Virtue in "Racism"

Raymond B. Cattell

Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois

At a time when racism is a widely discussed issue, it behooves us to look at it more broadly than as an issue in affirmative action.

Geneticists in the last decade have formulated a view of the animal kingdom that describes what they call “altruism” an inverse function of the genetic distance between the interacting individuals or species. That is to say, individuals are indifferent or hostile to others in proportion to their genetic unlikeness.

Recently support has come to this generalization from an unexpected quarter. Research on heredity by the new MAVA method permits a calculation of the interaction of heredity and environmental influences that is not possible by the older twin method. The remarkable finding is that for every trait measured in humans the correlation is negative between the heredity and the environmental pressure. That is to say, individuals who deviate from the average most strongly on the genetic component are pushed toward the mean by environment. This is shown in Table 1.

The relation may be illustrated by the ordinary intelligence test measurement - crystallized intelligence in Table 1. Here within the family i.e. among siblings, there is a correlation of -.52, suggesting that the duller members are more pressed on and the brighter members neglected. However, the greater effect (-.81) is between families. That is to say, the average of the children in a genetically dull family are strongly pressured, e.g., by Head Start, toward the mean, while the average of the bright family is either left untouched or pushed toward the mean. This is true of crystallized intelligence, which is possibly 50-700/o environmentally determined, versus 209'o for fluid intelligence. These between-family values are the best indication of what is going on in society as a whole, for they indicate the general effect of society upon the family units.


Genothrepic Correlations (Data from Cattell, 1982, pp. 330-376)

From Questionnaire Measures of Factors

By overlapping simultaneous equation solutions (OSES)


16 PF Factors
Within Families
Between Families
Ego Strength, C
Dominance, E
Surgency, F
Super Ego Strength, G
Parmia, H
Premsia, I
Guilt, O
Self-Sufficiency, Q2
Self-Sentiment, Q3
Tenseness, Q

Mean Value from Objective test Battery(Secondaries in Q-Data)

(From Least Squares Method)
Fluid Intelligence, gr
Crystallized Intelligence, gc

These “genothreptic” findings are very recent and it remains for social psychologists to develop theories of why this “coercion to the bio-social mean” occurs. A critic of TV has suggested that since advertising is directed to the largest numbers, the intellectual level of “carrier shows" caters for the average. It stimulates the dull and leaves the bright bored. The effect can even be seen in the classroom where the busy teacher presses attention on the backward 'to catch up' and necessarily leaves the bright undirected.

The coercion to the mean effect has long been noted by observant writers. Voltaire remarked that the impact of a true genius could always be verified by the fact that all the mediocrities gang up against him. We are used to the genius living in an attic and the incompetent being supported and cared for by community welfare.

Society loves its average. It is an instinctive reaction which preserves the species intact. However, it also plays a part in the generation of new species. When a whole subgroup - by genetic drift or unusual environmental selection - begins to break off, the unity and special character of the newly emergent group are preserved by coercion to its mean - with inter-breeding of the main group deviators. Perhaps something like this explains the development of Cro-magnon man, despite being surrounded in the same geographic regions by Neanderthalers.

All this bespeaks the existence of an innate racialism as an evolutionary force - a tendency to like the like and distrust the different. As an instinct it may not be as strong as the primary instincts of sex, fear, hunger, etc.; but we have every reason to posit its existence. just as civilized society has constantly to battle an innate sex drive, so the evidence that it has had to battle racism is sufficient evidence that an innate drive exists.

Modern society has pronounced its ethical condemnation of racism, but in the long run has met with little more success than in religion and in its condemnation of sex and aggression. It is time to recognize clearly that race-consciousness is a natural tendency, with which our socio-political life must come to terms.

One way is to avoid too great a diversity within a politically organized society. Contemporary societies made up of a mosaic of ethnic components have potential advantages. For example, social experiments can be tried out in one subgroup and, if successful, adopted by all. Something of this kind exists in the degree of independence of the fifty American states. But, as in current Yugoslavia, perhaps the mosaic can go too far and lead to conflict.

This is a matter for investigation, which will remain uninvestigated until social psychologists wake up to the existence of a natural, innate racism. Like all instinctive forces, it has its virtues and its vices. There are situations in which it can advantageously be cultivated, and others where it is a source of trouble. But even when, in the latter circumstances, it appears necessary to suppress it, we should recognize the consequences of suppressing innate drives and the need to respect what is, in other circumstances, a virtuous gift. It was such in the Second World War, when it gave tremendous power to the anti-Nazi attack. It plays an unspoken part, among most Africans, in the attitude of the public to the Negro and the Hispanic. It is time for social scientists openly to recognize it as something other than a perversion, to measure it, and to understand how best to shape society to adjust to it.

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