so it has come to this: a FAQ about a book that does not yet exist

I hear your forthcoming book is pro-race science. True?

No. It is explicitly, unambiguously, and directly not. In fact key to my elevator pitch was that the book discusses genetics and intelligence while rejecting arguments about inherent racial differences in intelligence. Here’s a passage from the manuscript, incidentally written before Twitter got mad about this:

“I will risk appearing self-defensive by saying upfront: this book is not an argument for the “race realist” position that some races are inherently more intelligent than others. Nor do I traffic in sexist ideas about innate gender differences in intelligence. I do not believe that white people are smarter than black, that Asian people have a genetic facility for math, or that women are not as gifted as men in science. Lest there be any confusion, I unequivocally and explicitly reject those beliefs, and this book will not advance any such claims about group differences in intelligence. I will instead argue that the science of individual differences in potential has profound consequences for our education system and our society.”

Pretty unambiguous, right?

So why do so many people think otherwise?

Because an anonymous Twitter account said so. Seriously, that’s it, that’s the sole reason anyone ever got this impression in the first place. Some dude with a joke Twitter name and a rose emoji deliberately spread misinformation about my book, knowing it to be untrue, and everybody believed him, without any corroborating evidence whatsoever. People like the crew at Balloon Juice ran with it without bothering to ask whether it was responsible to draw broad conclusions about an unfinished book from the say-so of an anonymous source.

That’s pretty shitty. 

Twitter is a shitty place. Twitter makes reasonable people do and say shitty things.

Didn’t many journalists and other members of the media like “Atrios”/Duncan Black run with this too? Isn’t the basic job of journalists to pursue facts and provide attribution for claims?

Why yes! Yes it is! That is exactly their job. And they didn’t do it. Major, national journalists retweeted and repeated the claim that my book argues what it expressly does not argue based on literally nothing else than the say-so of an anonymous Twitter account. Because the basic rule with media and journalism is that there are no rules, only tribes, and I’ve never been part of that tribe and so they felt no responsibility to tell the truth.  In real life, media-people behavior is mostly motivated by a desire to appear cool with other media people. And I’ve always been a soft target, a convenient person to go after when looking to up your cred. If I was cool with the right people I could publish Mein Kampf for Kids and they’d be like “gotta hear both sides of the story.” That’s just how that culture functions.

Do you think the people who eagerly spread that incendiary claim about you, particularly the journalists and media types, will retract those claims?


OK but you are writing about genetics and intelligence, though, right? So don’t racist claims follow naturally from that?

Genetics is in fact just one part of this book, maybe not even the most important part. But, regardless – no, racist claims do not follow.

Think about it this way. Supposed you and I went to a basketball game where Lebron James’s son played. If I said to you “he gets some of his athleticism from his father,” that would, I hope, be an uncontroversial statement. I suppose you might disagree, though it seems pretty indisputable to me. But either way you wouldn’t find that claim offensive, and you certainly wouldn’t find it racist. On the other hand, if I said “he gets his athleticism from his race,” then you may very well find that claim offensive and racist. Those are two fundamentally different kinds of claims – one a claim about individual genetic variation, and one a claim about group genetic variation. They are not the same. They are different scientifically, analytically, politically, and morally. And anyone who can’t wrap their head around the distinction sufficiently should simply not engage about these topics at all.

If you’d like an example of a working behavioral geneticists who believes that intelligence is partially heritable and yet still rejects racist claims about IQ, you might check out Paige Harden. There are many others.

But aren’t you unqualified to write about all this science stuff? 

That would be a fair criticism if I were writing about the science of individual genetic differences. But I’m writing about the educational and political consequences of the science of individual genetic differences, and I’m perfectly qualified to write about each, the former because my academic training and professional occupation are in educational testing and the latter because I have written several million words on politics over the past decade. This misunderstanding, again, is the kind of risk you run when you go after books before you’ve read them, or indeed, before they’ve been fully written.

I heard some people went after your job over this.

So I’ve been told, but I haven’t had any trouble at work. People going after my jobs over my political writing, I’m sorry to say, has been a thing for awhile. I am a unionized public sector employee with sterling performance reviews and a long-term contract. So… good luck.

I heard your publishing company was Bad. 

The imprint I’m writing for has published and will publish books by prominent progressive voices, such as Zephyr Teachout. But more to the point: is this a standard that gets applied to anyone else? Are you really going to tell me that people scour the back catalog of every publisher to find objectionable titles in order to go after authors? I assure you: no publisher of national scale has a record free of work you find offensive. Not one. The idea that working under a given publisher should necessarily mean that your work should be judged based on its association with other books from that publisher is bizarre and totally unworkable at scale, guilt-by-association of the weirdest variety. It’s a perfect example of an argument of convenience, one adopted simply because it was an easy way to go after me. It’s a bullshit, made-up standard and so I’m not going to worry about it.

When is the book coming out?

I don’t know.

self-care is just another set of expectations you’ll never realize

The basic concept of self-care sounds like something no one could ever oppose. “Be better to yourself” is a good message. I endorse it. But we don’t live in concepts, we live in the expression of concepts, and the expression of self-care seems to me to be just another way for modern society to make women miserable.

Have you seen self-care memes? I have become somewhat obsessed by them. And I don’t mean to be uncharitable here, but I think even many people who are generally deeply committed to self-care would join me in calling self-care memes fucking unhinged. They are sociopath instructions. They are commands to feel all the time the way you feel after injecting heroin. They are an insistence that if you don’t walk around in a constant cloud of knowing self-worth, you are not doing it right.

Are you the storm? I have a confession: I am not the storm. I am not anything like the storm. And I hate to say it but I don’t think it’s possible, grammatically or meteorologically, for so many of you to be “the storm.” It makes me think of Billy Collins.

Here’s what I think: I think the dictate “be good to yourself” is just that, yet another social command that is imposed on you, no matter how good of an idea, and thus another thing you can be bad at. I think that’s a thing. I think people are bad at feeling good and their awareness of being bad at it makes them feel worse. The dictate to love oneself becomes just another way that you’ve let yourself and others down. It’s perverse, obscene. And it is so indicative of this rot in contemporary society, the plague of over-analysis. How can you feel good about yourself if you are constantly thinking about how you need to feel good about yourself? How can you just experience self-acceptance if self-acceptance has to be a thing you do instead of a thing you just are? What if your mind never feels insanely cool?

I have never been enough, and I am sure I will never be enough. How about you?

I have written many times: there are far more ways to be losers, in our culture, than there are to be winners. And this afflicts all sorts of people. But women, in particular. Modern society is a machine for producing things for women to feel like they’ve failed at. I suspect self-care has become one more thing. Of course you should love yourself. But if you experience self-worth through a set of instructions, you’ve already lost. The voice that says “I am great and deserve it all” sounds, to me, suspiciously like the one that tells me I am worthless and always will be.

We are desperate creatures, flawed, grasping, lonely. We do not experience life as a series of challenges that we rise inevitably to meet, nor has anyone alive experienced true self-acceptance. All of our dreams do not come true even if we have – especially when we have – the courage to pursue them. What you believe you often cannot achieve. That’s life, that’s this grubby human life. I want better for all of you than you know. And what I believe is that the only way to increase human happiness is to accept it as transitory, unknowable, and undeserved. To live, as the man said, in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.