In my previous post I discussed why some people might study HBD. I suppose it is only fair to come out from behind the impersonal “they” and express things in the more personal “I”. In this post I will try to explain how I became interested in this particular topic.
A geographical journey usually begins with a destination planned, at the very least the traveler will have some route and staging points in mind. An intellectual journey usually lacks these things, it may start with a short stroll or a peek around some corner but it never has a destination because to know the destination is to have made that journey. Thus it was with my journey, one which began before I had the vocabulary to describe it or even the idea there might be a destination. The journey began before phrases such as “knowledge worker,” “symbolic analysts,” “creative class” formed part of the popular idiom. If I was aware of such phrases it was at best vaguely; I certainly had never heard of “HBD.”
Some time in the mid 1980s, as deindustrialization was starting to put the rust in “rust belt,” we were told that the solution was retraining or re-tooling of the workforce. While I tended to sympathize with (indeed I still do) the ideas of the free-market and progress, I had a slight unease with such glib suggestions. While I wondered about the temperamental suitability of factory workers for deskwork I also, at some level, understood we were talking about brain work. I do not want to leave the impression that I looked down on these workers as “dumb,” I was just aware that suggested job replacements required different skills and temperament and not everyone could easily transition. At this time I would never have used the notion of IQ in my thinking even if I was aware of and understood its meaning.
In the late 1980s I moved from more homogenous place to a more diverse one. I began to notice how different groups had different talents and habits. Such observations would have little weight were it not for the increasing calls of “racism.” I did not deny that “minority” groups may have suffered discrimination (mistrust of the other, lack of contacts) but noticed two things: some minority groups prospered despite any discrimination and in any place I worked there was no observable discrimination against any group (I know, I know: it was hidden, implicit, etc.). The evidence of eyes and experience did not match the explanations (“persistent racism”) that opinion makers offered. At this time I would have leant towards the “culture” explanation, but was satisfied that while not a perfect or wonderful world, people mostly got what the deserved.
The 1990s introduced us to the “knowledge worker.” If the era of Charles Dickens featured “the hands” then this era would feature “the brains.” My earlier doubts about the ability of everyone to fit into this new world strengthened. Increasingly I wondered what would happen those who could not perform this “knowledge work.” The idea that 45 year-old mill workers could be trained to become computer programmers seemed at bit silly; while it might work for some, I did not see it as a solution. I did not know it, but I was worrying about what I would now call the left side of the bell curve. I was worried that there was not enough “smart work” to go around and not everyone was suitable or capable or such work.
The mid 1990s saw the release of The Bell Curve, I was interested because a serious person had written in a scholarly manner about things I thought about. The book brought my previously diffuse thoughts into focus. While much was made of the racial elements of the book (one chapter of about 15), the core of the discussion was about how society was dividing along lines of cognitive ability. The descriptions of racial differences while somewhat dispiriting did explain the outcomes we could see. The furor over the racial parts ensured that vastly more people read the book than would have if those parts were excluded; sadly they also meant that most readers missed the more important point: a world that demands high cognitive skills poses great difficulties for half the population.
Regarding the titular term of “HBD,” I am not sure when I first heard it. While the term does not exactly flow off the tongue with mellifluous grace, it is a useful shorthand for a particular field of inquiry.
An accusation often thrown at proponents of HBD is that they are overly smart people who fetishize IQ, putting it above all else. In my own case I think it is closer to the opposite. Just as the middle-class tend to be most aware of economic changes (no buffer, not “too big to fail”) as a middle intellect (maybe smart, but not SMART) I am aware of the stresses a highly cognitive world imposes.
Cognitively, I am not “too big to fail”; I will not produce great physics, new mathematics, or wondrous financial products, however I realize I can perform tasks that many cannot. Because I often run up against my cognitive limits, I have some idea what the world might look like for someone even less gifted.
[I have never had my IQ formerly measured. From my own intuition and online test I would guess closer to +1SD (for you stats geeks) or in the region of 115 (for most of the rest). In other words I am smart enough for most things but can peg my smartometer without much trouble. Intelligence, like health or strength, is something you don’t worry about until you hit your limits.]
I will probably write a HBD post on IQ.