September 13, 2005

From beyond the grave

I've talked a lot over the years about the late William D. Hamilton, the leading evolutionary theorist of the second half of the 20th Century, the man of whom Richard Dawkins said, "W.D. Hamilton is a good candidate for the title of most distinguished Darwinian since Darwin." Hamilton died in 2000 while in his early sixties from health problems contracted in the Congo, where he had ventured to test a theory for the origin of AIDS. More than anyone else, Hamilton invented the gene's-eye view of natural selection made famous in Dawkins's The Selfish Gene.

Something that was largely kept secret by Dawkins, who is a conventional center-left intellectual, and many others was Hamilton's incorrigible political incorrectness. Hamilton's own prose style contributed to this lack of awareness of where he stood on the great issues of human nature, since it is remarkably hard to find a short, pithy quotation to extract from works. Hamilton told me he found writing laborious, but I sometimes wonder whether he didn't intentionally develop his curious prose style to prevent being quoted out of context.

Late in his life, Hamilton became more outspoken on specifically human issues, rather than the more general cross-species issues that had occupied him before. Yet, until a commenter on GNXP pointed it out, I hadn't realized that there existed on the web an extraordinarily frank book review [LINK Fixed] by Hamilton of Richard Lynn's Dysgenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations that was published in the Annals of Human Genetics after his death.

Here is an excerpt from the beginning:

In a sense a dominance hierarchy has only one satisfied individual: she or he at the top. If the hierarchy is bottom-numerous rather than linear, as is the case with most human hierarchies, it is all the more true that the vast majority of people are dissatisfied, wishing they were higher up, a thought which provides a basic reason why democracies (and especially, within democracies, such institutions as their state school systems) have to be unstable. We see a wobbly pyramid, and particularly within that pyramid we see certain side stairs all human examples have by which demagogues skip up a level or two so as to shout down to the restless base that the whole structure is somehow `wrong'. Under a different system, the demagogue shouts, `You could be higher too'.

A similar image, I believe, can also reduce our surprise not only at the never ending objections to Neodarwinism but, taking the level more relevant to this review, explain the intrinsic popularity of the nurturist side in the `nature vs. nurture' debate. Neodarwinism is just too ruthless in its realism to please a majority of people: even a faint implication that an attained low station in life or education has been inevitable is too much for that hope that we all must have, the simple wish to be higher; so it is too for the feelings the average person has about their children in schools. Demagogues by definition have to be popular; almost equally they have to paint all those who speak out against them as deluded doom-sayers, scheming or fearful rightists, and the like.

All of this sketches a background -- a steep slope of average human preference -- lying behind all the topics covered in Richard Lynn's Dysgenics. His very title guarantees demagogues to be girding against him; it is important to note, however, that among these will be not just the movers and shakers who write the `PC' books with titles like The Iniquities of IQ, and Wonderbrained Woman, even if such authors are the most influential; others girding in gentler ways are simply the sunny optimist we all know in the office, and the neighbour at home telling us, almost without thinking, "Believe me, it wasn't your Tom who failed, it was the school." One has to be brave, thick-skinned, and very persistent to swim against such popular antirealistic currents.

Richard Lynn, discussing the large bank of evidence that still steadily accumulates on heritability of aptitudes and differentials of fertility, shows in this book that almost all of the worries of the early eugenicists were wellfounded in spite of the relative paucity of their evidence at the time. Correct both in their intuitions and in their assessment of the tentative data available, for most of the past hundred years Lynn shows that they have been unfairly derided.

The concerns they had about declines in health, intelligence and conscientiousness are matters that we should still be much concerned with; yet at the same time he admits the blunt and contrary fact that all over the world where it is measured, intelligence, or cognitive ability as it is now more commonly called, seems to be shooting up, thus confounding at least the most direct versions of the selection formulas that he and others have all been using. Something is evidently wrong here and I will come back to it at length. First, however, let me make clear that by the "early eugenicists" above I mean mainly such pioneers as Galton and Pearson and their true followers, not those political demagogues who simultaneously created their own interpretation of Darwinism and chose immediate, forceful action in various directions without much consideration or data. Many new activists who claimed to follow Darwin or Galton were indeed sometimes absurdly bigoted and far more radical in their proposals than any evidence of their time justified. It was they who caused the unfortunate political movements to one side or another which ended in the mid-century giving the whole field of eugenics a bad name. [More]

Hamilton went on to offer three fairly novel theories for the Flynn Effect of rising raw IQ scores in a time when fertility tends to be higher among lower IQ individuals.

1. Better survival rates among large-skulled infants and their mothers due to Caesarean sections and other obstetrical improvements.

2. That more than a few children born into lower class families of low IQ fathers were actually cuckoo's eggs fathered by men with more on the ball.

3. That perhaps Lamarck was on to something and that there are "epigenetic" mechanisms for imprinting future generations with patterns that this generation finds useful. Hamilton points to the seemingly rising rates of nearsightedness as a possible example. This third theory is over my head, but it should be considered by those more capable of evaluating it than me.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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