The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A political storm at Harvard

President of Harvard University Lawrence H. Summers set off a tsunami of outrage with his recent suggestion that women may be limited from success in math and science due to innate differences.  Well, THERE'S a debate that will be raging for some time.  Suffice it to say that the "Nature" crowd will tend to believe that, and the "nurture" crowd will tend to believe the opposite.  I certainly believe there are innate differences between men and women, but also think that they do not fully explain the gaps in performance.  However, that's not the reason I wanted to speak about this.
It was probably only ten times as likely for this comment to be made by a man.  As a comment damning the male of the species is far more likely to be made by a woman.  As a comment that genetic differences explain the crime or poverty rate is to be made by a white, or a comment that Western European civilization is demonic, warlike and genocidal is more likely to be made by a black or Asian.  What one might conclude from this is that "any member of group X is more likely to embrace a negative belief about group Y than is a member of group Y."  And that is true whether the belief is accurate or not. 
It is one thing to think that men have some innate superiorities.  But one HAS to notice that men are more likely to agree with this than women.  Does one then also take the position that men are more innately honest?  If you do, can you see how this creates a perceptual spiral? (Men are more intelligent, men are more likely to admit this therefore they are more honest and perceptive, therefore more moral, therefore better as both intellectual and spiritual beings, and the natural leaders of mankind...)  Or of course my favorite:  Whites are smarter than blacks, differential crime rates suggest they are also more moral, whites are more likely than blacks to admit this difference and therefore more honest and perceptive, therefore they are superior spiritual, moral, and intellectual creatures, not to mention closer to God and the natural inheritors of the Earth...). Of course women play this game with men (Men are genetically broken women, men are responsible for most of the violence in the world, men are less likely to see or admit this than women.  Therefore men are less intelligent, perceptive, and honest than women...), and blacks play it with whites (White culture has infected the world with false values, white people are in complete denial about the damage they've done to black Americans, white men are clearly inferior in sports...and whites cannot see or admit these obvious truths.  Therefore whites are mentally, morally, and physically inferior to blacks...)
And, of course, the Japanese are all related to the Emperor, and the Emperor is directly related to God. 
And so it goes.  Sorting through all of this is probably one of the major tasks in the 21st Century.  Are there innate differences between genders, races, nationalities?  Probably.  Do they explain the "presenting variations" in performance?  Not exclusively.  To what degree to social and environmentaly conditions affect these things?  Well, considering the apparently Universal tendency to claim all good things for whatever YOUR group is, and blame the other group for their problems, we'd probably be better off assuming that the majority of the differences can be manipulated environmentally until proven otherwise.   Frankly, me personally, I'd rather assume people are pretty much the same and make a few too many allowances than make too few allowances, and be responsible for crushing the spirits of people who might have accomplished far more if my group hadn't used unfair advantages to put heel to throat.  But that's just me.  Each of us has to come to our own conclusion about these things.  As did  Lawrence H. Summers.

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