The Shame-Joy of the Savant Class (Part I)

The discussion of race and intelligence, and what modern genetic science may say about their interconnection, has been heating up. Long studied quietly in recondite realms of cognitive psychology, the issue emerged into the US public consciousness in meteoric fashion back in 1994, when Herrnstein and Murray’s The Bell Curve notoriously brought up the black-white IQ gap in the US, did not rule out that there might be a genetic factor involved in the difference, and also offered policy perspectives that struck many as, if nothing else, imperiously social-Darwinian (“…the people we now refer to as the underclass are in that condition through no fault of their own but because of inherent shortcomings about which little can be done”; p. 523). After simmering again out of sight for a while, the subject re-entered public prominence during the late 2000s and early 2010s. In 2007 James Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double-helix, made remarks to the effect that the perennial economic difficulties of sub-Saharan Africa could largely be due to genetic differences in intelligence. In 2013 there was the matter of Jason Richwine, who argued in his Harvard thesis and in subsequent work at the Heritage Foundation that a) more recent immigrants to the USA tended to have lower intelligence scores, that b) this was likely linked to genetic factors, and that c) therefore lower-skilled immigration ought to be restricted. The resulting uproar was such that Richwine was obliged to resign from his post at Heritage.

Now the tangled, uneasy nexus of genetics and race is being stirred once again, this time by another Harvard researcher, geneticist David Reich, with his NYT op-ed on intelligence and genetics (01). Reich comes bearing a weighty warning: a new age of unprecedentedly precise genetic studies is dawning all around us, studies so indisputable and so powerful that there will be no ignoring their implications, no going back. And these studies, like it or not, are finding clear and significant new genetic differences between the traditional racial groupings—such as Caucasians, Northeast Asians, and sub-Saharan Africans.

The key distinction of the new studies is that they infer genetic effects by pinpointing specific causative DNA sequences, instead of from patterns of inheritance, for instance as studies of identical twins do. In the new age of hyper-resolution genetic profiling, Reich solemnly warns us, it will no longer be possible to invoke non-genetic factors like upbringing or environment or oppressive social constructions as possible explanations for the differences between groups (which are already acknowledged among professionals). As the knowledge of predictive genetics accumulates for countless traits and propensities, and as cheap genetic testing becomes more pervasive, we will have to accommodate ourselves to the new reality. More and more, the genes will make the man.

Reich’s performance as the semi-rueful bearer of fateful news is finely calibrated, and his piece is nothing if not carefully hedged—for instance, he avoids making any explicit suggestion about group or racial genetic differences affect intelligence, and even goes as far as to discount Watson’s earlier claims. Most of the denunciations of his claims have taken the form of fists-in-ears denial or tortuous evasions and self-contradictions; the London Guardian for instance decried the idea that genetic variations could predict problem-solving abilities at all as “a tall claim”, then conceded there is “an undoubted genetic basis to individual difference”, all in a single rhetorical huff.

But for all his caution, and for all the excesses of the opposition, Reich’s message nonetheless is filled with what seem like crocodile tears, a too-rueful-by-half wringing of the hands that, being necessary to avoid real censure (and not just the ignorable Guardian or Vox variety), cannot be taken to carry any useful information as to the author’s inner feelings on the matter. He tells us matter-of-factly that after all, none of the news about population differences should be that surprising to us: “The ancestors of East Asians, Europeans, West Africans and Australians were, until recently, almost completely isolated from one another for 40,000 years or longer, which is more than sufficient time for the forces of evolution to work.” One nods: a fair enough point—why should we all be identical after so much time apart, after all? Variety is the spice of life, no? Surely even more touching is Reich’s concern that his and others’ work on the subject could be misused “to provide rhetorical cover for hateful ideas and old racist canards”. Indeed, this is most fortunate, since if actual racists were to seize the terms of the discussion on the racial differences (or as we are supposed to say in dog-whistlese, group differences) that Reich and others have so painstakingly prepared, validated, and now publicized, the consequences could indeed be a disastrous upswing of racist beliefs and racist unrest. But thankfully, as long as scientists are in charge of the discussion, only sunshine and light will issue: “…knowledgeable scientists must speak out. If we abstain from laying out a rational framework for discussing differences among populations, we risk losing the trust of the public” and “leave a vacuum that gets filled by pseudoscience”. Again we nod gratefully. What good fortune that the scientists so busily laying out potential validation for racists everywhere are themselves inherently rational, and therefore non-racist! What good news, as well, to learn that scientists apparently still have “the trust of the public” to begin with!

Reich’s rhetorical pirouettes are, as I have said, of the most fluent and impeccable kind. But through his seemingly virtuous pleadings, one senses a warm heart of doublespeak. Instead of objecting to racist stereotyping per se, Reich and his colleagues seem mainly loath to think that the wrong racist stereotypes should be assumed, and without proper empirical ratification by them, the virtuous scientists (who, again, by definition cannot be racist, only faultlessly objective and reasonable). Above all, one comes away with a distinct feeling that what really nettles Reich and his fellow hereditarians more than anything is a lack of priority, of due deference to their right to control the discussion of the researches they have labored over and now claim are inevitable. Fascinatingly for ones supposedly so rational and knowledgeable, these luminaries seem content to profess complete innocence as to the inherent consequences, possible uses, and possible underlying motivations of their findings—all of which are evident enough and potentially brutal—and to assume that the only possible complication has to do, not with their content, but with the possibility that the wrong kind of people—deplorables, possibly?—might repeat and use them for their own agendas. Towards this end, they seem to hang their hopes on a kind of historical miracle: namely that for once, the shrieking gyres of Internet opinion will fall silent and yield pride of place to academic experts, if only those experts are so good as to speak up first.

And so in the end, Reich’s magnificent hedging hardly saves him; one feels a coyness underneath the solemn and earnest mask. It is surely a fine last rhetorical touch of his that the very conclusions that he warns might be drawn, even if left tastefully half-unsaid (for everything Reich writes is half-unsaid), are themselves disseminated by his ostensive warning about them. So let us drop this half-pretense and spell them out: if we know racially- and ethnically-defined groups exhibit distinctive genetic hallmarks, and we know also that there are distinctive genetic hallmarks that strongly correlate with IQ, then it stands to reason that a number of the genetic hallmarks between racial groups could also be ones that determine IQ. Also, there appear to be substantial and persistent and heritable average IQ differences between races. Then the implied next step, half-unsaid or not, seems to be that on average, certain groups or races are demonstrably, genetically “smarter” than others.

There is no avoiding this logical possibility, as Reich pretends to want to do, even as he so carefully prepares us to hear and think exactly that, in the manner of the famous paradox that tells us not to think of a pink elephant. Again and again he seems to want to have his cake and eat it: displaying his concerned even-mindedness, while preparing the inevitability of certain conclusion. He seems to tell us in one breath, “I’m not saying this is so—that would be wrong—but get ready for lots of scientists just like me to argue that it’s so very soon. There’s no stopping it; moreover it’s our duty to uncover it; and you should calmly embrace whatever we say… because otherwise extremists will control the discussion!”

* * *

Now, what do I mean by saying “pretends to want”? Just that in all of this discussion and controversy, one cannot easily help noticing an absolutely crucial psychological factor running through and through—one which, though it has nothing to do with psychometrics or genetics per se and has gone almost totally unremarked in the debate, cannot be disentangled from it if we look at it seriously. There is nothing new about this factor, and in fact there is a fittingly toothsome German word for it: schadenfreude, literally “harm-joy”.

“In the misfortunes of our friends,” said François de La Rochefoucauld, “there is always something not entirely unpleasing.” This often-unconscious rejoicing in relative superiority over others, and particularly their misfortune, is the essence of schadenfreude. In this same vein, as a general proposition, I would suggest that whenever a person who holds a superior position seems to profess their heartfelt regret at their superiority, then we would do well to view the whole situation, at the very least, as a possible locus of schadenfreude, even if the person in question has the most sterling record of self-restraint and egalitarian feeling. Who, after all, can humanly say, “I am better than those people“—full well believing it true—and not feel somewhere inside them a certain sly relish at this superiority, or at least a relief at not being in the inferior position? Moreover, how much does such a person really gird themselves against this guiltiest of pleasures merely by adding the disclaimer: “…but I only believe I am better because science forces me to“?

For the most part, then, underlying most of talk about IQ, as with any other discussion involving superiority and inferiority, it is impossible not to detect the aroma of schadenfreude, that strangely piquant and luxuriant mixture of self-reproach and egoistic preening on the part of the privileged (in this case, those whose IQ scores turned out high enough to ensure an unimpeachable place in the psychometric pecking-order). This type of privilege must surely apply for Harvard professors and alumni with national media platforms, ones just like Reich (and Richwine, and Murray, and Watson), who after all function in our society as something like “high priests of smartness”. Yet schadenfreude applies equally well to many who will argue vehemently against the findings, against the half-hidden half-conclusion—those who shout that the conclusion cannot really be scientific (because they assume science, as the vouchsafe of progressivism’s intellectual superiority, must perforce be an ally of equality), and at the same time shout it with the instinctive aim of setting themselves up on the delightfully ennobling “rescuer” side of Karpmann’s triangle. And so we find ourselves hemmed in by schadenfreude on all sides. This is why we must say that Reich and others in this discussion “pretend to want” to prevent racist interpretations of their work: because their actions in pursuing and widely publicizing such findings, as well as their own egoic motivations, strongly point in the opposite direction.

What then are the stakes in this debate, in outline? What are the consequences of saying one group is “smarter” than another, as opposed to some other complex trait? The prospect that is opened up, if we are honest, is none other than the open granting of a scientific imprimatur to deem quite specific groups of people as generally inferior and others as generally superior, and based largely on proxy information.

Others will object to various aspects of this. They may deny that intelligence contains baked-in connotations of superiority and inferiority, of ranking—a denial that can be nicely disposed of by asking when they last called someone “dumb” and meant it as a compliment, or called someone “brilliant” and meant it as an insult.

Also they may insist, by way of consolation—as Reich does, and also Charles Murray and Sam Harris, whose lengthy podcast on the “Bell Curve” author’s research is relevant listening—that differences in individuals vary far more widely than populations. Or finally, they may seek to assure us that always and forever the race-linked findings of the population geneticists will be of purely medical interest, without any intimations of power or superiority dynamics—for the targeted treatment of illnesses, say. In this domain, Reich gives the example of a newly-detected genetic basis for higher prostate cancer rates in black men. Yet rest assured, no individuals will harmed in the process! Rest assured, reasonableness will continue to govern all our personal judgments and actions, and most surely in science! (As if this has ever been the case to begin with. What credit we give ourselves, we reasonable ilk of the enlightened age…)

This storied reasonableness of our general behavior should not detain us for long; it has long been a empty signifier, complete with its own identity group, with professional “rationalists” such as Harris only the more recent to hoist its flag as a source of ego-validation, social approval, and large book deals. And so, in keeping with their mixed provenance and no less mixed motivations, the most reasonable reassurances about observing individual differences only and stoically ignoring the group ones show themselves after only a little thought to be little more than empty truism. For one thing, any large population distribution will have individuals far out at the extremes—and assuming a bell-curve, these decline super-exponentially, so that even small changes in the difference between the means will drastically affect the proportion of outliers. (This fact is well noted in climate science: a single degree change in the average can double or triple the likelihood of the most extreme weather events.) For another, if we only have two or three group populations that we are comparing with regard to a single emergent effect like IQ scores (as opposed to, say, sequences at a set of thousands of genetic loci, which however may have little or no functional relationship), the idea of a “distribution” over such a small number of groups is nearly meaningless—there are too few groups to build a distribution with. Using this fraught idea, then, of “difference between groups” for comparison with the more soundly determined variance within each group, makes a red herring the reassurance that “only the individual is judged”.

Yet Reich’s and others’ claims to “respect the merit of the individual”, as though this can be surgically separated from the treatment of the group itself, bumps up against other obvious absurdities in the domain of practical, actual human behavior—the treacherous land where factors like schadenfreude constantly are in play. Here is a simple thought experiment: imagine some attribute X that differs between two groups, and moreover let us imagine that X has strongly desirable implications of prestige, functionality, rank, etc. Let us imagine that an “open, reasonable discussion” about this difference in X ensues between someone from a group rated “hereditarily high in X” and yourself, who happens to belong to the “hereditarily lower in X” group. Casually, our friend from the “high X” group tells you:

  “Of course I judge you purely as an individual; I would never dream of doing otherwise. It’s just that your kind of people are on average clearly far below-par in terms of X, and that’s immutable (i.e., hereditary) reality. It’s just science.”

Whether they admit it or not, what Reich and the others are arguing is that we should entertain that the above sort of remark (albeit perhaps phrased less obnoxiously) could become perfectly reasonable, value-neutral, part of the discussion, “just science”. Leaving completely aside whether the science in question turns out to be correct and immutable, or whether theoretically the precise rules of logic allow one to systematically devalue an entire group while treating the individuals of that group pristinely, can anyone pretend with a straight face—as Reich and many too-conspicuously try—that this will not have vast and often extremely unpleasant consequences on racism in practice?

Whether or not it is so intended (and the element of schadenfreude suggests it is more intended than will ever be admitted), unless the consensus reverses direction in a way that has not happened at all since 1994, these studies will flow, imperceptibly and in most cases only semi-consciously, towards nothing less than the gradual rehabilitation of the word “racism” (or more likely in the short term, some equivalent but jargon-clothed euphemism). For if racial differences are in fact genetic, and linked to traits associated with rank and desirability, then whether scientists “lay out a rational framework”, as Reich so upstandingly puts it, will make no difference in the basic syllogism above, or the troubling case of “attribute X”. For to be clear, both are fundamentally expressions of racism; it does not matter who says them, scientist or skinhead. From there, fortified with the almost-priestly character accorded to scientific authority in our technics-obsessed culture, such expressions cannot help but gain a popular legitimacy that they would not have had if the subject had been left alone or banned, in the manner of human reproductive cloning and so many millions of imaginable medical experiments that might indeed “expand our knowledge” but at terrible moral cost.

Yet one cannot now easily declare the findings untrue or insist that no one look at them, though this has been proposed, with predictable failure, for instance by Noam Chomsky in his 1972 article in Ramparts, where he deemed the subject of racial-genetic factors in IQ to be of “very little scientific importance [and] no social importance, except under the assumptions of a racist society” (17) and others, like journalist John Horgan (18), whose positions echo Chomsky. The message has been: leave it alone; don’t even study it. Well-motivated as these recommendations have often been, one can hardly miss in them a certain sense of dread at what might be found, as though they already are sure of it despite themselves. And much as the prurient interest of scandal tends to double ticket sales for movie stars and lead to packed halls for politicians, of course the suggestion not to study something only triples the interest level in the subject. Of course bans have indeed been possible for things like human reproductive cloning—things which do not involve anything so dangerous as the stealthy rehabilitation of racist thought in scholarly circles after its long, post-WWII submersion—but none of these things have the power of elite schadenfreude stacked against them. This, maybe more than anything, is the distinction that makes such research officially “inevitable” instead of “unethical”.

As a practical matter then, if scientific findings on race and genetics of intelligence continue to be pursued and are made socially acceptable—as introductory gestures like Reich’s go a long way towards achieving—they have the potential to tip over an infinite cauldron of resentment that will make the racial rancor of the past few decades appear tame.

If accepted, one cannot expect racially-based changes in general behavior (and policy) not to issue from them as they sink in. For instance there is Murray, who argues that such findings show the destructiveness of affirmative action by promoting minorities to colleges and jobs where they harrowingly find themselves unable to compete on their own merit. As discussed, the findings will inevitably change the expectations that are routinely applied by one large group of people towards another, giving these new and inevitably judgmental expectations the fertilizer of mainstream acceptance, and despite the i-dotting protestations of the researchers in question, that is a profound thing.

* * *

What is Man without his prized intelligence? The question still frightens; it cuts to the quick. Where once Man counted on the numinous force of his soul to hold himself safely apart from the indignity and doom of animal life, to sustain a hope of transcending his own obvious creatureliness, the demolition of religious faith in recent centuries forced him to adopt a substitute distinction: the faculty of reason, or intellect. Descartes helped begin the shift by holding that the faculty of reason, and language—the res cogitanswas the soul, precisely the divine gift that distinguished man from animals, which were purely mindless automata. Through this elevation of the abstract rational capacity there developed, against Descartes’ intentions to preserve it under a new more Enlightenment-friendly definition, the now-widespread “physicalist” practice of seeing the spiritual aspect of the human as superfluous if not a quaint error, a shibboleth to be cast off as another stride along the bright march of progress. In this way intellect truly became, in Spengler’s wonderful phrase, “the petrifact of extinct soul” (Decline of the West, 354). 

While we have become far more accepting of the notion that animals, too, have experiences and mentality of some sort, intelligence has by no means given up its pride of place as the premium metric of human value (and it is odd of Murray and others to suppose that it is undervalued simply because, for instance, not enough job applications are decided on the grounds on something as blatant as IQ scores). The brahmins of our time, the opinion-making secular priesthood populated by characters such as Watson, Reich, Richwine, Murray, and many others, is defined almost exclusively in terms of intellectual capacity—or at least academic capacity, which is wordlessly taken as a proxy for the same. While beauty and athletic prowess still captivate (and as such are squeezed for every last drop of potential profit), and once in a while some account of valor or even wisdom or artistry penetrates the fog of the news, the highest and most solemn praises, the heart’s inmost hope and the hack’s uttermost hype, now are consecrated to the scientific, technological and mathematical geniuses.

In the popular culture, the “nerd” has become a kind of style statement, a stock entertainment, a ubiquitous object of striving, a pleading for the almighty Intellect’s absolution from those who likely cannot master or even do not care for its content. For much of our youth, nothing is so important as proving one’s smarts—or at least the social-ceremonial equivalent of it, usually by piling on years if not decades of undergraduate then postgraduate education, ideally after acceptance into one of the more prestigious institutions where, it is assumed, the reliquaries of Intelligence are reverentially maintained. As for the workplace, by Murray’s own account, our employment system has become obsessed with the status conferred by these trappings of high intelligence (if not always with intelligence as explicitly measured), so that for him and many other psychometric researchers, “life is an intelligence test”—though note that there are also some who very pointedly disagree with this view.

In day-to-day life, the effects of so much as carrying on one’s person the right signifier of one of the exalted and anointed topics can be striking, even in circles not traditionally thought “intellectual”. A friend once brought a book of mathematics into a bar with us; as we sat down, the bartender glanced at the book, then gazed at my friend with an odd reverence and said to him, with a serious nod and trembling lip, “God bless you”. “God bless you“! As though by carrying the right sort of book—and one filled with dry derivations no less—one could assume the mantle of some saintly hope! In years past it would have been a Bible, or possibly in more select circles poetry, or ancient Greek epics, that won such a reaction; now it is, singularly and solely, the power to calculate, categorize and abstract that inspires. What more telling expression can there be than this remark, when it comes to the confused and tormented results of substituting humanity’s intellectual and particularly computational efforts for the exiled but still-gnawing need for both transcendence, aesthetics, and tribal meaning? Intellect has become, as Spengler suggested, the Ersatz for a spiritual existence that mankind is no longer allowed to think about (and disallowed, it should be noted, by the very same priesthood that now steps out from its tower of genetic calculations to explain the ineffable laws of intellectual inheritability).

All this fevered and prayerful glorification of human intellect (though crucially only a certain narrowly mechanical and control-obsessed formulation of it, and despite its embarrassing history of gruesome failures and missteps) cannot help have a shadow, and in that is that to have less intellect is to have less humanity, less of the crucial element that differentiates the human from the animal or mineral essences. In the world of the spirit, it could be imagined that the rich man was as likely to enter heaven as a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, and that the poor in spirit were blessed. But what of the “poor in intellect”? In the world where spirit still was imaginable, or even to a lesser degree in Descartes’ dualism, the measured intellectual ability of a man or woman could have roughly as much bearing on the question of their transcendental merit as whether they calluses on their feet. But in a world where the crucial human attribute is exhausted in psychometrics, there cannot but be underclasses and masters and moreover an endorsement of such, a mixture of Social Darwinism and “Brave New World”-style intellectual partitioning. If the Calvinists took the first steps on this path by grimly propounding personal wealth as the sign of divine favor and poverty as indicating moral turpitude, so our new era will suggest its own secular Calvinism, with high IQ as its priestly virtue and low IQ as its sinfulness.

So let us be clear: the discussion of differences in intelligence is fundamentally different from the discussion of other possibly genetic differences such as a slightly higher propensity to get a certain kind of cancer versus another, or a metabolic tendency to put on weight in one’s belly or one’s thighs, or to attain an adult height a few inches above or below the average. For intelligence, unlike any of these, has light and shadows, and extremely sharp ones; it is predicated on superiority and inferiority, and in extremely dire terms, not just on what we mean by the word “merit”, on many of the most fundamental things that our culture has of late decided to deem valuable in a person, but on what we mean when we say we are human as opposed to something else. The very structure of our  aspirations for humanity—or what remains of those aspirations, anyway—has been hung on the stout, square, utilitarian peg of intellectual ability; all other exits from the intolerability of existence have been sealed, disavowed, or forgotten.

And so when we say that one man has less intelligence than another man, in the cooly quantitative way that the scientists have now formulated “intelligence”, we are saying something uniquely forceful given our time and circumstances, and saying it in a way that hits an unusually sensitive spot—we are saying that this less intelligent man is closer to animal life than the other. When such is said about a group of men rather than an individual, then if anything the force of the assertion and the power of its implications is even stronger—not weaker, as Reich and others coyly pretend. To demote an isolated individual to a more animal-like status is done quite often, and often stays isolated in the instance (as, say, by deserved punishment, or bad character). But to demote a whole group, with meretricious talk of “individual exceptions” or not, is to assert the supremacy of a whole form of life and the relative animality of another; it is a distancing of the latter from the circle of human distinction. Such distancing is a deeply political move; it simply cannot be made otherwise, no matter how sincere the ignorance that declares it apolitical, and no matter how “good” the science that is used to argue for it.

* * *

I remain no more convinced of the IQ score as an iron-clad indicator of what we really mean when we say “intelligence”—and particularly of creativity, depth, insightfulness—than I am, on the other extreme, that the IQ score measures nothing whatsoever of importance.

Granted, there seems to be a vague notion of “mental horsepower” that we use intuitively all the time, and to which these tests are able to give an operationally-defined number, expressed as “g” or “general intelligence”. And so other things being roughly equal, people who generally are quick at solving problems, grasping concepts, and above all at gathering things under their control, will indeed tend to have higher scores of this “g” than those who are slow at such tasks or even never master them at all. So far, so good.

Yet above a certain score range the power of the test to predict the public lifelong achievements (nothing is said of the private sort) that we would associate with “brilliance” or “genius” falls off considerably. How, after all, would we accurately measure the intelligence of someone with a mind beyond our own ability to conceive? Would we give them math problems we can’t crack, ask them to coordinate a large industrial supply chain, see how many pages of textbooks they can memorize verbatim, challenge them to build a computer out of paperclips? (These demands, and others like them, tend to strike one as entertainingly clever and yet strangely superficial or pointless.) Is it not a fallacy, in general, to apply statistical reasoning to a type of person whose uniqueness, whose potential for attaining what the rest of us cannot yet describe, is precisely what is supposedly interesting about them?

Surely many of us have had the personal experience of dealing with high-IQ individuals who are happy to flaunt their scores but show themselves to be curiously conventional and un-insightful, or who devote their intelligence to backstopping bizarre hobbies and hateful beliefs, or who deploy intellectual ability purely in subservience to the values of power and money (all matters which Chomsky very rightly cautions against).

When the culture of psychometrics holds sway in education, as in certain attempts to carefully isolate children based on high IQ scores and groom them as some new vanguard of human attainment, it is hard to avoid the impression that while these children may be intelligent, they are rarely quite as exceptional as the scores would suggest, and not much more so than those passed over as having too low a score (as, for instance, in the “Genetic Studies of Genius“, which embarrassingly rejected two future Nobel laureates).

It seems equally plausible that such academies, being designed around a single metric, tend to produce subtly narrow thinkers—very high-functioning functionaries, sleek systematizers or derivers, but essentially narrow and subservient in their thought, and possibly more so than they would have been in other circumstances. (Though as anywhere, there will always be a few who find their own way whether they are specially groomed or not.)

From the website for the Davidson institute, one such experimental IQ-silo for the young and gifted (maintained at public expense), one reads, in bold: “Profoundly gifted students are those who score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ and achievement tests.” Is this to mean no person even a few percentage points below that percentile score can be “profoundly gifted” at something? (Here perhaps we see hints of that subtle narrowness of thought.)

None of these considerations appear to have stood in the way of a widespread temptation to view general intelligence not as an approximate operational construct but as pseudo-Platonic entity, distinct and inviolate. And so it seems fitting here to repeat Schopenhauer’s superb remark about the difference between genius and talent:

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see. “

In sum, by predicating intelligence on the ability to reach a score that no one else can reach, rather than to observe ideas and assertions that no one else can see—a gift which by definition cannot be tested for—the obsession with IQ risks the unforgivable mistake of confusing genius with talent. It is not that IQ is meaningless or useless, but the undue fascination it exerts over many who, just coincidentally, do well at it makes it suspect; it has all too much of the victor’s schadenfreude in it for us to regard it, as it would have us do, as tidily agenda-free.

(to be continued)

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