Say, Can I Borrow Those Moccasins?
The Continuing Conundrum of Race, IQ, and Status
by Wilton D. Alston
by Wilton D. Alston
- The important questions about the role of genetics in the explanation of racial differences in ability are not empirical, but theoretical and philosophical, and,
- When the theoretical questions are properly understood, proponents of race science, while entitled to their freedom of inquiry and expression, deserve the vigorous disapprobation they often receive.
~ Eric Turkheimer, from "The Theory of Innate Differences"
After I read Arnold Kling’s exceptional piece entitled, "Race, IQ and Education" I got to thinking, "Why do people identify so strongly with race?" Furthermore, why do libertarians – ostensibly embracing individualism almost as a dogma – spend any time on this matter? Then I got an interesting idea. What if everyone’s race cycled randomly on some periodicity? Imagine it!
Today you wake up Chinese; you spend a few days enjoying all the privileges thereof. At some unexpected moment, you become black. You enjoy a family gathering or two, undoubtedly just like "Madea’s Family Reunion" and maybe get your hair braided just for yucks. Next thing you know, you’re Italian, and so it goes. Along the way, nothing else about you changes, outside the typical cosmetic – dare I say almost aesthetic – qualities associated with race.
What would happen to our society if such a phenomenon occurred? (Any similarity to my concept here and TV shows like "Quantum Leap" or "Journeyman" is entirely coincidental! It would seem though, that the concept has a certain attraction, doesn’t it?) I just bet that within a very short time, people would completely shelve any thought of superiority or inferiority based upon race, due to simple pragmatism. If you might be of another race tomorrow, better to think it doesn’t matter than to spend any time trying to figure out how much it might matter today.
Everyone would become a methodological individualist not just in word, but in deed. Quoting Mises directly with regard to methodological individualism, we find:
It is uncontested that in the sphere of human action social entities have real existence. Nobody ventures to deny that nations, states, municipalities, parties, religious communities, are real factors determining the course of human events. Methodological individualism, far from contesting the significance of such collective wholes, considers it as one of its main tasks to describe and to analyze their becoming and their disappearing, their changing structures, and their operation. And it chooses the only method fitted to solve this problem satisfactorily.
First we must realize that all actions are performed by individuals. A collective operates always through the intermediary of one or several individuals whose actions are related to the collective as the secondary source.
All actions are performed by individuals. As such, one must focus on individuals, not their races, the qualities thereof, or for that matter, their hairstyles or hair quality. In the aftermath of my "Tell Me Again, Why Are You a Libertarian?" essay, I became aware of quite a bit of negative feedback. Not too surprisingly, none of this feedback was sent directly to me. Those who disagreed, particularly on my view of the unimportance of race, sent their screed to others, occasionally attacking the motives of anyone who would publish my words. (I found that truly amazing, but delusions of collective superiority manifest in many ways I guess.) In any event, I still happened to see some of it. Despite the rather passionate attacks launched by these believers in innate intellectual differences between races, I have yet to see anyone answer the question that I think rather obvious. The question basically amounts to, "So what?"
Even if one could conclusively determine that IQ (or any other supposedly important personal attribute) relates directly to race, what does a radical libertarian do with this information? Is the absoluteness of property rights changed? Negative. Should one include a race-based disclaimer with the NAP? I sure hope not! Would things like voting rights, minority set-asides, or anti-discrimination legislation become premises supported by market anarchists of every stripe? Darned unlikely. Basically, since the market anarchist doesn’t want the State to do anything, whether or not people with one or the other shade of skin are better runners or thinkers amounts to, at best, fun facts to know and tell. One’s success should be based directly upon one’s performance, regardless of one’s race. The market handles all such matters, does it not?
Only One Approach for Dealing with Race Makes Sense
In the essay I mention above, Kling notes:
(There are basically) three contentious issues caught up in the IQ-race controversy:
- Is there such a thing as innate cognitive ability?
- Is there such a thing as race?
- Is there a difference among races in average cognitive ability?
Kling hits the nail on the head when he notes that there are only four (4) approaches for dealing with these issues, which are: segregationism; denialism; compensationism; and individualism. (By the way, Kling is discussing an incident his daughter saw at school, which is why he mentions education in this context.)
He goes on:
Segregationism is the view that differences in average IQ across races justify segregation by race. It disturbs me that anyone would hold such a view, but it is out there and it needs to be confronted. However, I do not think that my daughter's school principal was motivated by segregationism, because the vast majority of African-American children were not put into the remedial math class.
Denialism means answering "no" to one or more of the three questions above. I am not a denialist, although I think that the case for a biological concept of race leaves room for doubt.
What I call compensationism means that members of disadvantaged racial groups should be given extra help or preferences. Affirmative action is an example of what I mean by compensationism. If a school principal decides to give all African-American children additional resources to learn math, that might be another example of compensationism. Compensationism can mean taking wealth from a low-IQ white person and giving it to a high-IQ African-American in order to compensate for the disadvantages of the average African-American. That strikes me as an awkward position to defend.
Individualism means treating everyone as an individual.
All emphasis is mine. Clearly the only truly libertarian approach is what Kling terms "individualism," and just as clearly race-based inherent ability plays little part in that paradigm. Of course, it’s no surprise that I find individualism to be the best alternative. After all, I’m a market anarchist. As I said in my "Tell Me Again" piece:
My perfect scenario would be to live in a world where no one gives a flying hockey puck about the race of another. I don’t feel this way because I'm more evolved or less interested, or because I haven't had bad experiences with other races in the past. (Heck, I’ve had a few bad experiences with my own race too.) I don’t place a lot of emphasis on race because that is simply not a viable option. Such an approach would be largely counterproductive for any American black person. For an American black man who subscribes to the logic of libertarianism it would be ridiculous!
My logic was a bit consequentialist, but nonetheless, without virulent self-identification with race, is there any reason to think people would care about issues like "forced integration"? Think of the number of supposedly important issues that would go away if, as Kling mentions, our species came under the spell of "group-identity amnesia"? Immigration? Non-issue. Affirmative action? Buh-bye. Government-sponsored reparations? Fuhgetaboutit. (Of course, the justifications for civil action based upon theft of property would still be strong, but that is an issue of property rights, not race.) The heinous actions taken after praying at the Alter of Racial Superiority – chattel slavery among them – would also be little more than bad, albeit very bad, memories.
Lest I be attacked for ignoring data, let me state unequivocally that I’m not suggesting that anyone ignore capability. Perish the thought! (For the record, I really rather enjoy my own group-identities – yes, I’ve more than one – and have done so for quite a while now.) I just feel like people sometimes place too much value on proxies and too little value on individuals. This misplaced reliance occurs on both sides of the race debate. The compensationist is just as misguided as the racialist. As Kling so aptly puts it:
Overall, I think that to do education properly, we need to take into account individual differences of ability. I do not think we should pay attention to race. Too much of our education policy seems to be driven by the opposite – we focus on outcomes in terms of race and leave the individual children behind.
Kling is correct, except of course for one thing. It’s not just our educational policy that is wrong. Too much of all our policy seems to be driven by paying too much attention to race. (That so few people – in the US anyway – could be termed "racially pure" is just another brick in the wall of irony around this whole issue, but I digress.) Some people mistakenly focus on race-based outcomes, in the case of misguided, ham-handed approaches like affirmative action, or fears, in the case of immigration, while leaving individualism to rot.
The individual is the thing. Vive la différence!
December 3, 2007
Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he’s not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.
Copyright © 2007 LewRockwell.com