Wray Herbert reports on new studies showing racism to be more frequent in people of low intelligence. While liberals knew this all along (#sarcasm) we tend to avoid this topic. Most people believe they are above average. Further it is a big taboo to talk about relative intelligence and politics, much less social topics. Yet, it may be true that the Meathead in Archie Bunker was more intelligent than his racist father-in-law Archie, or at least more compassionate, begging the question of whether the ability to empathize has some relation to intelligence or education to intelligence.
While division of labor supports expertise in a variety of areas as being useful, few want to acknowledge that nature and training, education, in thinking creates an expertise worthy of attention. While many would agree that if your car is broken taking it to a mechanic is a wise choice, or educating yourself to compensate for those people that seem to be able to fix anything mechanical. In intelligence we tend to refer to reliance on expertise as an ad hominem or appeal to austerity argument; because it is true or because it’s hard to follow the argument? Choosing a good car mechanic can be tricky. Mechanical Blue books and repair guides flatten the differences in native and educated expertise. Could something like these be developed for situations requiring intelligence?
The hot button is if racism is related to intelligence what do we do about it; what are its consequences?
Part of democracy is our insistence of any individual to be able question everything and anything, regardless, whether trained, educated, or intuitive. Or not. This does get us into trouble as in global warming where a few people can hijack the research of an overwhelming majority. It also works the other way where a majority of people who are racists overrule the few who keep trying to point out its continued existence, not to mention the vaccination debacle, or ebola fear.
In “Is Racism Just a Form of Stupidity?” Hebert goes where few are willing to trend–which is enough for me to respect him.
I think that a lot of us are shying away from an obvious truth: that the kind of blatant racial prejudice we are witnessing in Ferguson, Missouri, has everything to do with stupidity.
I’m talking about low intelligence, lack of mental ability, cognitive rigidity. Racists may be a lot of other things — hateful, insecure — but let’s not sugar-coat what most fair-minded thinkers believe in their hearts: A person of intelligence cannot embrace such authoritarian and racist views.
Let’s not sugarcoat it. Prejudice declines with presence of intelligence.
Let’s not stop there, however. It’s important, when dealing with such a controversial topic, to get down into the evidentiary weeds a bit. One of the problems plaguing the early research was that the results were confounded by other possible causes, like financial status and class and education. That is, it could have been these things, and not intelligence per se, that led to prejudice. Scientists had trouble sorting all this out. Scientists also didn’t have longitudinal data — data gathered on the same subjects over time — so they could not address the important issue of cause and effect. Plus their study samples were not representative of the population. But scientists have over time solved these problems, and the key finding has held up: Empirical evidence has consistently linked low intelligence with prejudice.
Importantly, scientists have measured intelligence in a variety of ways, and the main conclusion always holds up. In one study of white children, for example, some were less able to see that a short, wide glass holds the same amount of water as a taller, skinnier glass. This ability is known as “conservation” in the jargon of the field, and it’s widely considered an important mental ability. In this study, the kids who lacked this ability also held more negative views of black children. Other researchers conducted an ambitious meta-analysis — a statistical aggregation of findings from many studies — and this also documented a link between cognitive style and ability, on the one hand, and authoritarian attitudes on the other.
Longitudinal studies provide some of the most convincing evidence. One such study looked at general intelligence in 10- and 11-year-old kids, and then re-studied those kids as adults two decades later — and found a clear connection between low intelligence and subsequent racism and sexism. Similarly, higher intelligence in childhood has been shown to predict less racism in adulthood. These analyses strongly suggest that low intelligence actually leads to hateful attitudes later on.
But is this collateral or causal? Supposedly this has been compensated. Herbert goes on to echo others that say certain personality types self align with peers in their politics; authoritarians choose authoritarian-promoting politics.
Dhont and Hodson believe they have an answer to this, again one based on rigorous abundant evidence. Their theory is that right-wing ideologies attract people with lower mental abilities because they minimize the complexity of the world. Right-wing ideologies offer well-structured and ordered views of society, views that preserve traditions and norms, so they are especially attractive to those who are threatened by change and want to avoid uncertainty and ambiguity. Conversely, smart people are more capable of grasping a world of nuance, fluidity and relativity.
The empirical evidence supports this link, too. Low intelligence and “low effort thinking” are strongly linked to right-wing attitudes, including authoritarianism and conservative politics. And again, there appears to be a demonstrable causal link: Studies have found, for example, that children with poor mental skills grow up to be strongly right-wing adults.
It is interesting to consider that some people fall prey to specific heuristic biases more than others.
The scientists elaborate on this idea in the Current Directions article: Intelligence and thinking determine how people assess threats in the world. Those with lower ability — reasoning skills, processing speed, and so forth — prefer simple and predictable answers, because that is what they are capable of processing. Any uncertainty is threatening, and they respond to such threats by trying to preserve what is familiar and safe, the status quo. These conservative reactions are basic and normal — they reduce anxiety — but over time they harden into more stable and pervasive world views, which include stereotypical thinking, avoidance, prejudicial attitudes and over discrimination.
Along with others I call this the Bullshit Meter. Nassim Taleb recently Tweeted that he thinks the ability for qualitative logical analysis is like perfect pitch or a musical ear. It can’t be taught. My mother and other music teachers have taught pitch and ear to some degree but it usually requires effort and must be kept up or is diminished, if not wholly lost back to their base line–much like Lykken’s Happiness Setpoint theory. I wonder if intelligence is this way as well. Education and continued education, or exposure to social groups that provide intuitive education, allow people to make more complex and nuanced choices. But that can be lost if you move or change groups.
The truth of this was posited long ago by Plato who said truth, beauty, and goodness were a tight braid. Knowing the truth also means knowing goodness and beauty.
The big issue is how do we talk about this without offending, insulting the crap out of, many people. On the other hand we easily recognize that a fit person can run faster. An unfit person can learn to run more fast. Perhaps, we should value intelligence and educate towards that. Another problem is it’s easier to see a superior gymnast than a superior intellect.
Jim Newman. bright an well www.frontiersofreason.com