23 March 2017

Middlebury Students and Professors Shame Themselves

Stephen Kershnar
Middlebury College Riots over Charles Murray
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 20, 2017

            On March 2, 2017, Charles Murray came to Middlebury College to discuss his book about the breakdown of the white working class. He was accompanied by Allison Stanger a leftist professor who was supposed to moderate discussion of his ideas. After being drowned out by protesters, Murray and Stanger moved to another part of the campus to live stream their talk. Protesters made it difficult by banging on the walls and pulling fire alarms.

When Murray and Stanger left the building, one protester grabbed Stanger’s hair and another protester shoved her. The upshot was whiplash and a concussion requiring a visit to the hospital. Were it not for security guards and other protectors, the mob likely would have ground Murray into the dirt.

With guards holding off the howling mob, Murray, Stanger, and a college vice president got into a car and locked the doors. The mob then surrounded the car, banged on its sides and windows, rocked it, and climbed onto the hood. The car had to inch forward to avoid hitting anyone. The three then drove to a dinner venue, but when the mob discovered them, they fled again.

Encouraged by several faculty members, the protests had been organized for about a week. The protesters’ reasoning was that because Murray is a racist, white nationalist, discredited pseudoscientist, eugenicist, anti-gay, and so on, his talk was hate speech. Because hate speech does not deserve to be heard, the protesters concluded, they should forcefully keep him from speaking.

This protest followed the violent mob that prevented libertarian commentator Milo Yiannapoulis from speaking at the University of California at Berkeley. The mob decided that he engaged in hate speech and, hence, other people did not have the right to hear him speak, even at a state-owned campus. His alleged hate speech consisted of such obvious points as criticizing Muslim countries that condemn gay people to death (Yiannapoulis is gay), challenging Facebook for censoring its customers, and arguing that mass third world immigration is bad for the hosts.
It is odd that protesters thought that Murray’s discussion on the white working class should not be accessible because of his prior work on intelligence and race. It is odd too that there was so little interest in hearing about the prior work, especially since his conclusions are likely true and relevant to today’s incessant discussions of race, class, and immigration. 
The first thing to notice about the protests against Murray is the degree to which his findings in the controversial part of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994) have held up. Leaving aside what most of the book was about (isolation of the cognitive elite), critics attacked Murray for claiming that (1) differences in intelligence are in part heritable and (2) races have different distributions of intelligence and the differences is in part heritable (more specifically, not known to be purely environmental). The first claim is widely accepted. The second is plausible.   

The claim that intelligence is heritable is supported by studies that attempt to isolate the relevant statistical factors. It is also supported by studies of identical twins. These studies show that identical twins have intelligence levels that are closer than are those of non-identical twins, normal siblings, and other pairings. Murray and his fellow author, Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein, estimate that for populations, 40-80% of cognitive ability, as measured by IQ tests (tests that measure general intelligence), is inherited and the role of inheritance increases as people go from infancy to adulthood. A 1996 American Psychological Association task force on intelligence drew a similar conclusion. For late adolescents and adults, they estimate heritability at 75%. In contrast, by late adolescence, the effects of family environment are surprisingly small.

As a side note, IQ scores have been validated. They correlate with grades, SAT scores, income, and performance ratings in many occupations. There is reason to believe that differences in intelligence cause the different performance levels. IQ scores also correlate with undesirable features such as out-of-wedlock births, criminality, welfare use, and so on, though the strength of correlation varies. Even if intelligence were not inherited, it still is relevant to understanding differences between populations.

Herrnstein and Murray also argued that we do not know that the sizable difference in the black-white distribution of IQ scores is purely environmental. The evidence here is mixed. Proponents of the genetic explanation, such as J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen, point to studies involving transracial adoption, IQ scores for mixed race populations, a worldwide pattern of race and IQ scores, greater IQ difference the more the test is focused on general intelligence, and so on. Critics challenge these findings. Herrnstein and Murray’s argument that the difference is in part genetic and in part environmental is plausible because they fit with a number of lines of evidence.   

Murray and Herrnstein never supported racism, eugenics, fascism, white nationalism, etc. These labels are as false as they are offensive. Murray’s mixed race children are not what one would expect from a racist.    

Even if Murray were racist, fascist, sexist, etc. that is still no reason to violently prevent people from listening to his ideas. As John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty, free speech is useful because the marketplace of ideas tends to separate true ideas from false ones in the same way that a marketplace tends to separate better goods from worse ones. Mill also argued that false ideas sometimes contain a kernel of truth, a kernel that is discoverable by discussing the ideas. In addition, Mill and others have pointed out that discussing ideas forces people to discover why they believe what they do. This makes them better thinkers and, Mill adds, more virtuous.

Middlebury protesters and their faculty cheerleaders were wrong on Murray’s ideas and don’t understand the value of free speech. Instead of discussing ideas with one of America’s most important intellectuals, Middlebury students engaged in thuggery. What a shame.

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