“Let’s not pretend ability is never in the genes,” writes Daniel Finkelstein in The Times.
He then recalls being branded ‘Dr Mengele’ when suggesting at a discussion of education policy that the differences in pupils’ natural ability must be taken into account.
I can’t think offhand of better proof that our civilisation won’t survive, nor deserves to. For the issue is far broader than simply the correlation between nature and nurture. The cosmic problem is that our society is not only post-truth, but also consequently post-thought.
That genes are always a predisposing, and often predetermining, factor of behaviour isn’t a theory, like Darwinism. It’s a scientific fact, like gravity. Even those who feel duty-bound to deny it know this perfectly well.
It’s illogical to accept that physical characteristics are inherited, but mental or behavioural ones aren’t. Yet those who claim this aren’t necessarily idiots, at least not in the clinical sense. They’re conformists who have been accepting the dominant ethos for so long that it has become part of their psychological and intellectual makeup.
How did that come about? How did ideologically inspired liars find themselves in a position to set the terms of every debate?
There are two immediate reasons, and some underlying historical ones. The immediate reasons are the Holocaust and IQ testing.
The Nazis were convinced that some people are genetically inferior, and they had the power of their convictions. After all, they slaughtered millions to uphold them.
But denying on this basis the genetic differences among individuals and groups is like denying nuclear fission because of Hiroshima.
The other immediate reason is that different ethnic groups have different median IQs. Southeast Asians, for example, score higher than whites, and whites higher than blacks. Yet scholars who mention this obvious fact are universally reviled and ostracised.
IQ, scream their detractors, doesn’t measure intelligence. True. But it does measure potential to develop intelligence. That’s why IQ is the single most reliable predictor of practical success in just about every walk of life. Denying its significance is like denying gravity.
Equally untenable, though, is denying the role of nurture and effort that go into the making of practical success. We’ve all seen brilliant ne’er-do-wells and successful mediocrities. In fact, both types, especially the second, dominate our world.
Some people have bags of innate potential, but fail to develop it for any number of reasons. Some others make the best of what little they have. For example, musicality is undeniably hereditary, but musicianship isn’t.
If it were, there would be at least one great musician among the million professional pianists produced by China. All of them are as blessed with musicality as they’re hampered by historical, psychological, religious and cultural factors holding their musicianship back. (But not, I hasten to add, their practical success. This no longer has anything to do with musicianship.)
Delving deeper, ideological denial of innate differences goes back to Rousseau, with his notion of all people being the same nobles sauvages, tabulae rasae on which civilisation, notably Christendom, then scribbles its corrupting message.
This falsehood was later enshrined in the founding document of the world’s first Enlightenment state, when Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence.
Later, various apologists, including such brilliant ones as Kuehnelt-Leddihn, argued that the Founders were too intelligent to mean that literally; they only meant everyone was equal before the law and before God. Well, intelligent they were, but they were also ideological.
For even those statements are dubious. We’re only equal before God until we make our first moral choice. After that we’re arranged in a hierarchical order, which gets more stratified with every choice we make.
Nor are we invariably equal before the law. For example, a naturalised American can’t become president even if he moved to America as a baby. And a Catholic can’t find himself in Britain’s line of royal succession.
But facts don’t matter. What matters is that modernity is congenitally egalitarian. Born out of the heresies of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, it reaches, tropistically and infinitely, for uniformity.
Since uniformity isn’t a natural human condition, it has to be enforced by coercion. And physical coercion won’t succeed without a metaphysical justification, which these days is called ideology. Hence modernity can no more survive without the lie of equality than Christendom could survive without the truth of God.
A civilisation can’t last unless it includes all, or at least most, members of society. Some may drive it, some may sleep in the back seat, but they all must be inside. Thus, without its unifying ideology of rampant egalitarianism, modernity will career off the road and crash.
Even those who, like Lord Finkelstein, discern the obvious falsehoods of levelling, have to meet modernity on its own battleground and cede to it some of their positions.
For example, he rejects the blindingly obvious observation that “women and men taken as groups, on average, have a natural tendency to think and behave differently…” The innate differences between the sexes are small, he writes, while the differences in “the social variables” are big.
This is simply untrue, and again it’s not reason, nor even empirical evidence, speaking here but the egalitarian ideology generally accepted even by those who argue against some particulars.
For example, I can think of many women described as philosophers, yet of only one, Elizabeth Anscombe, who was really worthy of that description. Also, in all communist countries boys and girls with a talent for chess received exactly the same training. Yet only one woman, Hungarian Judith Polgar, went on to compete with the best men on equal terms.
Going back to music, even though women may be equal to men in performing ability, there hasn’t been a serious woman composer since Hildegard of Bingen (d. 1179). Yet conservatories are full of women students, and no discrimination exists, as it might have existed in Hildegard’s time.
The same class of the Leningrad conservatory back in the early 1920s included Maria Yudina and Dmitri Shostakovich. I maintain it’s no accident that the former went on to become a great pianist and the latter a great composer: both were musicians of genius, but they thought differently.
Vive la différence has been replaced by vive l’uniformité as the slogan of modernity. And all our pundits shout it uniformly, if with varying gusto. That tendency, unlike so many others, is definitely acquired, not innate.