Freddie deBoer On ‘The Cult of Smart’ [podcast]

This isĀ  really excellent podcast Freddie deBoer On ‘The Cult of Smart’. At only 40 minutes, excluding the intro, it does waste too much time rambling. Freddie delineates his arguments clearly, that IQ and other biological factors play a significant role in educational and lifetime achievement, than educators and policy makers are in denial of this by putting too much faith in programs and policy to close achievements gaps, and that in reality, such gaps are attributable to genes and thus cannot be rectified.

After Katie recounts a listener complaint and the cohosts announce a new focus for the podcast, the bulk of the episode consists of an interview Jesse conducted with Freddie deBoer, a brilliant thinker and writer whose first book, “The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice,” is a searing indictment of the American education system’s most entrenched orthodoxy: the idea that just about any child can succeed academically. The second, patrons-only portion of the interview, a wider-ranging conversations about social media, online leftism, mental health, and other subjects, will be posted by the end of the day on Saturday, 7/25/2020 at the latest, and when it’s ready this text will be replaced with a link.

Some takeaways:

1. Genes play a major role in education attainment, but traits such as ‘grit’, that are often thought to be environmental, may also be genetic. Well-educated parents tend to produce children who also perform well in school, but this is due to genes more-so than study habits.

2. Policy makers and educators focus too much on environmental-based explanations for underachievement, as opposed to genetic factors. There is the widespread belief among educators that the performance gap between dullards and ‘smart kids,’ is demonstrative of poor teaching methods for the former, not genes, and that ‘superior teaching methods’ can overcome achievements gaps.

3. Individual differences of intelligence and educational achievement can be ascertained and are obvious to teachers and other students at a very early age, as early as kindergarten or first grade, suggesting a genetic etiology for such differences.

4. And the most damning point: even if under hypothetical optimal conditions in which racial differences due to discrimination of achievement are erased, that would still leave individual differences, as there is more variance of achievement between individuals than between races. There are plenty of whites who perform poorly in school even though blacks, as a whole, do worse.

5. The irony of how higher-educations is promoted as a way to advance equality and opportunity even though it may have the opposite effect in practice: by excluding the 60% of so of Americans who may not be smart enough to attain the necessary credentials for good-paying, middle-class jobs that require a degree, condemning such unfortunate individuals to a lifetime low-paying service sector work and poverty.

6. Freddie’s solution is socialism, but he doesn’t give enough details about what this entails. Freddie is a socialist, but this is such a broad category, that without more specifics it’s hard to hold it against him. It can mean more welfare spending but with individual property rights upheld, on one extreme–or the forfeiture of private property, on the other extreme.

7. IQ has become a sort of sorting mechanism for who succeeds or fails in today’s society, so increased welfare is need to help those who may not be smart enough to succeed and thus are biologically preordained to poverty. I sorta disagree with the second part; I think enough money is already spent on America’s underachievers, whether it’s special education or welfare and other programs. However, there are still opportunities for average-IQ people, such as the trades, although trades work is not the panacea that its proponents would have you believe.

But the pandemic has further widened the socioeconomic gap between the brainy and everyone else, as these mass layoffs have mostly hurt low-skilled workers, similar to in 2008. Low-skilled workers have less pay, worse labor conditions, worse job security, and are the first the be fired and last to be hired in recessions and recoveries. Unless you major in coding or some other STEM field, in which salaries can be very high even on an inflation-adjusted basis, your job prospects as a 20 or 30-year old kinda suck. On sites such as Reddit and Hacker News, there are tons of stories of high-IQ people in their late 20s or 30s with high-paying finance or coding jobs and with 6-figures or more saved for retirement, whereas individuals who only have average IQs are typically stuck in service sector work or are chronically unemployed and have little to nothing saved.

8. Because of the above points, this threatens the meritocracy, although I don’t really agree with this. The meritocracy though is not about fairness or equality, but that positions of power, influence, and decision making are assigned to those who are the most competent . Some individuals having a genetic advantage that confers competence , and said individuals are promoted to positions of power and make more money, is consistent with a meritocracy. If the competent rise to the top and everyone else gets breadcrumbs, you have a meritocracy, but is this fair? So maybe Freddie’s point is not that biological determinism is the undoing of the meritocracy, but rather that it changes people’s opinions and perceptions about it. If low IQs are to blames for underachievement, then is not as easy to ascribe laziness or other factors intrinsic to the individual for one’s failure to succeed, so societies and governments may be more inclined to help such people.