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THE JAUNDICED EYE : An IQ Furor? So What!

November 20, 1994|TOM CHRISTIE | Tom Christie, a contributing editor to Buzz, also writes for Details magazine

Missing in the flurry of words responding to Charles Murray's and Richard Herrnstein's new book, "The Bell Curve," in which they suggest a racial IQ hierarchy (Asians and whites at the top, followed by Latinos and blacks), are these two: "So what!"

Although denunciations by everyone from Jesse Jackson to the social critic Mickey Kaus are understandable--and perhaps necessary to fend off Murray's pernicious Darwinian social agenda (for which the book was written)--there may be a more laissez-faire approach. I'm thinking of a comment by Bono, lead singer of the Irish rock band U2. "We Irish don't put people on the moon," he said, "but we've written some pretty good books." Ethnic pride, in other words, need not be based on rocket scientists--or intelligence quotient--alone.

A few years ago, a poll of the European Community found the Irish to be the happiest people in Europe. It didn't say who were the smartest. Nor do Murray and Herrnstein--though they note in passing that European Ashkenazi Jews score highest on IQ tests. But I'd hazard a guess that, in addition to the Ashkenazis, a number of European ethnic groups would outperform the Irish.

The Irish part of me can live with that, somehow, within the collective shadow thrown by the likes of William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. There's so much to Ireland: the magical beauty of the land; the charm and poetry of its people, and what I would call their common intelligence--which seems to emanate from the intersection of simplicity and sophistication. (The result, of course, is profundity.) No statistically significant numbers of rocket scientists? So what.

Few of us, after all, have contributed anything notable to the modern technological world--not automobiles, PCs, televisions, fax machines, microchips, ATMs, VCRs or on-line services. Moreover, most of us don't have a clue as to how these things even work.

Yet, we go on, blithely indifferent to most everything beyond what's for dinner. What Murray and Herrnstein are saying, though, in a book that might have been better titled "The Ultimate Revenge of the Nerds," is that the few who do know how these things work--and especially those who create them--are going to get richer and richer while the rest of us get poorer and poorer.

I can live with this, too. After all, I'm already living with the knowledge that baseball and basketball players are worth millions, that many CEOs are worth hundreds of millions and that a fellow named Snoop Doggy Dogg has the No. 1 record in the country. Hey, go figure, it's the marketplace!

So I can also live with the notion that most computer scientists of the next century are likely to be Asian. As long as society, as a whole, benefits, and as long as their realm remains open to those who look like me, so be it. And so what.

What is far more difficult to live with, however, are the dangers inherent to such divisive studies--that one group lords it over and then uses it against another. If the authors know that Ashkenazi Jews score highest, do they also know how other European groups score, and aren't telling us?

Imagine if someone compared European IQs by country or ethnic group. Imagine just how harmful this information would be to the community of nations now attempting to unify.

The T-shirt joke (Heaven is when the police are British, the cooks Italian, the mechanics German, the lovers French and it's all organized by the Swiss; Hell is when the chefs are British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, the police German and it's all organized by the Italians) would be rewritten--as it was in 1939.

But that, of course, is not going to happen. Because no Europeans are that stupid. Are they?*

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