Magazine article Insight on the News

No Black-and-White Answers in Murray's the Bell Curve

Magazine article Insight on the News

No Black-and-White Answers in Murray's the Bell Curve

Article excerpt

If only I could find the right phrase to nail Charles Murray for The Bell Curve, his new book on race and intelligence that every good American must attack to remain high-minded. By puncturing his theories, I could accrue credentials with all the right -- or rather, left -- scholars, and set myself high above the racists and bigots in the United States.

After all, I'm descended from Russian Jews, and this is my big chance to sing on the side of the angels. Didn't the Nazis claim that the Jews were mentally inferior? They measured our craniums to prove we had smaller brains. Aren't Murray and coauthor Richard J. Herrnstein trying to do something similar to another racial group, claiming that blacks, as a whole, register some 15 IQ points below whites?

Many reviewers are saying so. Two authors in the New Republic even published their dissent under the banner "Neo-Nazis."

It's easy to find issues and conclusions with which to disagree in much of The Bell Curve. But Neo-Nazi? Most of the IQ statistics have been common knowledge for a long time, and so what? As Murray himself notes, IQ has never told us that much about an individual person's capabilities; it was Thomas Edison who pointed out that genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.

I once attended a party for members of Mensa, the so-called "genius club" (I was a guest). It was one of the dreariest parties I ever attended, for the only common denominator for the Mensas was how well they had performed on a test. There were computer nerds, dropouts, plumbers, engineers, teachers and drifters, each a self-selected snob of a sort, and all insufferable bores. Some were winners and some were losers in the game of life.

So why all the fuss about IQ?

The attackers are concerned that Murray's book will be used against blacks and -- worst of all -- against the perpetuation of the bureaucracy of social programs such as welfare, Head Start and affirmative action.

But emotion seems to have replaced analysis in much of the debate; some of the most vicious attacks have been personal. Since Herrnstein is dead, Murray has to take all the heat. Again, nothing new there: The biologist E.O. Wilson tells how he was pilloried two decades ago when he wrote Sociobiology, a book that addressed the biological roots of behavior. Not only did his students at Harvard demand that he be fired, but one angry protester threw a bucket of water over his head. …

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