by Chauncey Tinker – 17 May 2018
An assault occurred at Middlebury college campus in the US on March 2, 2017. Allison Stanger, a professor at the college, suffered concussion during the incident. She was escorting the well known political scientist Charles Murray from a speaking engagement that had been disrupted by noisy protestors. It was Murray though, not Stanger, who was the target of the protestors; Stanger was caught up in the fracas merely because she had acted as moderator at the event (hardly a crime surely in the civilized world). For those of you not familiar with Charles Murray’s career, he is a very controversial figure because of his co-authorship of the book “The Bell Curve” (1994), which discusses the subjects of intelligence, IQ, genetics, and race.
The well known author/philosopher Sam Harris interviewed Charles Murray in a podcast a month or so after the incident at Middlebury. In this fascinating interview they discussed the incident and the motivations of the protestors, as well as many other subjects. It is well worth listening to in my opinion, although it is rather long at 2 hours 18 minutes. I have included the link at the end of this post.
I first became aware of Sam Harris when he appeared on the Bill Maher show along with renowned Islamic scholar Ben Affleck, a famous occasion when Sam Harris referred to the Islamic religion as the “motherlode of bad ideas”. It wasn’t the most learned discussion of Islam that I had ever heard, but I was very impressed that such an opinion had been expressed on a popular US television show, this seemed to me to be a groundbreaking event at the time.
Harris supported Hillary Clinton in the US Presidential race, more it seems out of a loathing for Donald Trump than for any liking for Clinton (he described Clinton as a “terribly flawed candidate”). Incidentally one of our contributors who is also called Sam (Hooper) took a similar position in that race. Sam Harris discusses Trump’s election with Charles Murray in the podcast, that was an interesting discussion, but that is not the subject which I want to focus on here.
In his preface before the interview begins, Harris admits to having been wrong. He had wrongly assumed that:
when seemingly respectable people are calling someone a Nazi, and a fascist, and a white supremacist, and a eugenicist, well then there must be something wrong with him, he must be getting what he deserves on some level.
He then admits that when he actually took the trouble to read Murray’s work, what he found was:
a deeply rational and careful scholar who is quite obviously motivated by an ethical concern about inequality in our society
Harris goes on to conclude that Murray’s only “crime” was in fact to simply have dared to discuss the question of genetic differences in human intelligence at all. Harris ends his preface by saying:
to set the record straight … the fact that I was taken in by this defamation of him and effectively became part of a silent mob that was just watching what amounted to a modern witch burning, that was intolerable to me.
He begins the interview by apologizing to Murray for silently acquiescing in this “modern witch burning”.
The first subject they discuss is the book “The Bell Curve”, which they discuss at length. They discuss the debate about whether intelligence is determined primarily by inherited genetics or environmental factors such as education and parenting. The Western elite in general has long dogmatically clung to the belief that intelligence is mostly a product of environment, this belief has led to all manner of unrealistic expectations. Murray states that in fact all the data that is available suggests that on the contrary, differences in intelligence between individuals are far more a product of inherited ability than environment. Of course factors such as diet and air pollution can play a part in brain formation, but once these factors have been ironed out the data points to differences in intelligence being mainly genetic.
I could not agree more when the point is made that the Western elite seems not only disconnected from the rest of society, but also disconnected from REALITY. A strange inversion has occurred, where the elite are the “flat earthers” of the day, whereas most ordinary people see through the delusions of our times and recognize that the earth is round (metaphorically speaking). I rather get the impression that Harris is still labouring under some of the delusions of that elite himself, but in his case at least he is one individual who has been gradually waking up to the disconnect, and is changing his mind on some key subjects. Incidentally Harris’s podcast series is rather fittingly titled “waking up”.
They discuss the manner in which the book was denounced, one sociologist apparently described it as:
“an academic version of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf”
The sentiment was a response to the fact that in the book the authors dared to suggest that average IQ differences existed between races. Note that the bell curves show much overlap however, and as is pointed out in the podcast, there is far more difference within groups than between groups. The data shows that an individual black man may have a higher IQ score than most white men, even though the average IQ score for black men overall is lower than for white men.
The question that appears to be a stumbling block for Harris is – “why seek data on racial difference at all”? Despite the fact that Murray makes a very sound argument that it is necessary to do so in order to challenge so-called “positive discrimination” government initiatives, Harris seems to remain unconvinced. Murray makes the point that nobody benefits from such initiatives, not even those they are designed to help; if people are pushed on to courses and into professions that are simply above their ability level, then they are going to struggle – Murray cites the drop out rate to emphasize this point. In part 2 I will come back to this stumbling block of Harris’s, which he seems to still be stuck at judging by more recent discussions that he has had with others.
An even larger question is of course the question of whether it is really wise to try to simply replace white Europeans with people from third world countries through mass immigration. If the average intelligence in these countries is significantly lower than in Western countries today, then the obvious consequence of this policy is going to be a reduction in average intelligence in Western countries. Considering that industry in Western countries is increasingly automated, then a great many of these new arrivals may turn out to be at best a dead weight for the West. I was a little surprised that Murray did not advance this argument in the interview. This will be a problem even if we leave aside the huge problems that cultural incompatibilities bring.
The rest of the podcast is also interesting, particularly where they discuss coming to terms with the election of Donald Trump (Murray was also opposed to Trump’s campaign, he admits to having been a “never Trumper”). They also discuss Universal Basic Income, which Murray thinks is a good idea, but that’s another subject for another day.
It is in part thanks to the “liberal”/”progressive” obsession with race that it has become not only worthwhile to study the question of IQ and race, but very necessary. If governments are going to endlessly pursue the goal of “equality of outcome” through policy initiatives, while ignoring the possibility that the goal may be completely unattainable, then this debate has become of paramount importance. The longer term impact of mass immigration on the West is of course an even larger issue that today’s Western elite resolutely refuses to even consider. This is a point that I will continue to try to get through to the likes of Sam Harris.
If the few brave academics like Charles Murray who are trying to raise these issues are both running the risk of physical assault and in some countries also facing prosecution, then there is a very real risk that the discussion will be shut down. If the discussion is shut down then of course the problems we are trying to ignore will grow ever larger.
Sam Harris has at least gone from peremptorily dismissing Charles Murray’s views on these subjects to inviting him onto his podcast. I think Harris’s admission that he was wrong to dismiss Murray’s views out of hand just because others violently objected to them is a great credit to him. I do think that Sam Harris’s changing views in this area are something that should give us hope (although in Part 2 I will reveal there is much further to go). He is a very influential figure with many followers. If one influential mind can be changed, however painfully slow the process may seem at times, then other influential minds can also be changed. This great debate that is taking place online (which I believe is accelerating), that we are participating in here, is not then such a futile exercise after all.
The “Waking Up” podcast episode with Charles Murray can be found here:
#73 – Forbidden Knowledge
The Solution To Europe’s Pensions Crisis!
Sam Harris’s article on Trump:
Trump in Exile
An account of the incident on Middlebury College campus from Charles Murray:
Reflections on the revolution in Middlebury
What do you think? Please leave a comment below.