Immoral/Amoral Flynn Effect?

There is a BBC article about intelligence, The surprising downsides of being clever by David Robson. Like many others before, the author questions our obsession with being super smart. Some of the typical data is trotted out and I don’t deny any of it. But I do wonder about the best interpretation.

The question may seem like a trivial matter concerning a select few – but the insights it offers could have ramifications for many. Much of our education system is aimed at improving academic intelligence; although its limits are well known, IQ is still the primary way of measuring cognitive abilities, and we spend millions on brain training and cognitive enhancers that try to improve those scores. But what if the quest for genius is itself a fool’s errand?

It is fair to correlate increasing education rates with increasing average IQ. Part of what IQ tests focus on, after all, is book learning (e.g., crystallized intelligence). The problem with this line of thought is that the greatest increase in IQ has come from an entirely different area, visuospatial problem solving (e.g., fluid intelligence).

Some of that is picked up from school as well, although much of it is gained from general changes in society and culture. Literacy rates have increased since IQ testing began and so there are more people reading, even outside of school. Urbanization rates have increased and, along with it, the kind of urbanized work and daily activities that requires more abstract thinking skills.

This involves a whole host of changes at a mass level that has never before existed in all of human history. In the US, the majority of whites were fully urbanized about a century ago and the majority of blacks about a half century ago. For all the millennia before that, human society was always primarily rural and most work was manual labor requiring concrete thought. Increasing education was a result of urbanization, not its cause.

As always, correlation doesn’t prove causation. Ignoring that for a moment, the author does make a good point when he observes that, “The harsh truth, however, is that greater intelligence does not equate to wiser decisions; in fact, in some cases it might make your choices a little more foolish.” He offers several examples of smart people not always thinking smart. That shouldn’t be surprising for anyone who has come across the “smart idiot” effect. That is the result of a lack of intellectual humility, something I’ve often thought about. For those who education has come easy, it could create an overconfidence in one’s intellectual ability, including in areas where one lacks experience and expertise.

Being smart in one area doesn’t mean being smart in all areas, not as rational or well informed or capable as might be expected. One example the author gives is that high IQ people can in some ways be worse in managing their money, e.g., overcharging credit cards. There might be an inverse relationship, at least in some cases, between abstract thinking and concrete thinking. I know, for example, that research shows it is hard to be emotional and rational at the same time. Parts of our brain and nervous system can to varying degrees act independently, and this can get expressed in our behavior. Humans are notoriously divided, as studies on dissociation have shown. Also, being smart may have little to do with being self-aware, at least beyond a certain point.

There are some other areas the author missed.

I came across an article recently. It was about kids and technology use. It is altering how they think, unsurprisingly.

It should be noted that games and stories made for the present generation of children are so much more complex than in the past. In certain areas, kids are brilliant these days. Take visual problem solving (fluid intelligence), a skill that has increased more than any other area of intelligence, according to IQ tests. Yet there is research that shows delays in other areas of development, such as reading skills.

Many things in life are a trade off. Socrates complained about literacy because it does change people, not just in how they think but also in how they relate to others and perceive the world. Some argue that increasing abstract thinking is what allowed more universal ideas and ideals, such as Christian universal love. Transforming the mind can transform the world.

The thing is we don’t know the consequences of such changes until after they’ve been happening for a long time, sometimes centuries.

All of that is fascinating. But there is an issue that so rarely gets discussed in these kinds of articles. There are complications involved that go far beyond any of this.

Most of the things that raise intelligence are related to what increases health in general, such as better nutrition and healthcare—all things directly related to increasing urbanization, I might add. Better physical health obviously leads to improved brain and cognitive development. This is also seen in other things like decreasing lead toxicity.

Yet there are other things that have the opposite impact. Mercury toxicity, which has become a common pollutant, is known to cause all kinds of mental health and behavioral problems while oddly increasing IQ test scores. Studies have found a connection of mercury to issues like increasing rates of autism. And in such things as aspergers there simultaneously is higher cognitive functioning in some areas and deficits in other areas.

There are some even stranger examples.

Infection by the parasite toxoplasma gondii has probably increased over the past century, because of an increase of people keeping cats in their homes. In some countries, much of the population is infected. This parasite alters brain functioning. Besides causing mental health problems, it increases intelligence in women while decreasing intelligence in men. It also increases the personality trait of neuroticism, which has been correlated both with higher and lower IQ, but not middle range IQ.

It might be relevant to note that one of the mental illnesses correlated to this parasite is schizophrenia. The same area of the brain related to math ability is also related to schizophrenia.

Anyway, my point is that the source of causality is important. Just because mental health issues sometimes are correlated with higher IQ, it doesn’t follow that educating people to be smarter is what is causing those mental illnesses. In many cases, there is a third factor involved, often physical and environmental.

This goes back to the post I recently wrote about the microbes and parasites we inherit from the people around us. I discussed that specific parasite and I noted, in the comments section, that at the large scale this might shape entire cultures.

All of civilization is a vast experiment. Our environments are constantly being altered, by our own actions and by outside forces. We are normally oblivious to all of this. But the factors we don’t see still can have immense effect on us.

We know that the average IQ has risen over the generations. And we know many other things have gone up over the same period. What we don’t entirely know is what are all of the causes behind these changes.

I’ve previously discussed the Flynn effect. One aspect of this is what has been called the moral Flynn effect. But considering some of the factors that can sometimes increase IQ while leading to other detrimental results, maybe we should also consider that parallel to this there is also an immoral/amoral Flynn effect. Not all things that increase intelligence are entirely beneficial for either the individual or society.

 

To Imagine and Understand

In reading lately, my main interest has been on the distant past of ancient civilizations. But circuitous curiosity has led me to other views about where we are heading into the future. The two, of course, are related—how we perceive the past determines what kind of future we can conceive. Putting that aside for the moment, let me focus on the latter.

One book that has held my attention the past few days is Hive Mind by Garett Jones. It’s part of the IQ zeitgeist or rather a response to it, an attempt to bring in a larger context. He discusses the Flynn effect, although interestingly he doesn’t mention the moral Flynn effect. That is an unfortunate omission, as it directly relates to the book’s topic.

Steven Pinker first explored the moral Flynn effect. I’d highly recommend reading Jones’ book along with Pinker’s, The Better Angels of Our Nature. It isn’t a matter of entirely agreeing with either author. What is important is that a necessary discussion is finally being had and these two represent innovative attempts at framing the issue for greater insight and understanding.

A major point that Pinker makes is about the increase of abstract thinking. An aspect of that is the rise in the ability to think in larger and more inclusive moral categories. And also the corollaries of perspective-taking and perspective-shifting, sympathy and empathy, theory of mind, etc. The following is one example of that below in terms of the novel, the kind of thing that some would label as “fluff.” Pinker writes (Kindle Locations 13125-13143):

It would be surprising if fictional experiences didn’t have similar effects to real ones, because people often blur the two in their memories. 65 And a few experiments do suggest that fiction can expand sympathy. One of Batson’s radio-show experiments included an interview with a heroin addict who the students had been told was either a real person or an actor. 66 The listeners who were asked to take his point of view became more sympathetic to heroin addicts in general, even when the speaker was fictitious (though the increase was greater when they thought he was real). And in the hands of a skilled narrator, a fictitious victim can elicit even more sympathy than a real one. In his book The Moral Laboratory, the literary scholar Jèmeljan Hakemulder reports experiments in which participants read similar facts about the plight of Algerian women through the eyes of the protagonist in Malike Mokkeddem’s novel The Displaced or from Jan Goodwin’s nonfiction exposé Price of Honor. 67 The participants who read the novel became more sympathetic to Algerian women than those who read the true-life account; they were less likely, for example, to blow off the women’s predicament as a part of their cultural and religious heritage. These experiments give us some reason to believe that the chronology of the Humanitarian Revolution, in which popular novels preceded historical reform, may not have been entirely coincidental: exercises in perspective-taking do help to expand people’s circle of sympathy.

The science of empathy has shown that sympathy can promote genuine altruism, and that it can be extended to new classes of people when a beholder takes the perspective of a member of that class, even a fictitious one. The research gives teeth to the speculation that humanitarian reforms are driven in part by an enhanced sensitivity to the experiences of living things and a genuine desire to relieve their suffering. And as such, the cognitive process of perspective-taking and the emotion of sympathy must figure in the explanation for many historical reductions in violence. They include institutionalized violence such as cruel punishments, slavery, and frivolous executions; the everyday abuse of vulnerable populations such as women, children, homosexuals, racial minorities, and animals; and the waging of wars, conquests, and ethnic cleansings with a callousness to their human costs.”

What we imagine matters. What matters even more is what we are capable of imagining. The society we are born into either helps to develop or stunt our imaginations, both individually and collectively.

There is a complicated relationship between imagination and reality. For us to know and understand a fact, for us to grasp the relevance of data, we must imaginatively enter into a world of possible meanings and implications. That is a core part even of the scientific method. A hypothesis has to be imagined before it can be articulated and tested, either to be proven or disproven.

However, sometimes a hypothesis is also a prediction, sometimes even a dire prediction. Still, the person presenting a prediction doesn’t necessarily want to be proven right—some hypotheses are best left untested.

As I was thinking about this, I came across something else from yet another book, a collection of essays edited by Richard Grusin, The Nonhuman Turn. It is from the essay in chapter 6: “Crisis, Crisis, Crisis; or, The Temporality of Networks” by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (Kindle Locations 3401-3419):

“To exhaust exhaustion we must also deal with— and emphasize— the precariousness of programs and their predictions. That is, if they are to help us save the future— to help us fight the exhaustion of planetary reserves, and so on— they can do so only if we use the gap between their future predictions and the future not to dismiss them, but rather to frame their predictions as calls for responsibility. That is, “trusting” a program does not mean letting it decide the future or even framing its future predictions as simply true, but instead acknowledging the impossibility of knowing its truth in advance while nonetheless responding to it. This is perhaps made most clear through the example of global climate models, which attempt to convince people that something they can’t yet experience, something simulated, is true. (This difficulty is amplified by the fact that we experience weather, not climate— like capital, climate, which is itself the product of modern computation, is hard to grasp.) Trusted models of global mean temperature by organizations such as Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) “chart” changes in mean temperature from 1970 to 2100.61 Although the older temperatures are based on historical data, and thus verifiable, the future temperatures are not. This suturing of the difference between past and future is not, however, the oddest thing about these models and their relation to the future, although it is certainly the basis from which they are most often attacked. The weirdest and most important thing about their temporality is their hopefully effective deferral of the future: these predictive models are produced so that if they are persuasive and thus convince us to cut back on our carbon emissions, then what they predict will not come about. Their predictions will not be true or verifiable. This relationship is necessary because by the time we know whether their predictions are true or not, it will be too late. (This is perhaps why the George W. Bush administration supported global climate change research: by investigating the problem, building better models, they bought more time for polluters.) I stress this temporality not because I’m a climate change denier— the fact that carbon monoxide raises temperature has been known for more than a century— but because, by engaging this temporality in terms of responsibility, we can best respond to critics who focus on the fallibility of algorithms and data, as if the gap between the future and future predictions was reason for dismissal rather than hope.

In imagining what we fear, it opens up to the potential of imagining the alternatives, specifically that of catastrophe prevented or dystopia avoided. The dire prediction can goad people into action and maybe inspire them toward another direction, hope rather than dismissal.

Take the example of the Club of Rome report, The Limits of Growth. It was published in 1972, a couple years after the first celebration of Earth Day. There were many responses to it, including dismissal while others took it seriously.

The doubters claimed it was disproven because it never came true.

First, it apparently is unclear how many of the doubters read the report, as the predictions extended far into the coming century. The Rational Wiki states that, “It is often quote mined to make it appear as if it predicted total societal collapse by the end of the 20th century. Limits to Growth, in fact, offered various scenarios and a 2008 study has shown that the core predictions in its business-as-usual, or “standard run,” scenario trends have held true.[5]” As Matthew R. Simmons wrote (Revisiting The Limits to Growth: Could The Club of Rome Have Been Correct, After All?):

“After reading The Limits to Growth, I was amazed. Nowhere in the book was there any mention about running out of anything by 2000. Instead, the book’s concern was entirely focused on what the world might look like 100 years later. There was not one sentence or even a single word written about an oil shortage, or limit to any specific resource, by the year 2000.

At the Guardian, Graham Turner and Cathy Alexander quoted the conclusion of The Limits to Growth:

“If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.”

And then they noted that, “So far, there’s little to indicate they got that wrong.” Considering the report was published in 1972, that next hundred years goes further into the future than I’m likely to personally experience, although the generations immediately following my own surely will.

Second, even if they actually had developed a model that showed under continuing existent trends there was one possible scenario of the world ending by 2000, the survival of civilization into the 21st century wouldn’t prove they were wrong. It could simply mean the the conditions changed and so the trends shifted. Anyway, it wasn’t as if they were making predictions as dire as imminent societal collapse. The report was pointing to various trends and mathematically modeled scenarios: If this, then what? Or if that, then what else? It was informed speculation, a rather modest act of imagination well within the bounds of rational argument and factual evidence.

The reason the Club of Rome report was on my mind is because my father mentioned it to me. He leans toward denialism or at least, as a mainstream conservative, a profoundly ideological mistrust and wariness. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the crazy ’60s and ’70s, both of my parents were caught up in the mood of the times. The culture wars had yet to define all of reality and they were going through a liberal phase of their young adulthoods.

The first Earth Day happened when my mother was 25 years old and my father was 27 years old. It was a year before they had their first child, my oldest brother. And that first child was a year before the Club of Rome report. My father told me that the report depressed him, considering the proposed population growth and resource shortages. They had two more kids after the first (in 1973 and 1975), and I was the last. They decided to stop at three, despite wanting a larger family. They thought it would have been irresponsible to have more children on a planet that quickly was becoming overpopulated and overburdened, and even three was pushing it from their perspective.

So, the Club of Rome report changed their behavior. I imagine it changed many people’s behaviors. It is interesting that my father now sees that report as having been proven wrong. Wasn’t it’s purpose to alter choices made and hence to alter the results caused and costs incurred? Apparently, that is precisely what it did.

The early dire predictions might have changed the behavior, directly and indirectly, of possibly hundreds of millions of people around the world. Not to mention changing the behaviors of many in positions of power and influence, both inside and outside of government. Those effected, such as through wide-scale environmental regulations, would include the most (if not all) of the planet’s population, not to mention the biosphere itself and every ecosystem within it.

All of the major environmental policies came after the Club of Rome report. Take one example, that of air pollution regulation. It was in the 1970s that the United States the Clean Air Act. That severely limited the lead allowed in gasoline. It has since been credited for the largest drop in violent crime, and it should be noted that decreasing lead toxicity is also directly correlated with increasing average IQ, a boost to the Flynn effect and hence the moral Flynn effect. This pattern has been seen in countries all across the world, following their own regulations—although lead in gasoline only began to be restricted in sub-Saharan Africa less than a decade ago, 2006. Still, it isn’t even just about lead toxicity, as all pollution taken in combination leads to many externalized costs on the human level (and that is with environmental regulations in place):

About 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution, concludes a Cornell researcher. Such environmental degradation, coupled with the growth in world population, are major causes behind the rapid increase in human diseases, which the World Health Organization has recently reported. Both factors contribute to the malnourishment and disease susceptibility of 3.7 billion people, he says.”

That probably doesn’t even include ecosystem destruction, natural resource depletion, climate change disasters, and other environmental effects (increase of floods, droughts, desertification, poisonous algae blooms, malaria, etc).

Imagine that the Club of Rome report had never been written and never convinced the major governments to have taken any regulatory actions—if: pollution and environmental destruction had grown far worse than it is now, climate change and severe weather patterns had worsened, violent crime rates had shot further up, and the Flynn effect for rising average IQ had stalled. And imagine that multiplied across the entire earth’s population, a population growing exponentially faster (maybe already having reached 15 billion, instead of a century from now).

Yet that isn’t what happened. The Club of Rome report had a large impact, both on personal behavior and public policy. As a complex network of causal links and contributing factors, the collective effect (cumulative and exponential) magnified down the line might have massively altered the course of development, societally and environmentally. This might have helped to prevent or forestall negative consequences and challenging events. If the global population had grown even faster and environmental regulations had not been enacted in the major industrial countries, no one knows what might have resulted.

This obvious success of environmentalist ‘alarmists’ goes right over the head of the critics, i.e., denialists. The most famous of the Club of Rome critics, Bjorn Lomborg, lambasted the report a few years ago:

“Even in the developed world, outdoor air pollution is still the biggest environmental killer (at least 250,000 dead each year), although environmental regulation has reduced the death toll dramatically over the past half century. Indoor air pollution in the developed world kills almost nobody. Whereas the Club of Rome imagined an idyllic past with no pollution and happy farmers and a future world choked by fumes and poisons from industrialization run amok, the reality is quite different. Over the last century, pollution has neither spiraled out of control nor gotten more deadly, and the risk of death from air pollution is predicted to continue to drop (see Figure 4).

“Who Cares?

“So the Limits to Growth project got its three main drivers spectacularly wrong and the other two modestly wrong. The world is not running out of resources, not running out of food, and not gagging on pollution, and the world’s population and industrial output are rising sustainably. So what? Why should anyone care now? Because the project’s analysis sunk deep into popular and elite consciousness and helps shape the way people think about a host of important policy issues today.”

Such willful ignorance is mind-boggling. It is a total lack of both comprehension and imagination. He can’t envision the possible futures of that moment in 1972. It is beyond him to consider what would have happened if we had continued on the path we were on with no decreases of pollution, resource depletion, population growth, etc. He treats the report as if it were a mere academic paper or, worse, a melodramatic fiction. It was always intended to influence people and yet Lomborg acts as if the world was predetermined to end up where we now are, as if our choices and policies are meaningless or inevitable, and as if moral concern and moral imagination have no power to inspire new possibilities.

Lomborg continues his skewering of those misguided ‘alarmists’:

“In the developed world, the push to eliminate pesticides has ignored their immense benefits. Going completely organic would increase the cost of agricultural production in the United States by more than $100 billion annually. Since organic farming is at least 16 percent less efficient, maintaining the same output would require devoting an additional 50 million acres to farmland — an area larger than the state of California. And since eating fruits and vegetables helps reduce cancer, and since organic farming would lead to higher prices and thus lower consumption, a shift to purely organic farming would cause tens of thousands of additional cancer deaths.

“Paying more than $100 billion, massively increasing the amount of the country’s farmland, and killing tens of thousands of people seems a poor return for avoiding the dozens of American deaths due to pesticides annually. Yet this is how the Limits to Growth project and similar efforts have taught the world to think, making people worry imprudently about marginal issues while ignoring sensible actions for addressing major ones.”

It doesn’t occur to him to consider the costs. Besides the environmental destruction to ecosystems and species, our over-reliance on chemicals is itself a contributing factor to the high cancer rates. Plus, the use of chemicals for farming has allowed less nutritious foods to be produced, as these new farming methods are destructive to the soil. On top of that, I wouldn’t dismiss the impact on species. Consider the honey bee with global populations decimated by pesticides. Our entire way of life is dependent on the honey bee. His entire argument falls apart at this point.

The old Chinese curse is to tell someone, May you live in interesting times. Presumably, that is a curse directed at younger and healthier people who will outlive the one uttering it. Maybe the times we live in are less ‘interesting’ than they otherwise would have been.

That is the thing about predictions. If enough people or simply the right people are paying attention, it can entirely alter the prediction. When making dire predictions, usually it is hoped that people will be motivated to take actions to prevent the prediction. So, the best dire prediction is the one that falsifies itself. But by its nature such a prevented prediction can never get credit for what it accomplished.

It is the opposite of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I guess we could call it a self-denying prophecy.

That is the power of the moral imagination. But imagination is always at play, even when its power is misunderstood and misapplied.

In responding to denialists, Rex Weyler wrote:

“New York Times economist Peter Passel attacked the Limits book by conjuring false claims that all the study’s simulations “invariably end in collapse” and that the book predicted depletion of critical resources by 1990. The book, however, made no such predictions, and on the contrary, offered sound suggestions to avoid collapse. These facts did not deter the denialists.

“There are no great limits to growth,” U.S. president Ronald Reagan declared in 1985, “when men and women are free to follow their dreams … because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.

“This inspiring Reaganism serves as the official corporate rebuff to any talk of environmental limits. Lomborg claimed: “Smartness will outweigh the extra resource use.” Dreams. Imagination. Smartness. Humans, the theory went, are just too clever to be restricted by biophysical limits.”

Imagination, instead helping us to understand reality, can disconnect us from the world around us. It can even disconnect us from our own humanity. The ruling elite in particular can come to believe, through technology and brute power, that they have become as if gods. They don’t bow down to reality. They create their own reality:

“The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.””

This goes back to Garett’s view in Hive Mind. In the ruling elite worldview, it is all about a self-empowered meritocracy. They assume they are the best minds, men of vision and action. Indeed, the ruling elite on average are high IQ and well educated. But as Garett argues, individuals can only be as good as the society they are part of.

Imagination has the potential to not only connect us to larger realities, larger webs of causes and greater visions. Beyond that, it allows us to connect to the world around us and the earth upon which we all live. Imagination is an immense power—we should be careful how it is used and for what purpose.

We need to remind ourselves that our world is built upon millennia of societal progress and millions of years of evolution. In doing so, we need to reimagine our place, as members of both human and nonhuman communities. We aren’t the center of Creation, no matter how smart we think we are.

Racists Losing Ground: Moral Flynn Effect?

I’ve been ‘debating’ with the new variety of racist who denies being racist. He claims that it isn’t his fault that he is prejudiced against blacks, because he believes their supposed inherent inferiority means they don’t deserve to be treated as equal.

See? He isn’t racist. He is just being realistic. It’s race realism.

Then again, I’m not sure this kind of racism is genuinely new. Your average Klansman or slave owner probably never thought of themselves as racists. They too surely thought they were being realistic. It was just the way the world was. The races were distinctly different. Some people were just better than others from birth. It requires no modern understanding of genetics to think this way.

Anyway, what blows my mind about this ‘realism’ is how unrealistic it is. This guy will point to a few facts and argue it proves he is right. Yet at the same time he will dismiss or simply ignore the dozens of sources of data that I offer. Then later on he will act like all that contrary info doesn’t exist.

It’s a strange cognitive blindness. In some ways, I think he is absolutely sincere in his unacknowledged racism. He isn’t being a troll. He just lacks any sense of objectivity. He simply cannot see what doesn’t fit his worldview. It is the ultimate form of political correctness. He doesn’t merely deny the validity or moral worth of what he disagrees with, for he denies its very existence. What isn’t politically correct in his mind has no compelling sense of ‘reality’ in his experience.

At times, I’d call this willful ignorance. But as I’ve come to believe, I doubt that such people have enough self-awareness to be willful about much of anything. It is so deep in their psyche that it isn’t a decision they make. Their brains are straight-up incapable of processing divergent information.

He is a perfect example of confirmation bias and the backfire effect, which according to studies does strongly correlate to social conservatism and prejudice. One of the saddest results of this is that it has been demonstrated that white people, when presented with evidence of racism, become more racially biased (and undoubtedly, along with it, more socially conservative).

I’d bet a similar pattern is even found with white liberals. It might be along the lines of how liberals who saw video of the 9/11 attacks became more supportive of Republican policies of War on Terrorism. Liberalism gives some protection against such reactionary stances, but even liberalism has a tough time resisting the persuasion of fear.

The difference is important, though, in that conservatives live in a near permanent state of fear that is just below the surface. This takes the form of a background sense of anxiety, a need for order, and a strong disgust response. It is why social conservatism isn’t just correlated to prejudice, but also repulsion toward rotten fruit and hypochondria.

It is also why social conservatives and racists have on average lower IQs. In the studies, it is shown that conservatives have less capacity for abstract thought and cognitive load. To put it simply, they can’t deal well with either complex thought processes or anything that demands too much simultaneous cognitive activity.

This is why conservatives prefer highly focused activities. Conservatives do have a talent for excluding things from their focus, what is called a thick boundary (and for some activities this is an advantage; e.g., surgery). This is obviously related to such things as racism and xenophobia, as a thick boundary also means excluding people from their psychological experience and social identity.

Categories seem more rigid to those on the political right, and racists embody this most clearly. They take reification to heart. An idea like race is never just an idea to them. It doesn’t matter to them that a scientific consensus has formed in support of the view that the folk taxonomy of races is a social construct, rather than a scientifically valid category.

Those on the political right are constantly complaining about liberal political correctness. I’m not saying that political correctness isn’t found on the left, but I don’t think that is what is fueling the complaint. There is an obvious component of projection involved.

I’m not being politically correct when I disagree with racists. I’m not denying the data they cherrypick. I simply point out that they are ignoring a lot of data and alternative interpretations. The data doesn’t speak for itself. There is nothing about the data that forces one to become a racist. Prejudice is what we bring to the data, not what the data proves.

I’ve often argued with racists that I’m not arguing for any particular position. I don’t have a dogmatic ideology to defend, as does the racist. I’m open to multiple perspectives. I’m even open to genetics and culture playing a role, but I’m also open to there being a complex interplay between those factors and everything else, from epigenetics to environmental conditions. Anyone who has to defend a preconceived conclusion and deny all that contradicts it isn’t taking the issue seriously on its own terms.

The problem is there isn’t an even playing field in such ‘debates’. The average non-racist is more intelligent than the average racist. It isn’t even about education, as even when confounding factors such as education are controlled for, this IQ disparity persists. Even more well educated racists tend to have lower IQs than those of comparable education levels.

The ironic part of this is that this phenomenon is largely environmental. As Stephanie Pappas over at Live Science explained:

“People with lower cognitive abilities also had less contact with people of other races.

“”This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that intergroup contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining, and consistent with findings that contact reduces prejudice,” said Hodson, who along with his colleagues published these results online Jan. 5 in the journal Psychological Science.”

So, interacting with those who are different not only decreases prejudice but also increases intelligence. The two are inseparable. This supports the argument for the Moral Flynn Effect, rising cognitive capacity parallels rising moral capacity, for both depend on brain health and mental development.

The other irony is that it is low IQ racists who are prone to dismiss blacks because of their lower on average IQs. The two demographics are similar, as both demographics have higher rates of social conservatism. The hatred racists feel toward blacks probably is closely linked to an awareness of their similarities. It’s the reason my working class grandfather hated blacks. It’s why so many groups in American society have clung to their group identities, of course seeing their group as better than all others.

Social conservatism also correlates to lower economic class. When one lacks economic security, a sense of group solidarity becomes all the more important, be it solidarity of race, ethnicity, religion, or whatever. Furthermore, the conditions of being on the poorer end of the scale are less conducive toward optimal brain development. The lower classes are more likely to have nutritional deficiences, to live in food deserts, to miss meals because of lack of money, to be exposed to toxic environments, to experience more social stress and child abuse, etc. Studies again and again show the massive impact this has on the developing brain.

An example of this is that social conservatives, both white and black, have stronger support for spanking children. Studies have shown that spanking children correlates to lower IQ. I’m not sure the causal link is proven, but it seems plausible that the regular stress of being hit by one’s parents could cause stunting of cognitive development. It is known that other forms of stress have a direct causal impact on brain growth.

Sure, poor minorities get hit the worst by these dire conditions. But it’s not as if all whites are middle and upper class. Poor whites show all the same kinds of cognitive issues and social problems.

Racism is a bit different, though. The more overt forms of bigotry are more common among the lower classes. Yet, even when poverty is controlled for, racists still show lower IQs. Other aspects of the social environment are just as important as poverty. For example, white flight to the suburbs and later gentrification created the conditions of low diversity, the very factor most closely associated with prejudice. What these wealthier whites share with the poorer whites is this racial homogeneity of their respective communities, as even poor whites tend not to live around as many blacks, poor or otherwise.

On the opposite side, it doesn’t take wealth to make someone more likely to be socially liberal as an adult. It only requires a diverse environment in childhood, especially in the context of a large peer group. The more friends a child has and the more diverse are those friends the more that the child will likely be socially and cognitvely challenged, which is to say that later on they will more likely be less racist and more intelligent, specifically fluid intelligence that includes abstract thinking skills.

When dealing with racists, you are on average dealing with people who have less cognitive capacity. They aren’t pretending to not understand what seems obvious to the non-racist. They really don’t understand.

Dogmatic ideology and groupthink are heuristics. They are ways to simplify thinking. When someone has less capacity for complex thought and abstract thought, they need to rely more on heuristics. A lower IQ racist doesn’t treat people as individuals, which would require greater cognitive load than they are capable of. Instead, they just have to see the outward physical features and apply the appropriate ideological category. This allows for easy pre-formed responses to complex realities.

The Moral Flynn Effect gives us some hope. Even the average conservative has a higher IQ than in the past. They are also less overtly bigoted. I think there is a connection between the two. Racism, if it is to continue to decrease, will have to lessen across generations. Those who are racist right now will likely remain racist, but their children will on average be slightly less racist than they are. This is particularly true as the younger generations move into more diverse urban areas.

However, there are other factors moving in the opposite direction. Some police departments are intentionally refusing to hire anyone with IQs that are too high. This means that they are purposely selecting for police officers who will be more prejudiced. Research has also confirmed that police with less education are more likely to abuse their authority and to support violent tactics used in their departments. It is disturbing to consider that the average police officer has an IQ lower than that of the average secretary and the police profession has an IQ range about the same as that of auto mechanics.

It’s unsurprising that one of the results seen is all the data showing that police have racial biases, which they act on (e.g., more likely to shoot an unarmed black person than an armed white person, and this with the data showing whites are more likely to carry illegal weapons). I’m willing to bet the higher IQ officers act in less biased ways. The problem is that policing plays right into racist beliefs. Racially biased cops arrest more blacks even for crimes whites commit at higher rates. Then racist whites point to this arrest data as proof blacks are more violent and criminal.

An interesting point to consider is that studies show, as lower educated police are more abusive, lower educated and lower IQ people in general are more abusive. Most hate crimes are racially motivated. I’m sure lower IQ racists are on average more likely to be violent and criminal, or at the very least more condoning of the violence used against minorities (both private and state-sanctioned). Stand-your-ground laws, for example, have been shown to increase the number of blacks who get legally killed and the number of whites who get away with such murders. Of course, social conservatives, in particular the most racially biased, are fine with this.

There isn’t much we can do about the present generation of racists. The best response is to promote the factors that decrease the dynamic of low intelligence and high prejudice. For certain, we should make sure that the most important positions in society are filled by the most intelligent people, even as we seek to raise up the intelligence of the entire population.

I disagree with race realists that IQ is genetically determined. Even the average low IQ of racists isn’t simply a fate we must accept. Racists are as much victims of their environments as are the minorities they are racist against.

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Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes:
Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact
by Gordon Hodson and Michael A. Busseri

Do Racism, Conservatism, and Low I.Q. Go Hand in Hand?
Lower cognitive abilities predict greater prejudice through right-wing ideology.
by Goal Auzeen Saedi

Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice
by Stephanie Pappas

Intelligence Study Links Low I.Q. To Prejudice, Racism, Conservatism
by Rebecca Searles

Liberal or Conservative: Study Finds Childhood Influence
Did you talk back to your parents? Were you fearful or focused?
by U.S. News

White People Are Fine With Laws That Harm Blacks
The futility of fighting criminal justice racism with statistics.
by Jamelle Bouie

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science
How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link.
by Chris Mooney

High IQ = Liberal, Atheist, Monogamous
by James Joyner

Can Someone Be Too Smart To Be A Cop?
By Katie Rucke

Too smart to be a good cop
By Razib Khan

Police Brutality and Deadly Force; How Bias, Power and Lower IQs Kill
by Thomas Parisi

Ferguson And Keeping High-IQ Folks Out Of The U.S. Police Force
by Gary Robinson

Do You Have A High IQ Score And Want To Be A Cop?… Forget It!
Submitted by SadInAmerica

Modern IQ ranges for various occupations
By IQ Comparison Site

Average IQ by occupation (estimated from wordsum scores)
by Audacious Epigone

The Impact of Higher Education on Police Attitudes Regarding Abuse of Authority
by Cody Webb Telep

Use of Force in Minority Communities is Related to Police Education, Age, Experience, and Ethnicity
by Christopher Chapman

Moral Flynn Effect?

What is causing the IQ increase over the generations?

It’s an important question, as the rise hasn’t been minor. I’m amazed every time I consider that the average IQ used to be what, by comparison to the present, would be considered extremely low intelligence, functionally retarded even if you go back a few generations from present living generations. If you have an average person today take an IQ test designed earlier last century, they would get results, relative to the results when the test was first given, that show them as being quite brilliant.

It makes one wonder what is measured by IQ tests.

This IQ increase is called the Flynn Effect. It was named after James Flynn who wrote a number of papers about it based on his international and cross-generational observations of testing, although Richard Zynn first observed it on a more limited scale in the Japanese population.

The Flynn Effect has been seen in both crystallized and fluid intelligence. The former is basically learned intelligence. This shows what you know and how well you are able to use it. The latter is more about how you are able to think, specifically abstract thinking and non-verbal problem-solving. It is the ability to deal with new and unique problems.

(As a side note, I realized how this applies to my own cognitive abilities. When I was youngr, I was delayed in my crystallized intelligence and precocious in my fluid intelligence. I was so delayed in the one that teachers initially thought I might have been retarded, but IQ testing showed that I measured high in pattern recognition and puzzle-solving. My strengths helped me compensate for my weaknesses. But if it had been reversed, compensation would have been much more challenging.)

The greatest and most consistent IQ increases have been measured in the fluid intelligence. No one exactly knows why, but explanations are diverse. Flynn sees it as primarily an increase in abstract thinking in line with the demands of modern industrialized society with all of its complexities: infrastructures, social systems, economies, technologies, visual media, video games, etc. Flynn points out how rural people even just a century ago didn’t demonstrate much predilection for abstractions (see Luria’s interviews with isolated rural Russians). With a different focus, others propose that the main change has been in terms of health standards and environmental conditions, that have allowed greater brain development.

The reasons interest me less at the moment. I wanted to note that the changes seen across the generations are quite real and significant, whatever they might mean. They are also continuing in many countries, including the United States, although the pattern doesn’t hold in all countries. We Americans haven’t yet hit the ceiling of IQ limits, and that applies to all demographic groups, although those on the lower end of the scale are rising faster and hence the IQ disparities are shrinking.

So, about this trend, what does it represent? Where is it heading?

There are some correlations that I find intriguing. Higher average IQ correlates to greater liberal-mindedness. Many studies have shown this. It seems related to corrleations found between other cognitive abilities and predispositions: openness to experience, thin boundaries, fantasy proneness, creativity, empathy, emotional sensitivity, social awareness, etc.

This probably connects to fluid intelligence, the ability to deal with new, unique, and unusual situations and problems. I’ve pointed out before that the strength and weakness of liberalism is its emphasis on abstractions, both critical thinking and wide-ranging empathy being dependent on this. There is a psychological fluidity with liberalism that appears to be linked to cognitive and intellectual fluidity. I’ve also noted this may be the reason that research has shown it easier to shift a liberal into a conservative mindset than a conservative into a liberal mindset. Liberals easily fall prey to contact highs, both psychological and ideological.

Unsurprisingly, liberalism (in particular, social liberalism) has increased in unison with rising IQ. Also, social democracy has spread and become more dominant following the wide-scale availability of knowledge because of movable type printing presses, mass publishing, public libraries, public education, etc; and is likely to spread further as all of these contributing factors spread further and are magnified by the internet and various new media technologies. Others have observed that the Axial Age began and came to fruition because of the development and popularization of alphabetic writing, scrolls and then bound books, and the formation of libraries. That beginning, uneven and shaky, did more fully take hold during the Enlightenment and greater still with industrialization.

Steven Pinker has made the argument that this corresponds to an impressive decrease of violence per capita across the centuries. This is what is called the “moral Flynn effect.” It’s not just an improvement of social and health conditions, but an actual change at the level of psychological and cognitive functioning, at least so the theory goes.

Fluid intelligence isn’t just about cold analysis, dry logic, and intellectual problem-solving. It’s more importantly about seeing patterns and connections and the ability to shift perspectives, such as ideological worldviews, ethnic cultures, and personal experiences. It’s not just abstract thinking, but it definitely involves abstract thinking. To empathize with someone far different from you requires an abstract capacity of universalizing human nature and seeking commonality in human experience. There is no way to go from concrete thinking to such inclusive extremes of empathy, to go from the known of one’s own experience and into the unknown of imagining other viewpoints.

You can see this mindset having struggled to take hold during the Enlightenment and early modern revolutionary era, and even well into the 19th century. One of the greatest debates at that time, including among the American founders, was whether all humans had a basic human nature. Did all people, even peasants and slaves, have a common experience of self-awareness, thought, and feeling? Did all people feel pain and suffering, desire happiness and freedom? Were all humans really the same on some fundamental level or were some populations more like animals?

These seem like silly questions to many modern people in modernized societies, but that wasn’t always the case. It has only been over this past century that psychological understanding has become common, and this has been in concert  with scientific thought becoming more widespread, the two being inextricably connected. To see the world through a stranger’s eyes requires a quite complex process of cognitive ability. It has to be learned and developed. No one is simply born with this capacity.

It’s amazing that we have advanced so far that we now take so much of this for granted. Still, we have much further to go. It does get me to wondering. Will we reach a tipping point when the American or global population reaches a certain level of IQ and education, specifically in terms of increasing ability of complex thought and perspective-taking? The average American today is smarter and more well educated than was the ruling elite from centuries ago. If you think the present generations of Americans are stupid, you should have seen their ancestors before most of the population was educated and literate.

On the other hand, some worry that increased abstract thought is causing a loss of concrete thought.But I doubt it is a zero sum game. By way of transcend and include, abstract thought moreso builds upon than replaces concrete thought. It’s that combining of cognitive abilities that allows for ever more complex thought. That is what I hope is the case. We are presently undergoing a massive social experiment to test this hypothesis.

* * *

See:

Are We Becoming Morally Smarter?
The connection between increasing IQs, decreasing violence, and economic liberalism
by Michael Shermer

Swords into Syllogisms
by Randal R. Hendrickson