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Notes: the inheritance of intelligence and ideology

Report on work in progress
I want to under-take a project of Marxist journalism
wi th respect to the curr_ent political/scientific
debate over IQ; understanding the present as
history requires revealing the social basis for
the views of all those involved, including the
scientists on both sides, the leftists, and
this writer himself. This means understanding
not just the political effect on scientific
investigation, but also the political content
of scientific categories themselves, ,,,hich for
our purposes here can be traced back to the
19th century transition in biology.

The debate over Darwinian evolution proceeded
on explicitly political grounds, each participant looking to evolutionary theory for a basis
in science for his social views, which often
required attempting to separate Darwinism from
its Malthusian precursor. Huxley tried to show
– contrary to those participants’ thinking that political predictions do not follow logic
nlly from biological theories, but he failed to
see that Darwin’s theory incorporated a changed
ideology of man’s place in nature correspondina
to the increasingly competitive urban world of
19th century England.

In other words, even
though Darwin did not actively enter the debate,
his anthropomorphic ‘survival of the fittest’

already contained certain Malthusian conceptions
inseparable from political economy and natural

Radicals should understand that a major
ideological obstacle today is the secular religion of science derived from that period (although possibly traceable back to Bacon or even
earlier). ¥any Darwinians underwent a theistic
religious conversion in which they came to
identify the traditional Deity with natural laws,
the latter operating as super-human forces controlling man, just as God ‘out there’ had done

In the same period, ‘dialectical [sic]
materialism’ located similar forces in the
‘objective laws of history;’, which only (vulgar)
Marxists were to have understood; instead of
God, it was the base that made history by using
the superstructure as the instrument of its will.

Neither version understands the human dialectical
basis of history; both abdicate to objective
knowledge of science. That myth of progress
through science is perpetuated in its most
subtle (and therefore insidious) form by those
who attack genetic racism (or behaviourism etc)
as ‘unscientific’.

In the Lysenko debate, Engels’ suspicion of
genetic inheritance was carried over into the
20th century against the new Mendelian genetics,
which manv Ru~sian scientists considered a
pseudo-scientific basis for imperialist ideology. Many people who took diametrically opposed
positions in the genetics debate still operated
within an (implicitly) common assumption: that
biological theory (Mendelian vs. Lamarckian)
determines human nature and therefore politics
(capitalism vs. socialism) does not. A generation later, Medvedev remained incapable of
explaining the Lysenko episode except by excl~ding Lysenko’s school from the realm of
science, in order to salvage his notion of
scientific objectivity.

However, it is less
useful to brand Lysenko as unscientific (or his
‘;vestern opponents as more scientific) than to
understand his place in the Engels tradition of
preference for Lamarckianism (inheritance of
acquired characteristics), which seemed to them
more consistent with the .inevitability of world

In the current IQ inheritance debate, many
participants choose sides according to their
political assessment of racial minorities based
upon moral attitudes that they attempt to conceal behind science. The anti-racists reveal
their own ideology when they attack Herrnstein’s
‘pseudo-scientific’ activities for undermining
‘socially progressive’ government programmes,
as if politics and science can be separated for
them or for Herrnstein. As with Huxley a century ago, some observers (such as ChDmsky) have
argued that a political view or educational
policy doesn’t follow logically from a scientific theory; but in so doing, he implies that the
scientific question can be politically neutral.

On the contrary, the very question being
debated is continuing the 19th century controversy in a modern form. Appropriate to the
advance of ‘scientific ohjectivity’, or the
bourgeois reduction of quality into measurable
quantity, the 19th century moral character
judgements on the Negro race (whether pro or
con) have been stripped of their emotional
component and reduced to a more technically
measurable category: intelligence.

Piaget greatly advanced psychology by basing
his epistemology upon a subject-object dialectic, which replaced 19th century religiousmoral models of intellect; but his model remains
ideological precisely for divorcing individual
cognition from its emotional and social basis.

The very notion of intelligence is a modern
ideological category, a commodity to be measured
for sale on the market place. The science of
measuring IQ (or even gauging stages of intelligence) presupposes that intellectual growth
actually occurs by some isolable process of
logical operations.

So tin the IQ debate, the
non-neutrality of science originates not at the
point of application of some neutral knowledge,
but much earlier, at the point of the production
of that knowledge. The paradigm of measuring
intelligence informs a particular mode of
practical activity that already contains the
limits of its application.

IQ measurements
inform bourgeois society’s scientific management of the production and use of cognition
for the process of reproducing bourgeois
society – regardless of one’s scientific conclusions as to the inheritance of intelligence
or its political implications.

A revolutionary science, like bourqeois
science, will certainly contain a political
bias, but will not deny or mystify that social
basis in daily life. Revolutionary science
will abolish all man-made separations and fraqmentations rooted in ‘scientific objectivity’,
but not by alternatively pretending that. Tn2r.

is merely identical to nature, since m8n’s
place in nature is an historical product of
man ‘,5 own conscious activity. Revolutiona.ry
science will understand itself as a part of
human history, and therefore as a science not
of natural law but of human struggle.


Essential references:

Robert Young, ‘Evolutionary Biology and
Ideology: then and now’ in The Biological
Revolution (or in History of Science, Vol. 11) ,

Robert Young in Changing Perspectives in the
History of Science, 1973.

TELOS#15, Spring 1973, commentary and book

Karl Marx, The German Ideology.

llorkheimer and lIdorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1944.

Les Levidow, 546 S 48th street, Philadephia, Pa 19143.


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