Racism Due to Low Intelligence?

sammy-davis-archie-bunker-kiss-2Wray 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

Posting Blues, All-Consuming, Farm-Construction Life

It’s been 8 days since my last post. Work this time of year on a farm and in construction, and when  the bills surpass the income, means I work every day, dark to dark, without weekends. In the midst of this we got a mixed-lucky-break. A two-week, made-four-years-ago-contract, as part of short-sale-deal-vacation on a barrier island off the coast of Florida that if we don’t take we pretty much lose forever–and it’s during hurricane season. Which means I have to make up for that lost income while paying for trip expenses if I am also to cover August expenses. Yikes. We need vacation in winter when work is slow but then everyone is in school. There was a reason school was out during summer for the many farm families when every hand of all ages was valued and useful.

Another worst for us is walking away from garden for such long time just as it comes into prime; we need every bit of it to preserve for winter and save on food bills now.

Hell, I’m glad for a break to just write this. When you’re working full blast there’s no time for 140-character tweets even much less read a time-line. This life style was typical until unions.

So I hope to be back in a couple of days so please stay tuned.

Jim n

Deconstructing Feminist & Atheist Babies

jewish babyThere is a schizophrenic attitude (at least) towards what we call babies. Richard Dawkins has said all babies are atheists. On the other hand he tweeted that this is droll yet too contentious to be a speaking point. Joyce Carol Oates has said there are no misogynist babies. We will take that as meaning all babies are feminists. Others have said babies are born sexists by virtue of gender and anatomy issues.

Andrew Brown calls a halt to all of this, in a polemic against Dawkins, by saying his babies are cultural since atheism is really just another religion. Chinese babies are Chinese by virtue of their birth location. Brown implies we can only accurately nomer a baby  by an inherent trait or physiology. There are Down’s Syndrome babies, colicky babies, and even the occasional, good natured baby (will that endure as they age?).

Some Muslims will never speak of “converts” but only “reverts” because they believe that everyone is born a Muslim, even if some babies have this truth hidden from them by their parents who tell them they’re Christians or atheists. And there’s a style of atheist rhetoric that makes exactly the same point. To take two random examples from my recent Twitter stream: Joan Smith wrote: “I’m not convinced there are Muslim or Christian children. They have religious parents, but should be able to decide when they grow up.” And Richard Dawkins wrote: “When you say X is the fastest growing religion, all you mean is that X people have babies at the fastest rate. But babies have no religion.”

But there are no atheist babies, and certainly no agnostic ones. This is for two reasons. The first is that if we’re going to be consistent, and to demand that babies only be ascribed identities that they themselves embrace, there are no German, British or Chinese children either. There are simply the children of German and English and Chinese parents, who will in due course learn the habits and the rules of the cultures around them and grow into their parents’ language, nationality, food habits – and religious opinions. The way in which they express these will become more subtle and more interesting as they grow up – or at least we can hope it will – but the fact remains that babies are entirely anchored in the world by their parents.

Babies bear the brunt of being called whatever others choose. Babies cannot self avow (if they could they’d probably say STFU). They cannot verbally say “I am a gay baby” for example.

But you don’t get Dawkins and Smith complaining because people talk about “Chinese babies”. They think religion is different. Well, it is. For one thing, and despite the existence of loathsome and barbaric laws against apostasy, in most of the world it’s much easier to change your religion than your language or nationality. It is generally accepted that changing your religion is a human right, but changing your nationality is not. The big difference is that religions usually make it hard to leave and nationalities usually make it hard to enter. But in neither case does an individual get to choose as if no one else were involved. To imply that babies have a default theological position of atheism is as silly as assuming that they have a default language or nationality.

Brown claims that atheism is more of a political position than an inherent trait. He claims that all babies are born with a supernatural ability. The problem here is he assumes babies and humans can discern the one from the other. Human development is a long road of untangling the real from the unreal. Since babies and adults can be inculcated and self fabricate reality it would be better to say babies are born imagineers which includes the realism involved.

There is another reason why babies can’t be atheists or agnostics. Everything we know from science shows that supernaturalism comes naturally to children. It is not just that they believe much of what their parents and the surrounding societies tell them: they show a preference for remembering and transmitting stories that defy scientific rationality. So do we all, unless we train ourselves out of it.

Multiple meanings can be assigned to babies in the sense of Amish which means both a religion and a culture, and usually a heredity and past geography. I wonder what being a born patriot would imply? A baby that has a circumcision os is genitally altered bears this physical cultural attribute for life.

While all of this is greatly entertaining if one has had enough to drink, the point is really that babies don’t have a religious belief system at birth–some ability to construct internal realities doesn’t count as a religion. The point of feminist babies is that they really haven’t learned inequality or misogyny yet. Indeed most babies seem to love women or at least the nourishment they give them. So babies are born lovers. A love baby is something quite different.

While I find this most entertaining, I must consider the implications of being a born atheist or feminist. Atheism is trusting evidence. All evidence points towards equality and justice towards others as being the best and typical way of human well being and survival. At least if we consider our tenure here as sufficiently long. By that count babies are born humanists and feminists purely by being born atheist. Our genetic inclination towards justice and equality are tainted by inherent biases. Nevertheless even culturally we have sought equality and justice in spite of a rather large amount of aggression. We haven’t killed each other off, yet, and cooperation has allowed us to become dominant.

In a factual sense at least it is true that a Chinese baby was born in China though recent immigrants may call their baby a Chinese baby virtually by the culture they wish to impose on their baby irregardless of geography. Are we having fun yet?

The disjunct is too many say atheism is just an absence of gods.That is all fine and good but how do they arrive at that conclusion? They say there isn’t enough evidence, or if they are rationalists, there is no rational proof of god(s). Yet they wish to divorce their conclusion from the process.

It’s as if to say there are no Tea Pots in the sky because no one has seen them but then say it doesn’t matter whether they’ve been seen or not because it’s not about the observation. Of course it is. What atheists are really saying is they are scientists with a smattering of rationality thrown in. Babies are born scientists. Or babies are born observationalists. Or babies are born thinking machines.

What people do when describing babies is to communicate something about that baby they wish to be true or that may exist to some degree. This gets sloppy when people don’t know or disagree what is cultural versus genetic. They will call their babies whatever they goddamned please. Clearly the babies need legal representation and probably therapy by this point.

To reach the state where you can really reflect critically on your own beliefs – rather than simply understanding that your parents are deluded old fools – takes a long time if it ever happens at all. As Bertrand Russell observed, many people would rather die than think and most of them do. And that is why no one can really be called an atheist or an agnostic until they have grown up.

Hmm, they may not think about being a born depressive until they’ve grown up either, or gay, or many other aspects. A Jewish baby may not deal with his circumcision for some time.

That babies are x, y, or z becomes a talking point with the poor little bastard of unmarried logic and science not even having a say.

Like all good deconstruction arguments there are no conclusions other than to make the discussion troublesome. What is important is to consider what one is saying when they assert born atheist, born feminist, or born theistic. Putting it this away it seems unlikely that babies are born theistic. They other two seem quite reasonable. I would hope no one would wish to claim their baby was born sexist or misogynist but then … No, no, stop, please.

Jim Newman, bright and well. www.frontiersofreason.com

Shelly Segal’s New Album, “An Easy Escape”

an easy escapeShelly Segal has anew album out, “An Easy Escape.” One of the songs, Morocco, has angered some for its depiction of drug use in Morocco.

“I clicked on it (the article) and put it in Google translate and it said: `Young Australian singer writes song very critical of Morocco,’ Segal said.

“And then it said later that I had denounced the kingdom. Which I have never done.”

Segal said the song focuses on her positive experience as a tourist and how accessible she found the country, alongside some of the social issues she noticed while she was there.

“It’s just to contrast that situation as a tourist and having fun and getting to escape my troubles, contrasted with some troubles local people are facing and questioning what is my place here … and what troubles do I actually have,” she said.

Segal also sings about being offered weed in the marketplace and about playing music with an eight-year-old boy who she noticed was “high as a kite from sniffing glue all night and… I wondered if he’d make it to 16″. The song’s chorus includes the lines: “Shelley do you want to go fly in the sky / Shelley don’t you want to get high and watch all your worries and troubles pass you by”.

“I have dreadlocks and people called out ‘Hey Rasta, do you want to buy some weed’ and that was the refrain, literally, of my trip so that fell naturally into the chorus of my song,” Segal said.

“There were quite a few children in the square at night that had been, they sniff glue, it’s quite a common thing in Marrakesh.”

It’s pathetic the binary view so many people have about all or any drugs. Once you begin to pay attention to your body you begin to realize so many foods and common drugs whether over the counter, in the grocery store, or illegal, have dramatic effects on your body. The common emphasis away from the body leads to a skewed discussion. Any chemical that alters awareness or makes you feel different becomes a drug. I don’t know about you but salt gives me the jitters. Aspirin makes my feel happier even when I am not in pain. It is quite possible to accept the use of drugs while deploring the addiction to drugs. Which drug, which population, to what extent, for what reason? Oh yeah, we don’t do nuance now.

“An Easy Escape” is about having a good time while observing what’s going on around you. More like a vacation than an escape. Most vacations have their dark side.

Beat Magazine interviews and she echoes what many artists say. They want their music to have multiple messages.

“I want there to be two levels of enjoyment,” she says. “[It’s OK] if people who listen to my music just like music and they like to hear a beat and some cool percussive lyrics sung in a pretty voice. But I also want to provide, for people who want more out of music, something to take away and think about. Those two elements are what I love about music and what’s enriched my musical experiences.” …

It’s a collection of songs that I’ve written over quite a few years,” she says. “This album feels a lot broader – this is more open to interpretation than the last record, which was very literal. Some of the songs on the record are travel songs, some of them are about love and relationships and experiences. All those things you can kind of escape into.

“Through the songs spanning over several years, it creates its own theme,” she continues, “because you’re changing and growing and the threads you carry through your life continue through your songs.”

That is the great thing about art isn’t it? Multiple messages, sometimes contradictory. Art is philosophy made physical but with much more freedom. Not so easy to translate to logic, A or B if not C equals D. Or as Laurie Anderson says in “Big Science” “Let x = x. Allow me to continue with this tangent.

What really pisses me off is related to comments that make gross remarks about women who are expressing themselves.

“A lot of people are saying that I’m a fat cow and that’s the most common comment really,” Ms Segal said.

These jerks deserve to be required to have mandatory therapy and care training. We are told laugh it off but it is evidence and root cause of worse things to come.

“An Easy Escape” is about positive experiences though.

They’ve still got that folk aesthetic, where they’ve got some substance to the lyrics,” she says, “but he’s really brought this upbeat sound [to it]. During the recording he drew pictures of a smiling sun and he stuck them in every muso’s booth. He was like, ‘Look at the sun. We’re playing happy sounds!’

“I think it’s nice to have that upbeat feel,” she adds, “because a lot of my songs – especially my love songs – are pretty sad and contemplative. It’s nice to have something upbeat keeping everything pumping along.”

Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com

Related articles.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Climate Change

global-warmingTwo interviews with Neil deGrasse Tyson on climate change. Particularly enjoyed the sad but true comment that the wealthy won’t deal with it until they lose their wealth. When Reagan was acknowledging holes in the ozone layer he flipped the problem and said it would be an economic opportunity. Vendors can make money selling sunscreen, hats, etc. I am waiting for climate deniers to flip and say it is an opportunity for alternative energy, new building construction, and pollution removal equipment–coming soon.

How is misery morally dismissed as economic opportunities for those in place to capture gain?


Jim Newman. bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com

Social Media and Cultural Literacy

twitter activismAs part of the WIS3 conference I learned to use Twitter. The reaction to the use of online media to discuss the abduction of Nigerian girls raised the issue whether online activism is more than virtual? The conclusion here was that it does. It raises awareness, gets personal narratives out, and begins further actions. If information and getting the word out is power than online activism is a vital part of material activism.

Collectives, coalitions, and groups are more effective. Gaining membership has always been the difficulty. Online exchanges help people sort themselves and further engages them by making the issues immediately tangible. It’s not some distant political issue but you’re friend right there online.

There is an anarchical aspect. Blocking helps with rabble and there are no trigger warnings. Threads are broken into digital flotsam. Messages are separated from their birthing discourse.

In “Faking Cultural Literacy” Karl Taro Greenfeld disses online engagement as superficial, know nothing.

What we all feel now is the constant pressure to know enough, at all times, lest we be revealed as culturally illiterate. So that we can survive an elevator pitch, a business meeting, a visit to the office kitchenette, a cocktail party, so that we can post, tweet, chat, comment, text as if we have seen, read, watched, listened. What matters to us, awash in petabytes of data, is not necessarily having actually consumed this content firsthand but simply knowing that it exists — and having a position on it, being able to engage in the chatter about it. We come perilously close to performing a pastiche of knowledgeability that is really a new model of know-nothingness.

Greenfeld basically blames social media for people reacting in a binary fashion and further that people do not bother to even read the linked articles beyond the headline if that.

According to a recent survey by the American Press Institute, nearly six in 10 Americans acknowledge that they do nothing more than read news headlines — and I know this only because I skimmed a Washington Post headline about the survey. After we’ve skimmed, we share. Commenters frequently start their posts with TL;DR — short for Too Long; Didn’t Read — and then proceed to offer an opinion on the subject at hand anyway. As Tony Haile, the chief executive of the web traffic analytics company Chartbeat, recently put it, “We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading.” (He tweeted that.)

Hmm. In learning to use Twitter the real time aspect of involvement has an immediacy that is difficult to perceive until you have used it. If anything it seems more responsive and involved. While the time spent on any given message gets less and less as you try to speed through the many tweets the intensity of the exchange is not less but more. After awhile the long articles linked to tweets begin to feel like rumination, excessive digestion of information already found in many other tweets.

I found myself skimming the linked articles looking for information rather than enjoying language and structure though that wasn’t totally absent; I added articles in which I wished to linger later to lists and mailed links I could use as citations. The links do not clue the content as they are encoded so you have no more information unless you interrupt your message stream to go find it. After awhile this seems like an interruption during heated conversation. The concierge has come by to tell you something while in mid sentence.

The long posts seem like news arriving to the West coast from the East coast by means of the pony express. What arrives is already old news, almost irrelevant.

This immediacy feels like eruptions from a didactic ADHD. They are effective at getting attention. Participation is not like sitting beside a creek in a sylvan glen but rather waterfalls rushing to pools and further waterfalls over bumpy calamitous rocks.

There are the many personal interjections as well where it becomes clear that real people are involved. It becomes near impossible not to wish to remain engaged in the stream of messages flowing by, sometimes at an alarming rate. In this sense it seems like information and personal accounts are coming to you at video game speeds where if you don’t keep up you might miss something vital and not make the next level.

To say that this is superficial is to miss the exchange of breadth for depth, for lingering versus running engagement. Of course, I can stop at anytime but the lure is strong. I don’t think this is unreal. I did experience it as an alternative universe while trying to engage in regular social life of Memorial weekend parties. I was the first of the party to know the UCSB shooting because the tweets were yelling my way–and this was the following day. This doesn’t help conversation where the pace of discourse is sedate and self monitored.

I don’t know if I can stand the speed of exchanges but it’s clear that once engaged it is of enormous value. When not engaged it is a force to be reckoned with in understanding how we positively participate in politics and others through social media.

Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com