Why IQ is BS and Why Culture, Not Race Shapes Societies

No, only an idiot would take such a statement seriously
A few years ago, I was at the library and noticed a book sitting on top of the shelf. I picked it up and looked it. It was titled, "IQ and the Wealth of Nations" by psychologist Richard Lynn and political scientist Tatu Vanhanen. Intrigued, I checked it out, read it, and was unsettled by what it said. The book made a persuasive argument:

1) IQ varies along ethnic/racial lines
2) IQ is heavily correlated to financial success
3) Therefore, at least some of the differences we see in national wealth are inherent to the IQs of the population

Now, I recognized at the time the uncomfortable racial element to this argument. If IQ is somewhat fixed and heritable and if it relates to wealth, then some races are inherently going to be more prone to poverty, crime and etc.I didn’t like these answers because I, like everyone else, was raised to hate racism.

But… I also recognized that science was not a moral thing. It was possible for science to give us uncomfortable facts. Science does not care about feelings.I also recognized that there is a certain bravery to any academic who is willing to stand up for data like this. I read other academics like Charles Murray who said similar things. I saw maps like this:


 While they made me uncomfortable, they also made me think. In the extremely liberal and diversity focused campuses, it would be career suicide for these academics to promote these ideas. This lent them credibility in my eyes. If your study affirms what everyone else believes, it costs you nothing and is not risky to report. But if your study is going to get you protested and fired? You must really believe that data because it is risky.

And so, at least on some level, I wondered if race and wealth were tied together.

But now? I think these ideas are ridiculous.

How did I change my perspective? Was it pressure to get in line with PC America?

Uh… have you even read my website? I am a lot of things but not PC. And I am a lot of things but not someone that changes my ideas to match culture. What changed is that I became convinced of three things:

1) IQ is a sham and not a real metric of anything meaningful
2) Race is meaningless as a category
3) Culture is the primary driver in collective actions

How did I get to these conclusions?

Reasons IQ is meaningless
When I was seventeen, I took an IQ test and was so proud of the result. I was exceptional. Now, this didn’t change the fact that I knew plenty of kids that were wittier, got better grades, got hotter girlfriends, were more popular, and were all around (in the teenage sense of the word) more successful than me. I was “smarter” than them. For a good chunk of my life, I took this IQ score as a measure of worth. I had outscored a huge percentage of the population.Then I made the mistake of taking another IQ test. I took it in my early thirties. And, sadly, it was much less impressive. Maybe I didn’t drink enough coffee. Maybe I drank too much whiskey the night before. Who knows. But I suddenly came to realize that I was barely above average. I was crushed. A big part of my identity was gone. For much of my life, I had told myself I was the smart one thanks to that teenage IQ test. Now, I was not that smart.

But, I am a determined sort of guy. I was convinced that this could not be right. I was smart. I knew it. So, I got online and started to take practice tests. I looked at number sequences and figured out what came next. I looked at shaded squares and figured out which way to rotate them. I studied and studied.Then I retook the test. And thank goodness. I was smart again.

But then the obvious hit me. Nothing about me had changed. That number from the IQ test didn’t define who I was. No one even knew that number but me. Whether I got the high number or the low number, my practicing to increase my score did not make me smarter at anything meaningful (I should have been reading Seneca or Aquinas for that).Then a deeper question hit me. What does it even mean to be intelligent?A while back I wrote on how science cannot define happiness. How only idiots try. But I would argue the same is true with intelligence. Think about three people you know that are smart. What makes them smart?
  • Ability to do math?
  • Good memory?        
  • Eloquence?
  • Erudition?
  • Wit?
  • Creativity?
I am guessing that the smart people in your life fit some of these well and others not at all. I think I am good at math, have an average memory, am not particularly eloquent , am fairly erudite (thanks to reading a lot), am not very witty, and sometimes completely lack creativity. I know other people I consider smart that are weak in many of the places I am strong and strong in many of the places I feel weak.I also know people who I am sure have low IQs (guys that I worked with on construction crews when I was in college and who I spent time working on cars with back in high school) who know a ton more than me about given topics and are smarter in many contexts than I am.

Intelligence is super complicated and hard to define. And this idiot decided that a single number could define it for us:


That is Alfred Binet (a French Psychologist, 1857-1911) came up with the test as a filter for students. If you scored low on the test, it meant you were not teachable and should be sent to remedial classes. Now… follow that logic for a moment. The test was created to determine if kids were able to take tests. The circular nature of that process apparently went over his head and the countless people who adopted his test throughout the years.

What if I am a kid who just has no patience for tests? What if I think that only suckers sit there and take stupid tests? Well, I will be told I am stupid and moved to the remedial class. That will probably hurt my job prospects when I graduate. Which will probably lead idiots like Binet to say, “See, people who score lower on IQ tests also make less money.” And the circle of stupidity continues.

Attaching a single number to a person and saying that defines how smart they are is ridiculous.But, you might respond, doesn’t (Richard Lynn, Tatu Vanhanen, and Charles Murray argued) IQ correlate to financial well-being? The answer is that this claim is highly suspect.

One thing that most psychologists and social scientists are not is experts in statistics. Nor am I. But I read experts in statistics. One of them, NN Taleb, has looked at IQ’s supposed correlation with financial success and his assessment is the following: “IQ is largely a pseudoscientific swindle.” He goes on to write that “IQ beats random selection in the best of applications by less than 6%, typically <2%.”

To show how meaningless IQ is when noise is taken into account he posts charts of the raw data (rather than trend lines or total average numbers). Take a look:


 Notice something. What do you see? I see what engineers call buckshot. When I was in engineering school, if I had conducted an experiment that looked like that I and I put a trend line on there and then proceeded to draw even simple conclusions, my professor would have laughed at me. The R^2 value (a measure of correlation) is terrible.

But another interesting observation is made by Taleb. Cover up the very bottom of the chart (low or zero income people). And then look:



The correlation goes away all together. This means if you come from a middle class household, your IQ DOES NOT CORRELATE AT ALL to wealth!  That is shocking. Someone with a 70 IQ is as likely to be wealthy as someone with a 130 IQ!

Now, you might respond that the very low income people tend to have higher concentrations of low IQ people. This is true. But the reason for this might be simple. People that have serious cognitive difficulties can’t do anything very well including get jobs and take IQ tests.  For this small group of people, we do not need an IQ score to assess them. We can usually tell that they have cognitive difficulties in much simpler ways (a remedial math test or a simple reading test would probably be every bit as predictive).

And then there is the fact that the score is flexible. The ‘Flynn Effect’ says that IQs have been rising for generations. If this is a heritable and fixed test of intelligence how is that possible? And I know from my own IQ efforts, that I could change my IQ by practicing. Another thing that matters is how hard we try. I will say that it takes a lot of faith in the IQ test to score high. You really have to believe it matters. I am convinced that if I tried to take one now I would not even be able to finish. I would probably have a 70 IQ due to my lack of motivation.

Think about that. Now go test someone in the Congo. Explain to them why it matters which shaded square comes next in a chain. Good luck with that. They get a 60 and the idiot psychologist giving the test thinks that means they are border line retarded. Then they go out into the jungle and the psychologist has to rely on this “border line retarded” guy to show him how to hunt, fish, and avoid lions. If someone is smart but the test shows they are dumb, they are testing the test.

Race is a meaningless category

What is race? Check out this chart:


You can see that skin color is a bad judge of who is connected. Indians (Asian) are closer to people from Europe than they are to people from Sub-Saharan Africa genetically. You can see that people from Peru are closer to people from Japan than people from Ethiopia. But now go back and look at that map I showed in my introduction. That map simplified everything down to skin color and showed correlations based on that. Doing that is simplistic and silly.Which brings me to my final point.

Culture not race is the primary driver behind societal actions

When Julius Caesar traveled north into Gaul he was shocked at what he saw. The people there were dirty, wild, superstitious, ferocious, illiterate, and libertine. They would fight naked (apparently simply to show bravery), their women would come to war with them. If they won, they would take enemy heads as trophies. They would paint their faces.These people were barbarians.

And the Romans knew that they were inherently superior. Northern Europeans could never be civilized. The best thing the Romans could do for them is to keep them under control by brute force and impose the Pax Romana on them.

But what the Romans saw as inherent to the people turned out to be cultural. In time, the Germanic tribes of the north adopted Roman customs and slowly became, at least a little, civilized.

But let us write ‘civilized’ with a small “c”. Both for the Romans and for the Gauls. Because their idea of civilization and ours are two different things. The Romans, for all their sophistication, were not exactly saints. They had widespread slavery for example. And their slavery was nasty. They did the normal things slave owners do (beat, mistreat, and abuse) but they also practiced sexual slavery with horrible delight including raping young girls, young boys, and making of men into eunuchs for sexual purposes. They were at almost constant war. And they had little patience for any sort of dissent or rebellion.  In these cultures, we see nothing of the high culture of, for example, Victorian England.

What happened in Northern Europe that took the typical Englishmen from a wild face-painting barbarian to something more like a character on Downton Abbey? The answer is not genetics (that have largely remained unchanged). The answer is culture.

Culture shapes a race much more than genetics does. England transformed over 2000 years. Not in a straight line. The Romans conquered them. Then the Romans left and the English went back to their wild ways. Then in the seventh century Christianity came to the Island. And it was Christianity that started to work, like yeast through dough, to change this wild people. Not all at once. In London in 1400, the murder rate was still higher than the murder rate in Detroit during the 1970s. But changes were happening.

Christianity has a softening effect on people. While a wild Gaul might think nothing of displaying a severed head in his living room, the Christian faith teaches men to love their enemy and pray for those who despitefully use you. The slavery of the Roman Empire faded as Christianity spread throughout Europe.  The first thing to go was sexual slavery. Christians viewed this as forced sin and therefore, wherever they had power, they made sexual slavery illegal. Historians note that a good way to track the spread of Christianity is to look for laws on sexual slavery. Secondly, enslaving fellow Christians was frowned upon. As slaves were baptized, there was mounting pressure to free them. Rodney Stark notes that by the 6th century (shortly after Christianity became a majority religion in the Roman Empire) slavery was almost completely gone. Every major Empire in history had slavery as a major component of their economy until this moment in history. It was a remarkable thing.

Monks started the first universities. Bishops started the first hospitals.  Nuns started the first orphanages. Regions like Italy developed the first true capitalist economies. In England, the Lords and Dukes, understanding that God gave laws not kings, helped bring the Magna Carta. Oliver Cromwell tried to bring about the first republic.

None of it is in a straight line. But by fits and starts, Europe was becoming civilized with a big C. And that C was almost completely aligned with the C that stood for Christendom.

When we look at maps of the world today, we see that poverty is largely located in Africa, South America, and South Asia. Folks like Charles Murray, like the Romans of old, wonder if these people are capable of civilization. But a few things need to be noted, first, relative to the United States, England, or Germany today, they might seem poor and crime filled but relative to these same regions just a few centuries ago and they would seem like the pinnacles of civilization.

Manuel Miranda, author of the musical Hamilton, says that he got the idea for doing a rap-themed musical about the founding father because Hamilton’s life “embodies hip hop.” And that is an appropriate analogy. Alexander Hamilton’s life would fit in well in some poor intercity environment. He was the bastard, son of a whore. He was born in the Caribbean and moved to New York. When he got here he slept around even after his marriage including with the wife of another man. He got in arguments with everyone and eventually was shot dead in a duel. America in 1790 was much like Haiti in 2019. But both are way more advanced that Germany in the first century.Culture. Not genetics.

And the base of culture is cult. Religion. Religion matters.

Niall Ferguson, an atheist, highlights the adoption of Christianity as a cause behind the rise of the west. He says that the religion offered Western Europe shared morals, higher levels of trust, work ethic, and other values that simply did not exist before. The Reformed Anglican culture had particularly high levels of emphasis on hard work, industriousness, and trust. It is not surprising then that England and English colonies outpaced all other colonial efforts in Europe. The USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong are all examples of successful English colonies. No other European nation can list so many examples.Look at those maps again. The first world is a picture of the places Christianity has been the longest or the places where England brought its culture. You might note Japan and Korea as exceptions but Japan is not really an exception. Japan at the end of the 19th century went through a radical transformation where they tried to copy everything about English culture and while they maintained a distinct Japanese culture, the effects on their economy were profound. Korea, likewise, has been profoundly impacted in the last 50 years by the culture of the United States (thanks to the Korean War) and by Christianity (that has grown to represent a third of the population).

Answering Objections
 But… what about Africa? Sub-Saharan Africa has become a majority Christian in the past century. Isn’t this proof of the failure of Christianity to change a culture and bring wealth and civilization? Well, first of all, I think we need to remember that Christianity took more than a thousand years to transform Europe – Africa has had it for less than 100. Second, Christianity IS having a profound impact on Africa. Africa’s economy has been growing rapidly over the past couple decades and extreme poverty has become largely a thing of the past in most of these nations. Further, you can see the impact that Christianity is having on culture and attitudes as well. Rodney Stark in “Triumph of Faith,” notes, the Christianization of Sub-Saharan Africa has reduced the practices of witchcraft, had remarkable effects on reducing abuse of women, and reduced instances of war and tyranny. Stark notes that these changes ONLY happened where Christianity was widely adopted (pg 119ff). Christianity is new on the continent but its differences are already being felt.

But… what about racial disparities within the United States? 
 What about adoption studies? The argument here is that black people are poorer and more violent even within cultures that are not particularly poor and violent. Isn’t this proof of some sort of a genetic difference?

It is at this point that I need to recommend a brilliant book by Thomas Sowell called “Black Rednecks and White Liberals.” In this book, Sowell (who happens to be black), argues that what we call African American culture, is actually a form of redneck culture. I would call it Hillbilly culture (read JD Vance’s great Hillbilly Elegy for an overview of this culture). Sowell argues that this culture deemphasizes industriousness and glorifies fighting and violence. Sowell says when you control for this culture, black people compare very well to white people. Black people who are raised where there is no "black" culture compare well to whites. White people raised in hillbilly culture have similar achievement levels to blacks. Why does Sowell argue this redneck culture disproportionately affect blacks? At the end of the Civil War, the majority of black people lived in the south. And the majority of white people lived in the north. Naturally, on average, the black person would have redneck culture and on average the white person would not. Sowell argues convincingly that the enduring nature of this redneck culture in African American communities is the primary reason for many of the differences we see in terms of achievement.

Recommended Reading
 How the West Was Won by Rodney Stark
Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell
Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Fergusson

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