The evolution of intelligence | Natural genius?:
“people with a single copy of the gene for Tay-Sachs, or that for Gaucher’s, or that for Niemann-Pick should be more intelligent than average. Dr Cochran and his colleagues predict they will be so by about five IQ points. If that turns out to be the case, it will strengthen the idea that, albeit unwillingly, Ashkenazi Jews have been part of an accidental experiment in eugenics. It has brought them some advantages. But, like the deliberate eugenics experiments of the 20th century, it has also exacted a terrible price.”

Being half-Ashkenazi myself, this is a little worrying, though obviously my head (and the sphingolipid storage cells in my nerves) swelled a little when reading this. The problem with this story is obviously that it’s a eugenic theory, and they’re mostly out of fashion due to the whole Nazi death-camp thing (though the whole Aryan ideal was initially inspired by American eugenics efforts).

My problem with eugenic theories is that they are so plausible; there are physical differences between different strands of humanity, so it seems logical to assume that there will be mental differences (especially if you avoid dualism, and believe that the human mind is entirely a product of the human body.) Of course, the problem is in the perception of those differences, and the social value placed on those differences; if Ashkenazim have higher I.Q.s, that could mean some other minority has lower IQs – but to claim that would instantly attract cries of racism, whereas we only feel a mild quibble of disquiet at this thesis.

So should scientists participate in this sort of research? Can it help in any way? In every field of life we’re encouraged to treat each individual anew, not judging them on the basis of previous bias; but we also behave entirely according to personal biases, according to rules of action we create so that we do not have to cope with each stimuli from absolutely basic principles. Call these rules of action moral codes, call them character, they’re there and they’re part of who we are. When we meet a person for the first time, we judge them according to our knowledge of other types we’ve met before like them, and some of those similarities may well have a racial base, though we’ve just derived them from our experiences. Does the lack of intent towards a racist action, make the action racist? And a similar rule, that judges according to a person being a public schoolboy, or knowing a certain town, is that a form of prejudice too? Yes, most likely, but it’s useful prejudice, whether it’s fair or not.

Argue with me