Brett Stephens might have a point you know

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As the novelist Gary Shteyngart wrote on Twitter: “Woke up to a New York Times op-ed about one group being intellectually superior to others and citing a paper co-authored by a white supremacist as evidence.”

The op-ed in question, by columnist Bret Stephens, was called “The Secrets of Jewish Genius,” and the white supremacist Stephens invoked – from ignorance, one hopes, rather than malice – was the late anthropologist Henry Harpending. Harpending’s work has been repeatedly and spectacularly debunked by far better scientists, and most recently rejected as unfounded in March 2018 on the pages of the New York Times itself. It’s too much to expect Stephens to read the newspaper for which he works, I suppose.

Within a day, the Times appended an editors’ note to Stephens’ piece, explaining that it removed the reference to Harpending’s paper and to Ashkenazi Jews in general. The bizarre note also denied the column said what it said: that Ashkenazi Jews are inherently superior to others, including Sephardic Jews.

Hmm, well, we don’t think that humans are different from other animals in the inheritance of genetic traits. We’re also aware that intelligence is inheritable, although there’s no such thing as “the” intelligence gene.

So, now let’s run an experiment for a few hundred, possibly a couple of thousand, years.

In one group of humans we’re going to make being the priest, at least the religious leader, the most honoured and lauded of all occupations. Rich men will marry their heavily dowried daughters to the young men studying to be such. The encouragement will be that these couples explore their fertility to the maximal extent. Those tribes of 10 and 12 children, being of those who are by definition the richer in the society are more likely to survive and to go on to breed.

Entry into that priestly caste is going to be by being able to show exceptional intelligence.

We’re now rather breeding humans for intelligence, aren’t we?

In another group we’re going to again select for intelligence. Into that priesthood. And we’re also going to insist that the priests are celibate. Or at least officially so, any children being bastards and thus not enjoying that possibly higher socioeconomic status. Priests’ bastards weren’t unknown, by any means, but they were not high up the societal totem pole.

We could call our first group Ashkenazi Jews and their priests rabbis. We could call the second Catholics and their priests, well, priests.

So, run the experiment from around the year 1,000 AD, when Catholic priestly celibacy was first taken seriously. Now, that thousand years later, what would we predict would be the effect?

We’d rather think that the first population would have more of the genes of the clever chaps, the rabbis, than the second would of the clever chaps, the priests, wouldn’t we?

As to what we do find when we test those populations – well, Brett Stephens might actually have a point, mightn’t he?

And what’s fun about the opposition to what he said is what those opposing are saying. That it shouldn’t be true that this is possible therefore it isn’t and we shouldn’t talk about it. Rather than anyone managing to show that it isn’t true in the first place.

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Chester Draws
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Chester Draws

Note how “intellectually superior” morphs into “superior”.

No-one much thinks the Ashkenazi are superior at any sport, for example. Or pretty much any field of human life not directly intellectual.

They’re not superior. They’re merely different. Which apparently is not permitted.

Snarkus
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Snarkus

Similar to Niven/Pournelles Birth Right concept. ITIRC the Singapore government tried to get more of its young best and brightest to marry each other and raise intellectual standards. Did not work because the highly educated had other preferences, like careers. Da Vincis parents were not intellectuals either, suggesting selecting for best puzzle solvers may not be a winning strategy in long run. // IQ tests are basically puzzles. Much more to survival than puzzle solving. Something called wisdom perhaps ?

Phoenix44
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Phoenix44

It didn’t work because that’s not how genes work. There are many genes for intelligence, each contributing a small amount. The very intelligent have most or all of the variations in at least one of each pair that give you high intelligence, but any offspring, even with a highly intelligent mate, are likely to have fewer.

Only if you mated two individuals each with two copies of each variation of gene would you not see offspring with lower intelligence.

Snarkus
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Snarkus

err, no. Not issue or point. Potential pairs of high scorers did not like one another. Individual choices and all that. Reminds me of Arthur Clark’s comment that in the long run, it is not proven that intelligence is a survival asset, much as I disagree.

Spike
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Spike

Obama told us that the essential problem with America is that we deny full participation to entire groups based on a superficial conclusion that they aren’t like us. The how do Jews, who take pains to show they aren’t like us (also Asians, who are clearly not like us) outperform the white majority economically? A rather fatal flaw in the White Supremacy model. Tim’s observations on the heritability of intelligence, and on a social organization that would breed for intelligence, are self-evident. (Such Hate Speech!) Similarly, the welfare state (and Latin American dictatorships) encourage recipients to live in dependency without… Read more »

Boganboy
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Boganboy

Re Asians, or at least Chinese.

For at least as long as the Catholic church insisted that its priests be celibate, the Chinese had a policy of picking the cleverest chaps, or at least those best at solving intellectual puzzles, by their competitive examination system.

If you came first, you got a nice cushy government job. You could also have at least three wives and any number of concubines.

Does rather support Tim’s argument, doesn’t it.

Snarkus
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Snarkus

Spike, having worked in getting the nominally unemployed into small businesses and a relative who has worked with the disabled I tend to agree. Learned helplessness is a bigger threat to the ruins of Western tradition of freedom than most realise. I see this at present in the number of Australian bush fire victims who seem to think the government should have dome something. How governments who win elections by promising tax cuts and therefore defund public services, including emergency services and national park management are supposed to stop a one in a century drought has escaped everyone. The save… Read more »

Bloke in North Dorset
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Bloke in North Dorset

I was listening to this inspirational and educational podcast in the gym this morning and Brian reckoned that Ashkenazi Jews are more prone Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) cancer, so perhaps it wasn’t just intelligence that they selected for. Brian Koffman is extraordinary, in many ways. He’s extraordinary in the medical sense because, after twelve years of battling blood cancer, doctors can no longer find a single trace of malignancy in his entire body. He is 100% cancer-free going on almost two years, thanks to an experimental therapy that wiped out his CLL cancer in less than a month. But there’s… Read more »

Pcar
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Pcar

@BiND

Thanks for that, interesting

Deborah Simms interviews Dr. Brian Koffman about CLL data published at ASH 2018
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EDEOZghg3g