Monday, July 09, 2007

The Marching Morons

Bad ideas never die, and so over the weekend we saw an excursion into eugenics from Univerity of Otago emritus professor (and former Alliance candidate) Jim Flynn. Drawing on statistics from the 2006 census showing that university educated women have fewer children on average than those without tertiary education, he warns that this could lead to a long-term decline in IQ. He therefore advocates putting contraceptives in the water supply to stop the poor from breeding.

There are all sorts of responses you can make to this. You can ask why Flynn focuses on women - it takes two to tango, after all - or why he seems to believe that every woman's womb is public property, to be directed by the state according to its whims. You can ask where a self-proclaimed liberal and social democrat gets off on implicitly assuming (among other things) a strong correlation between intelligence and socio-economic status - something I'd have thought to be disproven by the sheer unfitness and stupidity of those who have occupied the top of the socio-economic pyramid for much of human history, not to mention by everything the left knows about social class. Or you could ask why, if he feels so strongly about preserving the gene pool, Flynn doesn't just do something about it himself - sure, he's 73, but there are solutions for that, and I'm sure there'll be no shortage of nubile young women lining up to bear children to such a superb genetic specimen as himself. But instead, I'll just cut to the chase, and ask why the fuck anybody even cares.

Flynn puts his case in a nutshell as follows:

in a socially mobile society such as New Zealand's, those who remained uneducated had poorer genetic material in terms of IQ. Over time poorer genes would take their toll, leading to a "decay" in genetic quality.

"If you imagine this as a long-term thing, extending over three or four generations, it would be a cause for some alarm," he said.

Hardly. The best estimates of this effect are around -0.9 IQ points per generation. Meanwhile, the Flynn effect has seen IQs rise by 3 points per decade during the 20th century. So, assuming that the latter stops and that the decline is real, in a hundred years - Flynn's three or four generations - we'll be as stupid as we were in the late 1990's. And in 800 years - which ought to be well beyond anyone's planning horizon - we'll be as stupid as we were in 1905, when IQ testing began. Quelle horreur!

The "threat" of a long-term decline in IQ simply shouldn't be a concern to any rational person, any more than the "danger" of being outbred by the Teeming Foreign Hordes should be. And it certainly doesn't justify the sort of mass, involuntary medication (and consequent side-effects) or eugenic program that Flynn is advocating. But then, it's difficult to see what would. How many children you have and who with is one of the most personal decisions you can make, and I can't actually imagine anything which would justify state interference and coercion in such choices.

Update: yes, I have seen this - but notice that while Flynn resiles from the arguably technologically infeasible solution (though by claiming he was "only joking" - the last defence for the indefensible), he does not resile from the central claim that there is a problem, or from his creepy assumptions about who gets to make these sorts of choices and on what grounds.

Didn't they teach him at kindy to keep his hands off other people's gonads?