Channeling Noam Chomsky and Human Capability

For an intelligent contrarian, this alone is reason enough. But there are practical reasons as well. The modern left's entire ideology is built on the premise of blank slatism and if you take that away, the whole thing collapses.

I'd like to interject on this point slightly. A subset of the modern left may have their ideology overthrown. I can quote Noam Chomsky to show you how one influential modern leftist viewed the whole blank slate phenomena. I quote at length because I think it's the essentially canon response for a reasonable leftist wishing to respond to the reality of human intellectual differences in the world. I'd be curious if the resident leftist, /u/darwin2500 (or any other leftists) would have anything to add to it. I bolded the most relevant parts. Although remaining agnostic on the actual racial/IQ connection, Chomsky certainly acknowledges that he is not a blank slatist and explains how his ideology is not dependent on that idea at all, providing a strong counter example that "the modern left's entire ideology is built on the premise of blank slatism". I agree that such a critique can be applied to some modern leftists but you overstate the point. Anyways, here's what Chomsky had to say:

On an “empty organism” hypothesis, human beings are assuredly equal in intellectual endowments. More accurately, they are equal in their incapacity to develop complex cognitive structures of the characteristically human sort. If we assume, however, that this biologically given organism has its special capacities like any other, and that among them are the capacities to develop human cognitive structures with their specific properties, then the possibility arises that there are differences among individuals in their higher mental functions. Indeed, it would be surprising if there were not, if cognitive faculties such as the language faculty are really “mental organs.” People obviously differ in their physical characteristics and capacities; why should there not be genetically determined differences in the character of their mental organs and the physical structures on which they are based?

Inquiry into specific cognitive capacities such as the language faculty leads to specific and I think significant hypotheses concerning the genetically programmed schematism for language, but gives us no significant evidence concerning variability. Perhaps this is a result of the inadequacy of our analytic tools. Or it may be that the basic capacities are truly invariant, apart from gross pathology. We find that over a very broad range, at least, there are no differences in the ability to acquire and make effective use of a human language; at some level of detail, it may be differences in what is acquired, as there are evidently differences in facility of use. I see no reason for dogmatism on this score. So little is known concerning other cognitive capacities that we can hardly even speculate.Experience seems to support the belief that people do vary in their intellectual capacities and their specialization. It would hardly come as a surprise if this were so, assuming that we are dealing with biological structures, however intricate and remarkable, of known sorts.

Many people, particularly those who regard themselves as within the left-liberal political spectrum, find such conclusions repugnant. It may be that the empty organism hypothesis is so attractive to the left in part because it precludes these possibilities; there is no variability on a null endowment But I find it difficult to understand why conclusions of this sort should be at all disturbing. I am personally quite convinced that no matter what training or education I might have received, I could never have run a four-minute mile, discovered Godel’s theorems, composed a Beethoven quartet, or risen to any of innumerable other heights of human achievement. I feel in no way demeaned by these inadequacies. It is quite enough that I am capable, as I think any person of normal endowments probably is, of appreciating and in part understanding what others have accomplished, while making my own personal contributions in whatever measure and manner I am able to do. Human talents vary considerably, within a fixed framework that is characteristic of the species and that permits ample scope for creative work, including the creative work of appreciating the achievements of others. This should be a matter for delight rather than a condition to be abhorred. Those who assume otherwise must be adopting the tacit premise that a person’s rights or social reward are somehow contingent on his abilities. As for his rights, there is an element of plausibility in this assumption in the single respect already noted: in a decent society opportunities should confirm as far as possible to personal needs, and such needs may be specialized and related to particular talents and capacities. My pleasure in life is enhanced by the fact that others can do many things that I cannot, and I see no reason to deny these people the opportunity to cultivate their talents, consistent with general social needs. Difficult questions of practice are sure to arise in any functioning social group, but I see no problem of principle.

Let me emphasize that last sentence in the paragraph above. No doubt, IQ gaps between any group pose a pressing practical problem for a society that can inspire all sorts of controversy. But like Chomsky, I don't see this as directly challenging the the basic leftist principles of how a society should be organized. Leftists don't want Harrison Bergeron, it's about addressing people's needs.

As for social rewards, it is alleged that in our society remuneration correlates in part with IQ. But insofar as that is true, it is simply a social malady to be overcome much as slavery had to be eliminated at an earlier stage of human history. It is sometimes argued that constructive and creative work will cease unless it leads to material reward, so that all of society gains when the talented receive special rewards. For the mass of the population, then, the message is: “You’re better off if you’re poor.” One can see why this doctrine would appeal to the privileged, but it is difficult to believe that it could be put forth by anyone who has had experience with creative work or workers in the arts, the sciences, crafts, or whatever. The standard arguments for “meritocracy” have no basis in fact or logic, to my knowledge; they rest on a priori beliefs, which, furthermore, do not seem particularly plausible. I have discussed the matter elsewhere and will not pursue it here.

Suppose that inquiry into human nature reveals that human cognitive capacities are highly structured by our genetic program and that there are variations among individuals within a shared framework. This seems to me an entirely reasonable expectation, and a situation much to be desired. It has no implications with regard to equality of rights or condition, so far as I can see, beyond those already sketched.

Consider finally the question of race and intellectual endowments. Notice again that in a decent society there would be no social consequences to any discovery that might be made about this question. An individual is what he is; it is only on racist assumptions that he is to be regarded as an instance of his race category, so that social consequences ensue from the discovery that the mean for a certain racial category with respect to some capacity is such-and-such. Eliminating racist assumptions, the facts have no social consequences whatever they may be, and are therefore not worth knowing, from this point of view at least. If there is any purpose to an investigation of the relation between race and some capacity, it must derive from the scientific significance of the question. It is difficult to be precise about questions of scientific merit. Roughly, an inquiry has scientific merit if its results might bear on some general principles of science. One doesn’t conduct inquiries into the density of blades of grass on various lawns or innumerable other trivial and pointless questions. Likewise, inquiry into such questions as race and IQ appears to be of virtually no scientific interest. Conceivably, there might be interest in correlations between partially heritable traits, but if someone were interested in this question he would surely not select such characteristics as race and IQ, each an obscure amalgam of complex properties. Rather, he would ask whether there is a correlation between measurable and significant traits, say, eye color and length of the big toe. It is difficult to see how the study of race and IQ can be justified on any scientific grounds.

I do not agree with Chomsky on every point he makes. In that last paragraph, he challenges the scientific merit of studying the relationship between race and IQ, but I think further studying this issue is relevant even in the application of the leftist principles. If one could determine the genes causing the gap then perhaps someday we could genetically engineer our way out of the gap (by increasing those on the lower end).

I hope this demonstrates that there is certainly a part of the modern left that does not build up their ideology from any sort of unlikely claims about human intellectual equality. Noam Chomsky is one influential figure in that part. I agree that the topic inspires a lot of squeamishness in modern leftists and certainly I suspect some leftists would just rather just not bring it up because they fear it will reinforce negative stereotypes.