The Progressive Claim for Superior Intelligence

by Martin Harris

Because your Humble Scribe is, apparently, insufficiently evolved to be a subscriber to the Social Psychology Quarterly, he missed the article in the March 2010 issue wherein London School of Economics “evolutionary psychologist” Satoshi Kanazawa placed his explanation of his scientific findings that “liberals” are more intelligent than “conservatives”. Why this now-three-year-old study has received fairly little MainStreamMedia attention remains a puzzle to us not among the self-defined “best and brightest”, but now that there’s an Internet such enlightening and explanatory reading material can be found even in the caves which we troglodytes inhabit when we’re not out there brachiating through the forest canopy, and so a long-held belief of the Progressive Movement –that they in the Talented Tenth have the obligation to govern us in the less-talented (read: less-well-evolved) 90% for our own benefit, as much of a burden (think Rudyard Kipling on that choice of label) as that task will doubtless be– now has scientific backing.

The SK argument is based on a “picture-based vocabulary test to estimate the IQ of participating teen-agers”, and was published in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which has been tracking the same group since 1994. It’s thus described in considerable detail in a National Geographic article on its own web site, where NG writers go on to explain that “…seven years later, the same people were asked about their religious and political beliefs…” and “people who later admitted to being ‘not at all religious’ and who classified themselves as ‘very liberal’ politically had higher IQ’s as teen-agers than those who were ‘very religious’ and ‘very conservative’. NG adds: ”the difference isn’t huge. Only 11 points, on average, separate the liberals from the conservatives. But Kanasawa believes it’s significant.” So does Charles Murray, who wrote in his (politically-incorrect) “The Bell Curve” about the importance of one Standard Deviation (about 15 points) in IQ comparisons among different demographic groups.

The SK line of reasoning –here your troglodyte HS attempts clumsily to re-state it in briefer and non-academic reduced-syllable language—is that more highly-evolved humans are those who have, through genetic variation, been able to reproduce while all sorts of challenges ranging from weather to mastodons to better-armed neighbor clans were removing the less bright among us from the evolutionary sequence , and that explains why, today, they are the top 10% among us who have more intellect, more concern for their fellow tribesmen, and of course more concern for the environment than those of us whose ancestors, through some unfortunate accident of undeserved historical good luck, managed to reproduce anyway. NG writers explain:

“Kanasawa’s theory is that intelligence –particularly our ability for on-the-spot problem solving and reasoning- arose as an adaptation to deal with the unusual and unexpected…which then would have been a sudden forest fire, and now would be a tendency toward thinking up a new behavior and the willingness to try it out.” All of these heightened sensitivities, are, of course, exclusively Progressive-Liberal attributes. “Passed down via genetics, these two traits are still the calling-card of an intelligent brain, expressed as a tendency toward adopting non-traditional social values and preferences…” he explains.

Before the arrival of 21st century evolutionary psychology to prove, scientifically, that Progressives are, indeed, the more-highly-evolved “best and brightest” among us, they tried to make their case in terms of “social Darwinism”. Historian Richard Hofstadter wrote books in the 1940’s on exactly that concept, a favorite of late 19th politicians –Charles Darwin had, in 1859, opened up the subject in his “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection”– who enjoyed (or criticized) applying the same principle of evolve-or-perish free-market competition to business as Darwin had earlier applied eat-or-be-eaten to Nature. Indeed, it was Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton, who opened the then-new field of eugenics, using science to determine which of the human tribe should be encouraged to reproduce and which not. Intelligence Quotient testing, pioneered by French psychologist Alfred Binet, is sometimes credited to him with a date of 1904 and sometimes to German psychologist William Stern in 1912, both years within the formative decades of the American Progressive Movement. Progressive fascination with the benefits of helping evolution along via encouraging only the best and brightest to reproduce was such that Progressive SCOTUS Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was enthusiastic for forced sterilization of “mental defectives” by government, explaining in the 8-to-1 Buck v. Bell case (1927) that “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” There was, then, a Progressive American Eugenics Society”, with the mission of “encouraging high-grade people to reproduce at a greater rate for the benefit of society”, as a web page on your Humble Scribe’s cave computer now enables him to read.

Meanwhile, National Geographic reports, not all higher-ed academics are enthusiastic about Kanasawa’s use of IQ testing to support Progressive “best-and-brightest” claims; one dissenter, apparently, is psychologist Stephen Ceci of Cornell. But never fear: psychologist Kanasawa has been involved with a National Child Development Study which, as Kanasawa is quoted here, ”…is a much sturdier way to measure innate intelligence.” He doesn’t say anything about correlation with liberal beliefs.