Equality

by Kevin Lamb

"Quality is better than equality. Institutions and customs which seek equality for equality's sake are useless, and likely to be pernicious." -Edward Lee Thorndike

In a 40th anniversary retrospective of Brown vs Board of Education, USA Today noted how the late Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall resented society's reluctance to embrace integration. "We are not yet all equals," Marshall wrote in a 1978 memo to his fellow justices. "As to this country being a melting pot - either the Negro did not get in the pot or he did not get melted down ... The disparity between the races is increasing."

Typical of the post Brown era, Marshall's view reflects modern egalitarian assumptions about racial inequality - namely that most civil members of society are responsible for this dilemma. With a growing middle class enclave of predominantly white suburbs and an urban underclass of ethnic minorities, many continue to believe as Jack Kemp does that the right mix of economic, social and political reforms can reverse this racial fragmentation of society. The premises behind these legal and social reforms, which were intended to reverse racial inequality, are rarely if ever challenged. Can social engineering bring about universal human equality?

Although racial inequality is often viewed as a "societal" condition, social critics have failed to explain how "society" actually causes this inequality. Few if any distinctions are ever made between equality before the law (equal rights) and a natural condition of human equality (egalitarianism). As social policy advocates, egalitarians have been effective in making any distinction between equality of rights and innate human equality ambiguous. This ambiguity is primarily a modern phenomenon since progressive and conservative scholars in the past understood the distinction between political and biological equality. Now, confusion prevails not only because of the widespread acceptance and unchallenged assumptions of egalitarianism, but also because the case for human biological equality remains inconclusive.

In the wake of Brown, American legal and social policy: outlawed segregation, enacted a host of civil and voting rights laws, adopted equal opportunity measures in both the public and private sectors (including a ban on the use of IQ tests for hiring and promotions), implemented affirmative action measures in education and the workplace, introduced quotas and set asides that award federal contracts to "disadvantaged" minority firms, and established a range of anti-poverty programs - from medicaid and WIC to headstart and the earned income tax credit - in order to reshape society into an egalitarian landscape free of racial inequality.

If forty years of desegregation and social engineering have failed to produce egalitarian results, then the assumptions of modern social reformers become suspect. As long as the concept of equality remains ambiguous, social welfare policies that are intended to reduce human inequality will remain dubious as well. Unlike the colorblind goals of civil rights activists that embraced equal opportunity, the contemporary agenda of fanatical egalitarians like Jonathan Kozol is nothing less than the total elimination of income disparities and group differences. However, a society with group-based hierarchies isn't necessarily intolerant or repressive. Is it reasonable to believe that the lack of opportunity is all that prevents an egalitarian leveling of group distinctions or could other factors unrelated to discrimination also contribute to human inequality?

Social critics who often consider inequality in terms of "social" or "distributive" justice refuse to clarify what "racial equality" fully entails. Is this inequality measured in terms of tangible or non-tangible results? For instance, the success or failure of equal opportunity is often evaluated against social policies that are intended to produce equal outcomes. Measuring the attainment of equal opportunity by the yardstick of equal results is a fallacy. The idea that inequality is strictly a matter of discrimination rests upon faulty premises, namely that unequal results constitute prima facie evidence of unequal opportunity. Identically similar opportunities may simply yield different outcomes. The reason is that differences in temperament, personality traits, motivation, perseverance and other personal factors often distinguish those who seize opportunities from those who squander them.

Such notions raise fundamental questions about biology and human equality that receive little if any consideration in the popular press: What are the causes of behavioral differences among ethnic groups? Are there biologically-based differences in personality traits, temperament, attitude and character and how do they affect social trends? Is universal human equality attainable? What are the societal implications of group differences? Is racial inequality a `natural condition?' Can the goals and objectives of a color-blind society be reached if racial differences persevere? Have desegregation measures run their course? Is "society" really accountable for racial inequality? Are whites in American, East Indians in Guiana or in East Africa, responsible for a racially "polarized" society? Does the current state of race relations simply reflect a "misunderstanding" that only lacks "dialogue?" Are social and anti-social behavioral traits uniformly distributed among individuals? Do race differences necessarily lead to rigid racial hierarchies?

Some scholars like Lani Guinier, Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, advocate a "national conversation about race and fundamental fairness." Such a "conversation" should include a wide spectrum of views, most notably leading authorities in differential psychology, behavioral genetics and sociobiology who are usually excluded (in some cases disinvited) from such public forums. Likewise, racially taboo issues should feature prominently in any national commission on race relations. Tenable views should not be prohibited simply because of their controversial nature. Instead of disregarding the sources of human inequality, as the National Academy of Sciences did a generation ago, commonly held assumptions about race differences and human equality deserve further scrutiny - assumptions that are now being contested by an influential cadre of behavioral scientists.

Egalitarianism as Ideology

Universal human equality, the idea that humans are biologically similar and that genetic differences can not explain variations of human behavior, continues to influence how people perceive social problems. It often determines our "accepted" perceptions of others. From academic achievement to crime, it shapes the direction and scope of scholarly research as few ideas do. It remains the ideological cornerstone of contemporary social anthropology, and the scope of its impact extends into current behavioral science controversies. Even campus life can not escape the perils of egalitarianism since it fuels the `Political Correctness' phenomenon on many college campuses. In essence, the idea of human equality remains one of the most influential forces in not only modern academe but the whole of American society.

As an empirical truth that adequately explains human behavioral differences, egalitarianism best exemplifies a social ideology rather than a valid scientific theory. Egalitarians have been instrumental in explaining race differences in terms of "discrimination," "racism" and "oppression," but the issue is really over the validity of egalitarianism and whether it rests upon questionable assumptions about human nature. Over the years, egalitarians have routinely disregarded a growing amount of empirical evidence that corroborate individual and group behavioral differences unless, as in the case with The Bell Curve, they are forced to confront the obvious implications of these findings. Instead of providing evidence to the contrary, the typical response is nothing more than a barrage of ad hominem attacks.

The empirical nature of modern egalitarianism resembles what British political scientist Kenneth Minogue refers to as a `pure theory' of ideology. In his 1985 study Alien Powers, Minogue strips away the facade of ideological reasoning by untangling its circular logic and groundless rhetoric. Basically, ideologies try to reveal "oppressive structures" that "dominate" society; a "system" that is otherwise impervious to change. Despite advancements in contemporary society (economic, legal, social and technological progress), ideologues simply dismiss trends that would thwart the need for drastic social engineering. Public attitudes toward race is a good illustration. Although reliable polling data consistently show sizeable shifts in the racial views of most Americans, critics still maintain that in terms of social implications, the severity and magnitude of "racism" remains unaltered. Like a translucent chameleon, the spectre of racism never subsides, it simply takes on a new form.

The irony of free and prosperous societies is that any progressive social change is really a mirage imposed by political and social structures hell-bent on domination and oppression. The objective then becomes a game of hunt the "structure." As Minogue puts it, "Ideology is a philosophical type of allegiance purporting to transcend the mere particularities of family, religion or native hearth, and its essence lies in struggle. The world is a battlefield, in which there are two enemies. One is the oppressor, the other consists of fellow ideologists who have generally mistaken the conditions of liberation ... Structure determines whatever we experience ... the most remarkable thing about ideology is the attempt to generate liberation out of a pure theory of social change. "

Minogue's `pure theory' of ideology casts some much needed light on the mind-set of contemporary egalitarians. It illuminates the twisted logic of these latter-day levellers. From a scientific standpoint, egalitarianism insulates itself from empirical corroboration. The issue of falsifiability distinguishes egalitarianism from legitimate scientific theories. As Karl Popper once demonstrated, a theory is scientifically valid so long as it can be falsified. Theories that are incapable of being falsified, for whatever else they may be, are scientifically unsound. It is this criteria that distinguishes the scientific validity of innate individual and group differences (human inequality) over the ideological pretenses of universal human equality (egalitarianism). Social ideologies like egalitarianism fail to meet this credibility requirement. Rather, as Minogue points out, social ideology is "like sand at a picnic, it gets in everything." At its core, egalitarianism is a belief that rests upon dubious presumptions. Consider the views of Nicholas Lemann, national correspondent for the Atlantic monthly, and William Raspberry, columnist for The Washington Post.

In "The Structure Of Success In America," the first of a two-part series in the Atlantic, Lemann points out that "in America perhaps only race is a more sensitive subject than the way we sort ourselves out in the struggle for success." According to Lemann, psychometricians ("true believers who thought they had found a way to measure the one essential human ability") devised IQ and aptitude tests in order to further the interests of society's ruling elite. As he puts it, "The overall results of intelligence tests have always produced a kind of photograph of the existing class structure, in which the better-off economic and ethnic groups are found to be more intelligent and the worse-off are found to be less so."

Lemann seems more interested in justifying the ideological trappings of egalitarianism than establishing the truth about the pioneers of mental testing. His depiction of Spearman's two-factor theory and Thurstone's own work in psychometrics is misleading if not outright inaccurate. By claiming that Spearman and others "backed away from their `g' enthusiasm," Lemann constructs a false dichotomy that attempts to undermine Spearman's theory and to discredit the concept of general intelligence. One only has to compare Lemann's version with thorough and more objective historical accounts, such as John B. Carroll's Human Cognitive Abilities or in Measuring the Mind by Adrian Wooldridge.

In meticulous detail, Carroll explains the historical development of cognitive ability research. He draws attention to a claim so often - and erroneously - made, and one that Lemann reiterates, namely that Thurstone's multi-factorial method refuted Spearman's `g' (general intelligence theory). Actually, Spearman's two-factor theory recognized special abilities while Thurstone acknowledged the plausibility of `g'. Carroll notes, "From today's standpoint, it is unfortunate that this debate ever took place. It caused, and has continued to cause, much distrust of factorial methods, particularly among those who have not bothered to understand the nub of the controversy."

Wooldridge shows how the pioneers of mental testing were essentially progressive in outlook and, contrary to Lemann's argument, committed to a meritocratic ideal out of a sense of fairness for those who had the ability to excel but faced restricted opportunities from class- based discrimination. As Wooldridge points out,

[The] psychologists who dominated educational thinking for much of this century were meritocrats rather than conservatives and progressives rather than traditionalists. They combined a passion for measurement with a commitment to child-centered education. Their work was inspired by a desire to open admission to established institutions to able children, regardless of their social origins, and to base education on the natural process of child development. They found their most articulate supporters on the left and their most stubborn opponents on the right. In theory, their arguments were subversive of the social hierarchy; and in practice they provided important opportunities for able working-class children to rise into the elite.

By arguing that these pioneers preferred a rigid aristocratic hierarchy of society's ruling elite, Lemann simply repeats the egalitarian canard that aptitude and IQ testing inaccurately measures mental ability while discriminating on the basis of class and race.

Lemann's extreme egalitarian convictions surface in his defense of affirmative action. In defending racial preferences, Lemann argues in The New York Times Magazine that "one criterion, educational performance, is over-weighted and has become too much the sole path to good jobs and leadership positions." The fallacy in Lemann's reasoning - that barriers to opportunity alone prohibit a greater multi- ethnic diversity among corporate conglomerates - is the denial of real human differences. By refusing to acknowledge individual and ethnic differences, elaborate schemes of structural oppression and domination (however contrived) offer the only other possible explanation for this lack of proportional diversity. Instead of ignoring human differences, Lemann and other egalitarians must explain why these differences are irrelevant to the issue of inequality. Perhaps civil society would benefit by disregarding ability levels and educational achievement, but Lemann has yet to make such a case.

The familiar refrain of this ideological rhetoric turns up in a recent Raspberry column on race relations. In defending what many would rightfully consider to be a double standard, Raspberry argues that the leaders of a Black Student Union have the right to exclude Whites as officers in order to "preserve the integrity" of the BSU. White law officers with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, on the other hand, have no moral justification for forming their own association. As Raspberry puts it, "The easy answer goes to purpose. Black or female or Asian subgroups are formed to help their members deal with white- male-dominated organizations. A distinct White male subgroup could only have as its purpose to maintain its domination." He goes on to claim that Whites may feel justified in forming "a White Student Association at Howard University," but simply because "they may be in the minority ... they are not oppressed minorities."

Egalitarians vs Differentialists

Two broad groups of scholars reflect a growing trend in not only academic circles but in the rest of American society as well: an ever widening gulf between social scientists (egalitarians) who adhere to the idea of innate human equality and behavioral scientists (differentialists) who emphasize individual and group differences in demeanor. Egalitarian social critics, like Cornell West, Andrew Hacker, Kozol and Lemann, continually blame civil society for racial inequality. Racial disparities in educational achievement, personal income, crime, capital punishment, sentencing, incidents of AIDS, lending practices and occupational status will persist, so they claim, as long as the attitudes of middle-class suburban Whites endure.

These social critics routinely denounce plausible alternatives to the dogma of egalitarianism. Any rational consideration of race differences rarely enters into any analysis of human disparities or group comparisons. This again is partly attributed to persistent confusion over the meaning of "racial equality." Historically, modern egalitarians depart from liberals who recognized legal and political equality but rejected the biological uniformity of man. A number of progressive scholars, like Havelock Ellis, Charles Horton Cooley, Herman J. Muller, Frank Hankins and J.B.S. Haldane accepted the idea of racial differences while they rejected the superiority doctrines of Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard. Even the renowned British socialist R. H. Tawney once argued that, "you cannot put an edge on a leaden knife, and that education is relatively unimportant in its effect on the life of the individual and the character of the society because it works within the foundations set by innate qualities." Another school of thought primarily in the behavioral sciences maintains that human behavior neither exists in a vacuum nor is determined by sheer circumstance. It recognizes that human conduct is conditioned by biological and social factors; the unique interaction of nature and nurture that produces individual and group differences in behavior. Although social scientists often reassure us that the nurturing influence of the environment determines both social and anti-social conduct, a steady flow of behavioral science research also attributes some of the variance to genetic, neurological and bio-chemical influences. Environmental factors alone are incapable of explaining persistent differences in behavior.

In this regard, the latest discovery by a team of Johns Hopkins researchers is particularly instructive. The findings show how different strains of mice produce different levels of aggression. Since the mice shared the same caged surroundings, the differences can not be attributed to their environment; rather the aggressive behavior was directly related to genetic differences. The genetically-altered more aggressive mice lacked normal levels of nitric oxide, a chemical deficiency that influences malevolent behavior. The broader implication, beside the limited influence of the environment, is that the genetic differences involved a simple compound regulated by an enzyme. In other words, the differences were not enormous but minuscule. While skeptics will point out that mice, though similar in neurological structure, are not identical to humans, a plausible inference can be made in which slight genetic differences that influence aggressive behavior may in fact operate in species that are equivalent neurologically.

Roger J. Williams, the eminent bio-chemist and former president of the American Chemical Society, once summarized the differentialist view this way, "In biology and in medicine, as well as in the areas of social sciences and philosophy, we have concentrated too much on "a single recognizable picture of man" and have given too little attention to men, the individuals who make up the species, the persons who become patients, and the units who make up society."

Of course, we can draw a single recognizable picture of man. He will have a skeleton, muscles, organs, nervous system, hungers, emotions, aspirations, etc., but as long as we hope to solve or understand human problems on the basis of such a generalized being, our operations must be at a very elementary level and many problems will completely elude us.

The vast majority of middle class suburbanites are well aware of recent events that occur with predictable regularity, namely the sociopathic character of urban culture. Whether its the bedlam that follows racially charged criminal trials or the fear of confronting a motorist in the wake of an accident, knowing that your next move may be your last, such events subsequently affect the decisions of those who seek out safe and stable communities for their families, especially for the social well-being of children. Common sense dictates that when a third of young black males are either in prison, on parole or under correctional supervision, there is something more that influences urban social pathologies than simply disparities in criminal sentencing, illegal drugs, or inadequate public housing.

What Marshall and other egalitarians fail to comprehend is that when matters of community safety and public concern collide with race, most people's intuitions are reliably more sound than unsubstantiated assumptions of egalitarian social reformers. The burden of proof that race differences are inconsequential on issues of human inequality rests with those who claim otherwise. In other words, differences matter.

References

Carroll, John B. 1993 Human Cognitive Abilities: A Survey of Factor-Analytic Studies, Cambridge University Press.

Davis, Kingsley et al., 1972 "Recommendations with Respect to the Behavioral and Social Aspects of Human Genetics" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, Vol. 69, No. 1, January, pp. 1-3.

Herrnstein, Richard and Charles Murray 1994 The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, The Free Press.

Lemann, Nicholas 1995 "The Structure of Success in America" The Atlantic Monthly, August, pp. 41-60.

1995 "The Great Sorting" The Atlantic Monthly, September, pp. 84-100.

1995 "Taking Affirmative Action Apart" The New York Times Magazine, June 11., p. 62.

Mauro, Tony 1994 "Brown Ruling Broke Back of American Apartheid" USA Today, May, 12, 1994., p. 2A.

Minogue, Kenneth 1985 Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology St. Martin's Press.

Nelson, Randy et al., 1995 "Behavioural Abnormalities in Male Mice Lacking Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase" Nature Vol. 378, November 23., pp. 383-386.

Popper, Karl R. 1959 The Logic of Scientific Discovery Basic Books, Inc.

1963 Conjectures and Refutations Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Raspberry, William 1995 "Dubiously Exclusive" The Washington Post, November 24, p. A29.

Sniderman, Paul M. and Thomas Piazza 1993 The Scar of Race Harvard University Press.

Thorndike, Edward Lee 1940 Human Nature and the Social Order The Macmillan Co.

Williams, Roger J. 1956 Biochemical Individuality: The Basis For The Genetotrophic Concept University of Texas Press.

Wooldridge, Adrian 1994 Measuring The Mind: Education and Psychology in England, c. 1860- 1990 Cambridge University Press.

Thorndike, Edward Lee Human Nature and the Social Order The Macmillan Co., 1940., p. 962.

Mauro, Tony "Brown' Ruling 'Broke Back of American Apartheid" USA Today, May 12, 1994., p.2a.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA Vol. 69, No. 1, January 1972., pp. 1- 3.

Sniderman, Paul M. and Thomas Piazza The Scar of Race Harvard University Press, 1993., pp. 166-178.

Minogue, Kenneth Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology St. Martin's Press, 1985., p. 4.

Popper, Karl R. The Logic of Scientific Discovery Basic Books, Inc., 1959., and Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963.

Lemann, Nicholas "The Structure of Success in America" and "The Great Sorting" The Atlantic Monthly August and September 1995., p. 41 and p. 84.

Carroll, John B. Human Cognitive Abilities: A Survey of Factor-Analytic Studies, Cambridge University Press, 1993., pp. 37-45. See also, Adrian Wooldridge Measuring the Mind: Education and Psychology in England, c. 1860-1990, Cambridge University Press, 1994. Carroll, pp. 44-45. Wooldridge, pp. 16-17.

Lemann, Nicholas "Taking Affirmative Action Apart" The New York Times Magazine, June 11, 1995., p. 62.

Raspberry, William "Dubiously Exclusive" The Washington Post, November 24, 1995., p. A29. Wooldridge, p. 206.

Nelson, Randy J., et. al. "Behavioural Abnormalities in male mice lacking neuronal hormonal nitric oxide synthase," Nature, Vol. 378, November 23, 1995, pp. 383-386.

Williams, Roger J. Biochemical Individuality: The Basis for the Genetotrophic Concept, University of Texas Press, 1956., pp. 175-176.




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