The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life

“The Coming of the Custodial State” says, on page 523, “When a society reaches a certain overall affluence, the haves begin to feel sympathy toward, if not guilt about, the condition of the have-nots. Thus dawns the welfare state – the attempt to raise the poor and the needy out of their plight … Over the next decades [moving forward from 1994] it will become broadly accepted by the cognitive elite that 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. Politicians and intellectuals alike will become much more open about the role of dysfunctional behavior in the underclass, accepting that addiction, violence, unavailability for work, child abuse, and family disorganization will keep most members of the underclass from fending for themselves.”

I’ve chosen 1 sequence from 1 page concluding the book. I could have chosen a thousand sequences as telling as this. Also, by 1994, it wasn’t all too prescient to predict that the Paternalistic state of whites to blacks would continue to grow as the IQ influences of both genes and environment would combine to accelerate and exacerbate the demise of dysfunctional families in the per-child welfare system, thus widening gaps right before our eyes all the way up to 2016. As Herrnstein and Murray point out early, gains made in the 1970s and early 1980s, gains made through integration, had already begun to show reversals by the early 1990s as poor mothers became younger and less affiliated with their children’s father. Bad neighborhoods not only became worse; they became bigger. An entire generation has come since then, and the snowball is getting bigger. Good neighborhoods became more isolated.

Like anybody, I have to evaluate the book by what I bring to the book. Some disclosure: I know a genius, a co-worker, and he is as intellectually functional as anybody I know. Socially, he is difficult to predict. Although his IQ is doubtless in the 140 plus range and he works probability questions without pause, as well as doing long division in his head, speaking to him in the hallway can be a challenge. He is married, has raised his polite children, and is ready to retire. I have often wondered if his obesity is a sign of his eccentric ability or an exception. I would not trade places with him. My wife’s first husband was an exceptional engineer, an expert on so many of the structures we see in our civil society. Socially, he was an impossible presence to enjoy. His flat sense of humor, his social dependency, his physical laziness, and his deadbeat dad habits led him to drunken helplessness around his own family. The court had to tell him to pay child support, not a manifestation of the typical characterization of “Very bright” on Bell Curve’s many charts.

So why, in 2016, should people still read this book? (I would like you to, but it’s not fun, and like so many other things that give satisfaction, it also enrages.) I believe the overall premise of the book is to clarify the upward mobility that we have had and continue to have in this country. SES, social economic status, consistently plays less of a role in life success than IQ. This book will bombard you with factual studies that indicate significant differences between poor who are less intelligent and poor who are more intelligent. Regarding IQ scores, SAT performances, higher education, lower crime rate, change in income, age at marriage, age and marital status during first pregnancy, amount of divorces (everything but number of tattoos and music preference), the book repeatedly reports that starting poor was less of a factor than starting off with lower intelligence indicators. The poor in this country, but mostly in regard to the smarter of that class, have a long, illustrious record of moving up to middle class and beyond.

So in effect, the book does not ask readers to stop making excuses. It urges readers to shift their guilt from man-made, societal problems like inner cities and coal-mining communities to Natural-made differences. And this would just be common sense, and the “cognitive elite” who don’t watch Jeopardy and who don’t look at or believe data simply can’t be very “elite” if this needs 575 pages of explanation. Clearly, Herrnstein and Murray set out to cover all bases. As soon as a crack in the argument was suggested, it was addressed, and it was addressed with calm, thorough, rational information. East Asians are smarter than whites, more so in math. Whites are smarter than blacks, and East Asians are smarter than blacks by a wide margin regardless of economic background, school choice, favoritism or discrimination, or any other strain of SES.

But I am not finished with this book’s bottom line, because of the liberal mindset that welcomes and encourages the indoctrination of service. In other words, I see many of our nation’s brightest, from Baby-boomer flower children to Millennials (a higher percentage of the former), trapped in the dumbness of “white guilt”. This notion should be, in the spirit of the book, examined logically and not emotionally. Is the white guilt as it has existed since 1964 working? The most valuable insight this book provides is not the answer “no” but the explanation behind that no, and the resounding impact of that “NO!” Paternalism for the less intelligent is failing the less intelligent; only a diabolical liberal whose real plot is to push the poor further down and further away would continue to throw government benefits at people in hopes they’ll become dependent on them: a teenage mother from a rough neighborhood in Baltimore is enabled to have a second child, then a third, with Head Start then available. The father(s) is less inclined to be present, more inclined to repeat the process with another single mother. The family, such as it is, will propagate a lower Intelligence Quotient among this specific population. Illegal activities such as drugs and gang violence are much more likely. All the while, liberal whites believe their advocacy is helping because, stupidly, it only takes short term consequences into account. The next generation will be more than 1-2 standard deviations below because of the clearly recognizable “malleability” of intelligence.

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