The shout down of Charles Murray’s speech at Middlebury last week by students, whose expensive education does not seem to have included the study of the constitutional principle of free speech, was bad enough on its surface. But it also pointed to a common error by conservatives who are so used to losing the argument that they give half of it away before they start.
There were any number of articles this week that began something like this: “While I don’t agree with Murray’s argument……” As I read this over and over again, I had to wonder just how many of them had any idea what Murray’s argument really is. I have read enough of Murray (although not The Bell Curve) to be really skeptical about the notion that the man is a racist.
In an open letter to the Virginia Tech Community last March, Murray defended his work in The Bell Curve, which he explains is about “cognitive” stratification. He points to “certain tendencies” that seem “strong enough to worry about:”
- An increasingly isolated cognitive elite.
- A merging of the cognitive elite with the affluent.
- A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottom end of the cognitive distribution.
The book, then, had very little to do with race per se, except as a minor aspect of a larger discussion about the “heritability of intelligence” which he says is around 40-80%, a position “squarely within the consensus state of knowledge.” He cites, for example, such creditable organizations as the APA (American Psychological Association.)
With regard to race and ethnicity, where the data points to a differential of about 15 IQ points between Whites and Blacks, there is a dispute over whether the differential is the result of genetics or the environment. Murray concluded, “If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate. [p. 311].
Is this the language of a white nationalist?
Furthermore he wrote to the VA Tech Community, “But I cannot leave the issue of genes without mentioning how strongly Herrnstein [his co-author] and I rejected the importance of whether genes are involved.” In his conclusion in The Bell Curve he wrote, “In sum: If tomorrow you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the cognitive differences between races were 100 percent genetic in origin, nothing of any significance should change. The knowledge would give you no reason to treat individuals differently than if ethnic differences were 100 percent environmental.”
By way of illustration, consider this. Do you know any people who are more intelligent than you are? Do you know any people who are less intelligent than you are? Does that mean you are more or less valuable than these people? Or entitled to more or less rights than these people? Obviously not. The differential, whether it be on intelligence or athletic ability or commitment to community service, is less important than your shared basic humanity. Ironically, it isn’t Murray, or conservatives generally, who see racial inferiority in the IQ data.