Oliver James seems a bit out of step with reality here

Are poor people poor because of inferior genes? This notion is especially popular with members of the ruling elite, who like to think their position is the result of genetic superiority rather than the fact they have privileged backgrounds.

Low intelligence and high rates of mental illness are more common in poor people. Geneticists maintain that genes play a major role in causing both. But if they were right there would be an inexorable logic that suggests inferior DNA caused poor people to sink to the bottom of the gene pool.

In the light of the findings of the human genome project, however, that idea is no longer defensible – as the leading psychologist Ken Richardson recently pointed out in the house magazine of the psychology profession. On the contrary, the implication of the unimportance of genes is that if we changed society in the right ways, we could virtually eradicate not only low academic performance and mental illness but also criminality and problems such as substance abuse.

Hmm:

HAIDT: Not fundamentally different, but different in predispositions. The most important finding in psychology in the last 50 to 100 years, I would say, is the finding that everything you can measure is heritable. The heritability coefficients vary between 0.3 and 0.6, or 30 to 60 percent of the variance, under some assumptions, can be explained by the genes. It’s the largest piece of variance we can explain.

What annoys me about the tabula rasa nonsense is that if genes don’t have any effect then how in fuck did we get here? How did intelligence develop, why is the intelligence of our species different than that of other species, if genes don’t have a part to play?

34 comments on “Oliver James seems a bit out of step with reality here

  1. It’s the Guardian Tim–what do you expect? Sense?

    You can’t blame genes for your kids–unless they’re gay.

  2. Low intelligence and high rates of mental illness are more common in poor people. Geneticists maintain that genes play a major role in causing both. But if they were right there would be an inexorable logic that suggests inferior DNA caused poor people to sink to the bottom of the gene pool.

    It is not just poor people is it?

    Which is the point. For Marxists like Richard Lewontin (and Stephen Jay Gould for that matter) the distressing fact that biology and Darwinism directly inspired the Nazis, and these subjects remain stubbornly politically incorrect no matter what they do or say, means they have to deny, deny, deny. It does not matter how illogical their denial is. The alternative is to accept the overwhelming evidence that genes differ between individuals – and between human populations.

  3. On the contrary, the implication of the unimportance of genes is that if we changed society in the right ways, we could virtually eradicate not only low academic performance and mental illness but also criminality and problems such as substance abuse.

    Actually he is right. We don’t need to know or understand anything about genes to do this. Sweden did it after all.

    They sterilized the “asocial”.

    If we did it too, for thirty or forty years, we would see rates of low academic performance, mental illness, criminality and substance abuse plummet.

    Now can anyone think why we might not want to?

  4. Likely enough both views are right.

    Yes, genes have a highly important variable influence on all aspects of ourselves, regulated by environment, hormones, foetal good times etc.

    Yes, modern poverty is highly unlikely to be genetically influenced simply because modern poverty is…modern. Not enough time.

    So take mental illness for example… it’s very reasonable to suppose that we might all be genetically susceptible and something in the environment of modern (relative) poverty brings this out more.

  5. “On the contrary, the implication of the unimportance of genes is that if we changed society in the right ways, we could virtually eradicate not only low academic performance and mental illness but also criminality and problems such as substance abuse.”

    Lysenkoism for EVERYBODY!

  6. Part of the problem here seems to be that Psychology is being treated as if it is capable of identifying objective general truth, which it is not.

    In common with other ‘social sciences’ it applies a veneer of scientific method to an academic’s research which allows their preconceptions to be presented as having been scientifically demonstrated or proven. This is easily enough to fool those in power and those in the media because, to them, even the social sciences are a thing of complexity and wonder.

    If you add marketing nouse to the same pseudo-scientific approach you get the shitstorm that is public health science.

  7. The thing with James is that he’s just someone who agrees with The Guardian. It would be like a creationist finding the one scientist that agrees with them.

    And James gets away with it because psychology is a young field of study. It’s like regular medicine 300 years ago. He’s the medicine show that rolled into town.

  8. James has taken an extreme position because extreme positions sell. No one wants to buy nuanced books which say “well, we don’t know really”. Plus of course extreme positions are ideologically pure redoubts you can comfortably hide behind.

  9. Everything you need to know about the fundamental dishonesty of the Blank Slaters can be summed up by their religious belief that intelligence cannot be biologically determined, but sexuality has to be.

  10. “So take mental illness for example… it’s very reasonable to suppose that we might all be genetically susceptible and something in the environment of modern (relative) poverty brings this out more.”

    Why is it ‘reasonable’ to suppose that, and not the precise opposite? There’s no more evidence to suggest that poverty creates mental illness then mental illness creates poverty.

    Pure anecdata alert – I know one chap who used to be a well paid chef in his younger days, but his mental health issues got worse and worse (culminating in him driving the wrong way down a dual carriageway while smoking a joint), he has been sectioned multiple times over the last 20 years and currently lives on welfare in (relative) poverty, and will do for the rest of his life. I know of other people who have severe mental health issues, and they all live in rather grotty circumstances, all brought on by the mental issues. Whereas I can think of no-one I know who was perfectly OK, then lost their job or some such economic impact event, who then became mentally ill. The causation seems to run one way only in my personal experience.

  11. He probably checked his privilege and then decided that the best course was to discount it heavily.

  12. @Jim

    “Why is it ‘reasonable’ to suppose that, and not the precise opposite? There’s no more evidence to suggest that poverty creates mental illness then mental illness creates poverty.”

    True as well – and neither says anything about any alleged genetic causation.

    Of course there are some neurodevelopmental disorders that can be strongly attributed to major genetic influences, and but we’re talking about mental illness here, which is different.

  13. There is a chronic problem concerning the methods by which intelligence is measured. And environmental factors such as high stress certainly are a causal factor in many kinds of mental illness. It is stressful to be poor. And there are stupid rich people. Just look around.

  14. A century ago we had a scientific analysis of the correlation between a father’s height and that of his sons, of the hereditability of eye colour, hair colour, skin colour, cleft chins, various genetically-linked diseases. Is the Grauniad going to deny all this in its crusade to blame everything on the privilege of the “rich”?

  15. David Richardson – “There is a chronic problem concerning the methods by which intelligence is measured.”

    Sure. They consistently refuse to produce politically acceptable results.

  16. If it is accepted that it’s genetics wot dun it, then that blank-slate, equal input gives equal output, fairness, equality kak, is patent nonsense. It is of course.

    Then how would all the rent-seeking Lefties make a living?

    Like accepting that ‘the science’ shows there is no correlation between CO2 from fossil fuels and global temperatures – what would all the rent-seekers in Big Climate do?

  17. Jim,

    “Whereas I can think of no-one I know who was perfectly OK, then lost their job or some such economic impact event, who then became mentally ill. The causation seems to run one way only in my personal experience.”

    It’s the same as when people talk about how unemployment leads to drinking. In reality, those people were always drinkers. It might even be that that’s why they were the first out the door when the redundancies came for that reason. And the reason they’re long-term unemployed is because they are drinking instead of looking for jobs.

  18. “but we’re talking about mental illness here, which is different.”

    Why is it different? Why should mental illness be any less affected by one’s genetic inheritance than any other ailment?

    You are assuming that mental illness is something that can strike anyone, regardless of their parental genetic input, at the same rates across the population. I would argue that mental illness runs in families, the guy I mentioned above, his father suffered from depression all his life, as does his brother. His sister was so convinced of the genetic component to her family’s mental health problems she made the conscious decision to never have children, which is a pretty severe step. I myself have suffered from depression, and I know my father did likewise, though in those days it wasn’t called depression, it was called ‘over tiredness’ or some such to hide the reality. It seems to me far more likely that certain people will be predisposed to mental health problems, from depression to far more serious psychoses, rather than such things springing free formed into previously perfectly mentally healthy individuals.

  19. “But if they were right there would be an inexorable logic that suggests inferior DNA caused poor people to sink to the bottom of the gene pool.”

    Well that’s the case isn’t it? And nature gets re-enforced by nurture. It doesn’t mean all poor people are stupid or all stupid people are poor.

  20. ““but we’re talking about mental illness here, which is different.”

    Why is it different? Why should mental illness be any less affected by one’s genetic inheritance than any other ailment?”

    It’s different because in principle it’s curable, or able to be ameliorated – thus it’s called an illness.

    I have no idea if there’s a genetic component making some folks more susceptible to mental illness than others. I’d say that most anybody can become mentally ill given the right stresses.

    Neurodevelopmental conditions can not be cured because the brain’s structure seems to be different – genes almost for sure (as well as other things).

  21. “I have no idea if there’s a genetic component making some folks more susceptible to mental illness than others”

    Well why did you make a statement to the opposite effect at the top of this thread then?

    “It’s different because in principle it’s curable”

    Depression possibly, though even if you come through you may always fall back into it again with the wrong triggers. In some people even depression will be a lifelong problem. More serious mental health problems, no, they aren’t curable. Bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia et al, they can be treated with meds to make the patient more manageable, but they cannot be ‘cured’. Take the meds away and they’re back to square one. Believe me, I’ve seen it time after time with my friend, there ain’t no curing his problems, just ways of managing it with drugs. People with these problems aren’t just exactly like everyone else, who happen to have an illness, like flu, or pneumonia. They have a different brain make-up, one that creates their condition.

  22. It’s different because in principle it’s curable, or able to be ameliorated – thus it’s called an illness.

    I may have misunderstood that but it seems to suggest that you think there are no other genetically caused conditions about which the same can be said, which of course is not so.

  23. That Spectator was just the sort of kicking I like to see charlatans being given.

    The problem with the Blank Slaters, to the extent they are not actively malevolent Cultural Marxists, is that they fall for the Appeal to Nature and the is-ought fallacies wholesale. And so by refusing to draw an ought- from an is, they are unable to draw an is- from an is.

  24. @Jim, March 30, 2016 at 9:57 am

    “….Whereas I can think of no-one I know who was perfectly OK, then lost their job or some such economic impact event, who then became mentally ill. The causation seems to run one way only in my personal experience.”

    I believe you are being over simplistic and presumptive.

    I have one good friend who was made redundant from a consultancy firm on a fifo basis during a recession. No luck finding another job. Enrolled on an MBA at a top 10 UK business school and graduated. Job search led to nothing and as the years passed I observed his mood and happiness decline.

    He is now clinically depressed, agoraphobic, house bound, poor and an unfit alcoholic – formally a super fit almost teetotaler who had the occasional pint (3 to 4 unfinished pa) of Guinness.

  25. Our intelligence and mental fitness is determined by over 5000 genes, which control anything from the basic layout of our nervous system to the fine grid of interconnections within our brain, and all the plumbing and chemistry that goes with it.
    Any one of those can mutate, some more than others, and some have a more profound effect than others. Some bring acute mental disease or retardation, others are “slow killers”, providing the mutation is not lethal/debilitating outright.
    About 500 of those control stuff we can measure and quantify, and that deal with our “potential” as adults.
    And we frankly haven’t even got a clue exactly how the circuitry giving organisms intelligence and self-awareness works.
    But still, this is, extremely simplified the basis of the potential with which we’re born with, and which is subject to genetic selection.

    After birth, emergence of that potential must take place, or it will quite often never develop. Pathways need to be stimulated and reinforced to have any real effect in the individual, be it physical or mental. This is the nurture component.
    There’s only so much room, ROM, and RAM in the brain, and it, together with our liver, are the biggest energy hogs, so it’s built to be efficient and reuse stuff we don’t use.
    Some potential stays even if untrained, other pathways disappear or get appropriated by other functions if they aren’t trained.

    The complexity of the brain/intelligence system is several orders of manitude greater than our atmospheric models, and we can’t currently even get *those* right.
    Everybody is free to have an opinion on the Nature/Nurture thing, but anyone making definite statements about the potental result of a system with so many complex, interconnected and emergent variables is , frankly, talking out of his/her arse.

  26. The definition of ‘inferior’ genes makes me laugh.

    Rich people breed at a lesser rate than poor people which means that greater numbers of ‘poor’ genes are passed on with each generation.

    It appears that rich people have a ‘superiority’ gene that makes them less ‘fit’ in Darwinist terms.

  27. Actually, very rich people tend to be quite fecund. If a woman has six kids she’s either married to a hedge fund manager or a chav. It’s the middle classes that have one or two kids. The anomaly is not rich people being genetically successful, it’s indolent proles not starving to death.

  28. “The anomaly is not rich people being genetically successful, it’s indolent proles not starving to death.”

    Or to put it another way – wefarism puts evolution into reverse.

    That will work out well for humanity.

  29. The correlation between ethnicity and IQ has been well documented. It is however as others have mentioned a “hatefact”

    In the same way that generations of first cousin marriage depress IQ – documented but a “hatefact”

    But there’s so much bullshit in this area e.g. “Diversity is strength” etc why should any individual piece of bullshit be special.

    Unless of course you were trying to create or destroy a successful society.

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