Darwinistic Elitism is Idiotic

by Al Siebert, Ph.D., author of the award-winning The Resiliency Advantage (Independent Publisher's 2006 Best Self Help Book) and The Survivor Personality, now in it's 15th printing.

social Darwinism noun: A theory in sociology that individuals or groups achieve advantage over others as the result of genetic or biological superiority.

elitism (î-lêtîz´em) noun: 1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources. 2. a. The sense of entitlement enjoyed by such a group or class. b. Control, rule, or domination by such a group or class.

idiotic (îd´ê-òtîk) adjectiveShowing foolishness or stupidity.

--The American Heritage Dictionary

In their controversial book The Bell Curve, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray advocate a new form of Darwinistic elitism. They assert that a "cognitive elite" will and should "run a custodial state" for an "underclass" of people with lower intelligence that is "disproportionately black."

They advocate that because "people in the underclass are in that condition through no fault of their own but because of inherent shortcomings about which little can be done...." and "a significant part of the population must be made permanent wards of the state."

To create their case for elitism based on social Darwinism, Herrnstein and Murray had to ignore major flaws and weaknesses in intelligence tests and use fallacious thinking. The cognitive deficiency is in the viewers, not in the viewed. Here is why...

No one has an IQ

You do not have an IQ. No one does. What you have is a score obtained from a test attempting to measure something called "intelligence." Further, the IQ (intelligent quotient) you receive is not your actual score. It is a number assigned to you based on how you compare to the group of people used to provide the test norms.

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Change the test norms, change the IQ

During my psychology internship in the juvenile court in Cleveland, Ohio, many years ago, I found a room filled with dusty old filing cabinets that contained every IQ test administered to children brought to the detention center since 1929. The total number of test records was 51,808.

I looked back through the reports of testing results and discovered some amazing statistics. From 1929 through 1934 the average IQ score for children tested at the detention center was 80. From 1935 through 1938 the average IQ score jumped to 91.3. From then on, IQ scores continued to increase gradually to an average of 92.1 in 1962.

Why the rapid increase from 1935 to 1938? In 1935 the court psychologist switched to a new version of the Stanford University Binet IQ test. The children received an eleven point jump in IQ scores because the new version of the test had different norms.

Binet's invention

The IQ test was invented in France in 1904 by Alfred Binet to determine which children would not benefit from more schooling. He tested children at different ages to determine the average scores for each age group on vocabulary, arithmetic, abstract thinking, and verbal comprehension. The average total score for children at each age then gave him a basis for comparing a child's individual score. The formula was Mental Age divided by Chronological Age times 100 equaled Intelligence Quotient (M.A. / C.A. x 100 = IQ.) A ten year old child who scored the same as other ten year olds received a quotient of 100. A ten year old child who scored the same as the average eleven year old received a quotient of 110. A ten year old child who scored the same as the average eight year old received a quotient of 80.

Binet's quotient predicted lack of success in school fairly well. A high IQ score, however, did not predict success as well because so many other factors determine success in school. (These factors include presence or absence of desire to learn, encouragement from others, good study habits, persistence, self-confidence, and distracting survival concerns.)

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Adults are morons?

In the years that followed, when psychologists in the United States expanded the use of intelligence tests to include adults they ran into a serious problem. People do not improve their scores on tests of intelligence after about 16 years of age. The old formula of mental age divided by chronological age created embarrassing results for adults. They received lower and lower IQ's as they aged. Using Binet's formula, a 32 year old store clerk with an intelligence age of 16 would get an IQ of 50.

To avoid outraging taxpayers and politicians who already had doubts about psychologists, the test developers invented a statistical solution that let them fudge the results for adults. They take a person's score on an intelligence test and look at a table of numbers obtained from scores received from the normative group-people of the same age that the test was developed on. The psychologists then translate a person's test score into what the statistical table says their IQ score should be compared to others of their age group. The average person receives an IQ score of 100 because test developers manipulate the numbers to make it turn out that way.

The scores of the national normative group determine your IQ

So the norms are the issue, not your actual test score, and here is where ethnic groups lose out. The deck is stacked against them. Their scores are compared to many people not like them and they receive a lower number. Did a 47 year old black man raised in Birmingham have the same schooling experiences as a 47 year old white man raised in Boston? No. But the statistical tables treat them the same.

Minorities are not given IQ scores from peer group norms. They are evaluated against national normative groups that are mostly white middle class. These results are the basis for Herrnstein and Murray's proof that a "substantial difference in cognitive ability distributions separates whites from blacks," and lead them to conclude, "ethnic differences in cognitive ability are neither surprising or in doubt."

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The test selected can influence your IQ score

While I was working at the Cleveland juvenile court I tested an eleven year old black boy who received an IQ of 97 on an Otis IQ test but only 70 on the Wechsler, several weeks later. Why the discrepancy? The Otis Alpha required him to compare or see differences in small cartoons. This boy loved reading comic books. He read them all the time. He scored low on the Wechsler in part because he did not like school and would not do school work. This sort of discrepancy in scores between the two IQ tests was not unusual at the court.

Psychologists have many choices about what they decide to use as an intelligence test and that can influence the IQ score obtained. From 1946 to 1953 the Cleveland juvenile court psychologists used the Healy Picture Completion test as a non-discriminating intelligence test. On this test over 30% of the children tested received IQ scores of 110 or over. When the HPC was eliminated only 9% of the children scored at 110 or over.

Most English language IQ tests require understanding words used by the white middle class. In 1968 sociologist Adrian Dove showed the powerful effect that socio-cultural background has on vocabulary tests (the most important component in measures of intelligence) when he published "The Chitling Test." He showed that vocabulary items such as "chitling," "a blood," and "gas head," gave people familiar with street talk in black neighborhoods a higher score than people from white middle class neighborhoods.

Psychologists have overemphasized tests they score high on

Psychologists have not developed quotients for abilities they lack. They put less energy into developing and promoting tests of social skills, kinesthetic abilities, synergistic talents, extra-sensory perception, and emotional strength. Let's say you hear a rumor that someone you will be working with has an IQ of 145. You ask a psychologist "Will she be friendly? Is she a hard worker? Is she a team player? Does she have a sense of humor? Is she practical? Is she intuitive? Is she street smart? Can we count on her when we're under extreme pressure? Should we recruit her for our bowling team?"

The psychologist's answer to all these questions is "I don't know." All the psychologist knows is that the woman, like most psychologists, is good at passing IQ tests.

Here is a clue to the egotism behind psychologists' overemphasis on intelligence test scores. When I was teaching Introductory Psychology I saw the following statement about IQ in the psychology textbook by Filmore Sanford: "IQ's over 140 are placed in the 'genius' category." Then several pages later Sanford reported a study that found "the average IQ was 141 for those obtaining a Ph.D. degree." Thus a psychologist with a Ph.D., believing that he or she is at least an average psychologist, could modestly allow students to reach the obvious conclusion.

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Poor comparisons are explained away

Herrnstein and Murray argue that African-Americans consistently score about 15 IQ points below Euro-Americans on intelligence tests largely because of hereditary factors, not socio-economic or cultural differences or from biased test items or from unfair normative group comparisons.

On the other hand, when studies show that Asian-American children consistently obtain IQ scores 11 points higher on intelligence tests than do Euro-American children of similar socio-economic backgrounds, the explanation is that cultural differences and child rearing practices account for the difference. Herrnstein and Murray see no evidence of hereditary advantage when other ethnic groups do better than whites on intelligence tests. Nor do they remain consistent in their logic and assert that Asian-Americans should oversee the activities of the Euro-American "cognitive elite."

Measures of intelligence are not the same as measures of cognitive abilities

A major flaw in Herrnstein and Murray's book is their claim that intelligence test scores are measures of cognitive ability. In the Introduction they say "...the word intelligence carries with it undue affect and political baggage. It is still a useful word, but we shall subsequently employ the more neutral term cognitive ability as often as possible to refer to the concept that we have hitherto called intelligence..."

Nowhere in their 845 page book, however, do they present any evidence proving it is valid to substitute the term "cognitive ability" for the term "intelligence." To do so is fallacious thinking. A glance at any introductory psychology textbook will show that psychologists treat "intelligence" and "cognitive ability" as related but different psychological attributes.

Intelligence is a more narrow term while "cognitive ability" is broader and more encompassing. Cognitive abilities can get better throughout a person's life while intelligence does not increase. Measuring intelligence is like measuring how heavy a weight you can lift when you reach adult size. Cognitive ability is like knowing when, where, and why to lift a weight within your capacity.

Cognitive abilities are influenced by emotional maturation and the ability to interact with people and situations in practical, effective ways-skills not measured by intelligence tests. Cognitive abilities underlie being "street smart" or "office smart."

Cognitive abilities play a role in the professionalism, judgment, character, morality, and wisdom adults gain from life experience. They involve a person's entire brain and body, not just the few cells that let a person pass IQ tests emphasizing words, numbers, and pictures.

A predetermined answer to a question on an intelligence test is not a measure of real-life cognitive ability any more than a multiple-choice test can accurately assess martial arts skills. For psychologists to glorify intelligence test scores as indicators of life competence is like the joke about the drunk searching for his lost key under the street light because the light is better there.

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Having a high IQ score is not the same as being smart.

Psychologists have published lots of articles with numbers showing that blacks don't do as well as whites on tests created to predict academic success in schools suited for white children being prepared for employment in white run organizations. So what? Intelligence test scores do not have a strong correlation with common sense and real-life smartness.

Herrnstein and Murray ignore evidence that highly intelligent people act in idiotic ways. A person can be both intelligent and stupid. Corporate executives, for example, know that high IQ people with doctorates are usually dysfunctional in organizations. Not only do people with Ph.D.'s and Ed.D.'s generally lack common sense, they often stir up problems where none existed.

Groups of highly intelligent people often act stupidly

Herrnstein and Murray themselves show a lack of common sense when they assume people who individually score high on intelligence tests are capable of acting intelligently as a group. Psychologist Irving Janis, the researcher known for his study of "group think," has collected many examples of stupid decisions made by groups of highly intelligent people.

One hundred years ago Gustave LeBon stated in his book The Crowd, "In the collective mind the intellectual aptitudes of individuals...are weakened. ...The decisions made by an assembly of men of distinction...are not sensibly superior to the decisions that would be adopted by a gathering of imbeciles." In other words, a large group of highly intelligent people generally functions like a huge mentally retarded animal.

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Many intelligent whites are cognitively disadvantaged

Evidence abounds that the so-called "cognitive elite" are the ones who need a protected environment. A study of cults in America revealed they were comprised of white young people from America's suburbs who did well in school and were good boys and girls. Rarely did the cults attract or convert minorities, young people from the streets of big cities, drop outs, or lawbreakers.

The white "good" boys and girls, when faced with real life difficulties after high-school, were easy prey for the cults. They accepted refuge from life's turmoils in a situation familiar to them. They were accustomed to sitting in rows of uncomfortable chairs for many hours without going to the bathroom or allowed to have a drink of water until given permission, accustomed to listening to an authority tell them what to think. The young white cognitive elite gave up their minds and their lives for familiar surroundings.

When I led rap groups for Vietnam veterans I learned that foot soldiers with a few months combat experience were wary of going on patrol with new arrivals. My group co-facilitator, a black veteran, said it was dangerous to go on patrol with the "blue-eyed, fair haired mama's boys fresh from the states." He said "we couldn't stop them from shaving, putting on after shave lotion, and using deodorant. The enemy could smell them 200 yards away and sneak up on the patrol. The ones who wouldn't stop shaving and deodorizing ended up dead or wounded."

Organizational downsizing has been emotionally devastating to the tens of thousands of white, male, middle-level managers losing their jobs. In my work with groups of people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, the white male managers feel losing their positions the hardest. The majority flounder. They feel helpless and hopeless in this, the land of opportunity.

Most white, male, middle managers got their positions largely because they were white males with a diploma. They developed identities based on their job titles, power over people, and income. When stripped of these they turn into emotional mush. Their above average IQ scores are of little use without real life coping skills. Minorities and people experienced at handling extreme difficulties cope and thrive during downsizing much more effectively than the white "cognitive elite."

What do Native Americans say about a white run custodial state?

Herrnstein and Murray say "...by custodial state we have in mind a high-tech and more lavish version of the Indian reservation..."

Is their recommendation realistic? The best information for predicting human conduct is found in past actions. Would Native Americans urge blacks to accept and cooperate with Herrnstein and Murray's prescription for a "custodial state" administered by the mostly white cognitive elite? Interview some Indians to find out.

The social prescription advocated by Herrnstein and Murray is a typical example of the ineffective way that white executives attempt to handle problems involving large groups of people. The executive sees a problem, comes up with a solution, and then tries to sell the solution to the people who have to make it work. The people affected are not interviewed, asked for suggestions, or given influence over outcomes.

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Synergism, not elitism, is what works

A intelligent person with empathy for others and a desire to have things work well can communicate with people at all intelligence levels. Such a person does not feel superior or elite when others don't understand or can't think as rapidly. A synergistic person asks others, "What can I do that would be most useful for you? What are you best at doing? How can we work well together?"

Adapting to change is the essence of intelligent behavior. The endorsement by 52 eminent psychologists of the case stated by Herrnstein and Murray not withstanding, elitism is a sign of emotional retardation.

Whites who are both cognitively advantaged and synergistic will view other ethnic groups as partners in a team made up of people with diverse talents and capabilities. Whites will do what they do best in a way that increases opportunities for others to use competencies the whites are less proficient in.

A false prophecy

Herrnstein and Murray's myopic vision of a "custodial state" for "a substantial minority of the nation's population" administered by "a cognitive elite" won't happen. Darwinistic elitism is an idiotic social prescription.

Intelligence tests were created to predict who would not benefit from more schooling but the tests favored the ethnic group that developed the tests and ran the schools. The Bell Curve purports to document black deficiencies in intelligence, but it is actually a documentation of limitations in the test developers, in the tests, in their uses, and in the test interpreters.

Our black brothers and sisters deserve an apology. They should be interviewed about the future they envision. They should be asked what role they recommend for the white minority in the century ahead.