IT HAPPENS ONLY IN INDIA,
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it is good to eat as many as vegetables and fruits (totally vegetarian), but my aurvedic doctor asked me to stop eating every...
THE BELL CURVE: INTELLIGENCE AND CLASS STRUCTURE IN AMERICAN LIFE Richard J Herrnstein & Charles Murray The Free Press US $30
Imagine, if you can, a society in which only the intelligent prosper, where a "cognitive elite" reigns supreme. Imagine, also, at the other end of the goodies spectrum, an impoverished underclass ostensibly deficient in endowment and ability and yet perpetuating its own kind by self-selection and mutual fostering in an existence that is, at best, hideous and worsening steadily.
This is the "dramatic transformation" that authors Herrnstein and Murray believe is taking place in American society today. Their book, The Bell Curve, apparently exploring intelligence and its relationship to class structure, kicked up a storm that has been blinding both de-racialists and the ungodly ever since its publication last year. Many readers suspect that the authors had purposely intended to stir up a witches' brew of racial slurring, legitimised with an academic tang to it; which is why the book has been called "The Sell Curve" and dubbed an "unread bestseller".
To call The Bell Curve controversial is probably flattering it. That individual differences in intelligence may have a high hereditary loading is not a new concept. In tacking these concepts on to class structure, the authors have only said what others before them have already said -- and perhaps just as offensively.
But it is the extrapolation of these ideas -- and particularly recommending them so grossly -- that fuels indignation. The writers say something and then shuffle their feet and look away trying to behave delinquently as if they hadn't, which is both schoolboyish and infuriating.
The entire headache revolves around the differences in the Intelligence Quotient scores of different groups: the Blacks score 15 points lower than the average and Asians score the highest. The authors -- never admitting that IQ tests themselves are contentious both in structure and content -- say that IQ is so largely inherited that little can be done to improve the lives of low scorers. This is the unfortunate underclass, which they believe is doomed to manual and repetitive labour -- if they are fortunate enough to procure work at all -- extraneous and completely unnecessary to society.
Most shockingly, the authors seem to recommend some form of population redistribution, and a doing away of welfare. The undercurrent is the eventual decimation of those classes they assume to be inadequately endowed. Those with low IQ, they say, should be discouraged from having babies.
Intelligence as a concept is as yet unintelligently understood. Scientists are a long way from being able to estimate just how much intelligence is inherited and exactly how much of it is shaped by environment and culture, and the interplay between them. The role of environmental stimulation on neuronal growth over many generations has been receiving a lot of attention, raising the question of whether it is an impoverished environment that contributes to low intelligence, or whether low intelligence breeds an indigent environment.
The measurement of intelligence and IQ are not something that psychometricians are comfortable with. They have tried to be cautious about how scores on IQ tests are used. The administration of these tests, their standardisation and their cultural fairness are matters both of concern and abuse, as this book goes to show. Add to this the possibility that precisely pinning down the causes of behaviour, including individual differences in intelligence, may be an inherently futile exercise, and you have arguments that teeter on the edge of fascism.
Translate this book into what it means for the lives of people who don't rank among the brightest and we have a class of people among whom crime rates are high, unemployment inevitable, opportunities nonexistent -- people for whom nothing can be done. The Bell Curve is not the first time that data has been presented to show the superiority of one race over another. Such smug pseudo-science has often been used before as a rationalisation for anti-egalitarianism.
An idea is not wrong or right simply because it is politically controversial. Herrnstein and Murray congratulate themselves for having had the gall to tackle an issue they believe is taboo. On the whole, few people are deceived by the persuasiveness of The Bell Curve. And even fewer doubt that the profits from this book are more financial and political than they are academic or scientific -- or social.
Mala Bhargava is a columnist on human psychology