The Breeders


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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8 Responses

  1. Jason Kuznicki says:

    what if Clark is arguing for inherited, or biological, intelligence?

    He very well might have been, but if so it would have been better for him to state it outright. And then we’d still have the example of China, where the state ran a virtual selective breeding program for intelligence, and the example of Judaism, in which a similar program took place under purely religious auspices.

    Why didn’t the Jews industrialize first? The question answers itself — in most of Europe, they were not allowed to own property, or else they had very insecure tenure on the property they held. Wrong institutions, wrong incentives, no industry. And now we’re telling a very different story from Clark’s, the very story he wanted to refute.Report

    • Will in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, In the introduction, Clarke seems to be arguing that Asian elites didn’t, as a rule, produce as many offspring. As for the Jews, I’d say that outside factors like the diaspora and intermittent persecution could very well have swamped any “selective breeding” program.Report

  2. Simon K says:

    I find the idea that the British aristocracy had a monopoly on hereditary intelligence pretty implausible. I mean, have you met any of them? If their ancestors were the intellectual giants who begot the industrial revolution they’ve sure gone down hill in the last 200 years!Report

    • Will in reply to Simon K says:

      @Simon K, My first thought was the old description of the British Army: “Lions led by donkeys.” The donkeys, of course, were largely drawn from the aristocracy.Report

      • Simon K in reply to Will says:

        @Will, Quite. Or as George MacDonald Fraser put it, only the non-commissioned officers saved the British army from being a total disaster (he also said the country’s only hope in a real war now lies with the football hooligans …). The navy was another matter of course, since it was actually important.Report

  3. russell says:

    Haven’t read Clark’s book, so I’m basing this comment on the other comments *about* it that appear here.

    The synopsis of Clark’s argument presented here seems to be:

    1. Upper classes are smarter
    2. Upper classes had too many kids
    3. Extra kids slid down the economic ladder, sprinkling their smarty genes among the proles
    4. Proles now smart enough to work in factories

    If I have the gist of it, I have to say it strikes me as crap.

    The upper classes in the period we’re talking about were “upper” because they had property. The connection between “has property” and “is smarter” seems kind of sketchy.

    Don’t you think?

    The idea that ordinary people needed to have their intelligence raised so they could ascend from agricultural life to the world of working in factories also seems kind of blinkered.

    Agricultural work, artisanal trades, etc., quite often require a great deal of intelligence.

    Factory work, especially at the outset of the industrial revolution, quite often requires none at all. What it required more than anything else was the ability to endure intense boredom.

    I also note that the discussion completely leaves out the enclosure laws, which deprived lots of lower class folks from access to land, and in many cases forced them into the wage labor market.Report

    • Will in reply to russell says:

      @russell, I agree with your skepticism re: the aristocracy’s smarts (I expressed a few similar reservations in the original post), but as far as the connection between intelligence and industrialization goes, I think Clark is referring to the engineers and entrepreneurs who kick-started the economic shift away from agriculture, not the factory workers who provided unskilled labor.Report