I have just been reading Sam Harris’s excruciating email exchange with Ezra Klein. Harris is scrupulously honest while Klein isn’t. The whole exchange would have been more bearable if, like Russian ambassadors denying Russian involvement in a nerve agent attack, Klein was actually aware that he was lying. Yet he is clearly one of those people who has been so dishonest for so long that he can no longer distinguish truth from lies, intellectual honesty from wishful thinking: I want us all to be equal so therefore we must all be equal. Anyone who says otherwise is a racist who knows no science.

Although stereotyping was not what the argument was about, during the exchange Harris made the commonplace observation that people should be treated as individuals rather than representatives of their race, sex etc. That is, you can’t simply assume that the east Asian you’re about to meet has an IQ score 5 points higher than yours just because his group’s average is 5 IQ points higher than your group’s. He may actually be as thick as two short planks. Conversely, the black man you meet might turn out to be another Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams or John McWhorter.

Now, of course I agree with all this and it would be stupid and bigoted to think otherwise. Even so, it is difficult to banish stereotypes completely from your mind. When I meet someone for the first time it’s hard for me not to think about the statistical averages of their group.

Still, once you get to know someone this knowledge quickly overrides anything you have heard or read about their group’s typical characteristics and you are reminded for the umpteenth time that not all Jews are nuclear physicists and not all women are pretty and kind.

So does this mean that stereotypes are useless? Nope. Most stereotypes are not randomly conjured out of thin air but have some basis in fact and it really does make sense to be warier when being followed down a dark alley by a young black man wearing a hoodie than by a nicely dressed elderly Japanese lady.

If you need to employ someone to do an intellectually demanding job and the only information you have about the four applicants is their ethnicity, choose the Ashkenazim first, then the Chinese, then the European and lastly the African. Need hard workers willing to work long hours? Choose Chinese first and Africans last. Basketball team? Blacks first, then whites or Jews and finally Chinese. Forming a fire brigade or an army and all you know about the applicants is their sex? Choose men.

The above method is not great when recruiting ones or twos but is useful as a rule of thumb if you happen to be, say, the immigration minister of a modern country thinking of importing large numbers of immigrants who you won’t be able to interview personally. If this is indeed your case, let me make one small suggestion: never, ever, unnecessarily allow gypsies into your country.

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