I've been commenting a lot of doom & gloom stuff over at the Ambivablog the last couple of days. I thought I would make my latest comment (so to be posted over there) a separate blog post here.
Amba, some nasty racist-types have glommed onto HBD. But that is hardly the whole of it. (You've got Gene Expression linked so I imagine you know some of this.)
Some of the nasty types have also not noticed that their preferred race (speaking solely of white American racial supremacists here) doesn't come out on top of every, or even most, categories. East Asians tend to top Caucasians for median IQ, as do the Ashkenazim (Hitler's ashes would swirl in a vortex if they knew). I suspect that if the population of the Indian sub-continent were looked at by caste the Brahmins would also top Caucasians.
As for the eugenics angle, different populations breed for different circumstances. Thus traits like sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs, pale skin in higher latitudes and darker skin in lower latitudes, etc. Some differences don't mean much to society anymore (from an objective stand point) and some do.
Intelligence (commonly discussed in terms of IQ, in some circles discussed more in terms of g-loading and the like) DOES matter in modern economies. Intelligence is not equally distributed, and that matters. Donna, want to start a fight? Mention that IQ matters in the midst of a bunch of liberals and watch the sparks fly! Larry Summers is lucky he can still get a job after sticking his foot in it, and he was a liberal in good standing. (This is actually orthodox among many groups. You can start fights bringing up the same topic in front of many Republicans & independents as well. And then there’s Derbyshire, who believes in HBD but thinks it may well be best if the vast bulk of the population believes the opposite. Derb is a fun guy!)
Other traits also have separate distributions. Risk taking would be another trait unevenly distributed, and a trait that matters in EVERY society. Too little risk-taking and innovation might come to a standstill. Too much and you might have high levels of crime, violence and war. (If I had to choose a society at one extreme or another, I would choose too much risk-taking. The ultra-violence has a way of eliminating itself from the population. But this appears to be directly linked to high levels of testosterone and I would guess it is easier to moderate that long-term than it is to breed up higher levels from a population that has too little. One can easily argue that the other way however. It would take someone using a lot of population genetics & the related math to make valid claims one way or the other on that, and their projections would still be subject to both chance and unknown unknowns in making their predictions.)
Case in point, Europeans that settled the US most likely tended to being amongst those that took greater risks. Moving from ones homeland to someplace half-way around the world, a complete mystery and wilderness to the vast majority of those travelling, and with no safety line home or possible retreat, implies a high level of risk tolerance. We mostly likely benefitted from getting a high proportion of Europe’s gamblers! Europe still had enough such people to conquer most of the world. But between immigration to the colonies (not just here but all European colonies, especially for the colonists that stayed put in their new locals) and the bloodshed of WWI, Europe probably reduced its level of risk tolerance.
But back to the point: These things matter. If intelligence does matter, and isn’t equally distributed (forget racial groups for the moment and just consider a normal distribution) then a policy that states that everyone should go to college would be stupid. As would a policy that has everyone graduate from high schools dedicated primarily to college prep. Yet that’s what we’ve done. It’s wasteful or money, talent and lives. How many of our social welfare policies make incorrect implicit assumptions about the covered population that have negative consequences? A great many, it turns out. (Again, intelligence is only one variable to consider. Others also matter.)
But this can’t really be discussed. Beyond simple medical facts that are irrefutable (Sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs) or now trivial matters (like skin color) we are not permitted to discuss that such things exist. Donna asked for an example of such denial. Ask and Ye shall Receive! Brad Delong a few years back started a bit of a blog flame war when he asserted that human populations MUST be homogenous. (He was responding to a post of Andrew Sullivan, so perhaps he just caught The Stupid from Sullivan.) As mentioned, this garnered a lot of response, including lots of comments from various heavy-weights in Delong’s comment section – which Delong deleted if they were too good at refuting his argument. The Update to this Gene Expression post also makes some excellent points broadly related to this topic.
(More commonly, one hears the assertion that recent human evolution doesn’t exist, or that if it DOES exist it only effects “trivial” issues like skin color. Delong just dressed it up with mathematics and charts.)