29 July 2019

Beyond Stereotypes About Liberal Takes On Genetic Differences

“In the past few years, genetic evidence on human differences has become more obvious. The reaction, in the West, is to declare even more strongly that no differences exist, or even could exist.” 
This is something of a straw man argument. The more common and more refined argument is that the genetic differences that exist are not (or more elastically should not be considered) morally or socially or legally significant differences. 
Obviously, no informed person disputes, for example, that genetics cause visible differences in phenotype like eye color, hair color, skin color, height (interacting with environment) and stuff like epicanthic folds, and also that there a specific micro scale differences like sickle cell gene based malaria resistance. 
But, the notion is that those differences are not differences that are significant enough to discriminate against someone or treat them differently and don’t give rise to group differences that are meaningful in terms of policy or validating stereotypes. This also has a notion buried in it that physical differences are less important than differences in who a person is. 
For example, an illustration of this argument is the aphorism that you shouldn’t fault a turtle for not been fast at winning sprinting competitions. Sometimes this gets generalized to neurodiversity as well. 
This isn’t to say that this belief doesn’t have difficulties. At the individual level, there is strong evidence that traits like individual cognitive traits like IQ, personality and temperament have a significant hereditary component. 
Likewise, many Western liberals will acknowledge that small populations (e.g. communities of South Asians who recently immigrated to the U.S. on work related tech industry and medical profession visa available only to the most elite individuals) do exhibit group level average differences on certain work related IQ and spatial aptitude type abilities until diluted with other populations or the passage of time with a reversion to the mean. 
But, those belief holders presume (as an axiom not an empirically driven fact), while conceding this point, that the measured differences in traits like these that we do care about, in large representative samples of continental scale populations (e.g. Africans or South Asians generally) or large random samples of historically old caste or racial minorities, are almost entirely due to environmental effects as evidenced, for example, by the Flynn effect and by the apparent positive impacts of the reducing of lead poisoning rates in the U.S. This presumption is, at a minimum, difficult to test rigorously, and tends to support policy decisions that are hard to resolve empirically that Western liberals tend to think are good policies which promote a just society and emphasize individual merit over group stereotype based decision making. 
The truer description of the mainstream intellectual viewpoint of Western liberals is a close cousin of the idea that while culture differences absolutely exist (and indeed, should be respected) that all cultures are equal. More sophisticated individuals may qualify this position by saying that all cultures are equal in dignity and in a platonic sense, but that particular cultures may be better adapted to one set of circumstances in a given time and place than another, and that we nonetheless have a moral obligation to respect cultures not optimally adapted to current conditions in the present time and place.
This is a reprint with minor reformatting and editing of my comment to a post at Brown Pundits.

This said:

* The vast majority of people of all political stripes (except fiction authors when writing about royal children whose paternity has been denied) overestimate the relative importance of child rearing (within the normal range) relative to genetics in how a child turns out, and attribute more hereditary effects to child rearing and less to genetics than the best evidence supports.

* Most people underestimate the impact of genetic tendencies in how people turn out, more generally, relative to environmental factors, although liberals do so more than conservatives.

* Few liberals, but many conservatives embrace the notion that different continental or subcontinental or national scale populations or races have inherently different genetic traits and capabilities on things that matter where there is a clear good or bad side to them.

* Many more liberals than moderates or conservatives doubt the meaningfulness of IQ as a psychometric measure.

* Liberals tend to be especially skeptical of biological differences in important cognitive things based on sex relative to heredity more generally, and are strongly inclined to attribute gender differences to nurture to an extent not supported by the best evidence. But, there is diversity of thought within liberalism and within feminism on this matter.

* Almost everyone overestimates the extent to which their decisions are shaped by individual personal idiosyncratic choices they make, rather than cultural and genetic and social context and economic influences. Thus, they think that more of their decisions are purely a product of autonomous free will as opposed to more predictable deterministic influences. Put another way, people are more predictable than the vast majority of them believe themselves to be.

* Smart and well informed people of all political stripes have more nuanced views on these topics than less intelligence and less well informed people. Liberals tend to have more nuanced views on these topics than conservatives and conservatives tend to be oblivious to many of the nuances in hte views on these topics commonly held by liberals. 

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