that legendary book is such a bore
Let’s try this one more time.
Suppose you and a friend went to a basketball game where Bronny James, Lebron’s son, was playing. Suppose that friend said “he’s good at basketball because he’s black.” This would be a claim about group genetic influence. That is to say, it would be a claim that a population of people share genetic ancestry and that this population-level influence influenced a particular tangible human trait. And most people, I think, would find it offensive. It’s certainly not a claim I would ever make.
Now suppose instead that your friend said “he gets his athleticism from his father.” This would be a claim about individual genetic influence. That is to say, it would be a claim that individual people receive a genetic endowment from their parents, and that this genetic endowment influences particular tangible human traits. Their genotype influences their phenotype. This is a profoundly different kind of claim — different scientifically, different pragmatically, different morally. And in particular it is not a very controversial claim at all. While I’m sure some people are out there who deny genetics, most people accept that our biological parentage shapes us in many profound ways.
My book, my long-gestating, still-immaterial (but composed) book, is (among many other things) about the second kind of claim, about the influence of genetic parentage from parent to child. Group differences are not a topic in the book, and race science is not at all of interest to me, as I consider it discredited and offensive and say so in the text. I doubt anything related to race science will appear in the index. Race, in general, is ancillary to my interests.
I know all of this because I wrote the book, and I am one of, I believe, four people who know the book’s contents. And yet there are many people on the internet who presume to know my book’s contents, and who declare it a work of race science.
Why do people believe that my book advocates race science? For one and only one reason: because an anonymous Twitter account with a Michael Cera avatar said that’s what my book was. That’s it. That’s the sum of the “evidence” disputing my characterization of my own book. A single guy on Twitter making wild claims that were by definition unsupported by evidence — because, I stress, the book did not yet exist — was sufficient to set thousands of people off. The blog Balloon Juice even ran a post that asserted this claim based, again, on the claim of a gimmick Twitter account. Why?
My assumption is that almost no one who shared that claim actually believed it was true. I have to think that most people know that trusting the claims of a single anonymous Twitter account about a book that was yet to be written was ludicrous. Who would defend that practice? I think instead that people don’t like me, saw a cheap opening, and took it, fully knowing that what they were doing was dishonest. I highly doubt that even the Twitter account in question thought what he was saying was true.
Moreover, I think people just simply did not and do not understand that elementary, essential distinction I described above. The don’t seem to understand the difference between saying “your biological parents influence you when they hand their genes down to you” and “your racial genetic background influences you in X ways.” Which… I don’t know, these just seem like such elementary differences that I’m not grasping how a literate adult can fail to see them.
This is all the site of a truly bizarre disconnect between academia and media. If you simply type “academic ability is influenced by genetic parentage” into a status update, you will almost certainly find yourself the subject of a pile on. But this statement is, in many corners of the university, a statement of absolutely banal fact, one that is bandied about by eminently well-credentialed professors at just about any university you choose. That all human behavioral traits are influenced (not determined) by genetic parentage has been enshrined as the First Law of Behavioral Genetics. Literally thousands of studies have found evidence for this influence. I would argue that the heritability of behavioral traits is among the most well-replicated findings in the history of social science. Do some people disagree? Of course. There isn’t a claim that isn’t rejected by some academics, including “water is wet.” But there’s nothing remotely controversial about the general topic or about the specific claim that genes influence behavioral traits like intelligence. That it is radioactive in one sphere and unremarkable in another is pretty weird.
Look, here’s an article in the Times, the epitome of bourgeois respectability, talking about a major study in this regard. The word “race” does not appear, because it’s simply not related.
My book is an argument for a socialist state and dismantling of meritocracy stemming, in part, from the fact that people are unequal in their academic and intellectual potentials. It’s complicated. It doesn’t fit in a tweet, and it’s not conducive to sloganeering. But I think it’s a good one, an essential one. Want to know how that argument works? Buy the fucking book.