"A bureaucracy is a wonderful instrument for bringing intelligent men under the control of imbeciles."
"TOO YOUNG TO BE A HERO" by Rick Holz, Flamingo, Sydney 2000 (ISBN 0 7322 6429 4)
Rick Holz has written a very readable memoir of his life in Nazi Germany before and during World War II. Curiously he takes the persona of a fictitious "Ollie Weiss" in the book, finding it easier to write somehow.
Much of the book deals with his early life, his difficult relationship with his mother, his school years, and his enthusiastic membership of the Hitler Youth. When war broke out he was eager to join the Reichswar. His experiences, however disillusion him and take him to the breaking point. Despite his disillusionment with the Nazi regime one of the worst atrocities he witnesses was carried out by "liberating" American forces. He writes (p 214-215):
"..Roughly eighty from our group of two hundred or so had been singled out, and were now facing us, standing herded together with their backs to the hospital wall. Eighty people from all walks of life: doctors in their white coats; nurses in their spotless starched uniforms; wounded and sick comrades from the army; grimfaced and defiant-looking soldiers in black-collared battle jackets with the emblems of the Fuhrers elite, the legendary, infamous Waffen-SS; and civilians who had happened to visit wounded relatives in the hospital.
Stupefied and petrified, sweating like a pig on the spit, I could feel goosebumps rise all over my skin. I didnt have to be an Einstein to work out what was going to happen. The harder I tried to close my eyes, the wider they opened in fear and shock.
An American soldier received his orders. He positioned his machine-gun right in front of me. He pushed his shoulder against the butt and dug the tips of his rubber-soled lace-up boots into the ground. Then, obeying his orders just as I might have done before I defected, he did his job and pulled the trigger. His body shuddered from the recoil of the deadly weapon. He kept his finger hard on the trigger. The ominous, heartless rat-a-tat-tat of the rapid-fire gun mixed with the screams that split the sky asunder and reverberated all over the country. The young machine-gunner, who wouldnt have been a day older than I, just kept on firing. The bullets slammed into the writhing mass, tearing faces, hearts, limbs and lives apart. And the killing went on and on."
Not that there is any denial or rationalisation of Nazi atrocities and the book contains a graphic description of dead bodies at Dachau.
The book has its gory side but nevertheless is a highly intriguing and personal look at WWI from a Germans point of view.
"THE MUMMIES OF URUMCHI" by Elisabeth Wayland Barber, W.W. Norton and Company 1999 (Pan books edition 2000, ISBN 0 330 36897 4)
Although we tend to associate tartans with Scotland these types of design go back centuries before the ancient Celts reached Britain. In fact plaid woollen twirls with tartan-like designs were created by the proto-Celtic Hallstatt culture which existed in what is now Austria as early as 1200 BC. Perhaps even more surprising is that similar materials and designs have been found in parts of China and some of these are as ancient as those found in Europe.
Who were these ancient tartan weavers of Asia? Although they lived in, and around, the Tarim basin in the north-west of China enough evidence has been collected to establish that these people were white Caucasians and probably of European descent. Numerous mummified bodies have been found in the area, which are well preserved enough to show definite European features including fair hair. While there is little known about the language spoken in the region 3,000 years ago we know that by 2,000 years ago the Tokharian language was well established there.
Fortunately we know quite a bit about the Tokharians as they adopted or developed a written script, some of which has been deciphered. Linguists have identified the language as belonging to the Indo-European family and close to the Celtic branch of that family. Paintings of these people have survived and they again show clear European features, fair complexions and pale eyes. The Tokharians seem to have disappeared as a separate race but many of the present day Turkic inhabitants may be partly descended from them genetically.
The Tokharians, however may not have been the first Caucasian people to settle in the Tarim basin. Older mummies, some dating to around 2000 BC, have been found and these also show unmistakable European features, tall and fair. The aridness of the region and the heavy salt content of the soil helped preserve these bodies, although at some later stage mummification was attempted by application of a substance to the bodies to help preservation. The best preserved of these are in much better condition than the mummies of ancient Egypt.
How these people came to the Tarim basin is a mystery. They were developed enough to grow crops of wheat, raise sheep, and weave wool. Clothing and tapestry that has survived shows sophisticated design and bright colouring. Bronze artefacts have been found so it looks as though they had begun using metals and may have been the ones who introduced it to East Asia.
A limited amount of research has been done on DNA extracted from the mummies and this confirms a European connection. Nevertheless much more needs to be done in this regard. Urumchi, incidentally is a city in the north west of China. The citys museum houses a number of the mummies.
While Barbers book is fascinating in itself the information has wider implications. It illustrates that the dynamism of the European race is not a phenomena that has arisen over the last five centuries but has been an important factor in the development of human civilisation for millennia.
"THE g FACTOR: The Science of Mental Ability" by Arthur R. Jensen, Praeger, Westport 1998 (ISBN 0 275 96103 6)
In a technical and demanding volume, Arthur Jensen, Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of California, discusses the evidence for g and its very controversial implications.
Exactly what is g? Quite frankly I am not completely sure myself. The g factor seems similar to but not exactly the same as I.Q. as measured by intelligence tests. These tests are made up of a number of sub-tests, some needing verbal skills, others non-verbal skills. Its been found that although an individuals scores on the different sub-tests will vary it will not vary a great deal. Those who score well on some sub-tests tend to do well on others. This would imply a common factor involved and it seems to be this that Jensen calls the g factor.
The concept of an inherited general ability is not new. Francis Galton wrote about the concept back in the Nineteenth Century. He also made estimates of the mental capacity of various races, believing that the natives of Africa would be notably lower in ability than white Englishmen. Jensen however is writing with the accrued benefits of decades of research but acknowledges that Galton was not far from the mark even if his estimates were largely the result of intuition.
Some of this research has revealed correlations between g and certain biological characteristics. For instance there is a positive correlation between performance on g loaded tests and brain size as measured by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Furthermore, of those who score high on such tests a big proportion are myopic. Studies of the electrochemical activity of the brain, glucose metabolic rate and brain nerve conduction velocity also show a correlation with g. There is even evidence that those with high levels of ability also are more prone to gout. As Jensen puts it:
"The fact that psychometric g has many physical correlates proves that g is not just a methodological artifact of the context and formal characteristics of mental tests or of the mathematical properties of factor analysis, but is a biological phenomenon."
In discussing heritability and g, Jensen found that more of the genetic variance in test scores is associated with g than with any other factor. The more g loaded a test, the more differences in test scores should reflect inherited (ie genetic) differences.
Heritability leads to the consideration of inbreeding depression. This refers to the fact that a measurable trait like intelligence tends to diminish with inbreeding. The closer the relationship between the parents, the greater the depression. For instance it is greatest in incestuous matings between siblings or between parent and child. It is less noticeable in matings between first cousins and even less apparent when second cousins mate.
The effects of outbreeding tend to go in the opposite direction to the effects of inbreeding. Hence we have the concept of hybrid vigour (or heterosis). Studies comparing the progeny of interracial and intraracial marriages do in fact confirm that children of mixed ancestry tend to be brighter. Jensen takes the results of studies of inbreeding and outbreeding as evidence that, genetically, high levels of g is dominant to low levels.
It would be interesting to speculate on the long term effect of inbreeding. If there were eugenic factors working, then as inbreeding threw up more homogenous genes resulting in the low ability phenotype one would expect those genes to become relatively rarer. On the other hand if there were dysgenic tendencies one would expect the genes for low ability to become more common.
Jensen devotes a chapter to the practical validity of g. Jensen claims that the g factor (and highly g loaded test scores such as I.Q.) shows a more universal practical validity than any other psychological construct yet discovered. Validity is most obvious in scholastic performance as g is intrinsic to learning novel material, grasping concepts, distinctions and meanings. Performance in g loaded tests also correlates well with job performance and social factors. There is a positive relationship between poor ability and social pathologies like unemployment, illegitimacy, poverty and criminality. (Much of what Jensen says in this section is similar to what Herrnstein and Murray say in "The Bell Curve").
One of the most controversial sections of Jensens book deals with population differences in g, or more bluntly, racial differences in mental ability. Testing in the United States has revealed time and again that blacks average scores in I.Q. tests that are well below those of whites. Blacks in Africa score even lower. Research on test bias has shown that, in the United States at least, the racial difference in I.Q. has nothing to do with cultural bias. The tests are as valid for English speaking blacks and Hispanics as they are for whites. Jensen claims that the white/black difference is mainly due to a difference in g. Blacks incidentally generally do better than whites on short term memory tests, while whites do better in tests of spatial visualisation.
The difference in scores obtained by blacks and whites has been consistent for about 80 years despite the tendency for each generation to score better than the previous generation (the Flynn effect). Nevertheless there is also a regional variation in scores with blacks from the south eastern states scoring lower than those from the northern and western states. This variation occurs with pre-school children so it is unlikely to reflect regional differences in education.
There is a variation related to social class with I.Q. tending to be higher as we progress up the socio-economic scale (SES). Nevertheless within each level of the SES whites still score higher than blacks although the difference in less marked at the lower end of the scale.
In the United Kingdom black migrant children from the West Indies score noticeably lower than white children and fail to make up the difference even after a number of years residence in the UK. Children arriving from India tend initially to score poorly but improve substantially after a few years.
In looking for a cause of the black/white difference in g Jensen suggests a biological component. This leads to a discussion of race and its meaning. Jensen does not see the races of mankind as discrete and finite groups but rather as breeding populations with fuzzy boundaries. He believes all races have a common ancestry and while they have evolved differently they are still similar enough to interbreed. Nevertheless the differences found between individuals within a group (race) will be less than the differences between groups.
Jensen goes onto discuss genetic distance between various populations and the book has a diagram called a genetic linkage tree (based on the work of Luigi Cavalli-Sforza and others). The greatest genetic difference, according to the diagram is between black Africans and the rest of humanity. Surprisingly, if the diagram is correct, there is no more difference between Caucasians and north east Asians than there is between the latter and south east Asians. In other words the genetic difference between the average European and a native of Korea is no greater than that between a Korean and a Malay.
As for American blacks, although they are of mainly African ancestry almost all of them have some white ancestry as well. This varies; in the south east of the US the black population has around 4 to 10% white ancestry while in the north and west it can be as high as 40%. A few can pass for white although of those classified as white in the US only about 1% has some African ancestry.
Have different behaviours and abilities evolved among different populations or racial groups? Jensen thinks it highly unlikely that populations do not differ in the genes that affect the structural and functional basis of heritable behavioural traits. He also suggests that behavioural differences between groups would be less where the genetic distances are less. He goes onto claim that the behavioural, psychological or mental characteristics that show the greatest g loadings are the most heritable and have the most biological correlates and are therefore the most likely to show genetic population differences. By this logic there would be less difference, behaviourally or mentally, between Asians and Caucasians than between either race and black Africans. The problem with Jensens logic in this is that the genetic distances are based on physical traits, such as blood types, rather than psychological traits.
It appears that of the roughly 100,000 human polymorphic genes, about 50,000 are functional in the brain and about 30,000 are unique to brain functions. With at least 200 billion neurones and trillions of synaptic connections in the brain, a single gene must influence a huge number of neurones, in fact complex systems of neurones organised to serve functions related to behaviour. As Jensen points out it is extremely unlikely that the evolution of racial differences over the eons did not include changes in the 50,000 genes involved with the brain.
Research has shown that there is a link between cranial capacity and latitude. Populations native to tropical areas have a noticeably lower average cranial capacity than those native to temperate or cold areas. Natural selection seems to favour those with large brains in cooler climates. Comparisons of brain sizes found that Europeans and north east Asians tended to have bigger brains than Negroes. The first two racial groups appear to have evolved in colder regions while the Negroes originated in tropical Africa. This would appear to be the reason that Negroes tend to score lower on I.Q. tests than either Europeans or Asians.
Jensen brings up the problem of dysgenic trends in the American population. Young people still tend to score higher on I.Q. tests than the previous generation (the Flynn effect again). Nevertheless this seems all due to favourable environmental factors. The genotype for I.Q. in both black and white populations seems to be deteriorating. The situation with blacks seems to be the worst. The fertility rate among high I.Q. black women is extremely low but increases dramatically as we move down the I.Q. scale. With white women the fertility rate for those in the I.Q. range 86 to 100 is the highest with fertility decreasing whether we move up or down the I.Q. scale. Jensen projects a widening of the I.Q. difference between blacks and whites in the US.
Infant mortality also varies between the races. While Hispanics and Native Americans tend to have infant mortality rates similar to whites, the rate for blacks is twice that for whites. Black women also have a much higher rate of low birth weight (LBW) babies than whites. Even college educated black women have higher rates of LBW babies and infant mortality than whites regardless of education levels.
Further research on g will identify more about its implications, its origins in evolutionary biology, and the causes of individual differences in relation to the neurophysiology of the brain. Meanwhile what are the implications for American society, especially in relation to racial differences and the likelihood of those differences expanding? As Jensen points out:
"In a largely urbanized industrial and technological society, with its ever increasing information-intensive demands, life for those with I.Q.s below eighty becomes a series of frustrating trials."
What has been termed "inadequate learning syndrome", or a serious deficit in intellectual skills and information, is said to becoming an epidemic in the US despite the presence of adequate educational opportunity.
Disparities have become conspicuous in the workforce, especially in those areas needing a high level of ability such as engineering, science and computer technology. This is despite a shortage of people qualified to fill jobs in these areas. In the US blacks and Hispanics are seriously under-represented in these jobs. The total number of blacks earning Ph.D degrees in science and Engineering declined 20% between 1979 and 1988. Blacks constitute 11% of Americas working age population but only 1% of all doctoral degrees in all the natural sciences and engineering.
As those below average in intellectual ability tend to earn less and to be more likely to be involved in crime and other social pathologies it seems Americas race problems could worsen. Blacks are already involved in a disproportionate level of violent crime and their birthrate is higher than whites. Presently they score, on average about 15 I.Q. points below whites. If this disparity widens, and it looks like it will, it can be expected that their average incomes will fall, relative to whites, and their crime rates and other problem will worsen.
Jensen has written a rather complex book, which would be difficult for the average reader. This is unfortunate because it contains a lot of important information about the problems that American society (and to a certain extent other Western societies like Australia) will face in the future.