WERELD & DENKEN
 
 

Essay uit: J.B.S. Haldane, The Inequality of Man

Let bij de referenties aan historische gebeurtenissen op het feit dat de eerste uitgave dateert van 1932, en de Pelican-editie gebruikt hieronder van 1938. Let ook op dat latere onderzoeken aan eeneiige tweelingen veel grotere overeenkomsten hebben laten zien, en dat de IQ-test nog niet uitgevonden was (die stamt van tests op Amerikaanse rekruten in de Tweede Wereldoorlog).


The Inequality of Man


It is a human characteristic to give reasons which will not bear examination for the most sensible actions. Many Polynesians are only kept from theft by the belief that if they violate the taboo attaching to the coconuts of their neighbours they will be struck dead. Some fundamen-talists (at least in England) hold that a belief in Noah's ark is a necessary preliminary to a good life. In medieval Europe it was only possible to centralize government as a result of a belief in the divine institution of monarchy, which was later formulated as the divine right of kings.
    And in the present age the admirable institution of universal suffrage is similarly supported by the curious dogma of the equality of man. Historically this dogma arose as a protest against institutions such as hereditary rank, which still commands the respect of the readers of the social columns of British newspapers and of the daughters of American millionaires. But if the framers of the American Constitution subscribed to the theory of the equality of man, the true founders of the nation, the Pilgrim Fathers, held the opposite doctrine in its most extreme form. They were Calvinists and believed that human beings, from the moment of birth, were segregated into two distinct categories, the one predestined to eternal bliss, the other to everlasting damnation. A hundred per cent. American may therefore believe in equality with Washington and Paine, or in inequality with Winthrop and Bradford. 1 suspect that the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.
    Human inequality springs from two sources, nature and nurture. The results of the latter are obvious. It is no use appointing a man a clerk if he has not been taught to write, or a Christian missionary if he has been brought up as a Mohammedan. Two hundred years ago most inequality in Europe was due to this cause. To-day the same is true in Asia. Democracy is impossible in India to-day largely because less than 10 per cent. of its population can read. Hence Indian self-government would mean the rule of an Indian minority which would probably govern somewhat worse than the British. In China, too, universal education is a prerequisite of democracy. Some inequality due to differences of environment is inevitable, if only because of the facts of geography. But in its grosser forms it means an immense waste of human possibilities, and every progressive State aims at equality of opportunity. This phrase was invented, I believe, by the late Canon Rashdall, who attempted to teach me philosophy. Napoleon expressed the same idea by the motto 'La carrière ouverte aux talents,' which stresses the inequality of human capacity, or talent. It was, of course, Jesus who converted the word ' talent' from the name for a sum of money to an expression for inborn human ability, of which he c1early recognized the existence.
    For men are not born equal. No one disputes this fact as regards physical characteristics. Some babies are born black and some white, and very little can be done to alter the colour of the former. But just as in the United States some' of the coloured people straighten their hair artificially, so, if a State should ever arise in which the ruling group is pigmented, it is possible that some of the whites will induce a permanent and bathproof darkening of their skin by drinking a weak solution of silver nitrate. Even so their colour will be grey rather than mahogany. Many other characters are equally fixed. Provided a child is receiving an adequate diet, it is probably impossible to add an inch, let alone a cubit, to its stature. On the other hand, one could generally add a few pounds to its weight by overfeeding it. Children may be born without fingers, eyes, and so on, or with innumerable physical or chemical defects in their nature, which no amount of medical skill can overcome.
    In the psychological realm things are the same. Everyone admits that a certain number of people are congenitally feeble-minded. But with regard to other mental and moral defects, ranging from stupidity and bad temper to lunacy and habitual criminality, the case is far less c1ear. The brothers and sisters of a family tend to resemble one another and their parents in intelligence, but it has been urged that, with the exception of a few congenital imbeciles, this resemblance is due to home influences, and not to heredity. The relative importance of heredity and home influences has recently been tested by Miss Burks in California. She compared the resemblances in intelligence of 200 children with their foster-parents, and of 100 children in the same schools with their true parents. The foster-children had been adopted at an average age of three months, so that home environment had had a fair chance. There was no definite relation between the intelligence rating of a child and its adopted father. The influence of the foster-mothers, though marked, was far less than that of the true fathers or mothers. There is a vast amount of further evidence to the same effect, for example, as to the great intellectual diversity of children in the same orphanage.
    There is much less evidence with regard to moral character. No doubt some of the basal traits which determine it, such as quickness of response, are inherited, but it probably depends to a considerable extent on environment whether the quick-tempered child will develop into a fury or a kindly but impulsive person, the calmer personality into a heartless or a benevolent. This is largely a matter of common sense. Everyone knows that you can influence character far more easily than intelligence. That is why we apply physical or moral suasion to bad boys, but not to stupid ones unless we think they are lazy. But common sense is not contradicted by what little scientific evidence exists.
    If you want to study the influence of environment on a plant, the best plan is to cut it in half and put the two halves in different soils. In spite of King Solomon, this experiment is rarely performed on children. But occasionally nature does something like it. Every now and then a pair of twins who resemble one another very closely are produced from a single cello. They are, of course, always of the same sex, and when brought up together grow up with similar habits and tastes. But what happens if they are brought up apart from birth ?
A few cases of this kind have been investigated. Professor Muller of Austin, Texas, described a case where two identical twin girls were separated at birth, owing to their mother's death. At thirty years of age their scores or intelligence tests were almost equal. Not one pair in a thousand of people taken at random would have been so similar. But other tests showed that the emotional side of their natures differed quite as much as those of two people taken at random. And their emotional lives had been quite different. One had married, the other was single; one was attracted by Catholicism, the other by Christian Science, and so on.
Further studies of this kind will delimit the possibilities of social influence on the individual.1  
    To-day extreme eugenists proclaim that environment has very little influence, extreme behaviourists that nothing else matters. Dr. Watson finds that all healthy new-born babies behave pretty much alike, and deduces that the differences that develop as they grow up must be due to environment: This does not follow. All European babies are born blue-eyed, but it is not environment which determines their adult eye colour.
In one of the plants with which I have worked, the Chinese primrose, almost all seedlings look alike, but with the genes at present available, several million easily distinguishable adult types could be built up. Actually a baby behaves in such a simple way because the nerve fibres in the upper part of his brain have not yet got sheaths of an oily substance called myelin, which probably acts as an insulator. It is not till the insulation is complete that mental differences due to brain structure can show up. No doubt environment counts for something, but the examples cited above tend to show that its field is limited. However, popular expositors of eugenics make the fundamental mistake of suggesting that differences not due to environment are due to heredity.
    If this were true all children of the same two parents would be exactly alike in such characters as eye colour, which is not influenced by environment. It is quite true that heredity and environment between them determine almost all the differences which exist among self-fertilized plants like wheat, or animals such as dogs, in which man usually restricts matings to members of the same race. But cats, like men, usually choose their own mates, and are not influenced in doing so by eugenical considerations. In consequence very few cats are pure-blooded, or in scientific terminology, homozygous, for the genes producing colour. Two tabbies may produce tabby, black, blue, and white spotted kittens in a single litter. The cause of this variety is called segregation. It is simply a name for the fact that the cross-bred cat distributes different genes to its various children.
    In a human population within which marriages take place freely, segregation and heredity account for almost exactly the same amount of inequality in such characters as stature, eye colour, and intellectual abilities.
In other words, the inequality of two brothers with the same ancestry is on the average about half that of two men taken at random. But in a population where different groups breed among themselves the influence of heredity is of course greater. Two Chinese will not produce white, or nearly white, children, simply because they have no white ancestors. But two short stupid parents may produce a tall clever child because they probably include some tall clever people among their very mixed ancestry.
    Now we cannot at present control segregation, except to a small extent, but we can and do control heredity in animal and plant breeding, and could in human society if eugenics became a reality. That is why eugenics is at present the only possible way of improving the innate characters of man. But for all that, biology does not support the idea that the hereditary principle is a satisfactory method of choosing men or women to fill a post. Segregation sees to it that very few human characters breed true. The average degree of resemblance between father and son is too small to justify the waste of human potentialities which an hereditary aristocratic system entails. If human beings could be propagated by cutting, like apple trees, aristocracy would be biologically sound. England would presumably be governed by cuttings of Cromwell and Chatham; America, as I believe Bateson once suggested, by cuttings of Washington and Lincoln., But until the art of tissue culture has developed very considerably, such possibilities need not even be thought of.
    The progress of biology in the next century will lead to a recognition of the innate inequality of man. This is to-day most obviously visible in the United States, where educational opportunities are more widespread than elsewhere. Universal education leads, not to equality, but to inequality based on real differences of talent. Where there is equality of opportunity there is no excuse for failure. The self-made American successful man who realizes this fact, commonly appears ruthless to the European aristocrat, who, just because he knows that he does not owe his position to innate ability, is often more considerate to his inferiors. If hereditary wealth were abolished, the tendency would, of course, be strengthened. So some observers see in the Russian Communist Party the germ of the proudest, most efficient and most ruthless aristocracy that the world has ever seen. Personally I doubt the validity of such a forecast so long as the party continues to hold to its present economic and political doctrines, and to enforce upon its members the principle of a maximum income at present about f.270 per year.
    The social danger of a system which, in practice if not in theory, gives so full a recognition to inequality, is that it tends to estimate that inequality too simply.
    In America the tendency is strong to grade men and women primarily by their earning power. A Socialist Government would try to grade them by their economic value to the State. The Catholic Church attempts to assess them by their share of those virtues which it admires, the principal classes being saints, other saved souls, and damned. University professors gradually come to believe that the sheep can infallibly be separated from the goats by a series of written examinations. And there are psychologists who believe that it is possible to grade everyone by means of intelligence tests. The best known of these tests is that applied to the American army in 1917. Success or failure in these tests undoubtedly depends less on education than success or failure in ordinary examinations. They are, therefore, a better test of innate inequality. But what do they measure? This is the question which Spearman, Aveling, Thompson, and other English psychologists are trying to answer. They take a number of boys and girls who have had so far as possible the same educational opportunities, and compare their performances in a number of different simple tests. It is found that the performances of the same child in some tests, for example, detection of absurdities and memorization of sentences, are clearly related to one another.; in others, for example, memory of form and interpretation of pictures only slightly related either to one another or to those in any other subject. And this rule is general. If one sort of ability helps one to predict any other sort, it helps one to predict all sorts. The only exceptions were in the case of very similar performances, such as various different types of arithmetic. But such exceptions are rather rare. The theory was therefore framed that ability to perform any task was the sum of two abilities-general ability, which is required to a greater or lesser degree for all purposes; and a special ability, different for each type of performance. On this basis general ability can be measured, of course on an arbitrary scale, as the result of a mathematical process. The theory of this measurement has given rise to a series of somewhat heated mathematical discussions, of which one of the most intelligible is based on the geometry of figures in space of sixteen or so dimensions. Whether the number 'g'  at which Spearman arrives really represents general intellectual ability or not it is fairly closely related to success in intellectual pursuits. But the relation is one-sided. For example, all successful university students have a high 'g', but not all students with high 'g' are successful. A large number, at least, of these failures fail because they are lazy, or at least do not work at the subjects prescribed.
    The educational systems of the world appear to be based on a very simple fallacy about 'g'. It is better measured by linguistic ability than by mathematical; for mathematics, like music or drawing, demands a considerable amount of a special ability, in addition to the ability measured by 'g'. Hence it is a commonplace of universities that men who have obtained classical scholarships are likely to do well in science and other subjects, while mathematical scholars more rarely succeed outside their own speciality. It is supposed therefore that the classics are a magnificent training for the mind. It is quite true that when two boys have spent ten years in learning Latin, unprepared translation from that language furnishes quite a good test of their general ability combined with a capacity for rather dull work. Probably, however, a set of cross-word puzzles would be as good, and a set of simple psychological tests much better.
    There is, however, no evidence at all that classical or any other education increases 'g', and a good deal that it does not. Heliotherapy is the only procedure which is quite certainly known to increase it! But the removal of tonsils and adenoids probably does so. It seems to be fairly strongly inherited, and education can do little more than just give it a chance to show up.
    General ability is only the most important of a series of psychological traits which can be measured with more or less accuracy. Fortunately, some of the others are far more readily influenced by environment. In the course of the next century, if psychologists are allowed anything like a free hand, and co-operate with geneticists, it should he possible by the time a child is about seven to arrive at a fair idea of its capacities, and children will be sorted out accordingly. To-day we often have special schools for mentally deficient children, and occasionally for very able ones. This system will, of course, be greatly extended. When children of all grades of ability are combined in one class, the intelligent merely learn to be lazy while the stupid are hopelessly discouraged. And the attempt to remedy this defect by placing children of widely different ages in the same class is also a failure. I do not think, for example, that my intellect has improved appreciably since I was twelve years old, though I have learned a great deal since that time and can work for longer hours. But I doubt if my ability to deal with a really new type of problem has increased. As I am now cleverer than most boys of eighteen I probably was so then, and intellectual differences would not have been equalized by putting me into a class with them.
    The world is crammed with experimental schools, and as a university teacher I notice no very great difference between men who have been educated by quite different methods. The most important experiment, to, my mind, would be to start a school whose membership was confined to really intelligent children. Such children could easily reach the standards of the average university graduate at eighteen. I did so myself, because I was fortunate enough to go to Eton at a time when the curriculum was so completely disorganised that it was possible with a little effort to learn either a great deal or nothing at all. Now, however, I understand that the courses are arranged to fit the average boy, and it is a good deal harder for the intelligent to learn more than his fellows.
    But, of course, general ability is only one of many innate psychological characteristics in which children differ. Musical, mathematical, and artistic abilities are largely congenital. Poets also are commonly held to be born, not made. One of the most urgent tasks of the psychologist is to pick out the budding poets from the, embryonic painters, plumbers, politicians, pedagogues, and so on. At present vocational selection is a very" rudimentary art, and it generally takes place at the end, not near the beginning, of education. There is a curious notion abroad that the progress of science is likely to reduce humanity to a common dull level. This may conceivably be true of physics and chemistry, but I believe that the opposite is the case with biology and psychology. The same hypothetical accusation is made against Socialism, yet I have never seen such diversity, of clothes at any rate, as in the streets of Moscow, where one can wear anything but a top hat; though I unfortunately missed the famous occasion when a band of Communist youth of both sexes appeared in midwinter clad in red ribbons bearing the Russian equivalent of 'Down with Shame.'
    In a scientifically ordered society innate human diversity would be accepted as a natural phenomenon like the weather, predictable to a considerable extent, but very difficult to control. In England one person in two hundred is feeble-minded, and perhaps as many more cannot be of much use to their fellows owing to congenital blindness, deafness, and other inborn defects.
The other 99 per cent. could probably all be of social value. In the words of Professor Spearman:2 'Every normal man, woman and child, is a genius at something, as well as an idiot at something. It remains to discover what-at any rate in respect of the genius.' The scientific State would make it its first business to investigate this problem. The development of an adequate technique would be a matter of generations, as was the development of chemical analysis. It would enable the individual to follow his or her own bent far more completely than is now possible. Education would probably be more specialized for the average child, but the exceptionally versatile would not be compelled, as they now are, to limit the field of their studies at an early stage. In the absence of such a technique the State can do very little. The only clear task of eugenics is to prevent the inevitably inefficient one per cent. of the population from being born, and to encourage the breeding of persons of exceptional ability where that ability is known to be hereditary. We cannot as yet go much further than this. We do not know whether the sporadically appearing man or woman of genius is substantially more likely to produce children of genius than the average intelligent person. We do not' know if a society containing too many intelligent people would not be unstable. Such a cause may have brought about the downfall of Athens. At best, eugenics would have no effect for a generation. Vocational guidance would begin to act at once. It should be added that vocational guidance, as of ten practised for profit to-day, is generally about as useful as astrology, without possessing the charming vocabulary and distinguished past of the latter pseudo-science. We are only in possession of a part of the scientific data needed to make it a practical proposition. But even now a few vocational guidance institutes are doing useful work.
    I do not believe that a recognition of the inequality - of man would be a blow to democracy (or rather to representative government based on universal suffrage). This admirable invention is a device for changing the government of a country without a revolution. It is successful because it gives a fairly good approximation to the result which would be obtained by a civil war, provided that a majority of the people take politics seriously. For example, the British Labour Party can at present only persuade ab9ut a third of the electors to support them. Hence the few revolutionaries who are included amongst its many supporters rea1ize that they would be beaten in a civil war. If the party polled a majority of votes and were prevented by the King or Lords from carrying out their policy, a revolution would command enough support to make it at least worth attempting. Hence, the King is unlikely to veto the legislation of a Labour Government supported by a majority of voters, though the Lords will try to delay it.
    The danger to democracy to-day lies not in the recognition of a plain biological fact, but in a lack of will in certain countries to kill persons who obstruct the declared wishes of the majority of the people. Charles I died and Mussolini lives because enough Englishmen wanted to kill the former, but not enough Italians want to kill the latter. This lack of will may arise from mere laziness, or, more frequently, from disillusion at the results of representative democracy, which is presumably not the ideal form of government, but only the best so far invented. Unless the mass of the people are willing in the last resort to fight for their convictions, democracy should be replaced by the. government of a minority, whether of Fascists, Communists, or what not, who possess that will.
    It is, of course, irrational that each man's vote should possess equal value. But the alternatives so far tried or suggested are still less rational. They usually take the form of increasing the political power of those who are wealthy enough to be able to influence politics already. One eminently desirable reform would be the disfranchisement of persons over sixty-five years of age. The main effects of their votes will not appear during their lifetime; they would be useless in a civil war, and their political views depend on issues of a generation ago. In England our old men and women vote for a protective tariff because they were formerly opposed to Irish Home Rule, in America because their childish sympathies in the Civil War were for the North!
    Some day it may be possible to devise a scientific method of assessing the voting power of individuals. One can be fairly certain that that day is more than a century ahead. In the remote future mankind may be divided into castes like Hindus or termites. But to-day the recognition of innate inequality should lead not to less, but to greater, equality of opportunity.

1 Later work by Newman on similar twin pairs shows much greater intellectual differences than in Muller's case.
2 The Abilities of Man. (Macmillan.)


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