Monday, August 19, 2013

De Camp writes about intelligence among races

As stated in my previous blog post, I have been reading "Ancient Ruins and Archeology" by L. Sprague de Camp, published in 1963. Much of the information is outdated, although the many observations about the way science and archeology and speculation are handled, as well as the comments on human nature at large, and admirable. The prose is coherant and readable. The descriptions evokative. The insights into archeology of the time period (the 60s) is very much worth reading. And history is a discipline that doesn't change too much. It does, and should, but his writings are undoubtably relevant to today.

I want to share a few passages with you. I hope using his quotations is in good form.

In his chapter on the ruins of Zimbabwe and the many ideas around its builders, he says:

All prejudices aside, what do we know about the intelligence of the different races of man? Not much. That is why peopole get so heated about the subject; the less they know, the more pugnacious they are.

Intelligence is a vague term meaning mental power, just as "strength" means physical power. We can often say that one man is more intelligent than another, just as we can often say that one man is stronger than another. But it is hard to measure these qualities exactly. You cannot measure a man's over-all "strength" on any one standard scale. You can measure his seperate physical powers, such as his ability to run, jump, or lift weights. A man who is good at one of these may be poor at another. So "strength" is not one ability but many, which can be combined in any of an infinite number of ways.
The same with intelligence. One man may be a precise accountant, another a shrewd lawyer, and a third a creative artist. But there is no way to compare John's success as a chess player with William's success as a politician to tell which is the more intelligent.

Intelligence tests measure single mental powers, such as the ability to handle words and numbers and to solve simple puzzles. Such tests are useful when given to people of the same cultural group. But these tests do not work with people of strikingly different backgrounds. We cannot expect a tribesman, however gifted, who has never seen a pencil or paper to score well on a written test. On the other hand, a child from a hunting tribe can beat civilized children all hollow in a test that calls for knowledge of animal footprints.

Language, work habits, aims in life, manners, diet, tradition, and experience all affect the way one thinks. And, when we try to test people of different races, we cannot eliminate all these factors. No test has been found that ignores the effects of environment and measures only a man's inherent mental qualities.

Some people, wishing to prove the Caucasiod race superior to the Negroid, point out the backwardness of African Negroes before the coming of the whites. As we have seen, this cultural backwardness can be explained on grounds other than intelligence. The Sahara Desert isolated the small, thinly spread Negroid population from the currents of Old World culture, just as the oceans isolated the Pacific Islanders. Having no contact with European ideas and techniques during the many centuries when European civilization was arising, the Africans could not be expected to develope in a European manner.

Some people, on the other hand, assert that all races are exactly equal in intelligence. Although this idea is canonical Marxist dogma and a handy political slogan, it has no scientific basis either.
Few have ever argued that Negroids are inherently more intelligent than Caucasoids. But this concept is just as reasonable as the other two. In fact, one can make a good a priori argument why this might be so: All species are subject to the force of heredity called degenerative mutation pressure. Hence every species tends to deteriorate -- that is, to lose organs and abilities. In a wild state, however, selection naturally eliminates these defectives as they appear.

In civilization, however, people with defects, provided the flaws are not too severe, can live and breed along with the rest. Therefore, civilized races tend to degenerate. Thus the peoples who have been civilized the longest, such as the Near Easterners, the Chinese, and the Europeans, have probably degenerated the most; while those who live the most primitive lives, like Pygmies and Papuans, may prove the soundest of mind and body.

This, too, is mere speculation. If anybody ever devises a test that measures inherent mental powers regardless of culture and environment, it might well uncover mental differences among the races. It is anybody's guess as to which race would score best on which test. Perhaps different races would excel in different mental abilities. From such inconclusive evidence as does exist, our own guess, for whatever it may be worth, is that, while racial differences in intelligence may indeed exist, differences among individuals within any one race are much greater than average differences among races. And, given the right circumstances, men of any living race could have built Zimbabwe.

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