Calling a spade a spade

A recent murder in America has stirred up some old racist debates. Black people apparently score lower on average in IQ tests. Although such tests purport to measure an innate quality, the impact generations of inequality might nonetheless have is obvious. In this badly sourced quote from Wikipedia, Noam Chomsky drily brushes all that aside:

a correlation between race and mean I.Q. (were this shown to exist) entails no social consequences except in a racist society in which each individual is assigned to a racial category and dealt with not as an individual in his own right, but as a representative of this category […] In a non-racist society, the category of race would be of no greater significance [than height]. The mean I.Q. of individuals of a certain racial background is irrelevant to the situation of a particular individual, who is what he is.

The “debate” between left and right is about whether the state should intervene to ameliorate social disadvantage … or just not bother because blacks are born disadvantaged. Is the only reason we (“we”) might want to better the condition of the underclass … to protect ourselves against them?

There are two reifications in play, that of IQ itself, and the category of race; Chomsky hits the nail on the head by saying the latter is a red herring — unless the actual axe we have to grind is race itself, in which case no support is to be had from such tests, even if they held their own water.

I had to reread those sentences several times before the penny dropped.

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