Saturday, July 13, 2002

Genetic Engineering, intelligence, and history (past and future) A few weeks back godless expressed his lack of concern for those on the left side of the Bell Curve. He noted that certain individuals do care (Steve Sailer, me). Why do I care? Because the majority of the human race probably has an IQ below 100-and I do think the majority matters on some level. From a selfish perspective, it matters to my economic and social well-being, and from the perspective of social science, they are the subject in question and presumptively those most effected by social movements and changes (in aggregate). I've been thinking about this for a while and mulling over ideas like the "Great Man" theory of history-weighing it against the position that history is driven by inscrutable laws and forces which Great Men happen to express themselves through (in other words they are riding the tiger). In most cases-a moderate synthesis between two extremes comes close to the truth. Was Germany destined for some sort of social impasse because of the bankruptcy of the Weimar Republic and the injudicious treatment of the vanquished German state at the end of World War I by the Allies? Yes-probably. But the charismatic personality of Adolf Hitler channeled this tendency and amplified its consequences. His personal demons and hostilities were critical in shaping World War II-even if some sort of regional conflagration would erupt out of Germany inevitably. So Great Men do matter-I believe they smooth out (Franklin D. Roosevelt's soft socialism prevented the rise of a genuine Social Democratic party)-or exaggerate historical forces. In general, Great Men (and yes-women of course) probably come from the right half of the Bell Curve. So let's focus on this right half, in particular (to be somewhat arbitrary) on those more than 1 standard deviation above the American mean IQ, those above 115. So, for now , I'm going to assume a few things. 1) I'll assume that IQ does reflect "g," or general intelligence. 2) g measures something that is absolute, in other words, the Lynn-Flynn effect has been documenting the increase of g, people aren't just becoming more comfortable with the idea of written tests. 3) g is dependent on both genetics and environment. These bright individuals are probably the generators of social dynamism in modern societies. In other words, they are the Bill Gate's and James Watson's. This neglects those who might score low on tests for abstract logic but make great social contributions-Babe Ruth or Elvis Presley for instance. But these latter folk generally still need a certain economic base to express their dynamic creativity, an Isaac Newton to shift the scientific paradigm- entrepreneur’s like Thomas Edison to apply the science (the connection between science and engineering has been sketchy until recently-but I suspect it is not coincidence that Europe took the technological lead during the age of scientific inquiry). So some questions: 1) Is it the absolute number, or relative percentage, of bright individuals that contributes to social dynamism? 2) Is there a certain threshold-again, either absolute or relative, needed for this metaphorical engine to start? So for instance, what explains the fact that Egypt and Iraq have the longest records of literate settled civilization, but their IQ is still relatively low compared to northern Europe-which lagged considerably? 1) It could be that the transition from a given stage of civilization to a more advanced stage requires a critical mass of individuals with a certain level of g. Particular historical transitions might require lower numbers of the individuals with high g, therefore factors such as geography and historical coincidence are more important in jump-starting them, while areas with greater numbers of high g individuals remain backward. For instance, imagine that the transition from the late stone age to the early bronze age did not require a great mass of educated individuals (literacy was limited to a scribal class, bronze was an elite metal and cities were demographically marginal). In this case, climate and biogeography might have played paramount roles in the transition-so you see that the first civilizations grow in river valleys in the low temperate latitudes. Once a certain level of complexity (phonetic script, widespread metallurgy and the growth of cities) was achieved, civilization could take root in colder climes where they leveraged methods from the older cultures to scale their geographic barriers against historical progress. Then, in these areas the numerical preponderance of high g individuals allowed these regions (Europe or China for instance) to surpass the initial hearths of civilization by the iron age (yes-there are many historical quibbles with this-the regress of civilization in Western Europe following the fall of Rome prime among them). 2) The average g of societies change due to sociological forces which we haven't smoked out yet. One could speculate for instance that long periods of agriculture, or a particular social structure, selected for relatively low g individuals. If intelligence is not required to procreate and spread your genes, what need is there for it? As some have pointed out, high intelligence can be correlated with mental problems such as schizophrenia and depression, so there is a cost involved that might favor lower average g without the proper conditions. Conversely, the historical coincidences or forces that culminated in the development of advanced scientific civilization in western Europe might have favored procreation of those with high levels of g (this argument can be critiqued by the fact that China, Japan and Russia have high IQs today, though the Confucian examination system might have influenced China). I don't have the answers to all these questions-as this is an expansive topic. In addition-as I've mentioned before, we'll never be able to go back and test Neolithic villagers with Raven's Matrices to see what their g is in a culture-fair fashion. Perhaps five-hundred years from now, when we have a long period of testing in diverse social settings, we'll know, but by then it might be a mute point due to genetic engineering. And speaking of which. Both godless and I favor genetic engineering to raise g. There are those who are skeptical this will ever occur. But biology has advanced a lot in the past 20 years, from PCR in the wet lab to computational methods processing the data that results from it. Never say never. But I began thinking of the social consequences of genetic engineering recently after reading some science fiction (the late Gordon R. Dickson’s Childe Cycle). What if society's mean IQ was 130-in other words, a high level of g on average. Would this be a good thing? In the sequels to Isaac Asimov's Foundation series written by David Brin, Greg Bear and Gregory Benford, they postulate that the robots that manipulate the macro-historical processes that shape the galactic civilization have infected the vast majority of humans with a virus that basically lowers their intelligence. This prevents too much change and maintains the stability of the galactic civilization. David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series of novels reiterates over and over how the new world-spanning Middle Kingdom suppresses the creativity of its European subjects so as to maintain the status quo. The alternative is chaos and a more cruel despotism. Marxists attempt to analyze history through the interplay of classes. What about analyzing history through the interplay of the intelligent and the less intelligent (quite often proxy's for class anyhow)? To me-there have been no mass movements. The Nomenklatura have become Russia's new capitalists. The old communist hierarchy in China is cashing in on the new economy via graft. The prosperous middle-class Basques in Spain and the unemployed college graduates in the Islamic world are the ones that fuel terrorism and violence. The Christian and pagan elites battled for supremacy in the late Roman Empire, and the masses followed the winner. For instance, do the elites of the Democratic party and the Republican party share more with each other, or with the masses they presume to represent, or neither? The Democratic party hacks I've known personally (only one or two to be sure) and from what I've read in sociological surveys of party activists show that they are what Republicans portray them to be: secular liberals at odds with "Middle American values." On the other hand, Republican party activists are often rather wealthy (though the presence of the Christian Right might dilute the plutocracy a bit-it does not dismiss all stereotypes) and do care about the rich, insofar as they are the ones that will benefit from capital gains tax cuts (just as school principals and trial lawyers in the Democratic party benefit from its policies). Yet both these parties try to court a certain mass following, because elite parties (see the poor liberal parties of Europe as an example) without grass-roots support don't get anywhere. The Democrats portray themselves as defenders of Average-Joe-American working 9-5, while Republicans frame it as Average-Joe-American going to church. They do tend to follow-up on their programs to some extent, as well as enriching or empowering themselves of course (the elite that is). A more extreme case would be the "revolutionary vanguard" that overthrew the old oligarchy of Czarist Russia-and did give some dignity to the workers-but more effectively entrenched their own power and privilege and killed their elite and grass-roots opponents (oh, and the old problem that Communism doesn't work too well as a system caused overall social misery for decades). Elites need the masses in their battles with each other. The corrupt Nationalists lost to the less corrupt Communists in mainland China partly for this reason (and perhaps Mao was a Greater Man than Chiang Kai Sek). The elite pretends for the sake of the masses that any given movement is about the majority of the people (SPQR-"The Senate and the people of Rome" was really the powerful Senators claiming the legitamcy of the Republic for their own ends) and do enough to make it somewhat credible. This interlocking system of dependencies has resulted in the usually slow and sometimes frenetic evolution of cultures across the world and through time where nation-states and empires developed based around a common set of ideas (for instance, Rome and China were bound by ideas more than soldiers or trade-information was expensive, life was cheap). The elite need the masses to battle off rivals-while the masses need the elite to maintain order and stability. China is a case in point. Chinese history is illustrative of the role of elites and their supportive masses, in this case, call two of the major elite groups the scholar-gentry and the rural high nobility. Ultimately, both depended on the peasants, so while the former pushed for a leveling the ownership of land to make the free peasants look to the central state for protection, the latter wanted to decentralize power to the prefectures and force the peasants off their land and onto to their manors in a state of serfdom. The balance of power in many Chinese dynasties (the first Han dynasty is a classic example) goes from the scholar-gentry and the central state toward the regional warlords. A period of chaos re-equilibrates the system as one powerful individual re-imposes central authority and the scholar-gentry is re-empowered and the regional warlords eliminated or dispossessed. Of course, it's far more complex than this, but the tension between the scholar-gentry who relied at least partially on meritocratic examinations, and the rural nobility that much more somewhat resembled European aristocracy was a crucial part of the dynamics of the rise of a strong dynasty and its subsequent fragmentation (dynasties such as the Han and Ming were founded by commoners-though the Tang was founded by an aristocrat). OK, let me wind this down. What is my point after all? Let's get back to genetic engineering. What if in 50 years due to gene therapy everyone has an IQ above 130 in absolute terms (obviously there will be re-normalization on tests-but think of it as talking in 2002 dollars in 1960). How will the interplay between the elites and the masses work now? There could be a certain point beyond which people won't be manipulated and dominated by prejudices and shibboleths. Would the increased number of high g individuals lead to a proliferation of elites without mass bases and unforeseen social chaos? Now, this might not be a problem if the Bell Curve is just moved up via a gene therapy induced Lynn-Flynn effect. In other words, as long as the super-rich or successful can give their kids IQs of 200, there will be enough stratification even if the middle-class can only afford 150 for their progeny (even if there were subsidies-I think if the rich could get better therapies, they would). Society would not fly apart due to the genetically engineered egalitarianism. If there is a natural limit to IQ growth, and the standard gene therapy pushes up against it, how will social forces react to a world with uniformly high IQ individuals and no Bell Curve to speak of? I'm sure some people would think of it as a utopia, where everyone is rational. But would there be Great Men to move society in a given direction-or would the collective actions of the hyper-intelligent just cancel each other out as they can't make up their mind through their tracks of reason (or whim)? Would liberals and conservatives still exist because these tendencies emerge out of the social forces themselves, rather than being ideologies that individuals come to rationally? Granted, there are other traits that are important aside from g. Creativity, athleticism and social grace to name a few. But if we can figure out how to elevate g, and Paul Orwin for instance thinks that would be the most complicated thing we could master, we could probably do everything else. But people's creativity might lead them to different tendencies. You might get factionalism based on tastes more than anything else (alluded to in the possibly of the continued presence of conservatives and liberals). Some believe that aesthetics are in our genes, so perhaps this wouldn't happen. I think honestly a lot of modern schools of art are socially constructed rather than rooted in genuine issues of differences of taste. Would super-high IQs change that? Genetic engineering opens up a whole new world. I tend to favor it. And anyway, there will be the early adopters, countries with progressive policies. They can be places to test the effects. If certain science fiction writers are correct, and society would collapse if everyone is too smart, well-we'll know and not want to do it, maybe. One problem might be that even if we know it’s good for society for there to be a normal distribution of g, on an individual level, everyone would want to be at the right end of the curve. While we're thinking of ethical quandaries, and projecting out current class anxieties forward in time, we should consider what effects it might have on the very fabric of history and the processes that underlay it. Certainly if everyone had an IQ of 200 we would probably find out if human innovation has a natural limit pretty quickly (or one would hope). Technology would probably proliferate in all its possible forms. But technology is a means to the end. We enjoy leisure and most people like to be alone part of the time. But we're social creatures (at least right now!) and the broader social impacts are important to consider. I think nation-states might collapse. Nation-states, and our current economy, are based on a natural division of labor. If everyone has equal potentialities and predilections (the latter is not guaranteed of course) the division of responsibilities might be out-moded. Perhaps humans would revert to tribes on the order of 150 individuals, which might be enough to handle all the essential specialties needed (baker, doctor, engineer, and so forth). Or the tribes could have professional specialties. All I know for sure is that I am rather certain man will re-make himself. For the good or the bad, we need to make sure that we control the tiger that we’re going to try and ride. Let me finish with an amusing story. Back in the 9th century, a certain group of Vikings were heading toward Paris. The Frankish monarchy sent some riders out to parley with them and ask who their chief was. When the rider asked, all the Viking's started saying they were the chief.... P.S. ... I might not blog as much this weekend-enjoy the weather if it's good! Update: I'm going to respond in detail to my detractors sometime tomorrow evening/night. So until then, bring it on! I'll try and respond to every civil query and critique. Peace out....

Principles of Population Genetics
Genetics of Populations
Molecular Evolution
Quantitative Genetics
Evolutionary Quantitative Genetics
Evolutionary Genetics
Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution
The Genetics of Human Populations
Genetics and Analysis of Quantitative Traits
Epistasis and Evolutionary Process
Evolutionary Human Genetics
Mathematical Models in Biology
Evolutionary Genetics: Case Studies and Concepts
Narrow Roads of Gene Land 1
Narrow Roads of Gene Land 2
Narrow Roads of Gene Land 3
Statistical Methods in Molecular Evolution
The History and Geography of Human Genes
Population Genetics and Microevolutionary Theory
Population Genetics, Molecular Evolution, and the Neutral Theory
Genetical Theory of Natural Selection
Evolution and the Genetics of Populations
Genetics and Origins of Species
Tempo and Mode in Evolution
Causes of Evolution
The Great Human Diasporas
Bones, Stones and Molecules
Natural Selection and Social Theory
Journey of Man
Mapping Human History
The Seven Daughters of Eve
Evolution for Everyone
Why Sex Matters
Mother Nature
Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language
R.A. Fisher, the Life of a Scientist
Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology
Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics
A Reason for Everything
The Ancestor's Tale
Dragon Bone Hill
Endless Forms Most Beautiful
The Selfish Gene
Adaptation and Natural Selection
Nature via Nurture
The Symbolic Species
The Imitation Factor
The Red Queen
Out of Thin Air
Evolutionary Dynamics
The Origin of Species
The Descent of Man
Age of Abundance
The Darwin Wars
The Evolutionists
The Creationists
Of Moths and Men
The Language Instinct
How We Decide
Predictably Irrational
The Black Swan
Fooled By Randomness
Descartes' Baby
Religion Explained
In Gods We Trust
Darwin's Cathedral
A Theory of Religion
The Meme Machine
Synaptic Self
The Mating Mind
A Separate Creation
The Number Sense
The 10,000 Year Explosion
The Math Gene
Explaining Culture
Origin and Evolution of Cultures
Dawn of Human Culture
The Origins of Virtue
Prehistory of the Mind
The Nurture Assumption
The Moral Animal
Born That Way
No Two Alike
Survival of the Prettiest
The Blank Slate
The g Factor
The Origin Of The Mind
Unto Others
Defenders of the Truth
The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition
Before the Dawn
Behavioral Genetics in the Postgenomic Era
The Essential Difference
Geography of Thought
The Classical World
The Fall of the Roman Empire
The Fall of Rome
History of Rome
How Rome Fell
The Making of a Christian Aristoracy
The Rise of Western Christendom
Keepers of the Keys of Heaven
A History of the Byzantine State and Society
Europe After Rome
The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity
The Barbarian Conversion
A History of Christianity
God's War
Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople
The Sacred Chain
Divided by the Faith
The Reformation
Pursuit of Glory
Albion's Seed
From Plato to Nato
China: A New History
China in World History
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
Children of the Revolution
When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World
The Great Arab Conquests
After Tamerlane
A History of Iran
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language
A World History
Guns, Germs, and Steel
The Human Web
Plagues and Peoples
A Concise Economic History of the World
Power and Plenty
A Splendid Exchange
Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD
Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations
A Farewell to Alms
The Ascent of Money
The Great Divergence
Clash of Extremes
War and Peace and War
Historical Dynamics
The Age of Lincoln
The Great Upheaval
What Hath God Wrought
Freedom Just Around the Corner
Throes of Democracy
Grand New Party
A Beautiful Math
When Genius Failed
Catholicism and Freedom
American Judaism

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