not least because the offending article was not even published at NR — and unfair both to Derbyshire’s long-term contributions on so many topics and to the spirit of free inquiry. 

I wrote about this matter at American Thinker back in 2012, as events unfolded, focusing not on the public fallout over the article, but on the argumentative content of the piece itself. My essay, “Race, IQ, and Derbyshire’s Kids” (an editor’s emendation of my proposed title, “Race, IQ, and Derbyshire’s Slow Child”), rather than pandering either to the kind of mock-outrage that has since come to be termed “virtue-signaling,” or to the mock-hard-truth-ism that would have appealed to the undercurrent of racial animus that was always prevalent among the AT readers’ comments on such topics, instead addressed Derbyshire’s central thesis on its own terms. In other words, I approached his article as a springboard for discussing the vexed issue of racial intelligence and its ramifications.

As the subjects I wrote about with reference to Derbyshire’s article remain entirely current and relevant today, and as my own view of these matters, at least with regard to the specific context raised by Derbyshire, has not substantially changed, I thought it might be worthwhile to reproduce my original 2012 essay here, with only minor cosmetic editing. I have updated the link to Derbyshire’s original article, so that the reader may review it in its entirety if so inclined.

Originally Published at American Thinker
April 12, 2012

The recent hornets’ nest disturbed by John Derbyshire’s article, The Talk: Nonblack Version, has occasioned a flurry of commentary — little of it, however, related to the one part of the article that ought to be controversial among conservatives, namely Derbyshire’s implicit collectivism. 

Allow me to offer up front that I have been an occasional reader of Derbyshire’s social commentary for many years, and have always found his work entertaining, thoughtful, and refreshingly straightforward. I appreciate his innate contrarianism, which is valuable within political factions (e.g., conservatism), and his willingness to speak in brutally honest terms when called for, thus cutting through a lot of the diplomat-speak that has smothered serious discourse in the modern world. And so, when I read Rick Moran’s post at American Thinker lambasting Derbyshire’s politically incorrect advice to his children regarding blacks, I was instinctively inclined to agree with the hundreds of readers who posted comments defending Derbyshire against the gods of mealy-mouthedness. After all, why shouldn’t a parent speak the truth? Urban black neighborhoods are more dangerous than white neighborhoods; a sudden influx of young black arrivals at a public event could spell trouble; hooded black men asking for help on the side of the road should be approached with some caution. The numbers warrant such advice.

The numbers. Ay, there’s the rub. Derbyshire’s strength in this subject area lies in his honesty. But honesty — saying what one believes — is not the same as speaking the truth. Derbyshire has the natural weakness of a mathematician and statistician, namely an inordinate admiration for numbers. Is he a “racist”? Certainly not as vehemently as countless famous ones on the left. He is, however, a man who lets his respect for numbers and statistics, i.e., for collective facts, get the better of his rationality. For numeracy and rationality are not the same thing. Numeracy involves the application of logical principles to numbers. Rationality, the more general term, involves the application of logical principles to the concepts appropriate to the given situation. In some areas, such as generic likelihoods of criminality, statistics may be the best principle of understanding. Human nature, however, is not one of these areas. 

Here is item 11 in Derbyshire’s list of wise words to young people on race:

The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low. Only one black in six is more intelligent than the average white; five whites out of six are more intelligent than the average black. These differences show in every test of general cognitive ability that anyone, of any race or nationality, has yet been able to devise. They are reflected in countless everyday situations. “Life is an IQ test.”

Yes, it took courage to write those words in an article written for popular consumption. Courage, but not necessarily understanding. 

Let’s leave aside Derbyshire’s faith in the efficacy of IQ tests as a measure of real innate intellectual capacity. Let’s assume, in fact, that IQ tests, or at least the ones he prefers, are perfect measures of intellect. And let us also grant that the racial group labelled “Black” consistently scores significantly lower on such tests than the groups labelled “White” or “Asian.” Granting every bit of that, what does any of it have to do with his advice to his children regarding personal safety? On the contrary, Plato — a far greater authority on human nature, I dare say, than any IQ test designer — warns that the man capable of the greatest good is also necessarily capable of the greatest evil. In other words, the most gifted are the most dangerous, which is why good moral education is so vital. If Plato is right, then one ought to suppose that the more intellectually gifted race is the one more likely to produce truly dangerous individuals, particularly in a place or time of degraded moral guidance. 

In fact, history would seem to bear this out (assuming Derbyshire’s IQ standards are correct). Quickly create for yourself a list of the ten most bloodthirstily inhuman characters in history — how many of them fall into each of the three main racial groups? For that matter, who is more dangerous to today’s young people, in real terms — some crack-addicted punk with a gun or Nancy Pelosi? If conservatives are prepared to put their money where their mouths are, the answer is obvious. The only problem with your list of the ten most evil men, however, following the Platonic principle noted above, is that Asians, who collectively score higher than whites on IQ tests, are probably under-represented. Mind you, that may be a product of Western ignorance of Asian history. During WWII, for example, Japan systematically kidnapped as many as 200,000 Korean, Chinese, Filipina, and other girls to be used as “comfort women” for the Japanese army. The majority of these young women died in captivity; the rest were left infertile due to physical damage or venereal disease. See what superior intelligence can do?

And yet, living in Korea today, and surrounded by large groups of Asians on a daily basis, I feel far safer walking the downtown streets than I ever feel in a North American city, regardless of the local population’s racial make-up. So it turns out that Asians (the higher IQ race) are more civilized and trustworthy than whites after all, right? Of course, this last judgment is nonsense. Korean cities are not safer because they are heavily populated by Asians, any more than Washington, D.C. is more dangerous because it is heavily populated by blacks. Such reasoning puts the cart before the horse. Specifically, in this case, it involves confusing numbers with reality. Numbers can be used to measure reality. They do not define reality. Nor, therefore, can they be used to explain it. 

Why did Derbyshire include the subject of IQ testing in his litany of reasons for caution in dealing with blacks? Presumably, he felt that this helped to explain something about black behavior. Does it? Do we know that the most violent youths, or, more importantly, their black “leaders,” are among those five-sixths of blacks who are below the intelligence of the average white? Furthermore, even if we could know that, what would it prove about the relationship between innate intelligence and anti-social behavior? It would prove only that there is, at this time, a statistical correspondence between incidents of anti-social behavior and low IQ scores. 

This is merely a measurement. It does not begin to explain what we would need to explain here, namely why there is such a correspondence, and whether it is anything more than coincidental. Why is this statistic any more relevant than the fact that the more dangerous urban centers tend to be populated by people with curly hair and flat noses? You ask, “What do hair type and nose shape have to do with violence?” Good question — and what does IQ have to do with violence? Derbyshire does not answer this question; he does not even ask it. He apparently takes it as self-explanatory. But it only appears so if one believes, as Derbyshire seems to, that numbers are reality, rather than merely a measuring tool.

The issues relevant to the rational parts of Derbyshire’s list are questions that cannot be answered with numbers. They are questions of history, politics, educational policy, and cultural manipulation by people of evil intent. Why are inner city black neighborhoods unsafe? Is it because the average black has an IQ lower than the average white? That’s not just flimsy reasoning; it’s nonsensical. What about the fact that generations of leftist politicians and educators have knowingly and calculatingly inculcated a sense of oppression, hopelessness, and dependency among urban black communities, and actively encouraged courses of behavior that necessarily lead to poverty and aimlessness? What about the cultural ethic of collectivism that encourages everyone to identify himself first by his race, and hence to see life decisions that are inconsistent with the accepted norms among one’s race as being “inauthentic,” and therefore undesirable? How about the public vilification — by intelligent blacks and whites alike — of every publicly recognizable black who does not live according to those carefully inculcated and deliberately limiting norms?

Morality and politics, not innate intelligence, are at the heart of the problems Derbyshire cites. By ignoring these issues, in favor of summarizing his warnings with a discussion of average IQ scores, Derbyshire reveals the limits of statistics in assessing societal problems. Human nature is not reducible to numerical analysis. Nor is human motivation. Derbyshire steps beyond the bounds of rationality when he carries his abacus out of the realm of statistical probability (e.g., a group of young black males is more likely to pose a threat than a group of young white males) and into that of philosophy. 

He reveals his weakness at the end of the IQ discussion quoted above. Having cited the racial differences appearing in IQ tests, he concludes, “They are reflected in countless everyday situations. ‘Life is an IQ test.'” Countless everyday situations where? Among what company? How are they “reflected”? This purely anecdotal judgment is left unexplained, and it is probably unexplainable. To tack it onto the end of a statistical analysis is a kind of intellectual trick. (It is the trick that an intellectual plays on himself.) It gives a veneer of logical grounding to a statement that is entirely a personal opinion, and one the terms of which are too abstract to be informative.

What is “reflected” in everyday reality, unfortunately, is the degree to which people with unorthodox views imagine that there is social value, not to mention truth value, in everything they think, simply because they think it. “Life is an IQ test.” I don’t know about that. But I do know that it is a common sense test, and a moral reasoning test. And Derbyshire fails these more important tests with his “straight talk” about racial IQs. 

Derbyshire has a daughter and a son. I assume he knows which of his children has the higher IQ. Let’s assume, hypothetically, that his daughter’s IQ is significantly higher than his son’s. Given that his children probably know about the extreme value their dad places on such tests, should he tell his son that the boy is much less intelligent than his sister? What effect would this likely have on the boy’s life? Would he be more or less likely to strive for high achievement? More or less likely to seek knowledge? More or less likely to see himself as full of potential, and to act accordingly? To draw an analogy between this hypothetical situation and the racial matter at issue is actually to understate the problem. For at least his son’s IQ score is indeed his son’s IQ score. A collective racial score is not the score of anyone at all — and yet the effect of publicizing it blankets every individual black with the stigma of inferior intelligence, precisely because it is a collective score. Thus, the harmful effect of telling one’s son he is far less intelligent than his sister is amplified by producing such an effect in the minds of millions of people, a large number of whom are not actually less intelligent.

All of this, again, is granting Derbyshire’s infatuation with numbers and IQ tests. As for IQ itself, its value is perfectly exemplified by the famous “genius” club, Mensa. In the movie, Airplane!, we see a passenger reading a ridiculously tiny book. As the camera zooms in, we read the title: “Jewish Sports Heroes.” That tiny volume looks like the complete Oxford English Dictionary compared to the book of culturally significant Mensa members.  

Should Derbyshire be castigated for speaking the truth about America’s current “black culture,” or for warning children to stay out of situations more statistically prone to violence? Phooey! On the other hand, should I bear in mind, while reading Thomas Sowell, that blacks have an average IQ lower than whites? What difference does that make? None. Thomas Sowell is not a race; he is a man. He is not a collective; he is an individual. The same goes for everyone else. Statistics can, at best, help us to understand collective numerical probabilities — and only that. When it comes to analyzing human beings, human nature, and human morality, to hell with the numbers, since they correspond to absolutely nothing in the world of particular beings in which we actually live.

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