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  1. DOES YALI'S QUESTION really need another book to answer it? Don't
  2. we already know the answer? If so, what is it?
  4. Probably the commonest explanation involves implicitly or explicitly
  5. assuming biological differences among peoples. In the centuries after A.D.
  6. 1500, as European explorers became aware of the wide differences among
  7. the world's peoples in technology and political organization, they assumed
  8. that those differences arose from differences in innate ability. With the rise
  9. of Darwinian theory, explanations were recast in terms of natural selection
  10. and of evolutionary descent. Technologically primitive peoples were con-
  12. sidered evolutionary vestiges of human descent from apelike ancestors.
  13. The displacement of such peoples by colonists from industrialized societies
  14. exemplified the survival of the fittest. With the later rise of genetics, the
  15. explanations were recast once again, in genetic terms. Europeans became
  16. considered genetically more intelligent than Africans, and especially more
  17. so than Aboriginal Australians.
  19. Today, segments of Western society publicly repudiate racism. Yet many
  20. (perhaps most!) Westerners continue to accept racist explanations pri-
  21. vately or subconsciously. In Japan and many other countries, such expla-
  22. nations are still advanced publicly and without apology. Even educated
  23. white Americans, Europeans, and Australians, when the subject of Austra-
  24. lian Aborigines comes up, assume that there is something primitive about
  25. the Aborigines themselves. They certainly look different from whites.
  26. Many of the living descendants of those Aborigines who survived the era
  27. of European colonization are now finding it difficult to succeed economi-
  28. cally in white Australian society.
  30. A seemingly compelling argument goes as follows. White immigrants to
  31. Australia built a literate, industrialized, politically centralized, democratic
  32. state based on metal tools and on food production, all within a century of
  33. colonizing a continent where the Aborigines had been living as tribal
  34. hunter-gatherers without metal for at least 40,000 years. Here were two
  35. successive experiments in human development, in which the environment
  36. was identical and the sole variable was the people occupying that environ-
  37. ment. What further proof could be wanted to establish that the differences
  38. between Aboriginal Australian and European societies arose from differ-
  39. ences between the peoples themselves?
  41. The objection to such racist explanations is not just that they are loath-
  42. some, but also that they are wrong. Sound evidence for the existence of
  43. human differences in intelligence that parallel human differences in tech-
  44. nology is lacking. In fact, as I shall explain in a moment, modern "Stone
  45. Age" peoples are on the average probably more intelligent, not less intelli-
  46. gent, than industrialized peoples. Paradoxical as it may sound, we shall
  47. see in Chapter 15 that white immigrants to Australia do not deserve the
  48. credit usually accorded to them for building a literate industrialized society
  49. with the other virtues mentioned above. In addition, peoples who until
  50. recently were technologically primitive — such as Aboriginal Australians
  51. and New Guineans — routinely master industrial technologies when given
  52. opportunities to do so.
  54. An enormous effort by cognitive psychologists has gone into the search
  55. for differences in IQ between peoples of different geographic origins now
  56. living in the same country. In particular, numerous white American psy-
  57. chologists have been trying for decades to demonstrate that black Ameri-
  58. cans of African origins are innately less intelligent than white Americans
  59. of European origins. However, as is well known, the peoples compared
  60. differ greatly in their social environment and educational opportunities.
  61. This fact creates double difficulties for efforts to test the hypothesis that
  62. intellectual differences underlie technological differences. First, even our
  63. cognitive abilities as adults are heavily influenced by the social environ-
  64. ment that we experienced during childhood, making it hard to discern any
  65. influence of preexisting genetic differences. Second, tests of cognitive abil-
  66. ity (like IQ tests) tend to measure cultural learning and not pure innate
  67. intelligence, whatever that is. Because of those undoubted effects of child-
  68. hood environment and learned knowledge on IQ test results, the psycholo-
  69. gists' efforts to date have not succeeded in convincingly establishing the
  70. postulated genetic deficiency in IQs of nonwhite peoples.
  72. My perspective on this controversy comes from 33 years of working
  73. with New Guineans in their own intact societies. From the very beginning
  74. of my work with New Guineans, they impressed me as being on the aver-
  75. age more intelligent, more alert, more expressive, and more interested in
  76. things and people around them than the average European or American
  77. is. At some tasks that one might reasonably suppose to reflect aspects of
  78. brain function, such as the ability to form a mental map of unfamiliar
  79. surroundings, they appear considerably more adept than Westerners. Of
  80. course, New Guineans tend to perform poorly at tasks that Westerners
  81. have been trained to perform since childhood and that New Guineans have
  82. not. Hence when unschooled New Guineans from remote villages visit
  83. towns, they look stupid to Westerners. Conversely, I am constantly aware
  84. of how stupid I look to New Guineans when I'm with them in the jungle,
  85. displaying my incompetence at simple tasks (such as following a jungle
  86. trail or erecting a shelter) at which New Guineans have been trained since
  87. childhood and I have not.
  89. It's easy to recognize two reasons why my impression that New Guin-
  90. eans are smarter than Westerners may be correct. First, Europeans have for
  91. thousands of years been living in densely populated societies with central
  92. governments, police, and judiciaries. In those societies, infectious epidemic
  93. diseases of dense populations (such as smallpox) were historically the
  95. major cause of death, while murders were relatively uncommon and a state
  96. of war was the exception rather than the rule. Most Europeans who
  97. escaped fatal infections also escaped other potential causes of death and
  98. proceeded to pass on their genes. Today, most live-born Western infants
  99. survive fatal infections as well and reproduce themselves, regardless of
  100. their intelligence and the genes they bear. In contrast, New Guineans have
  101. been living in societies where human numbers were too low for epidemic
  102. diseases of dense populations to evolve. Instead, traditional New Guineans
  103. suffered high mortality from murder, chronic tribal warfare, accidents,
  104. and problems in procuring food.
  106. Intelligent people are likelier than less intelligent ones to escape those
  107. causes of high mortality in traditional New Guinea societies. However,
  108. the differential mortality from epidemic diseases in traditional European
  109. societies had little to do with intelligence, and instead involved genetic
  110. resistance dependent on details of body chemistry. For example, people
  111. with blood group B or O have a greater resistance to smallpox than do
  112. people with blood group A. That is, natural selection promoting genes for
  113. intelligence has probably been far more ruthless in New Guinea than in
  114. more densely populated, politically complex societies, where natural selec-
  115. tion for body chemistry was instead more potent.
  117. Besides this genetic reason, there is also a second reason why New
  118. Guineans may have come to be smarter than Westerners. Modern Euro-
  119. pean and American children spend much of their time being passively
  120. entertained by television, radio, and movies. In the average American
  121. household, the TV set is on for seven hours per day. In contrast, traditional
  122. New Guinea children have virtually no such opportunities for passive
  123. entertainment and instead spend almost all of their waking hours actively
  124. doing something, such as talking or playing with other children or adults.
  125. Almost all studies of child development emphasize the role of childhood
  126. stimulation and activity in promoting mental development, and stress the
  127. irreversible mental stunting associated with reduced childhood stimula-
  128. tion. This effect surely contributes a non-genetic component to the supe-
  129. rior average mental function displayed by New Guineans.
  131. That is, in mental ability New Guineans are probably genetically supe-
  132. rior to Westerners, and they surely are superior in escaping the devastating
  133. developmental disadvantages under which most children in industrialized
  134. societies now grow up. Certainly, there is no hint at all of any intellectual
  135. disadvantage of New Guineans that could serve to answer Yali's question.
  137. The same two genetic and childhood developmental factors are likely to
  138. distinguish not only New Guineans from Westerners, but also hunter-gath-
  139. erers and other members of technologically primitive societies from mem-
  140. bers of technologically advanced societies in general. Thus, the usual racist
  141. assumption has to be turned on its head. Why is it that Europeans, despite
  142. their likely genetic disadvantage and (in modern times) their undoubted
  143. developmental disadvantage, ended up with much more of the cargo? Why
  144. did New Guineans wind up technologically primitive, despite what I
  145. believe to be their superior intelligence?
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