The Shotgun Blog
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Grant Brown: Biology is not destiny
In his latest column for the Western Standard, entitled "Biology is not destiny," Grant Brown argues that our biology does not fully determine how we will act and what we will do. Men and women, on average, will have different personality and character traits, as well as tendencies to act in one way or another. But "on average" is a far cry from universally true. And the more we know about our genetic inheritance, and what our genes predispose us to, the more autonomous can we be.
"Male chauvinists and sexist-feminists play on the same stereotypes--stereotypes that are persistent precisely because they have a basis in biology. They differ only in wanting an opposite evaluative spin on these stereotypes. These warring factions are describing two sides of the same coin, one side focusing on the up-side, and the other the down-side, of the stereotypical characteristics.
"Progress in the battle of the sexes requires that we move beyond these two forms of superficiality: first, the naïve presumption that males and females are biologically and psychologically equal in all respects; and second, the self-serving presumption that all biological differences are indicative of an ineradicable superiority of one’s own sex." Read More...
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Another excellent column, Grant.
It's kind of funny: Instead of arguing that "generalities" and "averages" are useful heuristics but do not exhaust the possible ranges for individual persons, some have a tendency to use averages to insist that females, for instance, should always be the primary nurturer of children (because females "in general" *are* better nurturers).
But it's a fallacy. We can't say
1. 9 out of 10 times, a swan will be white.
2. This is a swan.
3. Therefore it is white.
All we can say is, 3. Therefore, there is a 90 per cent chance that this swan is white (or something like that).
It's too bad so many people miss this obvious point.
Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-03-18 1:22:11 PM
>""Progress in the battle of the sexes requires that we move beyond these two forms of superficiality"
Progress toward what?
Posted by: Speller | 2008-03-18 1:25:17 PM
"All we can say is, 3. Therefore, there is a 90 per cent chance that this swan is white (or something like that)."
Study Quantum Mechanics or Statistical Thermal Dynamics and you'll realize there is a quite a lot of information in that value.
You may not be able to predict the path of an individual atom or man/woman but you can reliably bet where the herd is going.
DJ, back me up!
Posted by: h2o273kk9 | 2008-03-18 1:31:02 PM
You bet, h2o. And I'm not discounting the usefulness of the heuristic. But pointing out that it *is* a heuristic is important. It means, amongst other things, that there will be that one out of ten person who will be different from the norm.
And it means that we have at least a good pro tanto reason to look a little deeper than mere biology when, for instance, we're in a courtroom deciding who should get custody of a child, or when we're a hockey team looking for a new net-minder. I think that matters.
Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-03-18 1:41:19 PM
As a general thing, men tend to be better at some things, women at others--AS A GENERAL THING. However, there is considerable overlap, and putting the best possible person into that spot, whoever that person might be, is just plain good sense. Why should I settle for second best, just because we happen to share the same genitals?
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-03-18 1:41:29 PM
Spot on, Shane. Spot on.
Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-03-18 2:01:24 PM
Well, I can't argue with that. Each to his or her own. I just wish the feminist defense didn't go something like this:
"Women should be treated as individuals, men are scum for not realizing this."
Posted by: h2o273kk9 | 2008-03-18 2:16:44 PM
"And it means that we have at least a good pro tanto reason to look a little deeper than mere biology when, for instance, we're in a courtroom deciding who should get custody of a child, or when we're a hockey team looking for a new net-minder. I think that matters."
It makes no sense. Why make the investment in the minority?
Here's an example:
'A crisis of violence '
"John is white. He is married with two children. He wears a blue collar when he leaves his shabby, inner-city house to go to work. Life has been a struggle for John, but now he faces his most difficult challenge. John's neighborhood is turning black.
In John's city, neighborhoods do not integrate, they go black. He has seen it happen elsewhere. He knows what to expect. John and his family will soon face intolerable hardships. They will have to move. Inevitably the last whites able to leave, will. High among their reasons will be fear -- fear of becoming victims of violent crime. As his neighborhood turns black, John and his family will notice many changes, but none will be more dreaded than the prospect of being violently victimized. "
This behaviour is predictable, based simply on examining the means. Why should John stay simply because the majority of blacks he meets will probably be nice people?
'The data '
"The data reveal two causes of white victimization by blacks. First, a black is 3 times more likely than a white to commit violent crime. However, as a neighborhood turns black, this factor could increase black-on-white violence at most by a factor of 3, and then only when a neighborhood is virtually all black. The observed level of white victimization is much too high to blame on general tendencies of blacks to be violent. A more important reason is simply that blacks prefer white victims."
Under the circumstances, John would be a fool to stay.
Posted by: DJ | 2008-03-18 7:42:03 PM
I'm not sure I understand your objection, DJ.
The courts are required to treat us as individuals, not as members of some group or another. This is what is fundamentally objectionable about treating us as "men" or "women" in cases like those.
What I object to is the conclusion that because nine out of ten cases are like this, all cases are like this. Because that's just false.
As for anyone, if you face the prospect of violence or harm to yourself at high enough rates, you should do what you can to avoid it. That goes as much for the example you cite as running across four lanes of highway traffic.
Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-03-18 8:31:23 PM
That's the whole point, you're asking John to treat his neighbours as individuals, not as black or white. However, if John takes your advise, he and his family will pay dearly for their homage to the extremist cult of individualism.
Posted by: DJ | 2008-03-18 9:25:26 PM
Well, I'm not asking John to do anything, since a lot depends on the particulars of his situation, and the context. Nevertheless, what I am asking is simply to recognize that nine out of ten does not equal ten out of ten. That's a fairly simple, I think, observation. It does not mean that John should do or not do anything. If he judges that it is likely that he will face violence, then John should move. I see no quarrel between our positions here, DJ.
Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-03-18 9:39:28 PM
"Well, I'm not asking John to do anything, since a lot depends on the particulars of his situation, and the context."
The only particular and context John needs to recognise is that his neighbourhood is turning black. With no other input, that fact alone is predictive.
"Nevertheless, what I am asking is simply to recognize that nine out of ten does not equal ten out of ten."
Again, you haven't answered the question. Why make the investment? Why should John take the risk? From an investment perspective, an investment in his family's well being, the 9 out 10 meme is irrelevant.
Posted by: DJ | 2008-03-18 11:01:46 PM
Good comment by Karol.
Posted by: DJ | 2008-03-18 11:15:17 PM
Averages are poor predictors or heuristics, for all kinds of reasons. On average, men and women display the same level of certain mathematical skills; what is important is that the standard deviation for men is much greater. In the upper and lower tails of the distribution -- from which both geniuses and incompetents are chosen -- men out-number women by as much as 13:1.
When it comes to deciding child custody, a whole range of other factors come into play besides who is the more natural nurturer. Children benefit from experiencing a range of parental care, including not only nurturance but discipline. Fathers have been shown to be a key positive influence in all kinds of social outcomes. The lesson is that custody should only be a winner take all battle in the most extreme cases. The norm should be as close to equal shared custody as possible, because what is in the best interest of the child is to have ample contact with both parents, even if one of them is "better" than the other.
Both of these points are likely to be the subjects of future columns.
Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-19 12:16:52 AM
Dear Karol: Your messages might have some effect if you were able to keep them brief. I don't have time to read your endless diatribes, so I don't bother to read any of them at all. Every comment shouldn't be seen as an opportunity to solve every problem known to man.
Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-19 1:34:23 PM
"Averages are poor predictors or heuristics, for all kinds of reasons."
It's just not true.
Average IQ correlates with "virtually everything that is desirable"--a higher material standard of living, greater livability (as measured by a set of 44 variables like average educational attainment and libraries per capita), longer life expectancy, greater physical health, relative income equality and more total wealth, lower rates of illegitimacy, higher rates of employment, lower rates of infant mortality, lower rates of divorce, lower rates of pre-marital sex, and last but not least with lower rates of incarceration.
Posted by: DJ | 2008-03-20 12:41:26 AM
"Average IQ" doesn't correlate with anything. The "average IQ" of a population is, by definition, 100. The average IQ of men and women is the same.
What you mean to say is that IQ correlates with all kinds of things, which is true but does not negate my point. Higher IQ is correlated to the same benefits for women as for men.
Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-20 2:24:13 PM
""Average IQ" doesn't correlate with anything. The "average IQ" of a population is, by definition, 100."
Again, not true. According to Lynn and Vanhanen the world average is 90. US blacks average 85. Chinese 105 and Jews 115. The average IQ of a nation correlates with its GDP. A nation's TFR (fertility) and estimated average IQ inversely correlate at a vigorous .81. Average verbal IQ is an even better predictor of GDP per capita.
Average IQ correlates with all sorts of things. It negates your point because average IQs are good predictors for many, many things.
Posted by: DJ | 2008-03-20 3:45:09 PM
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Posted by: Paulo | 2008-03-20 5:07:37 PM
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