On uncertainty


I once saw a documentary in which a herd of elephants is hit by a sandstorm. One baby elephant gets separated from the herd and in its hurry to find the others starts running in a random direction. From the helicopter filming from above we can see that the baby is heading off in precisely the opposite direction to the herd. You want to shout, ‘Stop! The other way, turn around!’ like Mowgli to Baloo in The Jungle Book but this is a documentary and all the action took place before, somewhere else and besides, baby elephants don’t understand English.

I sometimes feel I’m in the same position as that baby elephant in regard to knowledge. I read books written by race realists (aka horrid racist bigots) and am convinced that they are right and their opponents, the nice people who believe we are all clones, are wrong. I feel in my bones that my position is right but then I would, wouldn’t I? After all, I’m sure the delusional kumbaya-singers also feel in their stupid bones that they are right. As the hero of Olaf Stapledon’s Sci-Fi classic Star Maker asks himself, am I living from false premises?

I am also aware of a kind of ‘Founder Effect’ in my thinking. The Founder Effect in genetics is where a small group breaks away from a bigger group and because one founder member has say, blue eyes, then an unusually large number of the descendants also has blue eyes. In regard to my beliefs, Richard Dawkins and John Derbyshire have had a big Founder Effect on me, either because they are right or because I read them before I came across halfwits like Deepak Chopra and Noam Chomsky.

So is there any way of deciding who is right, John Derbyshire or the halfwits? Most people would say ‘Look at the evidence’ but which evidence? The evidence that suggests race realists like Richard Lynn, Arthur Jenson, J.P. Rushton and Helmuth Nyborg are right or the jimcrack evidence that allegedly points the other way?

I suppose you could have a headcount of experts and then come down on the side with the biggest show of hands but majority vote has never been a good touchstone of what is true. Just ask Galileo. State sponsored ideologies, with their rewards and punishments, can skew a scientist’s view and this is just as true of the politically correct West as it was of Counter-Reformation Italy and Soviet Russia.

All of this matters because politicians base their policies on prevailing views. Almost no politician is interested in what is true, only what is accepted by the voting public as true and this can lead to some real disasters. Look at our attempts to bring democracy to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. These attempts rested on the false belief that the populations of those countries were the same as us. Much more probable is that a population must have an average IQ of above 90 for democracy to work and Middle Eastern countries are below that threshold. This being the case, we should never have encouraged or supported the push for democracy in those countries. It is probably better for them to be ruled by an authoritarian leader than to make a hash of democracy.

The same is true for many things. If IQ is largely heritable and barely malleable through education, then it’s wrong to make a dull child with an IQ of 70 sit next to a bright child with an IQ of 120. Having them sit physically close to each other will do nothing to close the intelligence gap. All it will do is slow down the education of the bright child while making the dumb child feel inadequate.

But to return to my real question, I can see no way of knowing whether I am a baby elephant running in the wrong direction or whether it is the race fantasists who are doing so. It is here that the analogy with the baby elephant breaks down since the place the baby belongs is with the herd, no matter where that happens to be. Unless of course the herd is running over a cliff, which our ‘herd’ very well might be.

Another thing I am uncertain of is tribalism. I know it is natural to divide the world into ‘us and them’ but according to anthropologists rape and violence are also natural yet no one thinks this is a good defense for committing them. Tribalism is why I wanted Leicester City to win the English Premier League, as they have now done. I wanted them to win simply because I am from Leicester. With football this is reason enough but when it comes to real life, people usually want better reasons than this. After all, isn’t it a bit stupid and primitive to want your country to win wars and your race and culture to flourish just because they are yours? I still can’t decide whether this is plain stupid or whether favouring my tribe over others is no more stupid than favouring my own children over others.

I suppose your tribe could become whoever shares your beliefs. That way anyone can join your tribe, regardless of their race or origin. However, if my beliefs are based on the Founder Effect and other random factors, is a tribe based on belief any better than one based on blood and soil? I feel that it is but I am hard pushed to say why. It could just be my post-1960’s western education making me think that way. And when other tribes stick to their old-fashioned tribalism and favour their own, isn’t it daft for white westerners not to do the same?

I also feel uncertain of my views when I listen to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, the first part of which, Burnt Norton, you can listen to here. The ideas in the poem are so strange that they disorientate me:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

So it begins and it continues in a similar vein for the next 52 minutes without getting any less strange. Whether T.S. Eliot’s poetry is good or just pretentious twaddle I really can’t say. Yet despite not understanding it, Four Quartets resonates with me in a way that much poetry that I do understand doesn’t. Listening to Four Quartets is like having your brain turned inside out. Eliot’s vision is as peculiar as Relativity Theory or Quantum Mechanics and induces a kind of vertigo, albeit a pleasant one.

While the world of Four Quartets is strange it is not ridiculous and because of this it reminds me that my view, which I generally take for being the truth, is really just a partial view from my small, dark, dusty corner of the universe. There might be other ways of seeing things which are nothing like mine. When I think about such things I determine to take Eliot’s lines in East Coker seriously:

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

And I do take them seriously – for about ten seconds. Then I forget about them and go back to being my natural, unhumble, certain self.