Does the Nation Make the Genius?

From Social Matter (Identity And Civilization: Why Humanity Depends On Ethnoculture):

… nationalism becomes an enemy of civilization when it believes that Shakespeare is great because he was English, rather than that England is great because it produced Shakespeare.

But the HBD argument is that genes produce geniuses, not nations. Maybe it so happen that a collection of auspicious genes are concentrated in certain geographical regions. I tend to think of success as individualistic rather then collective – that individuals succeed or fail based on their intrinsic or innate talents or lack thereof, as well as hard work and determination (which may also be genetic, too). The belief that states makes geniuses maybe an invocation of the dubious ‘magic dirt’ theory. If you took all the high IQ people out of Britain and flew them to another region, that region would likely be successful, too, upon laying infrastructure.

However, it could be a mixture of both: genius (at the individual level) and infrastructure (that also arises out of genius). England produced Shakespeare because not only was Shakespeare brilliant, but England had the infrastructure (thanks to a higher national IQ) to allow Shakespeare to pursue his writing (instead of, say, scrounging for food), as well as the marketplace from other intellectuals to appreciate and disseminate his work.

Genius can arise from any population, even low-IQ ones, but obviously genius is more likely among higher IQ populations. Tens of thousands of years ago, perhaps the cold or some other environmental factor in Europe favored clever people, who replaced the less intelligent ones, as some sort of natural selection on an accelerated scale, which boosted the IQ of Europe compared to the rest of the world. Then phase two kicks in, which is that these higher IQ regions gives rise to the infrastructure that is conducive to geniuses living to their full potential.

From Gates of Vienna: Explaining the Cold Climate Theory for the Evolution of High IQ (very good read)

Michael H. Hart in Understanding Human History supports the “cold climate” theory for the evolution of high genetic intelligence measured in IQ. Essentially, it predicts that as certain humans moved into regions with a cooler climate they had to develop higher intelligence to cope with a harsh natural environment, cooperate and plan ahead to survive the cold winters.

Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending don’t write specifically about genetic intelligence or IQ the way Hart does, but they do state in their book that “There were at least two streams out of Africa 50,000 years ago, one northward into Europe and central Asia, and another eastward around the Indian Ocean to Australia, New Guinea, and parts of Oceania. There is no trace of any creative explosion in populations derived from the southern Indian Ocean movement, who brought and retained Neanderthal-grade technology and culture.”

Regarding cultural achievements, he mentions some noteworthy scholars and figures and says that Alhazen was “probably the greatest” of the scholars in the Islamic world, which I agree with. In his view, Middle Eastern scholars made few major discoveries in science or technology; nothing comparable to printing and gunpowder in China or spectacles and mechanical clocks in Western Europe. While they did produce a limited number of scholars who made minor contributions and a handful who made medium-level ones, they never produced truly great geniuses such as Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler or Newton.

Hart attributes this to their lower genetic intelligence compared to Europeans, with a mean IQ in the 80s, whereas many European nations, at least north of the Alps, have a mean IQ of about 100 or slightly more.

This meant that there were fewer Middle Easterners at the lower and medium levels in science, and virtually none at all at the highest levels of achievement. This is plausible, although I would personally add the repressive atmosphere created by Islamic orthodoxy as a significant contributing factor as well. Ideas have consequences.

Cold climate as well as large populations are conducive to high IQs and innovation. The Inuit obviously reside in the cold but are a small population. There is also some environmental role, too, in that Islamic orthodoxy tends to be repressive.

Another challenge to the cold climate theory is presented by the Eskimos, or Inuit peoples. In Arctic North America and Greenland they certainly live in some of the coldest places on Earth, which should accordingly have made them into some of the smartest people on Earth. They do have above average intelligence by global standards, which they must have to survive in such a harsh environment, but there is nothing that indicates that they have a higher mean IQ than northern Europeans or northeast Asians. This requires a different explanation.

Authors Cochran and Harpending in The 10,000 Year Explosion suggest that a larger population mass and growing population density during the Stone Age in itself became a major factor in human evolution by increasing the number of potentially beneficial mutations:

Had Shakespeare been born in Africa, he would have still been brilliant, but it probably would not have done him much good. The concentration of auspicious genes promotes and enables creativity among intelligent members of said population. By having a high enough national IQ, genius is able to flourish. Low IQ regions, which tend to be more repressive, are more subsistence based, have poor infrastructure, and don’t produce many geniuses. The few geniuses that are serendipitously produced by virtue of the Bell Curve, typically aren’t able to live to their full cognitive potential.

But I don’t like the state getting too much credit. Sounds like Obama’s, ‘you didn’t build that’ remark. Genius must still be born. No amount of infrastructure can turn a person with an IQ of 90 into a genius, although as the movie Idiocracy shows, such a person may be perceived as a genius if the overall population is unintelligent.

Yes, social factors play a role, but I think genes are more important, especially now that the Flynn Effect seems to be diminishing or reversing, which is evidence the playing field has been leveled. With food abundant and excessively generous welfare and education spending, environmental factors can no long be blamed as much for the differences between individual socioeconomic outcomes. Also, research by Jensen, Herrnstein, Murray, and Rushton shows that IQ tests are not culturally biased and that negative environmental factors (being born into poverty) does not preclude upward mobility for high-IQ individuals. Of course, even in the most optimal of conditions, few geniuses will ever attain the greatness of Shakespeare, but the arts, to a large degree, are subjective. Being a genius in terms of IQ may help one grasp abstract physics and mathematics concepts quickly, even if one doesn’t become the next Einstein*.

*Anyway, Einstein got a lot of help, and didn’t formulate General Relativity entirely on his own…