Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ethnic Cleansing, Other Horrors, and the Racial IQ Controversy

In the discussion set off by my post on the Watson controversy, one person writes:

""It is never too much to remember how much ethnic cleansing was made in the past based on "scientific evidence" that some races were "not as intelligent as ours"...""

I think claims of this sort are often made, but I'm not sure there is any basis for them. Ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, so far as I can tell, had nothing to do with any scientific evidence, real or bogus, about the relative intelligence of races. In some cases the cleansers and their victims differed only in whether their ancestors had or had not converted to Islam in the distant past. In others, the justification offered for the cleansing was "it's historically our land, and they have taken it over by immigrating and having more babies than we did."

What about the Holocaust? I believe some Nazis made claims about Jewish inferiority of one sort or another. But the basis for their anti-semitism, so far as I can tell, was the idea that Jews were race enemies--in which case the more intelligent they were, the more dangerous. One can see that pretty clearly in Henry Ford's (less malevolent) version of anti-semitism. I don't know what justifications were offered for killing Gypsies, who were the other main "racial" target.

In the post-war period, I think the largest scale race killing has been the Hutu/Tutsi conflicts in southern Africa. It's hard to believe that any significant amount of it was motivated by evidence of IQ differences between the two groups.

If we move from killing to enslaving, the case becomes a little stronger. My impression is that one argument used against freeing black slaves was that they were less intelligent and so unable to run their lives themselves--although it's hard to see that as a plausible argument for enslaving them in the first place. But I thought the main justification offered--insofar as any was needed beyond the usefulness of slavery to slave owners--was biblical, the "sons of Ham" argument. And in any case, all of this predates the invention if IQ and scientific literature on it.

In the case of classical antiquity, slavery frequently involved slaves of the same ethnic stock as the slave owners. So although philosophers might make arguments about some sorts of people being natural slaves, it's hard to see how any such arguments could have explained the actual practices.

So here is my challenge: Can anyone offer an actual historical example of genocide, ethnic cleansing, or slavery where either the main reason for it, or the main justification offered, was scientific or pseudo-scientific evidence that the victims were, on average, less intelligent than the perpetrators?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Do any Nokia Insiders Read This Blog?

My current cell phone is a Nokia 9300, a clamshell (i.e. mini-laptop) design running the Symbian OS. It's a nice device, reminiscent of my beloved Psions, but I have a substantial list of ways in which it could be improved.

Apparently Nokia read the list; their newer E90 has the larger screen I've been wanting, a variety of other improvements, and built-in GPS, which I would have put on my list if it had occurred to me. It's quad band, so I don't have to wait for a U.S. version to come out.

Or perhaps I do. The phone can connect to the internet using the same GPRS EDGE technology as my present phone. But it can also connect via a much faster technology, covered by several related multi-initial terms (HSDPA, WCDMA, UMTS). Unfortunately, so far as I can tell, that connection uses a frequency not supported by any U.S. carrier.

If I were sure that was not going to change, I would buy the phone, probably after waiting a week or two to see if I can get a better deal on it than currently available--it's apparently in short supply at the moment. Even without the 3G connection it's a very attractive device. If, on the other hand, they are going to bring out a U.S. version next month, I would prefer to wait.

So far as I can tell, Nokia doesn't provide much in the way of advance notice on such things. Do any Nokia insiders read this blog? I can be reached at
This Post is Now Obsolete

Nokia has just released the U.S. version of the E90, supporting UMTS on 1900 MHz.

The Information Above is False

I just received my "US Version" E90. Contrary to what I was quite explicitly told by Nokia, it does not support UMTS on 1900 MHz--like the European version, is uses 2100 MHz, which is not supported by any US provider. Hence the "US Version" is precisely as compatible--and incompatible--with US cell phone providers as the European version.

Yes I am annoyed.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Moving Liberty to Cyberspace: Help Wanted

Liberty magazine currently has a web site, but the archive of past articles does not go back very far. Some of us would like to change that, to get the entire past run online and searchable. Doing so probably requires scanning in about eighty issues, OCR'ing and proofing them.

One possibility is volunteers. Another is outsourcing the job abroad, preferably to libertarians or a libertarian organization somewhere where the relevant labor is less expensive than in the U.S. If anyone is interested, let me know by email:

Las Vegas

The city supports itself on gambling, entertainment, commercial sex and the sale of luxury goods--none of which I am a customer for. Nonetheless I enjoy it, at least in short doses. It reminds me of the story of the 1920's Hollywood director who, after being shown around the lavish set created for a biblical epic, remarked that it just showed what God could have done, if he had the money.

Prejudice: The Watson Case

In the recent flap over public comments by James Watson, one of the things that strikes me is the odd misuse, in attacks on him, of the term "prejudice."

A prejudice is a belief held in advance of the evidence. Watson's biological claim--that human populations that have spent a long time separated from each other in different environments can be expected to differ in heritable characteristics--is so obviously true that I find it hard to imagine anyone honestly denying it. His application, his conclusion from his own observation that sub-saharan Africans are on average less intelligent than Europeans, may or may not be correct, but without knowing what his observations have been it is hard to see how one can know that it is due to prejudice.

Unless, of course, one knows in advance that Watson's conclusion is false. So far as I can tell, there is literally no evidence to support that position. At least, in all of the arguments on the subject that I have observed, those arguing for racial equality of intelligence do so not by producing evidence that it is true but by arguing that the evidence that it is false is inadequate or mistaken. Even if all of their arguments are correct, the conclusion is not that we know that racial groups don't differ in intelligence but only that we don't know if they do, or if so how.

Watson's comment was surely tactless as well as imprudent; his conclusion may, for all I know, be mistaken. But all of the prejudice so far exhibited in the case is on the other side.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Neither Anarchy nor Minarchy is Necessarily Libertarian

I have just been reading Edward Stringham's Anarchy and the Law, an interesting collection of articles and extracts, pro and con, on the subject of free market anarchism (aka anarcho-capitalism, individualist anarchism, ...). One of the pieces, by David Osterfeld, points out that there is no guarantee that anarcho-capitalist institutions would generate libertarian law, especially in a society where most people held some non-libertarian beliefs in common. In a footnote he correctly reports me as recognizing the distinction between anarchism and libertarianism, while incorrectly asserting that I extricate myself from the dilemma by refusing to classify myself as a libertarian.

His more fundamental mistake is in seeing this as an argument on the minarchist side of the debate. Once you set up your limited government, you too have no way to guarantee that what it produces will be libertarian law. If law is made by direct democracy, the majority might vote to ban heroin or prostitution. If it is made by representative democracy, the representatives might so vote--especially if the position is supported by most voters. If the law is to be kept free by the courts, the courts might come down on the wrong side.

The only complete solution to this problem is to cheat--to define your preferred system in terms of outcomes as well as institutions. Thus a libertarian anarchist might say that the society he advocates is an anarchist society that produces libertarian law, and similarly for a libertarian minarchist. In either case, once the institutions actually come into existence, they will not be constrained by how their advocates defined them.

There is, however, a partial solution, at least on the anarchist side of the argument--one I sketched in my Machinery of Freedom and, in somewhat more detail, in a later essay. The market for law in an anarcho-capitalist society will tend to produce economically efficient law for reasons related, but not identical, to the reasons that other markets tend to produce efficient outcomes. Libertarians believe that freedom works, that libertarian law is closely, if not perfectly, correlated with efficient law. If that belief is correct, there will be a strong tendency for the market for law to generate libertarian law.

So far as I know, no comparable argument exists for the minarchist side of the debate, no good reason, short of assuming that everyone has become a libertarian, to expect law produced by political mechanisms to be either efficient or libertarian.

Neither anarchy nor minarchy is necessarily libertarian. But anarchy comes closer.

Pascal's Wager Revised

Blaise Pascal famously argued that, as long as there was any probability that God existed, a rational gambler should worship him, since the cost if he did exist and you failed to worship him was enormously greater than the cost if it went the other way around.

A variety of objections can be made to this, most obviously that a just God would reject a worshiper who worshiped on that basis. But I have a variant on the argument that I find more persuasive.

The issue is not God but morality. Most human beings have a strong intuition that some acts are good and some bad--that one ought not to steal, murder, lie, bully, torture, and the like. Details of what is covered and how it is defined vary a good deal, but the underlying idea that right and wrong are real categories and one should do right and not wrong is common to most of us.

There are two categories of explanation for this intuition. One is that it is a perception--that right and wrong are real, that we somehow perceive that, and that our feel for what is right and what is wrong is at least very roughly correct. The other is that morality is a mistake. We have been brainwashed by our culture, or perhaps our genes, into feeling the way we do, but there is really no good reason why one ought to feed the hungry or ought not to torture small children.

Suppose you are uncertain which of the two explanations is correct. I argue that you ought to act as if the first is. If morality is real and you act as if it were not, you will do bad things--and the assumption that morality is real means that you ought not to do bad things. If morality is an illusion and you act as if it were not, you may miss the opportunity to commit a few pleasurable wrongs--but since morality correlates tolerably well, although not perfectly, with rational self interest, the cost is unlikely to be large.

I think this version avoids the problems with Pascal's. No god is required for the argument--merely the nature of right and wrong, good and evil, as most human beings intuit them. And, by the morality most of us hold, the fact that you are refraining from evil because of a probabilistic calculation does not negate the value of doing so--you still haven't stolen, lied, or whatever. One of the odd features of our intuitions of right and wrong is that they are not entirely, perhaps not chiefly, judgements about people but judgements about acts.