CHARLES MURRAY CONTINUES HIS BATTLE TO OVERCOME PC WITH FACTS AND REASON
The Orwellian disinformation about innate group differences is not wholly the media's fault. Many academics who are familiar with the state of knowledge are afraid to go on the record. Talking publicly can dry up research funding for senior professors and can cost assistant professors their jobs. But while the public's misconception is understandable, it is also getting in the way of clear thinking about American social policy.
Good social policy can be based on premises that have nothing to do with scientific truth. The premise that is supposed to undergird all of our social policy, the founders' assertion of an unalienable right to liberty, is not a falsifiable hypothesis. But specific policies based on premises that conflict with scientific truths about human beings tend not to work. Often they do harm.
One such premise is that the distribution of innate abilities and propensities is the same across different groups. The statistical tests for uncovering job discrimination assume that men are not innately different from women, blacks from whites, older people from younger people, homosexuals from heterosexuals, Latinos from Anglos, in ways that can legitimately affect employment decisions. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 assumes that women are no different from men in their attraction to sports. Affirmative action in all its forms assumes there are no innate differences between any of the groups it seeks to help and everyone else. The assumption of no innate differences among groups suffuses American social policy. That assumption is wrong.
When the outcomes that these policies are supposed to produce fail to occur, with one group falling short, the fault for the discrepancy has been assigned to society. It continues to be assumed that better programs, better regulations or the right court decisions can make the differences go away. That assumption is also wrong.
Hence this essay. Most of the following discussion describes reasons for believing that some group differences are intractable. I shift from "innate" to "intractable" to acknowledge how complex is the interaction of genes, their expression in behavior, and the environment. "Intractable" means that, whatever the precise partitioning of causation may be (we seldom know), policy interventions can only tweak the difference at the margins.
I will focus on two sorts of differences: between men and women and between blacks and whites. Here are three crucial points to keep in mind as we go along:
1. The differences I discuss involve means and distributions. In all cases, the variation within groups is greater than the variation between groups. On psychological and cognitive dimensions, some members of both sexes and all races fall everywhere along the range. One implication of this is that genius does not come in one color or sex, and neither does any other human ability. Another is that a few minutes of conversation with individuals you meet will tell you much more about them than their group membership does.
2. Covering both sex differences and race differences in a single nontechnical article, I have had to leave out much. I urge that readers with questions consult the fully annotated version of this essay, which includes extensive supplementary material; it is available here at Commentary's Web site.
3. The concepts of "inferiority" and "superiority" are inappropriate to group comparisons. On most specific human attributes, it is possible to specify a continuum running from "low" to "high," but the results cannot be combined into a score running from "bad" to "good." What is the best score on a continuum measuring aggressiveness? What is the relative importance of verbal skills versus, say, compassion? Of spatial skills versus industriousness? The aggregate excellences and shortcomings of human groups do not lend themselves to simple comparisons. That is why the members of just about every group can so easily conclude that they are God's chosen people. All of us use the weighting system that favors our group's strengths.....
Since we live in an age when students are likely to hear more about Marie Curie than about Albert Einstein, it is worth beginning with a statement of historical fact: Women have played a proportionally tiny part in the history of the arts and sciences. Others have found similar proportions. Even in the 20th century, women got only 2% of the Nobel Prizes in the sciences--a proportion constant for both halves of the century--and 10% of the prizes in literature. The Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics, has been given to 44 people since it originated in 1936. All have been men.
The historical reality of male dominance of the greatest achievements in science and the arts is not open to argument. The question is whether the social and legal exclusion of women is a sufficient explanation for this situation, or whether sex-specific characteristics are also at work.
Mathematics offers an entry point for thinking about the answer. Through high school, girls earn better grades in math than boys, but boys usually do better on standardized tests. The difference in means is modest, but the male advantage increases as the focus shifts from means to extremes. In a large sample of mathematically gifted youths, for example, seven times as many males as females scored in the top percentile of the SAT mathematics test. We do not have good test data on the male-female ratio at the top one-hundredth or top one-thousandth of a percentile, where first-rate mathematicians are most likely to be found, but collateral evidence suggests that the male advantage there continues to increase, perhaps exponentially.
Evolutionary biologists have some theories that feed into an explanation for the disparity. In primitive societies, men did the hunting, which often took them far from home. Males with the ability to recognize landscapes from different orientations and thereby find their way back had a survival advantage. Men who could process trajectories in three dimensions--the trajectory, say, of a spear thrown at an edible mammal--also had a survival advantage. Women did the gathering. Those who could distinguish among complex arrays of vegetation, remembering which were the poisonous plants and which the nourishing ones, also had a survival advantage. Thus the logic for explaining why men should have developed elevated three-dimensional visuospatial skills and women an elevated ability to remember objects and their relative locations--differences that show up in specialized tests today.
SOUTHERNERS MAKE INCORRECTNESS A WINNER
In the lyrics of some of today's most popular country songs, the party boats are strung together like a floating trailer park, barefoot women carry babies on their hips, and country boys and redneck girls celebrate the weekend by hitting the mud hole in their 4 x 4s.
The latest people to trade in such images aren't found at snide cocktail parties on the Upper East Side. It's Nashville songwriters who are embracing these stereotypes about rural white Southerners and pushing cultural boundaries in lyrical leaps - from Gretchen Wilson's female anthem "Redneck Woman" to Jason Aldean's paean to small town life, "Hicktown." This bevy of new anthems about "Picassos with a pool stick," as John Michael Montgomery sings in "Paint the Town Redneck," pick up on a spirit of rebellion, brashness, and humor - crossing musical divides, pleasing country fans, and winning new converts as they climb the charts.
Some critics say the lyrics only serve to polarize a deeply divided culture. Songwriters and fans, however, see the lyrics as an empowering image and a longing, in difficult times, of simpler days. In some ways, these good-humored songs, flying in the face of the political correctness of the 1990s, are simply part of a trend in a country that seems to take more of its cultural and political heft from south of the Mason-Dixon line. "Like ["I Fall to Pieces" songwriter] Harlan Howard said, 'Country music is three chords and the truth.' It's just that some country music today tells the truth a little harder," says Ben Bowling, a Nashville songwriter.
As with David Allan Coe's trailblazing 1976 album, "Longhaired Redneck," today's hits combine wit, sleight of phrase, and a romanticization of crooked front porches - all tied to a word that is a reference to the sunburned necks of Southern farmers and which has come to mean, as comedian Jeff Foxworthy has said, "a glorious absence of sophistication."
But while embracing the idea of "down home" in uncertain times, and playing off a strong working-class identity, this sudden redneck relevance is also part of what author Michael Graham argued in his 2003 book, "Redneck Nation": While often looking down its nose at country brethren, urban elites are in many ways mimicking their antics. Graham writes that the most cosmopolitan show on TV, "Sex and the City," is really all about low-class adventures in high-rent neighborhoods, a kind of skyscraper trailer park.
"It's partly the Southernization of America, in that the Southern working-class version of redneck is becoming the national version, and it's good-natured, it has humor and, in some ways, it's a performance," says Charles Wilson, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at University of Mississippi in Oxford.
Nashville singer Craig Morgan, whose "Redneck Yacht Club" is No. 3 on the charts, says his fans see themselves in his songs, and that the lyrics touch on a common experience among Americans, many of whom have country roots. "You don't have to be a redneck to be a member of a redneck yacht club," says Mr. Morgan. "It's a term that in the past has been a stigma or a stereotype, but songs like this and other various songs, even though they talk about the very things that people imagine rednecks doing or being, they're realizing that a redneck is more of a lifestyle than a person or a people."
Yet the stereotypes, no matter who's dishing them out, can be hurtful, says University of Virginia senior Maggie Bowden, a big country music fan. "My family's from [the South]. That's hilarious to people, and they ask me when me and my brother are going to start dating," says Ms. Bowden, who sees her own teenage life in a small Virginia town reflected in Aldean's "Hicktown." "But I think it's when the Southern stereotypes leak into hurtful things, like in classes when we talk about what's going on in New Orleans and people say ... 'What else do you expect from the South, everybody down here is racist.' That's when it makes me wary to have anybody promote a certain image of an entire region."
The new attitude may seem popular - but for the wrong reasons, some critics say. "It runs the risk of being sort of a redneck minstrel show, taking the stereotypes, same as African-American artists used to have to do shuffling and tap dancing, to please audiences paying money," says native Alabamian Steve Persall, a film critic at the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. "Part of the appeal may be, especially in urban markets, it sort of justifies what they've thought about the South."
But in this newest Nashville permutation, Southerners, as they often do, may have the last laugh. "Dolly Parton may be the ultimate example of this," says Mr. Wilson at Ole Miss. "It's an aesthetic that's in your face: big hair, short dresses, an emphasis on her physique, and she's making lots of money in the process. Like her, [today's singers] take demeaning images in Southern culture, turn it all on its head, and say, 'I'm really outsmarting you.' "