July 24, 2020
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Samuele Lilliu (SL). Good morning professor, how are you?
James Flynn (JF). Reasonable. I’m working away on my current book. It's effectively about why there are so many Americans who deny the current view of the world. They think the world started less than 10 000 years ago. That has a profound effect. 40% (of Americans) believe that. That means they have to reject all of modern evolution. They have to reject modern geology. They have to reject modern cosmology. Because that's all that allows them to believe that the universe has existed for less than 10 000 years. I think that's a historical problem that a secularist has to face. Why is America so peculiar compared to the nations of Europe? It really equals the nations of Islam or the Greek Orthodox states, which you wouldn't normally class with America. You think you’d class it with Germany, France, and Britain. I tried to go into why this world view, this pre-Darwinian worldview, has such a hold on Americans and the consequences. Because they go beyond dulling your mind, they go on to the fact that 4/5 of these people vote for Trump, so that they have political (impact).
I'm going to approach Cambridge with that book. That'll be interesting for me what sort of response I get.
SL. So it will be about intelligent design and these sort of things?
JF. It'll be a comparison to begin with. There's plenty of data that shows who America is most like. And they're most like a very unexpected group of people, who won't face the modern world. It'll be a search into history and politics.
SL. I think there are views in between, right? some people believe that…
JF. Oh yes, you have to look at how this worldview has solidified right since the 19th century and while it's melted in the 20th century elsewhere, why in the world has it actually consolidated itself in America, really, ever since the beginning of the 19th century? An interesting historical foray.
SL. When do you think you will publish it?
JF. Who knows? I'll send it to Cambridge because it's a historical book and I think I'll have a better chance with British publishers than Americans. So I may get a surprise.
Now, that there, which one is that you have exhibited here?
SL. This is your latest book.
JF. Yes but uh what is that? I get caught up in all my late books.
SL. “A Book too Risky to Publish: Free Speech and Universities”.
JF. Yes and, that, of course, America wouldn't be so badly off if it was better informed and that book is an indictment of the universities, how they're turning out graduates who read less and no less than graduates over the last 60 years. It wouldn't be so bad if they had a world view of a century ago, but when you combine that with 60 years of rising ignorance it leaves Americans crippled as critical citizens. So that's what that book is essentially about all the forces at university that kill critical intelligence and kill wide reading information. And the book I'm working now is why.
So I've enjoyed writing these two books. That book of course is available now from Academica Press, as the British wouldn't publish it.
SL. I saw the reply you got from the editors, I mean, it doesn't make any sense what they wrote, I don't understand, why would they write such…
JF. They say that, they of course recognize there's nothing inflammatory in the book, but Britain's hate speech laws, when they went to their lawyers, their lawyers said: “Oh this is very risky, someone may take this out of context and use it to make racist statements”. Well of course you can go to the Bible and take things out of context, and turn them into racist statements. So as soon as their lawyers got on it they said it's too risky to publish. So I had to go to America to Academica Press.
SL. It took me so long to get the book, I couldn't get it on Amazon.
JF. I know. It was infuriating. The book went to a British press, it went to them all at the turn of the year, and so they said “oh this is all set to go” and then their lawyers got to look at it and they said “well, we can't publish this at all”. And then it took me almost a year to find an American press that I thought would publish it, but also wouldn't be branded as just a left wing taking a punch, you know these people. I had to find a press that had an excellent record of publishing things that it disagreed with.
SL. And this thing of taking words out of context is probably something we see in social media especially on Twitter…
JF. America doesn't have hate speech laws. It may have them state by state, but it has no federal hate speech law. So in America you can actually try and find up. Of course the right wing was very happy to publish it, they thought here's another black eye for the liberals. But I wanted to find a press that had a record of objectivity and that took a while. So I'm very glad that Academica (Press) has put it out and I'm sorry you had such trouble getting it.
The social media of course will often give such a book bad reviews, they're not really interested in whether things are inhibiting in critical intelligence and whether things are giving students less reading and less information, they're just interested in taking pot shots. You'll usually get much better book reviews of a book like this from the (Manchester) Guardian or the London Times than you'll get from the U.S. media they'll at least make an effort.
SL. In your book, I was reading at page 103, you mentioned this group, I don't know if it's a political group or a kind of movement, the Black Lives Matter…
JF. I think in the British coverage and the Guardian at least you'll find people who will say “these things do matter and we don't want to go to the extreme of abolishing the police force, but we do think that something's got to be done”. While again, in the U.S. press you'll find a much more grudging acceptance of it. To acknowledge these is much more acceptable in Europe than in America. I think that (there are) people who take the view that abolishing the police force may merely encourage violence in black communities. I mean, like any alienated group, blacks are more likely to take the violence than non-alienated groups. A lot of people are saying “are you gonna have protection rackets?”. Someone will come to your shop in a black area and say “your windows have been broken twice”. They probably did it. And they'll say “do you want protection of your property?” and you'll say “Oh well, you know, what choice have I got? I know these guys are breaking my windows, I'm really paying the money to stop”. And they will come around quite politely every week and collect the money to stop breaking your windows. So will black merchants really be safer if you undermine the police force? You've got to have a police force. A police force is a new neutral agent that circumscribes violence. So you've got to have it on some level. You can either have it on the level of a protection racket or you can have it on the level of a civic funded authority.
SL. One of the things I noticed is that, because you mentioned this event that… they were trying to arrange a debate and then the debate was stopped and this mob rushed into the audience and they said we're gonna stop this event, it was at the Michigan Political Union…
JF. It would be a much more debatable topic on British campuses than America campuses, no doubt. In America they could say to such a group “we won't have you on campus because the police may not be able to control you”. However, according to state law, if you go to a nearby empty school in the evening you can have whatever meeting you want and the local police will have to guarantee security. So you could hold such a debate, but it would be very difficult to be its host. You would have to push it off onto the local police. So you could have such a debate. I mean, they could do it if the state law allows a vacant school and most states do, to be used for public purposes. The police would probably say “when you publicize this, you must publicized it as being sponsored by your group”.
In America they behave as if there were hate speech laws and of course they can do it. The proper thing that you have to have are people well educated enough that when they cruise C-SPAN they know what to be critical of and what they don't. Now they can't stop that. That is, whatever is on C-SPAN you can look at it with a critical eye and try if you're well educated enough to make up your own mind. So they can they can shut off C-SPAN to America all they want, but you can still get into it and even though they have censored it you don't have to censor it except intelligently.
SL. When they talk about discrimination one thing that I noticed is that it looks like these people in general only understand functions of one variable, they don't understand multivariate analysis…
JF. Yes well that's quite right. They look at the one variable of stopping violence in the back community. They don't look at all the things you would have to do to upgrade the black community to stop that kind of violence. You know, you'd have to have better housing, you'd have to have free information on birth control, you would have to have building links with the police force through having black officers on duties in black areas. In other words you'd have to upgrade the total black experience in America. This is just overlooked. Part of it would be a more friendly police force. But it really means a total improvement in the black experience in America.
One of the fundamental debates that I think you have to have at a university is Jensen's thesis that there is an IQ gap between black and white. Now, I've argued with him for 40 years about this and I think that the proof of the pudding is going to be in what's happening, that blacks are actually gaining on whites in IQ. They gained 5 points between 1972 and 2002 and we don't have IQ data but we have educational data that shows that they're continuing to gain. Now let's imagine that the so-called 15-point IQ gap really turned out to be a 5-point IQ gap. Are we going to go crazy debating whether 3 of that 5 points is due to environmental factors or only 2? You know, singletons have a 4-point IQ advantage over twins and no one runs through the streets saying “Oh, Oh, Oh, we must spend the next 20 years finding it!”. I don't object to anyone finding why, but if blacks cut it to let's say something like 3 points, are we going to say “are 2 of this environmental or are all 3 environmental?”. We will try to get on to improving the black experience in America and forget about that sort of stuff if you're sane enough.
SL. For example you say that the IQ is determined by mainly environment, right, so what sort of environment do we have in this case…
JF. I've outlined that in one of my books with Cambridge. I've looked at every age of blacks from 5-24 and I've tried to show that at every stage of their environment it has a growing disadvantageous character to whites. Now that doesn't mean it's disadvantageous from the black point of view. They might say “Well, you know what it's like in black America, however hard you try, you don't really, through academic success, go up the social mobility ladder, and we are going to build a subculture that is adaptable for us, and we're going to try and advance as far as we can within it, and if you don't like that, well, then spend the money to change our life circumstances, which is very expensive and it's very unlikely to be done”.
Between the ages of 5 and 24 blacks lose an extra over those 20 years. They leave an extra 12 points on whites in IQ and academic achievement and they're going to say to you “we wish you would spend the money to equalize this, we're not going to wait around for you to do it, we're going to try and do as well as we can, and we're convinced that eventually we're going to get pretty close to you”, namely the three points that I predict.
SL. And this is the Flynn Effect…
JF. Yes, that’s right. Not only have the Americans as a whole been gaining since 1900 about 12 points of IQ, they've been gaining it in a very unequal way. That is, even in 1900, working-class people needed a sufficient vocabulary to work at their machines as rural farmers. But the people who designed IQ tests were university intellectuals, like Binet, and they were just trying to find an IQ test that would differentiate children who are environmentally handicapped from intellectually handicapped. The IQ tests are very good at that. That is, if you look at the use of IQ tests today by sane people they don't go around saying “We're using these tests to prove that blacks are cognitively inferior or women are cognitively inferior”, (they say instead) “We're using them to predict who will do well at school”, and from that point of view they're quite adequate tests.
But as I say the blacks aren't going to wait around to try and improve their vocabularies. Everyone needs a decent vocabulary. They're not going to try and wait around to dampen family violence, everyone suffers from rabid family environments. All the blacks are saying “I'm sorry these gains are going to be differential, we're going to gain in vocabulary, we're going to gain in our ability to interrelate with school learning, we're probably not going to gain in certain other things”. Let me give you an example. In 1900 almost no one drove a car. Didn't they? And you didn't really need mapping skills if you were an ordinary person. But then people started driving cars and the middle class drove them much more than the working class. What you did, you did studies of taxi drivers in London and you found that their hippocampuses had enlarged. They really needed to do a map of London streets. Well now, of course, you have automatics guidance systems, so who needs a map? And their hippocampuses have stopped growing. So you had a situation where in Britain the skills required by people over a century have fluctuated. They've gone to keen mapping skills to indifferent mapping skills and that means a whole different occupational profile. You can now qualify as a cab driver without being (skilled in mapping), this is of course assuming that Londoners will get into a black cab.
SL. And you also spoke about video games…
JF. Yes, well, video games can improve your ability to use your critical intelligence and to use logic on abstractions. All video games aren't just shooting Martians as they come over the horizon. Some of the video games actually require what we would call increased information capacity. That is, you have to be able to take in a situation on the video game with much greater perceptual speed than you would in everyday life. So video games are an example of how things can alter over time. I've often pointed out that I think that video games have speeded up performance on certain Wechsler subtests, for example those that require speed at coding (they have coding where they code numbers with letters). I would suspect that there have been real gains in coding due to video games. So they're not necessarily a great evil. It depends on what skills the video games want you to apply.
SL. How would you define intelligence?
JF. Intelligence my mind is very easily defined, which I know puts me at odds with a lot of people. Intelligence means that you can do tasks that are required by your environment quicker and better than the next person. Imagine for example Robinson Crusoe. He went on the island, didn't he, and he was accompanied only by his man Friday and he found that Friday was no better than him at remembering things. Friday would forget this and that and the other thing. But when they had to adapt to these new circumstances Friday took in information far more efficiently than he did. Friday adapted to the poverty of the island much quicker than Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe had to say, you know, “This guy's brighter than I am, he's learning what we need to survive on this island faster and quicker than I do”.
SL. In relation to the artificial intelligence, I was looking at some papers and I found that some people are doing software that is starting to solve the Raven’s Progressive Matrices, so what do you think about artificial intelligence?
JF. Well I've written a book predicting America's political future and I pointed out that America's political future is not going to be upgraded in terms of just a demoralized lower class. You're going to have to have a demoralized middle class. That demoralized middle class will have to recognize that the future of Britain or America or any of these countries lies effectively in better educated critical minds. These things will have to be put to the original use that Binet put them to; to distinguish people who have academic promise and people who don't. What's going to demoralize the middle class is first losing their jobs through artificial intelligence. So they're going to want the government to take much more of a hand in helping people whose jobs are eliminated by artificial intelligence. They're going to want the government to take more of a hand in trying to manufacture work that people can do in place of what they do in artificial intelligence. And they're going to have to try and manage their economy better so they don't have periodic bank crisis that wipe out everyone's ability to effectively build some type of economic security. So I think those three things, the rise of artificial intelligence, the inability to manage the financial sector, and trying to give people some security against climate change. We're going to hit a point in some years now where people are going to be displaced from their homes near the seashore willy-nilly. And are they all to go down the drain? Or will the government have to take a more active role in planning America's housing? So I think that's the triple threat that will demoralize the middle class because they're the only ones who can really alter American society politically.
I mean everyone hoped the trade unions could, but America never had more than 30% of its working force in the trade unions. And now it's down to something like 12%. So the great hopes that the militant working class would bring a more organized America has to be set aside to the demoralized middle class. Will these things happen? I think they will, but any prediction for the future you have to wait and see.
SL. Yeah trade unions tend to be stronger in Europe, right?
JF. Yes much stronger in Europe and Europe has a much greater tendency towards social democracy.
SL. Yeah especially in the North countries like Scandinavia (Norway, …)
JF. The Europeans, the Swedes for example manage banking sector very well. They give adequate aid to people who are lower class and they can afford to do that because they've cut the gaps between the classes. That is, people in Sweden who have an IQ of 70 have a much easier time making a contribution to their society than people with an IQ of 100, because the difference between the skills of the lower and upper or middle classes are just not as great. So they have a better banking sector, they waste less of their human material, and they, of course, have progressive taxation so they can finance these things. And this is true in Holland, it's not just true in Sweden or Finland or Norway, it's true in other places.
America will either go down that road and become a more progressive society or will stay where it is. Now, it has a great excuse, you see, it says “these people really are parasites”. If America didn't have a dynamic capitalist economy it would not be able to produce all the wonderful goods it does and had overseed trade with Sweden and essentially push the Swedish economy along because of our productivity. I think that that will prove to be false. I think that America is going to have to have that productivity to maintain its economy. It can't just say to Sweden “we're going to be like Mars, a little economic unit set off here” and the Swedes will not benefit. The swedes will say “well maybe you're right, let's find out, we don't think you're right, we think you're going to have to fuel the world economy and the only reason this is a disaster for you is that you're not a better social democracy”.
SL. Do you think America should bring back the productive capability that is in China?
JF. America can't have its productivity lag behind China. It's caught in the 19th century world view that every nation has to be better than any other nation. As Bertrand Russell pointed out, if you go to Yugoslavia they pride themselves on their pigs and it turns out that having healthy pigs is the real sign of a wonderful society. America may convince itself that “having the real sign of a one wonderful society is having a much more wide income spectrum, that's really the mark of a great society”, and the Swedes may say “the mark of a great society is blunting class differences”. But I don't know of any way to counter that except to speak against the madness of modern nationalism, whatever you're good at becomes the one thing that shows your nation has to be called a better nation than anyone else. I admired the Yugoslavs, but not because of their pigs.
SL. So we spoke about intelligence measured by the IQ test, you said there is a question “What is the difference between a dog and a rabbit?”
JF. In 1900 Americans were mainly in factories or they were in rural subsistence farming. In rural subsistence farming you might need to know the difference between a dog and a rabbit, you would want to know what kind of dogs was best at hunting rabbits. But when you moved to an urban setting that was not a very valuable skill, while it was very valuable to use the utilitarian skills you needed to do factory work and of course the dog in a rabbit is a good example that IQ gains do seem to have… mapping skills are fluctuated over the century, while Raven’s is a much better indication as to whether you've been introduced by the 20th century American experience into the modern world, depressed people are going to show that much less than acculturated people
What I did is taking existing material and I re-analysed IQ changes over the 20th century and I said rather than taking a global view of this IQ is just going up why don't we look at the fact that IQ is making its greatest progress in logical analysis of abstractions and that seems to be an environmental cause and this seems to be verified by brain physiology.
Raven’s (Progressive Matrices), you know, what ravens is like, they have a series of shapes and there are diamonds and squares and oblongs and the theory is that these shapes are so familiar to everybody. That everyone with a keen mind should see a logical progression and there may be some truth in that, that anyone with a keen mind… and the theory is that, this is true in every country throughout the world, so we can now rank countries and throughout the world in terms of their capacity for global intelligence. I say you can only rank countries throughout the world in terms of whether they show this modernizing trait.
In Kenya for example the urban middle class does much better on Raven’s than in South Africa and that's because the Kenyan youth have mastered keyboards and on those keyboards they put together a set of skills that gives them a symptom they've entered the modern world. If you look at a place like the Sudan, you'll find that they have entered the modern world only in a weird way. They don't have a middle class that's well educated, they still use you know … in some places use this and that. But what they do in those countries is they just say “we find that different racial groups have different ability to score on Raven’s”, so when whites study these countries they say oh well “South African Bantu Sans have a stupider population than Kenya”. When the Kenyans look at those places, they say “They haven't entered the modern world as we have” and they show a very interesting pattern. That is, when you look at those countries how far behind Kenya. They and they're not nearly as far behind as Kenya on vocabulary - you've got to be able to speak to people -, but they're much farther behind than Kenya in terms of educating their system, their young people. Because what happens is the young people get smart phones and this exposes them to the modern visual world, while of course the young people get an education often influenced by say the Quran. The result of these two things together is that they do well on pictorial subtests of the Wechsler, where your fundamental ability is how well to tell a story in pictures, and they get plenty of that from the internet. However, because that's their contact with it, but they don't get the ability to do abstract reasoning from the internet. So you find a very patchy set of gains compared to Kenya.
SL. One thing I notice is that you seem to criticize the post-modernists…
JF. If the only hope is university-educated elite that shows critical intelligence, the post-modern notion that truth is relative, that there's no such thing as your critical ability to tell the truth from a falsehood, that can only be a deleterious influence. Look at the effects it has on American education, where all the educators are interested in is having a docile set of students, who they can keep from suing the university. And the students are not interested in critical intelligence they're interested in a life that influences the pleasures of sex and drink, and they want things to be calm, they don't want to upset other students by making them feel uncomfortable. So this type of post-modernism feeds into the educational system.
It doesn't do so much harm in physics and the vocational subjects. You've got to know how to cut on a person to do surgery.
But it does however mean that you become a subculture on campus that kills critical learning. If you don't think you can distinguish truth from falsehood, who's going to bother to try? Certainly not the social sciences. The natural sciences will, because they are built on certain truths that you need to do your job. The people in anthropology and history and philosophy will be discouraged from even trying to develop a discrimination of truth.
SL. But the natural science works on truth within science…
JF. Yes within science you can't avoid it. I mean you can't go to a university and then go into an operating theatre and cut the gallbladder when you don't intend to. In physics, however, when you leave to go to a university (post)graduate school you've got to be able to do the math.
SL. But when it comes to ethics?
JF. Ethics is under the influence of modern scholars, academics. Many of these people don't take a post-modernist position I should say. But those that do, will write books on ethics proving that truth is just a matter of your own worldview and that's hardly very helpful to students of philosophy.
SL. One of the things I noticed, this is particularly true in the case of American universities, is that the (university) fees are very high, and then you have the problem of student loans…
JF. Oh yes the Europeans recognize that the critical citizenry is a public good. Americans of course would say that, but they would all say “Well, yes it may be a public good but do you expect us to alienate all the parents? Do you expect us to alienate all the students? Why doesn't the federal government just give us more money?”
SL. Isn't it possible that because these students are paying like fifty thousand dollars per year maybe they are entitled and they say you should…
JF. That's why they're such a force against critical education. They go to campus and they say “For god's sake, look at the money we're making, we have a right to get a meal ticket to work in a law firm and make lots of money, are you going to deny us that meal ticket just because you're worried about a critical citizenry?”
Yes the fees, the fees are a terrible thing. Remember the fees are much less in Europe.
SL. I'm from Italy, in Italy it's probably, depends on the university, maybe one thousand dollars…
JF. Well at one time a New Zealand fees were insignificant. In that you had a living allowance for students and it was sufficient to maintain you. And what you did in the summer is that you earned money that allowed the living allowance to be an acceptable support. Then you had of course a situation where those rural jobs dried up and of course now the human cry is “Build up the living allowance!” to which the government says “We have to charge more taxes!”. In a way you spin away again.
SL. Do you think state-owned universities could fix the problem of freedom of speech?
JF. Let me put it this way you'll find a much better education going on in Michigan and Illinois then Texas Christian, because the people at Michigan and Illinois recognize critical citizenry as a public good. Down in Texas they are almost entirely interested in getting their vocational ticket. You'll find that the more the state really wants a critical citizenry the more it will subsidize education. Unless it's interested in that, with just handing out vocational certificates you'll have a worse university.
SL. So what do you propose to fix this problem of academic freedom?
JF. Anything can bring a better atmosphere on American universities except the willingness of the staff, who at least in the social sciences ought to want a good university trying to throw an extra body of influence into the political machinery, saying “we demand a more critically effective university whether you state legislators do or not”. They gotta try. I'm not wild with hopes about their success.
I fear that 30 years from now Texas Christian will still be a less effective university than Michigan or Illinois.
SL. Another thing I wanted to ask you is about, it's a different topic, it's about erasing history, all those protesters destroying statues because those statues represent the symbols of slavery…
JF. I think this is a trivial thing. I would leave the statue up because the statue is a testimony as to what the state of mind was in America at that time. That is, it helps educate you but I would have put a plaque at the bottom and I would say “understandably the people who were victimized by that state of mind, will want to know more about it and they should take history 101”. Then they would both know more about what the atmosphere was like a hundred years ago and they would know how it's changed. You would learn a lot of history doing this. And what the hell is the matter with that?
SL. I mean if you think about, the name “America” comes from America Vespucci, Vespucci was a slave owner.
JF. He was indeed. Do you just say, “Oh, Oh, we will keep people ignorant of this and we will assume that he came to America for altruistic reasons”. Or do you say “You might actually learn some American history and you'll see him in the context of his time and that you won't like and so you should learn more about his time and today and that you'll get from history 101”.
SL. Learn from the past.
JF. Yeah well why shouldn't they know both the past and the present? Why should they only know the present and have no awareness of their past? Yeah, the statutes, I think are just another example of perpetuating ignorance among social scientists and philosophers and historians, historians particularly.
SL. Another thing I wanted to ask you is about the value of human life…
JF. Well that's up to you, isn't it? You either value yourself merely because you're a hotshot lawyer and can drive a bigger car than anyone else and what they value about their lives is showing off that they have so much money that they're not subject to the constraints of ordinary people. It's a pity that they don't have some higher ambition to develop themselves as human beings other than as unregulated consumers. That's over to you. You're either gonna join the hotshot lawyers… but that doesn't even keep you however from reading in your spare time and you could be a hotshot lawyer who thinks this is pretty trivial, “I only do this because the other lawyers do it”, or you could be a hotshot lawyer that reads widely and historically aware. So that's over to you. You'd either have to blend in with the mob or look upon yourself as a distinctive human being.
One of the things I value about myself is that I want to leave a better society behind me or yeah I feel that but it's not terribly important I'd rather leave behind me my family thinking what a hotshot I was.
SL. One final thing I wanted to ask is that what do you think of the way that the Coronavirus pandemic was managed?
JF. I think any insecurity encourages you to try and grab out every last dollar you can, because when you're threatened by insecurity almost everyone panics. And there would be a much greater temptation to say “Thank God, I have the money, so I don't have to worry about the Coronavirus” and put that money-making capacity ahead of your individual human being autonomy capacity. So that has an influence. But it still leaves it in your hands. You can always say “Oh Christ, I'm going to take the risk, I may get coronavirus but I just can't bear to leave me behind an undeveloped human being”. You can always take that risk.
SL. Because in this case we had the governments taking away liberties from citizens…
JF. It's taking away from them the tendency to develop themselves fully as a human being. That is undoubtedly the case. And it's writing them off as people that are just subsidize to live on crack and rural areas.
SL. Okay Professor Flynn thank you very much for your time.
JF. Oh good to talk to you it has been a pleasure.