same planet, different worlds

Awhile back there was this interview with Chris Rock that really illustrated just how siloed people are. Rock said a bunch of different things that had the potential to please different groups. He said that to the degree that race relations had improved, they had done so because of white people doing better, not black people doing better — a sentiment pleasing to liberals. He also made nearly the identical argument that Jerry Seinfeld and others have made about how college students are too closed minded and sensitive — a sentiment pleasing to conservatives. What happened was as predictable as it was depressing: the different groups, in different venues, simply told different sides of the story and conveniently ignored the other side. The same interview got aggregated in vastly different ways based on the politics of the presumed readership.

I thought about that today with the publication of this Vox piece by Eric Turkheimer, Kathryn Paige Harden, and Richard E. Nisbett. It’s making an argument very similar to one that I made myself a month ago: that genetics is not responsible for differences in observed IQs between races, but that genes do have a significant influence on individual variation, and that liberal blank slatism is a profound mistake. I think the piece undersells the degree of influence of genes on IQ based on extant evidence — not in numbers but in general tone — but that’s probably necessary for getting these ideas circulating in progressive spheres. I’m happy the article got published and is getting a lot of play, and I’m irked that I caught so much flak for making the same argument when this one is largely getting praised, demonstrating once again that people read arguments through the lens of who they do and don’t already like. But I wonder: is it changing anything?

Vox is a publication mostly read by progressives. Its audience probably doesn’t need much more excuse to reject Charles Murray. But they almost certainly do need to hear that the overwhelming evidence is that the weak explanation is true, that all human outcomes are significantly heritable. (Also that IQ tests and tests like the SAT enjoy significant predictive validity.) Yet when I search Twitter for the article, I’m seeing many progressive types only absorbing the half of the article they already agree with — that Murray is wrong on the merits. They seem not to be grappling with some of the core contentions of the essay. The part that liberals don’t already broadly agree with, that genes play a big role in intelligence and personality, escapes many of their glosses on the article. (As the authors say, “the heritability of intelligence is no longer scientifically contentious.”) When sharing and praising the article progressives seem to be omitting the very part that is most challenging to their presumptions and thus most useful.

This is part of why the left’s recent mockery of the responsibility to be exposed to the other side’s arguments is so destructive. The ability to just hear what you want to hear is already so powerful. How are we going to make progress and be challenged if people can pick and choose the conclusions they want, even from within a given article?