Today I have a piece in the Washington Postup about Trump’s attacks on Biden’s intelligence at the debate, and how they are emblematic of the Cult of Smart. I am happy with how it turned out and proud of it.
Should Twitter discover it (and they may well not) they are liable to get very upset that I am being published by a major publication, a privilege they seem to think I lost during my troubles (my bad behavior) three years ago. I don’t think getting upset would be constructive. People in the industry should know better. Publishing me is not a comment on my character. It’s just the business of media.
To clear something up: you are entitled to get mad at the Post for publishing me if you wish, but you can’t do so under the theory that they have broken some sort of otherwise-intact embargo. It’s simply not the case that they extended an invitation no one else would have. I get asked to publish or pitch all the time, including by prominent places. I have consistently turned these opportunities down because I have wanted to avoid tapping into all the negativity that surrounds my writing at this point. Why did I accept the Post‘s offer? Because I have an obligation to St. Martin’s, and this was too big of a promotional opportunity to turn down; and because I’m unemployed and struggling to pay the rent, and could not turn down the money. That’s it.
Look, the goal now is the same as it’s been since January: promote this book to satisfy my responsibility to St. Martin’s and to myself, get a job in the normie world, and disappear. I don’t know if this is possible at this point. As I’ve said in this space before, with each rejection on the job market it becomes more likely that I will be forced to start a Patreon or a Substack simply to pay the rent. I would prefer to avoid getting back into “the conversation” but I’m kind of running out of options here. In any event: I am grateful to the Post and hope that this piece finds an audience.
I am not, despite requests, going to write a blow-by-blow response to Nathan Robinson‘s review of my book. I don’t think those kind of things are very productive, and besides, the book is its own argument, one I’m proud of. You want my response, read the book. I will say that I think very often he is imagining a book that mine might have become in the hands of another writer and attacking that book, rather than responding to a charitable reading of my book, itself, as it actually exists. We can leave it there. (See this Reddit thread for some interesting reactions.)
That review has had the effect of picking an old scab, though. St. Martin’s treated me very well and I’m forever grateful for them taking a chance on me when many people certainly would not. That said, it’s also the case that I lost every argument with them, and this was the biggest.
As you can see from the above image, the first major note, and one that would prove to be the biggest sticking point, was that the section on gene science was far too long in the eyes of the publisher. They felt the general audience reader would not tolerate reading as much as I put in. I pushed back at first, but ultimately some four pages were cut from that section. And so of course the first impression of many people is “he didn’t engage enough with the science.” I wish I had fought harder but when you’re the first time author and they’re the publisher, it’s hard to be brave in that way. I deeply regret it. Of course I am, in the end, responsible for the contents of the book. I haven’t easily been able to find the missing pages in an earlier draft in my files yet, but if I ever do find them I may publish them here.
As I have said before: the only things that you need to understand in order to go along with my claims about how our education system functions are, one, that every time we have observed education, in the history of the world, we have found a distribution of ability, and two, that this is not going to change. If you reject every claim about genes, but understand that there will always be differences in ability, then every objection of the book’s critics falls away.
Right now we’re in one of those times when people feel anguished about whether to support artists who they feel are immoral or politically undesirable, and where much art is coming out that is celebrated for being good because it parrots back to the viewer their own assumed politics. (This is how we got the Oscar-winning trainwreck Crash, but whatever.) In this context, especially with JK Rowling’s recent remarks, people once again ask, can I enjoy this media when I disagree so fundamentally with its creator? Can I separate the art from the artist?
So: Ty Cobb. Ty Cobb was, by most accounts, a racist and a bigot and a mean drunk. He was a bad guy. He’s not the kind of guy we want to praise or emulate. So here’s my question: did Ty Cobb have a good on-base percentage?
The answer, objectively, is yes; his career on-base percentage is .433, and that’s for a guy who played professional baseball for a quarter century. That is in fact a very good on-base percentage. Now: imagine someone objects and says, “But his on-base percentage can’t be good! He was a racist!” I think most of us would agree that this would be an odd stance to take. Whether he was a racist or not does not affect his talent for getting on base. The fact that he was a racist is relevant to understanding his character, and anyone who might be inclined to admire him personally should be discouraged from doing so. Just as opinions about Rowling should be subject to influence by her disturbing comments on trans issues. But his on-base percentage? His racism just doesn’t factor in. It’s simply not relevant to the discussion. And it’s the same with Rowling (or anyone) and the art that they create. It’s simply a category error to judge one by the other.
I’m not suggesting that the appreciation of art is as objective as the calculation of baseball statistics. I am suggesting that human beings produce things that are independent of their character, and separating the two is natural and easy. Richard Feynman was I’m sure as sexist as they say; how could that undermine the scientific validity of his scientific findings? It couldn’t. These things just aren’t connected.
And by the way, JK Rowling will live out the rest of her life as a billionaire irrespective of the individual behavior of you and everyone else. If you want to boycott her work to prevent any of your money from going to her I understand and respect your decision, but if you’re conflicted, I think you can be forgiven for not boycotting a person who will never, ever feel the effects either way.
Update: It seems modern historians have revised the conventional wisdom on Cobb’s racism? Apparently he was even an advocate for the integration of baseball. Seems like I picked a bad example to name the principle after. Bad job by me.
In light of the judge’s decision to forbid the University of California system taking standardized tests into account for admission’s decision, I’m resharing my piece from several years ago making the (empirical) case that getting rid of these tests actually help the whiter, more affluent students. Yes, there are racial inequalities in testing that should concern us. (See my book for more.) But no one – no one – was helped more by a strong SAT score than a poor black kid. Now that increasingly looks like an out that such kids don’t get, and in its place, tons of students getting into school because they take fencing lessons, interned for a movie studio, built schools in Guatemala with the help of multi-million dollar grants….