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Reflections on My Life as a Eugenicist, Part 1

berkeleycampus [1]

View of San Francisco from the UC Berkeley campus

2,927 words

Part 1 of 4

One Saturday afternoon when I was 12 years old, I was at home in Memphis sitting in our den, staring into space, when my father walked into the room.

“Marian, are you aware of the fact that intelligence is largely hereditary?” he asked. 

I frowned slightly, and paused for a moment to consider what he had just said.

“Yes,” I nodded. “I agree.”

I had never really thought about it, but in a normal world, long before political correctness, it seemed like common sense.

“OK, so here’s the problem,” he said. “Smart people have fewer children than stupid people have, which means that we’re all becoming more and more stupid with each new generation.”

I just started at him, dumbstruck. Maybe he thought that I didn’t even care, since I didn’t say anything, but the reality is that I was horrified. If what he said were true, that was about the worst news imaginable. I can still remember very clearly looking out the window at a typical sunny suburban scene, with kids skating along and riding their bikes. I thought to myself, How can everybody carry on the way they always do, as if the world is just fine? We should all stop what we’re doing and solve this problem immediately!

I think the reason the idea of dysgenics (genetic deterioration) struck me so forcefully is that my family and friends and teachers and acquaintances varied a great deal in intelligence, and I was quite sensitive to these differences. Some people were very bright, and some very dull, with all gradations in between. But it mattered a lot to me, just like kindness and honesty mattered to me. Intelligence is very valuable, and if, in fact, we’re losing it, this is a disaster. But gradually this conversation receded into memory.

University of California, Berkeley

Fast forward to UC Berkeley, 1970: I learned in psychology class that heredity is, in fact, extremely important in human intelligence, as it is in numerous other traits. Identical twins separated at birth are amazingly similar to one another in adulthood, and adopted children grow up to resemble their biological parents, but not their adopting parents. I overheard a classmate saying afterwards, “Yeah, but I still think it’s better to believe everything is caused by the environment, because that way, you can do something about it.” I shook my head ruefully.

Despite having more than its share of radical, left-wing crackpots, I adored UC Berkeley. It was paradise, really. I had spent so many painfully boring years growing up in Memphis, and here was Heaven on earth for anyone who craved intellectual stimulation and had a quest for knowledge. Curiosity was the driving force, and there – finally – it could be satisfied! Praise be to God! This was a wonderful, exciting time in my life, with one gorgeous, sunny day after another, a beautiful campus, and so many brilliant professors.

The culture of the San Francisco Bay Area was light years ahead of where I grew up. Even the air was terrific – crisp and clear and invigorating, as opposed to the stultifying atmosphere (both climate and culture) that I had long endured in Memphis. The average person was smarter and more interesting. I was so grateful to be there. I’m an avid music lover, and the rock scene was fantastic, plus San Francisco even had an opera house. There was energy and excitement in the air. This was the kind of life I’d craved ever since I was born.

One day I was talking with a friend, a retired professor, who was the leader of Zero Population Growth for the Bay Area. We both agreed that over-population was a problem, but it seemed to me that the people who would most likely be influenced by ZPG would be smart, well-educated, and altruistic, with a sense of social responsibility, and these were all traits we needed more of, not less. Whether these traits are hereditary or environmental or a combination of both, the principle of “like begets like” still applies. So he invited me to give a presentation at the upcoming meeting of all regional leaders held yearly in northern California. Looking back today, I smile when I recall that I honestly expected them to welcome my talk with enthusiasm. I was quite naive (21-years-old), but I should have had enough common sense to realize that some of them had been working on ZPG for years, and they were all “Rah, rah!” about the cause, yet I had the impertinence to stand there and tell them (very politely, of course) that all their hard work was actually doing more harm than good! But they listened attentively until the end, when a middle-aged physician became positively livid. “What you’re talking about is exactly the reason we fought World War II!” he declared angrily. I really had no idea how to respond to that, so I just stared at him for a long, awkward moment, and then sat down. Interestingly enough, three regional leaders came up to me afterwards to thank me, saying they had exactly the same misgivings.

Sometimes I used to think that it may have been a mistake ever to graduate from Cal Berkeley, that maybe I should have stayed there indefinitely and taken every single class that was of any interest whatsoever. I studied psychology, and a good deal of political science and history, especially modern European history, because it was inherently interesting, and because I felt I needed to figure out once and for all exactly where I stood politically, just for my own peace of mind. (I believe in democracy and free enterprise, and I’m liberal on most social issues.) Perhaps paradoxically, however, I had no interest whatsoever in current politics. There were various political parties on campus – in addition to SDS (Students for a Democratic Society, a radical left-wing group), there were the Young Republicans, the Young Democrats, and so on, but I had the most sympathy for the Happy Birthday Party, and especially the Apathy Party (although I never got around to actually joining).

 Arthur R. Jensen

On campus at this time there was a big to-do about Arthur R. Jensen’s 1969 Harvard Educational Review article which stated that part of the black-white IQ gap may well be genetic.

When the student elections were held, there was a referendum on the ballot asking whether or not Jensen should be fired. I, of course, voted No, but the referendum was irrelevant because Jensen had tenure and couldn’t be fired anyway. I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. Either there’s a genetic component to the black-white difference in IQ, or there’s not, but whatever is true, he didn’t make it that way! So this was a classic case of “attacking the messenger.”

Of course, everyone in the South had always assumed that black people are less innately intelligent, even most black people. At any rate, the controversy began to pique my interest, so I decided to take an “independent study” course, and I found a psychology professor willing to sponsor it. My topic was simply Jensen vs. his opponents, and my objective was to read both sides to see where the preponderance of evidence lay. So one day I visited Jensen in his office for the first time.

He was very friendly and helpful, and he gave me not only copies of his articles, but copies of his opponents’ articles, too. We had a very pleasant chat, and pretty soon he asked me about my Southern accent. I told him I was from Memphis, Tennessee. He tilted his chair back, and rubbed his chin.

“Oh yeah, so you’re from Tennessee,” he said thoughtfully. “Hmm, well – did you know that Tennessee has got the absolute lowest average IQ . . . of any state . . . in the entire country?!

I was kind of at a loss for what to say to that, but I must have told this story 10 times, and it always gets a laugh.

Jensen also told me that he’d had a number of death threats, and that the campus police had to escort him across campus. He kept a buzzer in his pocket at all times to push in case of emergency – he said that once he pushed it by accident in his office, and the police showed up almost instantaneously.

After reading numerous articles, my final conclusion was that the bulk of evidence was on Jensen’s side. The professor who’d agreed to sponsor my study looked visibly disappointed when I told her. I had lunch with her one day, and she asked me why anyone even wants to study such things in the first place. She thought that Jensen should do some other kind of research because his results wounded the pride of black people. At the time, I felt intuitively that the truth must be told, even if it’s painful, but I couldn’t really articulate that at the time. Now, however, I can.

With the assumption that blacks and whites are exactly equal in average IQ, for example, how could anyone possibly explain the huge differences in academic achievement? In criminal convictions? In income? Is it because whites are evil, holding blacks down somehow? But if white racism is the problem, who is holding blacks down in Africa? Or maybe the teachers are at fault. One study found that there aren’t enough books in the houses of poor black children – it suggested that we should give them lots more books. Finger-pointing could go on indefinitely. To say that blacks and whites are exactly equal in average IQ is a lie, and it causes unrealistic expectations. Jensen told me that in high schools where courses are offered that teach a trade, the less-intelligent white kids take these courses, but the black kids don’t because they feel like it’s beneath them – they want to stay on the college track despite the fact that they’re failing. It’s not some academic’s research in a scholarly journal that’s hurting blacks, and maintaining the lie won’t help them. What hurts blacks is the day-to-day circumstances of their lives – their poverty, their lack of achievement, and their disproportionate amount of time spent in prison (all of which could be helped by eugenics.)

In addition, this lie negatively affects our entire society. It’s corrupted all the social sciences, where no one is permitted to utter the truth for fear of losing his job, being ostracized, or failing the course. The rationale for affirmative action derives, at least in part, from the assumption that the races are “really” equal in average ability, despite what the tests show, but the fact is that affirmative action is blatantly unfair to millions of individuals, almost all whites, and it’s also unfair, in a sense, to blacks, many of whom are put in situations where they lack the ability to succeed. Furthermore, it harms the entire economy – any deviation from meritocracy causes inefficiency, and that means loss of money for the company, the organization, and for the nation.

Next semester, I went to my anthropology class one day, and the professor had brought in a woman guest speaker to give us a lecture (a warning, to be more precise) about Jensen’s ideas. It was strange because the issue of race and IQ was completely unrelated to anything we were studying. Anyway, the class was held in a huge lecture hall, and I got more and more nervous as she recited all the usual propaganda points: “IQ tests were created by white men so they are inherently biased against blacks;” “Jensen is a racist;” “Race doesn’t exist;” “IQ means nothing.” I knew I couldn’t just sit there and listen to her spread lies to hundreds of students with no rebuttal from me. I was petrified at the prospect of speaking to an enormous crowd like this – whereas most people experience fear of speaking in public, for me, it was more like abject terror. I can speak haltingly from notes, but I wasn’t expecting this, so I had no notes. Extemporaneously, I’m so nervous that by the time I get to the end of my sentence, I’ve already forgotten the beginning (which is a serious handicap for anyone trying to make sense!) But in the end, my righteous indignation won out – she was spreading lies, and I just couldn’t let her get away with it! So I took a deep breath, commanded myself to focus, and I raised my hand.

Since this was long ago, I don’t honestly remember exactly what I said. I could have babbled away incoherently (not really!), but I think maybe it went something like this: “First of all, you say that IQ tests are biased against blacks in favor of whites, but if that’s true, why do Chinese and Japanese children in the U.S. score better, on average, that everyone else? Secondly, you say that blacks score low because they’ve been “culturally deprived,” but low-class white kids average higher IQ scores than upper middle-class black kids. Third, IQ predicts success equally well for all races, and IQ predicts success better than anything else – in fact, there’s a correlation of about .6 with success in school and in life – so how can anything that ‘means nothing’ predict success so well?” Just as I was finishing my last sentence, I was literally struck blind. My eyes were wide open, but all I saw was total blackness! I blinked 8 or 10 times, and then (thank God!) my vision returned. This never happened to me before or since, and I can only guess that it had something to do with the tidal wave of adrenalin that had washed over me.

Around this time, I heard about William Shockley, a professor at Stanford who became an extremely outspoken proponent of eugenics. He had won the Nobel Prize for invention of the transistor. As the story goes, Shockley first became interested in eugenics when he read an article in the newspaper about a woman on welfare who had 13 children, but couldn’t remember all their names. I thought it might be a good idea to talk with him, so I wrote him a letter, and one day he called me on the phone. We talked for a while, and he invited me to visit him and his wife in Palo Alto, but somehow it never worked out. I knew he was in communication with Jensen, who thought he was brilliant but quite eccentric, and seriously deficient in social skills. Jensen’s wife, Barbara, made a clever remark about him – she said he had “negative charisma.” I remember Shockley used to say that he’d debate any of his critics “any time, any place – as long as they’re hooked up to a lie-detector machine!”

I invited my best friend since 4th grade to come out from Memphis and live with me in Berkeley. She was confined to a wheelchair after breaking her neck in a childhood accident, and she didn’t have much of a life sitting in the backyard all day by the pool. In Berkeley, it was not uncommon to see disabled people riding around in electric wheelchairs. So I spent months helping my friend get established in her new home. She got an electric wheelchair, her parents bought her a house near campus and had it equipped with ramps, and she started taking classes. This was a great thing for her, enabling her to lead a much richer and more normal life. We’d been best friends for many years, but eventually her hoodlum-boyfriend heard about my politically incorrect views, and gave her an ultimatum – it was either him or me, so she chose him. I didn’t cry myself to sleep, because losing friends was starting to become a common occurrence.

Without thinking about it, I just naturally tried to form my beliefs based on facts and evidence, and I assumed that other people did the same. But gradually I came to realize that many people care only about which beliefs are socially acceptable, and others form their beliefs about what is true based on what they wish were true (a.k.a. “wishful thinking”), and what’s worse, they assume everyone else does this, too. So from their viewpoint, if I believe part of the black-white IQ difference is probably genetic, that means that I wish that were true, ergo, I’m mean and hateful! In addition (and what may be even more damning), I’m terribly uncool!

Looking back, there were ominous early warning signs of my “free-thinking,” “non-conformist,” “iconoclastic” tendencies, even as a little girl. In the elementary school I attended, girls always wore dresses, with no exceptions. But each year, once a year, on an especially pretty day in April or May, I wore Bermuda shorts to school in my own personal celebration of Spring. Nobody said a word. Then when I was 14, I refused to go to church any more because I just didn’t believe what I was supposed to believe. I decided I could never be a Christian (although I believe in God), and I wasn’t going to pretend to be one. Nearly everyone in the South goes to church, so this didn’t go over well at all. Later, in high school, we were supposed to give a speech about which candidate we supported for president, Goldwater or Johnson. This presented me with quite a dilemma. The problem was that I honestly could not have cared less, so that became my speech – about exactly, precisely how much I did not care! (The teacher liked me, so I got an A for originality.)