1. Archive

It's time to move on to individuals

"The black-white IQ difference (is) about 15 points in the U.S. . . ."

_ "In the United States, blacks of above-average socioeconomic status have not averaged as high IQ as whites of lower socioeconomic status."

_ "The question here is not whether (group) differences (in mental test performance) are cultural or genetic in origin. The point is that they are real and that their consequences are real."

So this is Charles Murray's heresy, the incendiary declarations about race and IQ that have landed him and his co-authored book, The Bell Curve, on the cover of Newsweek, the New Republic and the New York Times Magazine, and landed him in the liberal pantheon of bigoted pseudoscience.

Well, no. The quotations above are from Race and Culture (chapter 6: "Race and Intelligence") published just two months before The Bell Curve. The author is Thomas Sowell, the Stanford economist and social scientist. Sowell is black. And his interest in ethnic differences in mental capacity is even broader than Murray's.

Starting with Cicero's observation 20 centuries ago that Britons were too stupid to make good slaves, Sowell offers a worldwide survey of ethnic differences in intelligence.

With the phenomenon of ethnic IQ differences so universal, Sowell is quite relaxed about the American black-white difference. He notes (in a passage I purposely truncated above) that "the black-white IQ difference of about 15 points in the U.S. has been matched by the IQ difference between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews in Israel or between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland."

Murray's Bell Curve is more narrowly focused on ethnic differences in the United States. In particular, it marshals voluminous validation for the black-white IQ differences that Sowell and others have noted. For this, Murray has been subjected to fierce personal attack. To take an example almost at random, sociologist Alan Wolfe writes that "Murray and (co-author Richard) Herrnstein may not be racists, but they are obsessed by race. They see the world in group terms and must have data on group membership."

An interesting charge, given the fact that for the last two decades it is the very liberals who so vehemently denounce Murray who have been obsessed by race, insisting that every institution_universities, fire departments, Alaskan canneries_"must have data on group membership."

It is they who have oppressively insisted that we measure ethnic "over-" and "underrepresentation" in every possible field of human endeavor.

Not a month goes by when I do not get a survey of some sort in which I am asked to identify myself by race. (As a rule, I refuse.) Here is a liberal establishment forcing racial testing and counting for every conceivable activity, and when a study comes along which does exactly that for SATs and IQ, the author is pilloried for being obsessed by race.

In fact, Murray is obsessed by class. The Bell Curve is a powerful, scrupulous, landmark study of the relationship between intelligence and social class. It is secondarily about differences among ethnicities, which is what the fuss is about.

I have two difficulties with the book. First, I see no reason to assume that group differences in intelligence (as opposed to individual variation) have anything to do with genes. The more plausible explanation is Sowell's: Ethnic differences in intelligence, which change over time (the British have come up smartly since Cicero), are due to culture.

Second, I have trouble with Murray's recommendations about what to do with inequality. He offers a kind of conservative multiculturalism in which each ethnicity finds its honored niche in society.

I distrust all multiculturalism, liberal or conservative. My answer is simpler: Stop counting by race. Stop allocating by race. Stop measuring by race. Let's return to measuring individuals.

It seems hopelessly naive to propose this today. But it was not naive when first proposed by Martin Luther King and accepted by a white society that was finally converted to his vision. Instead, through guilt and intimidation, a liberal establishment has since mandated that every study of achievement in American life be broken down by race. The Bell Curve takes that mandate to its logical conclusion.

Enough. As both Murray and Sowell explicitly state, knowing the group score tells you nothing about the individual. Well, we have now seen the group score. Let's all go back to counting individuals. How many of Murray's critics will agree to that?

Washington Post Writers Group.