The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, January 15, 2010

Behavioral Modification

A recent post:

"Denying that there are genetic differences between groups(and again not all groups are races) is as much a religious tenet of the left as Intelligent Design is of the right."

I'm not aware of anyone of any standing at all on the Left who denies there are genetic differences between groups--your statement seems a straw man.

My position is not denying that there are genetic differences between groups--it is denying that there are differences that determine the social standing and performance of those groups as a whole, due to different levels of intelligence. The cluster of qualities attributed to genetically linked qualities like "intelligence" includes most of the apparent differences between white and black in America--including differential incarceration rates, school performance, and illegitimacy. In fact, in every case where I've listened to someone explaining why they believe this, their statistics conveniently explain EVERY difference: income, drug usage, whatever. All falling there.

And guess what? That would mean that there is no aspect of the differential performance of blacks and whites in America that would be caused by the horrific heritage of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism over four hundred years. Really? How convenient for your conscience, to think that this is all God's fault. (Or: all nature's fault) If I'd ever heard a researcher say: "and fifty percent of these differences are due to social toxicity, while unfortunately 50% of it is due to genetics..." I would have been much more impressed.

But when Group A creates, administers, and evaluates a series of tests upon group B, and then announces that the results utterly exonerate them of any responsibility for damage...I'm suspicious. And if Group A's behavior, historically, has been such that any random member of Group A would die before allowing their own children to undergo such treatment, again I'm not impressed. Have a group of Black psychologists announced similar results? No? Then I'm not impressed.

What's that you say? That black psychologists know this to be true, but are lying? So then...are you saying people are willing to lie about their group based upon race? What percentage of people (I assume you don't mean just black people)? Say...10%? So...if 10% of white psychologists, teachers, or whatever are also willing to lie (or delude themselves), think that might influence their ability to understand what is going on with these tests?

(Note: I'm not denying that the groups test differently. I'm saying that only a blind man could expect them to test equivalently unless the playing fields were level--and they are not, with conditions so broad-spectrum that they influence the biochemical environment in the womb, let alone the massive social conditioning afterward. That is why I keep peskily pointing out that nasty 10% differential in the acceptance of humanity between one group and another. When black actors can have sex in movies without white audiences turning off, I will be willing to accept the POSSIBILITY that tests like that could be administered fairly, regardless of conscious intent.)

White people would have to be superpeople to administer such tests with genuine dispassion and black people would have to be superpeople to have survived their cultural destruction without damage. And we aren't superpeople. We're just people.

But back to the question of why only whites believe whites are superior about this. Why aren't there any black psychologists who agree?

Is the moral ability to tell the truth, or see the truth, differentially distributed between racial groups as well? So let me see here: whites aren't just smarter, but also more honest? More moral? And they can piously look at the descendants of people they horribly abused, and make calm, cool, disinterested judgements that they had nothing to do with it?

And even those judgements aren't evenly distributed across the spectrum. Let's start over again: RIGHT-WING Republican Conservatives (because that is the vast majority of the people who believe this) would therefore have to be smarter, and more honest, than Left-Wing Democratic Liberals, because that's where the split is.

Isn't that fascinating? And convenient for you to believe? Let's see: operating from my POV, all human beings want love, success, and physical vibrance. People who don't cop to this are just lying to protect themselves from emotional pain. (Remember, I didn't say this is a fact, I said that this is my point of view, and a position I am totally prepared to defend. It is honest to examine how the world looks through that prism.) And through that prism, from that point of view, I see just as many liars, as many people who are deluded about their lives and decisions, on either side of the political divide, and certainly among different racial groups.

When Group A, and ONLY Group A (because none of Group B agrees) that by instruments of their own creation Group B is...well, inferior, I have to ask if they have applied that instrument upon a level playing field. Yes? No? Well, clearly Group A considers that playing field one hell of a lot more level than I do. So to embrace a belief that you just happen to be part of the superior group (and please--let's not fudge. That's exactly what this is. You can't expect me to believe that those who believe this stuff really think that there are compensating qualities on the other side. Again, I've had hundreds of conversations like this, and in the value hierarchies of the people who think intelligence is differentially distributed, intelligence--and those things directly related to it, ALWAYS ranks near the top of their value hierarchies. Whatever qualities the "other" group may have in compensation are always far, far down the list. "Uh...they play great basketball!" Yeah, right. Of course, you have to extract those values BEFORE they know how you're going to use the information, otherwise they'll fudge.)

So in this case, whites would be smarter, more honest, have greater discipline, clarity and morality...and all of this is genetic? And just happens to explain every difference in performance between themselves and the group from which they extracted a billion man-years of work, and which was then invested in their own community. That, in essence, if that intelligence differential hadn't been there, the damage of four hundred years of this would have caused NO DAMAGE AT ALL. None. Zip. Despite the fact that psychologists regularly blame emotional problems, lack of performance, self-destructive behavior and academic issues on childhood development, there could be NO parallel between the psychological state of a single damaged adult (due to childhood issues) and the performance, on average of a group (due to issues in their group past).

Fascinating. And incredibly convenient, don't you think? God, if He exists, must really, really love white Conservative Republicans, don't you think? To raise you so high, and obscure the truth from the rest of us?


My point of view: if things had been reversed, I'm quite sure black scientists would have devised tests to "prove" that they were innately superior to those they had devastated, and that the results would absolve them of any responsibility to correct the damage. In fact, they would claim that the heritage of slavery was "good" for whites in various ways. And would wash their hands of the whole thing, casting a fish eye at any black who had the temerity to suggest that some of the wealth and privilege they enjoyed had been ripped from those they oppressed. I see nothing, nothing at all in the fabric of our society that cannot be understood better (to me) as a matter of human blindness, greed, fear, guilt, and perceptual narrowness. To embrace a philosophy that "accidentally" puts you at the top of the heap requires no intellectual or moral courage at all.

If I was to believe in these kinds of differentials, trust me, white people would look pretty evil. But because I don't, I see it all as the result of the fact that, as individuals, we live in denial and need to feel ourselves superior to others. And that as herds, these tendencies have resulted in the belief, shared by all human groups, that they were created first, and God (however they envision Him) loves them best. Everyone believes it. Everyone thinks they can "prove" it. Gay and straight, black and white, male and female, American and non-American--I've heard ALL these groups do the exact same thing. They are right, and better, and "more than." Every one of them. Nothing new here. Unless you apply your instruments on subjects raised in a racially neutral environment, you have nothing to say to me. Move along.


Day Ten of the 101: Behavioral Modification

Changing behaviors can be extremely difficult, and there are endless approaches. The 101 chooses to offer a wide variety of options, asks you to try them, and see which ones have a natural "fit" to your situation and tendencies.

The following approach is lovely:

1) Identify the pattern you want to change

2) Identify the pattern you want to change it to.

3) Raise your energy level

4) Practice the new pattern

5) Fail Successfully

6) Start over.

Most people never decide what they want. They don't manage their energies, they don't view failure as a natural part of the process, and they don't have the moxie to pick themselves up again and again and again.

Apply this pattern to any issue in your life. Add, perhaps, the identification of role models to teach proper actions, beliefs and value hierarchies. And you have an incredible formula for success.


Anonymous said...

IQ testers must have an Asian fetish -- because on the same tests that have whites outperforming blacks, east Asians outperform whites by the same margin -- roughly, one standard deviation.

I don't think we have anything like a satisfactory understanding of what produces general intelligence as it's currently tested, or why different racial groups consistently score differently. I also don't think the possibility of inherited differences in IQ negates the historical legacy of slavery and second-class citizenship to which blacks were subjected for several centuries. But that the test data are purely a white invention, I have to assume that -- contrary to historical white racism against Asians -- whites who devised these tests subconsciously wanted their own kids to score worse than the children of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans.

I can't quite make myself believe that, and so I can't quite make myself believe that the data are purely concocted.

--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

"... some of the wealth and privilege they enjoyed had been ripped from those they oppressed ..."

Oh, and this. I've seen you write several times now.

I don't believe it at all -- not because I don't believe blacks weren't horribly oppressed by evil white behavior, but because I do not believe that human economic growth is a zero-sum game. In other words, I don't believe that the immiseration of blacks actually did make me richer, or make any modern white richer. I think there were historical benefits to whites in the ante-bellum South to slavery (in fact, Fogel got in a lot of trouble for proving that slavery had been efficient and profitable for whites). But I think those gains were transitory, squandered by the South in the Civil War, and have long since been more than cancelled out by the deadweight losses to me, and to all Americans, of the long-term costs of treating blacks poorly.

More generally, I don't believe that lasting wealth is created by oppression or theft; I think it arises from technological innovation, honest trade and constructive labor. So I neither think oppression of blacks was necessary nor think that I have ever profited from it.

My life would be in any sane sense better if I had grown up in America where blacks had been first-class citizens and social equals of whites for generations.

--Erich Schwarz

Marty S said...

I'm not sure how Whites being more intelligent than Blacks got into this discussion. I didn't claim that, because the data which has shown that are open to question. I have firmly stated my position that genetics determines for each individual their limits of performance while nurture/environment determines to what extent they reach these limits. It is clear that the historical position of Blacks in this country has contributed to make it more difficult to for them to achieve their potential. It is also clearly true that this did not stop with the end of slavery Blacks were discriminated against well into the later half of the twentieth century and still are even if to a lesser extent. This means they tend to be economically disadvantaged which in turn means their children tend to get a disadvantage start in life.
Denying the above is being irrational on one side of the issue, just as denying that there are almost certainly some differences that arise genetically between the races is irrational on the other side of the issue.
Now on the other issue of race being a social construct. If race doesn't exist than by definition racism doesn't exist. So why do we discuss it. If racism does exist and the primary component by which we segregate the races is on skin color and skin color is genetic then clearly there is at least one genetic difference between the races. Now lets assume that there are genetic subgroups within races and there is more variation between subgroups than between races. The fact that a race shares at least one common genetic characteristics that differs from another race implies that all members of that race have a more common ancestry with those of another race which implies that with a high probability they have other genetic characteristics that they share with each other and not with other races. Data on life expectancy certainly seems to show this.

Shady_Grady said...

"Now on the other issue of race being a social construct. If race doesn't exist than by definition racism doesn't exist. So why do we discuss it. If racism does exist and the primary component by which we segregate the races is on skin color and skin color is genetic then clearly there is at least one genetic difference between the races."

Nope. The logic is circular. A difference in skin color does not indicate that there is such a thing as race.

Please see the Human Genome and related links in the previous comment.

A difference in skin color just indicates ...a diference in skin color. For example, Europeans and Africans are more closely related to each other than are Africans and Melanesians, despite the fact that the Melanesians look extremely similar to certain African groups.

Also as mentioned "race" is a slippery thing to define. Is a person from Kazakhstan with reddish hair, hazel eyes and "olive skin" "white" or are they "Asian"? Is Jennifer Beals a dark skinned "white" or a light skinned "black"? As we move north from Mauritania to Sicily to Austria, where exactly does "whiteness" begin?

People shade into one another. They always have and always will. There are not enough genetic differences among human beings to consistently and scientifically define "race". That's what the science says. Race is simply not a valid scientific concept.

The fact that biologically race does not exist does not mean either logically or empirically that racism doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

>As we move north from Mauritania to Sicily to Austria, where exactly does "whiteness" begin?

People shade into one another.<

Is someone who makes $10,000 a year middle class?

Because classes slide into each other, should we assume that there is no such thing as class?

Andrea said...

Can you explain what it means to "fail successfully"? It is one of those seemingly paradoxical phrases that I have not yet wrapped my head around.

Anonymous said...

"Because classes slide into each other, should we assume that there is no such thing as class?"

Bad analogy.

On the same scale as genetic differences between races, your question would look more like:

"Is someone who makes $50,000.00 middle class?
(...and so on...)

That's pretty much what science has determined about race.

Humans are so good at recognizing tiny differences in other people that we forget how huge those differences aren't.

AF1 said...

"So let me see here: whites aren't just smarter, but also more honest? More moral? And they can piously look at the descendants of people they horribly abused, and make calm, cool, disinterested judgements that they had nothing to do with it?"

This encapsulates the issue brilliantly. Game, set, and match.

(unless you actually believe that whites are just naturally better at everything good, of course. Which I'm sure some do.)

Mike Ralls said...


That's pretty much what science has determined about race. <

Depends entirely on the genetic issue you are talking.

Intelligence? Yea, no scientific evidence of any genetic connection of genetic intelligence to race.

Other genetic traits, such as suseptability to certain specific diseases? There the differences can be as big as the difference between someone making $120 a year and someone making $1,000,000 a year. IE, "Sickle cell trait occurs in approximately 1 in 12 African Americans; 1 in 1400 Hispanics, and nearly 1 in 100,000 Whites."

Dan Moran said...

Is the moral ability to tell the truth, or see the truth, differentially distributed between racial groups as well?

Not as far as I can tell.

So let me see here: whites aren't just smarter, but also more honest? More moral?


And they can piously look at the descendants of people they horribly abused, and make calm, cool, disinterested judgements that they had nothing to do with it?

Can I restructure that sentence?

And they can piously look at the descendants of people their ancestors or people who looked like their ancestors horribly abused, and make calm, cool, disinterested judgements that they had nothing to do with it?

They didn't have anything to do with it. At most, their ancestors did. Though I think you're right that non-blacks in general have benefited from the stolen labor of 400 years of blacks, this is not the same thing as me, or any white person, having moral culpability for something that ended 150 years ago.

So ... "we" white people didn't abuse your ancestors; "we" hadn't been born yet.

"My" ancestors didn't abuse yours either, as far as I know; on my Dad's side they were peasant farmers in Ireland, and on my mother's side, as far as I can trace it, they were peasant farmers in Iowa.

I don't believe in racial pride. (For whites or blacks -- you're borrowing an association you didn't earn. I'm to be proud about Beethoven? Please.) But I don't believe in racial guilt, either. I don't even believe in ancestral guilt -- am I to be held to task for my father's sins? Are my children to be held to task for mine?

I made my oldest daughter spitting mad by observing a month or so back that I thought what had happened to blacks in this country was worse than what had happened to Jews during the holocaust. And I do -- not worse at the individual level, but worse at the cultural level. Jewish culture ... recovered might be too strong a word, but withstood the holocaust and Jews are a healthy culture today. Blacks are still dealing with the fallout of 400 years of slavery and 100+ years of Jim Crow, as evidenced by the problems in black communities.

But I suspect some of what rubs you raw is the reaction of conservatives (hell, me) to the idea that "we" are responsible for the way things are now. Beneficiaries of it? I won't argue against what seems to me a self-evident truth, though many conservatives would. Certainly beneficiaries. But this isn't the same thing as guilty.

Marty S said...

The current reasoning that says there is no such thing as race appears to me to to be analogous to the following reasoning. Two companies make personal computers that run the gamut from low end computers with dual core processors and 2 gigbytes of ddr2 memory to high end computers with core I-7 processors and 12 gigbytes of DDR3 memory and a dozen or more models in between. Clearly there is more variance between computers within companies than between companies so there really is no difference between companies they both belong to the class computer manufacturers and if I am buying a computer there is no reason to research the companies for potential differences in computer reliability. To increase analogy the fact that many of the parts that go into the computers i.e. the processors are actually manufactured and purchased from other companies and so are actually the same is analogous to many people being mixtures of the races.
Once again I am not claiming one race is superior to the other. In fact I'm not just talking about race. I'm talking about any group with a common genetic heritage. I would apply the same logic to two groups of whites with different heritages.

Steve Perry said...

Nice to see that White Man's Burden endures so long after the Raj ...

Shady_Grady said...

Pointing to an observed difference among humans and then claiming that said difference "proves" the biological existence of a race is bad logic.

It would make just as much sense talking about "races" of humans based on eye color or height or blood type as it would on skin color. Humans just happen to be visual creatures and skin color is a very useful proxy.

But again, the analogies and logical inferences really don't address the issue. Empirically, the relevant scientists in both the Human Genome Project and elsewhere have determined that there is no consistent scientific method by which to define human biological races. Human beings are surprisingly homogeneous on a biological level. That's what empirical evidence shows. So if one believes to the contrary, one should provide scientific evidence that contradicts.

"I hate the word race," Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Stanford emeritus professor of genetics, said in an interview. "There is still an enormous amount of racism but the word race is useless to describe genetic variation in humans."

"It's completely arbitrary to define a race. You could define a few, five, or, if you want to be complete, maybe 15,000."

Marty S said...

Okay, one last post on the existence of race. Yes, race is a social construct. Every single categorization that humans make is a social construct. If humans as a whole determine to categorize all berries simply as berries and not as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, then then it would be useless to advertise a sale that used the term strawberries because no one would know what strawberries are. This would not make the physical characteristics that make strawberries different from other cease to exist. If current social standards make it correct to decide that the physical differences i.e skin color that historically defined race are no longer important enough to have a separate categorization called race then race will disappear from usage. But the physical differences which historically defined race and are inherited will only disappear when there has been sufficient intermarriage that all the physical differences have disappeared and we all have the same heritage.
As to science and empirical evidence. Ignoring the other physical traits that have been used to define races the primary difference that has been used is skin color. Hence the unscientific designation Blacks and Whites. So will all the scientists in the Human Genome Project project and elsewhere that say the "empirical" evidence shows no consistent scientific evidence that race exists, please conduct the following experiment using the scientific method. We form the hypothesis that the child of two white parents is white and the child of two black parents is black. Then we gather a small sample of a million or so cases and observe the results. I believe the results of such a scientific experiment would be quite supportive of the hypothesis.

Marty S said...

I said that the previous post would be the last on the subject of social construct versus genetics, but then I decided to share an old joke from my childhood which supports the social construct side of the argument.

An elderly Jewish couple visit China. There is an old and reportedly very beautiful Jewish synagogue out side of Beijing and they decide to visit it on Saturday morning so they can attend services. They do so and the synagogue is indeed beautiful and the service is a very nice one as well. After the service the couple go up to the rabbi and complement him on both. The rabbi asks the couple "Are you Jewish?" The couple reply "Of course rabbi." To which the rabbi replies "Funny you don't look Jewish.".

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

I'm extremely conflicted on Genetics and Race Matters. On the one hand, as an American of African Heritage, I deplore the implication of the IQ studies; i.e. Blacks as a group have less intellectual capital the Whites or Asians. As Steve says, such a theory is the predictable product of a society that has historically treated African Peoples as the lowest rung of humanity. The race-dependent IQ continuum model promoted by the likes of Charles Murray and Phillip J. Rushton feels like a textbook example of the intelligentsia performing its Chomskyan function of justifying the status quo. Yet I am also a Scientist, both professionally and personally. Such ethics as I may have Carl Sagan encapsulated in Cosmos: "Seek the truth, no matter where it leads, however disquieting the implications". This injunction has guided my life, and is honestly more integral to my identity than the African heritage that happenstance thrust upon me, and which society fixates upon. Thus I find the IQ data and their implications absolutely loathsome, but I cannot cavalierly discount them.

More troubling still, the IQ model appears to make sense of some things! While in Bangkok I delighted in the fantastic, seemingly innate aesthetic gifts of the Thais. In Bangkok, everything from skyscrapers to taxis is decked out in gaudy pastels. Contrast this to the drab of typical American cities, or of Lilongwe, Malawi, which I've also visited. This contrast is predicted by the IQ model, which alleges that Asian possess enhanced visual-spatial skills relative to Whites and Blacks. I've had the same uneasy revelation when browsing in the Kikonura store in Costa Mesa, CA, where Japanese office supplies like pens and pads are as elaborate as fine art. Once again, the model predicts this! Far more disturbing personally is that the model, which asserts African Peoples possess enhanced verbal prowess, predicts the astounding achievements of Blacks in oratory and music relative to our other accomplishments. Where I White, the premonitions I've had when considering the rich poetry of Jazz, Rap, and Hip-Hop, or how Muhammad Ali, who, despite his 68 IQ, spun masterly impacting verse on a dime, would be far less troubling.

My "Confession" comes down to this: as an African-American, I reflexively want discard the IQ results like vomit; as a Scientist, I am enjoined to consider them and, if proven, to acknowledge their truth. Therein lays my dilemma and anguish.

Marty S said...

I'm not very convinced of the accuracy of IQ tests. In our younger days my wife and I had a friend who was working on IQ tests as part of his Ph. D thesis. He ask my wife and I to be subjects of his study and take two different IQ tests. One was the standard IQ test with sequences and what not. The other was visually oriented asking you to solve different kinds of what i will call picture puzzles. Both my wife and I scored 30 points lower on the visual IQ test than the standard one. So which one if either measured our real IQ.

Steven said...

I don't really have the comprehensive scientific knowledge of genetics to make a definitive comment about this idea. But I do have some shreds of knowledge that enable me to start from a position of extreme skepticism with no qualms.

Consider this: there's an oft-quoted statistic that humans and monkeys share something in excess of 95% of our DNA. This minor genetic distinction is responsible for massive differences in form, intelligence, etc.

And we're supposed to accept the idea that genetic distinctions that result in nothing more overt than trivial differences in _skin color_ are responsible for significant difference in performance??

Sell it somewhere else.

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