Friday, November 16, 2007

II - Is the Establishment Reviving Eugenics?

In the Republic, Plato presents his self-serving myth of the metals as a useful means of justifying social stratification. The impact of Plato's Republic upon political, social and educational thought within Western civilization is incalculable, and yet, the self-serving deceits underpinning this masterpiece of conservative sophistry are frequently ignored. Plato conceived of political harmony being achieved through five long-term manipulative (eugenic) strategies.

1. Regulated sexuality via marriage festivals involving State-run (i.e., non-random) lotteries

2. Controlled breeding to maintain class purity (via abortion, infanticide and eugenics)

3. Educational streaming (i.e., knowledge apartheid).

4. Guardian selection criteria and associated weeding-out processes.

5. No class mixing. Plato believed that mingling among the three classes does the greatest harm to the state and is the worst of evils.

The Platonic social ideal rested on a foundation myth of metals that proposed that the three stratified classes represented palpable differences between the essential natures of men, and which the gods themselves had deliberately cast. Plato likened these essential differences to gold (representing guardians), silver (representing auxiliaries), and iron-bronze (representing workers).

The contemporary version of Plato's myth of metals is the myth of IQ which purports to assign value to individuals and groups not only more precisely than Plato did, but also in a completely honest and scientific way. The self-serving deceits underpinning this masterpiece of sophistry are frequently ignored.

American society represents social discrimination and the preservation of privilege on a massive scale. According to conservative proponents of the status quo, the hierarchical stratification apparent in nearly all spheres of contemporary consensus reality reflects the "fact" that special mental abilities are required in order to attain wealth, privilege, and prestige in modern society, and these special mental abilities are limited in the general population. According to the conservative myth of IQ, the socially discriminatory distribution of wealth, privilege and prestige is a reflection of nature's unequal distribution of mental abilities.

The relatively poor, underprivileged, and socially subordinate inhabitants of economically depressed urban and rural areas tend to have relatively low IQ test scores. (so when someone upsets the conventional wisdom - the authorities take a very keen interest in such an outlier). Relatively rich, privileged and prestigious inhabitants of cities and suburbs tend to have relatively higher IQ test scores. What does this mean?

Well, according to the Platonic conservative, it means that the first group is comparatively stupid and unworthy because they were born that way. The members of the second group are where they are because they are comparatively smart and they were born that way. This is certainly nothing that the father of modern IQ testing - Alfred Binet would have argued. Instead, Binet constructed an altogether different kind of test intended to subserve an altogether different kind of objective. I wrote about Binet in response to David Mills - Binet's theory goes a little something like this;

After the middle of the 19th century, industrialization in America and western Europe forced a growing demand for universal public schooling as the means by which children could be taught the skills and values desired by industry. It was in this industrially oriented educational climate that the French minister of education Alfred Binet, director of the psychology laboratory at the Sorbonne, developed a testing procedure capable of identifying students in need of special schooling. The task as defined was essentially a technical one, and Binet approached it in a straightforward practical fashion. He amassed hundreds of questions drawn from the school curriculum and covering a broad range of difficulty.

His basic idea was to design a test which could be given to children of varying ages and on which children at a given age or grade level would do either well or poorly - depending on whether they were already doing well or poorly in school. Preliminary versions of the test were given to small groups of children whose scores were compared with their teachers ratings of classroom performance. In the process, items were added or deleted in order to bring about the closest possible correspondence between test performance and educational age norms.

In its final form, Binet's test provided an index of scholastic performance based on the prevailing standard of scholastic success. In other words, scores on his test generally correlated with the ratings assigned by French teachers in the classrooms of his day. By using teachers judgements of classroom performance as the standard by which his test was validated, Binet established a practical basis for its use as a predictor of success in the school system. Because his aim had been to identify children who required special schooling, he did not require, nor did he assert, a theory or definition of intelligence. Moreover, he did not make a distinction between acquired or congenital feeblemindedness and he never argued that poor performance on his test was a sign of innate mental inferiority. On the contrary, he sternly rebuked his contemporaries who contended that intelligence is a fixed quantity that cannot be augmented.

Now then, what do we know about schools and about the performance of Black children in schools? (that first link is a whole book by John Taylor Gatto - The Underground History of American Education - which makes the following extraordinary contention; The shocking possibility that dumb people don’t exist in sufficient numbers to warrant the millions of careers devoted to tending them will seem incredible to you. Yet that is my central proposition: the mass dumbness which justifies official schooling first had to be dreamed of; it isn’t real.)

If the U.S. Establishment is reviving Eugenics again, I suspect that it's for somewhat different reasons than in prior go rounds. The core motivation never changes, however, and that's the self-serving justification of the current system of social stratification. What do you suppose the current cycle of pseudo-scientific genetic determinism is all about?