Magazine article The Spectator

I Don't Know If Boris Was Right about IQ. but I'm Sure His Critics Are Being Thick

Magazine article The Spectator

I Don't Know If Boris Was Right about IQ. but I'm Sure His Critics Are Being Thick

Article excerpt

It's funny, really, because most of the time I think that my university education was a bit of a waste. It was pleasant enough, I'll tell people, but I mainly spent it sitting around, eating biscuits and smoking things.

Growing dreadlocks. Getting intimidatingly good at Tekken 2 on a PlayStation. Taking some excellent walks. Just occasionally, though, I'm struck with the pleasing realisation that three years of philosophy in one of the best universities in the world did, in fact, leave its mark. Because everybody else is a total idiot.

It is not my plan, here and now, to discuss whether Boris Johnson was right, in his well reported speech to the Centre for Policy Studies other week, that equality is impossible because some people are cleverer than others. We can, however, discuss how unable vast swathes of everybody seemed to be to comprehend what he was saying.

They thought they disagreed, these Twitter hordes, but they actually hadn't got that far, because they didn't understand what they were disagreeing with. Their utterances, as I think Gottlob Frege would have put it, were devoid of truth value. But of course, they wouldn't have known what that meant, either.

Johnson's critics took a vague proposition - that, all other things being fair, economic inequality would still exist due to variance in human ability - and mistook it for various other things. These included:

1 A conditional which demonstrably isn't true, best expressed as 'If stupid then poor' (or 'A . B')

2 The opposite conditional which also demonstrably isn't true, best expressed as 'If poor then stupid' (or 'B .A')

3 Both of those conditionals at once, or the biconditional 'Poor if and only if stupid' (or 'A = B'), which I shouldn't even have to tell you is demonstrably untrue, because I already have. In fact, twice.

Then (no, I'm sorry, but there's more), from nowhere, they plucked a whole new set of wholly different conditionals, about the rich, and how clever Boris must think they invariably, essentially are, as though that set inevitably followed from the first set - or worse, meant the same thing as the first set - which isn't the case, at all. And then - then! - having comprehensively failed to grasp the logical structure of what was being said, they suddenly dragged in another discipline entirely, plunging us into the realms of ethics. So, where Johnson's fairly intuitive hypothesis ended up, was somewhere like, 'If you're poor you deserve to be because you're invariably stupid, too, and if you're rich you deserve it, too, because you're a genius. …

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