Sunday, April 29, 2012

Polishing the Bell Curve

Maybe it was the release of Charles Murray's latest book - which is not about race!  Or the recent firing of John Derbyshire.  Or the continued failure of NCLB to show much progress at all.  Or maybe just that we have a black president.  But paleo-conservativism seems to be getting bullish on the political incorrect notions of genetic and racial explanations of social inequality.

As I have written before, there is an enormous degree of correlation between the acceptance of right wing assumptions and the acceptance of genetic explanations for race and socioeconomics.  Because of the unconscious nature of how racism tends to operate, it is therefore appropriate to ask how much right wing assumptions are actually facilitating acceptance of racist frameworks for socioeconomic analysis.

It is easy to see why.  The right wing framing generally sees social class as meritocratic and fair.  Yet the continued disproportionate representation of blacks among the lower-SES strata presents a problem that needs to be explained.   The three general categories of answer are 1) genetic, 2) environmental, and 3) personal choice.  Because of our history of racism, civil society shies away from genetic explanations.  The left wing, comfortable with subverting traditional power structures and state intervention in social environments, tends toward environmental explanations. 

The right, to the degree that it opposes social redistribution or state intervention, is challenged to propose its own solutions.  Generally, it adopts the personal choice model; even though it accepts some of the environmental explanations (who could deny so much research?), as a practical matter - to the degree that we value justice -  it argues for the metaphysical existence of an individual's power to transcend environmental limitations.  This isn't actually supported by social research, but it apparently has great intuitive and rhetorical power.

Another choice, one favored by right-leaning individuals, is to be "politically incorrect", and adopt the genetic explanation.  The IQ-SES framing adopts the genetic explanation, with higher IQs in positions of power, and lower IQs in position of subordinance.  While intuitively "icky", this explanation at least removes the burden of having to explain stubborn patterns of racial and socioeconomic inequality in environmental or personal choice terms.

Of course, as with right wing claims about personal choice and the effects of environment on development, claims about the existence of a genetic meritocracy aren't supported by the research.  Sure, you can always find research that agrees with you.  But like evolution or global warming, the research is poorly designed and rejected by a large consensus of experts in the relevant fields.

Yet given the troubling persistence of unscientific views on the right (far more representative of majority opinion than unscientific views on the left), one wonders whether genetic explanations of socioeconomics and race will begin to become more acceptable in conservative circles, and among the base of the Republican party? 

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