Human Diversity

The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class

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Odd things happen to language all the time, and one of the oddest is what happened to the word "diversity". I blame Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, whose decision in Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke mentioned "diversity" in a student body could be a "compelling state interest" that would justify treating people better or worse based on their race. "Progressive" people turned that word into a magical justification allowing blatant unfair racial discrimination. But now, given Justice Powell's pass, as long as you say "diversity", you can get away with not saying what you're really doing.

The title of Charles Murray's new book uses the D-word in the classic sense: differences. And it's a noble effort to bring science into the discussion, tempered by a classical-liberal view of essential, underlying, human equality. As the subtitle implies: when it comes to issues of "gender, race, and class", biology plays an important role in explaining observed differences. Avert your eyes if that shocks or offends you, but ignoring it will ensure that your efforts to improve/reform/transform society will be misguided, ineffective, wasteful, and almost certainly invidious.

The main body of the text is split into three parts, each dealing with one of those subtitle pieces. Easy to summarize, because Murray puts forth "propositions" heading up each chapter.

  1. Sex differences in personality are consistent worldwide and tend to widen in more gender-egalitarian cultures.
  2. On average, females worldwide have advantages in verbal ability and social cognition while males have advantages in visuospatial abilities and the extremes of mathematical ability.
  3. On average, women worldwide are more attracted to vocations centered on people and men to vocations centered on things.
  4. Many sex differences in the brain are coordinate with sex differences in personality, abilities, and social behavior
  5. Human populations are genetically distinctive in ways that correspond to self-identified race and ethnicity.
  6. Evolutionary selection pressure since humans left Africa has been extensive and mostly local.
  7. Continental population differences in variants associated with personality, abilities, and social behavior are common.
  8. The shared environment usually plays a minor role in explaining personality, abilities, and social behavior.
  9. Class structure is importantly based on differences in abilities that have a substantial genetic component.
  10. Outside interventions are inherently constrained in the effects they can have on personality, abilities, and social behavior.

Each proposition is supported by Murray's summary of research, mostly very recent, of what's been revealed by genetic and sociological studies. In my case, Murray was pushing on an open door; I was kind of believing those things anyway. But he gets very deep into the genetic weeds, and (frankly) I'm not looking to become conversant with the science at that level. But it's there if you need it, and can understand it. Supporting Murray's argument, should you want to go even deeper: three appendices (about 50 pages) and end-matter footnotes (about 80 pages).

A couple concluding chapters are less science-intensive, and contain Murray's speculations and recommendations. Dilettante readers (or those not even pretending to dilettantism) might want to read these more intently. They won't surprise his fans (and they will be ignored or misconstrued by his enemies): they're a humane and liberal vision of how to deal with "diversity".

The book's penultimate sentence: "We need a new species of public policy that accepts differences and works with people as they are, not as we want to shape them." Amen.

[You might think that Murray's concerns are overwrought; if so, you might want to check out a recent Quillette article by Tim Courtois on Gender Ideology. There are powerful forces of denial, and they don't cotton much to your fancy-schmancy "science", Chuck.]

Last Modified 2024-01-23 2:06 PM EDT