Africa

Patronizing Africa

|

Here's the Nigerian-American novelist Uzodinma Iweala, writing in yesterday's Washington Post:

…Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent's corrupt leaders, warlords, "tribal" conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like "Can Bono Save Africa?" or "Will Brangelina Save Africa?" The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ and "civilization."

There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one's cultural superiority. My mood is dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually) wealthy, white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head—because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West's fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West's prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems….

Whole thing here.

NEXT: Go With Your Gut

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So does he extend his annoyance to western companies working in Africa?

  2. So now if you donate time/money it has to be for the “right” reason, or at least you shouldn’t be white and rich.

    Well I’m out.

  3. The problem with Africa is that it’s full of Africans.

  4. If you don’t want to be patronized, don’t ask for patronage?

  5. I own a good book on Africa and the problems there–David Lamb’s The Africans. It’s dated (1983, I think), but I think it provides a lot of insight. As you can guess, the big issue in most of sub-Saharan Africa was–and is–the corruption.

    I tend to think that Africa as a continent will do better once one major power arises with a commitment to industrial development, the rule of law, and a relatively free market. South Africa is the most likely candidate, but Nigeria could get there, too, if it can ever escape the tangle of its incredible corruption. Anyway, a homegrown success story would do wonders for the rest of Africa.

  6. And yet, with all these well-meaning patronizing Westerners and tireless Africans working away, the continent is still a fetid, miserable, sh*thole.

    Hmm. Maybe my neighborhood would suck, too, if it was run by some half-assed combination of Bono and the World Bank.

  7. “Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head — because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West’s fantasy of itself.”

    He has a point here, sometimes, but it’s not limited to Africa. This is part of a tendency that makes Steve Biko (Cry Freedom), Dith Pran (The Killing Fields) and Saig? Takamori (The Last Samurai) supporting characters in dramas about their lives.

  8. What they need is for a Nigerian city to berth a Great Scientist, who in turn will get them caught-up in technology, allowing them to build more modern improvements.

    OK, time to go play Civ 4 now…

  9. “T” wins the thread!

  10. …Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent’s corrupt leaders, warlords, “tribal” conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation.

    He forgot to mention the machete amputation of the hands and arms of children (and also adults) who happen to belong to the wrong tribe.

    Oops! I’m sorry – certainly wouldn’t wish to imply that there is anything inferior about their culture.

  11. My mom says there are a lot of black people in Africa.

  12. Taktix – yeah. Seriously, If I’d been running Africa, we’d have been building the Apollo Mission by like 1800. As long as it was set on Warlord. I never really got above that. And I’m really only familiar with Civ III.

  13. That said, some of the Grylliaders have had some success with Kiva.org, which seems a far less patronizing form of assistance.

  14. “If you don’t want to be patronized, don’t ask for patronage?”

    I think Bubba has it right here.

    OF COURSE wealthy individuals give to Africa so they can feel superior. So what? One might argue that a set of social arrangements that provide non-material inducements for the wealthy to provide material aid was a GOOD thing.

    Wealthy people have always involved themselves in causes in order to make themselves feel good. If what the author is demanding is that wealthy people provide his continent with aid, but refrain from feeling good about it, and refrain from indulging a mental paradigm where they are the protagonist in a story of beneficence, well – nah gohn happan. And I don’t even really see that it SHOULD happen.

  15. All:

    Sorry to thread-jack, won’t mention Civilization again.

    lunchstealer,

    If your computer can run Civ IV, get it.

    Whereas the other versions were just building a little on the previous version,

    Civ IV is to Civ III as laying eggs is to fucking…

  16. This site has excerpted the IQ distribution map from “IQ and the Wealth of Nations”, by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen.

  17. My pick for the first African country to develop fully is Botswana.

    If they stick to their present economic policies and a few other things go well, they will be the new Taiwan.

  18. Civ IV is to Civ III as laying eggs is to fucking…

    How do you know that? The mind boggles.

    Fluffy, in the fretful person’s ideal world, noone gets to win. Got it?

  19. Dear Pro.Lib:

    Check out Jan Lamprechts latest posting on RENSE. The latest crime spree in S. Africa is blowing up ATM’s with bombs and stealing the money. The banks are stumped. Better find another candidate.

  20. Civ III is to Civ IV as laying eggs is to fucking…

    How do you know that? The mind boggles.

    I can’t say from experience, however, I can’t imagine myself enjoying the act of passing an egg out of an orifice such as my ass…

    That’s just me though…

  21. Guys

    Many of your critiques of Iweala’s are spot on…

    unless, you happen to believe, as I do. that many of Africa’s problems are the direct result of centuris of exploitation by the west. However, I’m not going to assume I know the truth better than every one else. So I’m goign to ask an honest question of everyone, in two parts

    1) What percentage, if any, of Africa’s current problems, do you attribute to the lingering after-effects of domination bythe west

    2)If your answer to 1 is “a significant amount”, what, if anything, do yo8u feelthe indstrialized west “owes” the people of the third world?

  22. This is the modern version of “The White Man’s Burden”. The underlying racism is identical.

  23. cbmclean,

    That’s a spot-on question.

    There’s a great book called “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families – Stories from Rwanda” by Philip Gourevitch. He does quite a convincing job of showing that a lot of the genocide was indirectly a result of modern European powers and their propping up corrupt puppet-regimes. I’m not sure what we owe them, but I think you could put a high percentage of their problems to former and current western domination.

  24. Cbmclean,

    I don’t know of any country that ever existed which had no history of exploitation by one group of another. Such is the case with men. Maybe countries made of angels do better.

    Anyway, guilt is individual, not collective. If my ancestors oppressed your ancestors, I don’t owe you anything. If I stole $20 from you, then I owe you $20 plus interest.

  25. abdul,

    you seem awfully sure of the proposition that guilt is not collective. There are many people that would disagree with you. While I am not one, Ithink your argument would be stronger if you provided reasoning for your assertion.
    Anyway, Iwould like to examine your argument a bit more. Basically you say, if my ancestor stole 420 from y our ancestor, I don’t owe you jack shit, but if I stole $20 from you I owe you $20 plus interest. Fair enough, but letme pose a question. Suppose my ancestor stole $20 dollars from yoru ancestor, and then used it to start a business which eventually made him rich, which led to me being bron wealthymyself. Are you saying thatI should feel no moral compulsion to share any of my current wealth with you?

  26. cbmclean —

    Japan’s brutal colonial rule in South Korea and Taiwan doesn’t seem to have kept them from developing after gaining independence. Similarly, if foreign exploitation (“theft”) of natural resources explained Africa’s woes, the lack of natural resources in Taiwan and South Korea should have been a similar problem for their development. If the problem was Western-backed dictatorial rule, and Western political manipulation, well, again, South Korea should be as poorly off as Africa.

    No, if the troubles of Africa have a Western cause, that cause is most likely the thing the West did to Africa that it did not do to South Korea or Taiwan-provide lots and lots of development aid. If that’s so, what the West owes Africa is to stop providing the aid. Any compensation for the damage inflicted would just be causing more damage.

    Or Africa’s problems could be of its own making-that they are the effect of domestic policy choices. Most of independent Africa spent the Cold War as a quilt of centrally-planned socialist states, and accordingly suffered the fate of North Korea instead of the success of the South.

    One might blame Western intellectuals for their aid and comfort to socialists in such countries, and assess each Western nation a fee based on (how to proportion it, hmmm, say) how long it was ruled by a party or coalition including a party that was a member of either the Second or Third Internationals. But the fee should then be held in escrow until the countries adopt proper laissez-faire capitalism (say, an Index of Economic Freedom value of 70) and be used to finance businesses instead of being granted to the governments.

  27. Warmongering Lunatic

    Your point about South Korea and Taiwan is excellent. but back to my original question, are you saying that hardly any of Africa’s current problems are the result of western influence? Certainly, such a case could be made, as you previewed in your post, I just want to know if you think that colonialism itself is responsible for any of Africa’s dysfunction today.

  28. Perhaps an even more pertinent illustration of WL’s point would be Singapore and Hong Kong, which are ex-British colonies that have managed to thrive regardless.

  29. The issue of natural resources is an interesting one. To the best of my knowledge, none of the “Asian Tigers” is particularly rich in natural resources. It may be that resources are more of a curse than a blessing, as they are easily concentrated into the hands of a corrupt elite, whereas an economy based on services and other types of trade is more flexible.

  30. Back in college a guy once asked me if I was “proud” to be black. I said, “of course not!” and he was surprised. Why shouldn’t you be proud of your heritage? Think of the achievements of your people in popular culture, art, music, sports, etc. Think of the centuries of struggle. Don’t you feel any pride?

    I explained to this person that being proud of one’s skin color is like being proud of the texture of your toenails – it is irrelevant to one’s moral character. Were my melanin level to morally link me to all black people’s achievements and honors, it follows that I would also be connected to the failures, the misery, the genocides, the tribal slaughter, and the relative weakness of Africans to the rest of the world.

    This is collectivism. This is the philosophical root of much of Africa and the west, and it contributes to the difficulty of creating a stable prosperous government in that part of the world.

    Cbmclean asked a great question about the culpability of the west. What does the world owe Africa? Materially, I would say very little. Aside from tens of billions in aid that is dumped there every year, Africa is a very rich continent. There is no shortage of natural resources, land, minerals, and other commodities.

    The problem is political. The west needs to set a good example and try to inspire African regimes to change. As they clean up their act, we trade with them as equals instead of just dumping aid and feeling superior. Westerners are NOT inherently superior in to Africans; as humans, we all have potential that can be tapped given the proper form of government. If all or even most of Africa had constitutional law, property rights, due process and other protections, you would see productivity on par with if not greater than in Europe or America. Look at how China and India are changing (though both have a long way to go)

  31. There is a proverb we often speak in this country that this ingrate needs to learn:
    Never look a gift horse in the mouth.

    “…Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent’s corrupt leaders, warlords, “tribal” conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured…?
    You know what they always say: even the most vile stereotypes contain a kernel of truth. Except in this case it’s the whole fucking cob. I can count on one finger how many stable democracies are present in Africa. Hell, that may even be an overestimation. The condescension that this idiot senses from the presence of Bono is the least of Africa’s worries.
    For Christ sake they have a guy in power in South Africa who still claims HIV is not the cause of AIDS and he wonders why that disease is such a problem on the continent. And no one, I repeat no one in a position of power in Africa, has stepped forward to condemn Robert Mugabe for turning the breadbasket of Africa into a basket case. I guess the surrounding kleptocrats have his back.
    Africa is the most resource-rich of the continents. I think the embrace of Marxist economic policies by a large percentage of the countries has just a wee bit more to do with the poverty than past colonialism. It seems some are more interested in kidnapping oilworkers than they are reaping oil profits.
    As to the question of what we owe these people, we have poured so many trillions of dollars of aid into this country, it would be patronizingly racist of us to not ask why the people on the continent can’t seem to fix things for themselves.

  32. The biggest story in the next few decades for African economic development will be China. Chinese companies are developing a LOT of projects in Africa. $40 billion in trade and growing.

    Also, I think it’s a bit of a mistake to just say “Africa.” There are about 50 different Africas, and there are some success stories peppered in through there.

  33. As a patron of fine and not-so-fine wines I am in a position to offer Nigerian-American novelist Uzodinma Iweala some delightful cheese to go with his WHINE.

    Jesse identified this guy as Nigerian-American but he certainly seems to do a lot of self-identifying as an African.

    BTW, I can’t stand Bono’s self righteous posturing neither. But that doesn’t change the reality of Africa’s problems.

  34. The author has a point if I understand him or her correctly. Objectifying people can do great damage to them.

  35. Dith Pran (The Killing Fields)…

    Really…I can’t even remember who the white guy was in that movie.

  36. joshua corning,

    Sydney Schanberg

  37. 2)If your answer to 1 is “a significant amount”, what, if anything, do yo8u feelthe indstrialized west “owes” the people of the third world?

    Jack shit.

    The reality is that the more the west “helps” 3rd world countries the worse off they become.

    In policy terms this means the west “owes” the third world the right to free trade and nothing else.

  38. And if one red cent of my money makes its way to Zimbabwe, I’m gonna get medieval. I don’t give change to crack addicts on the street and I won’t knowingly prop up a tin-pot dictator who still believes in the quaint idea that price controls are the way to fix inflation.

  39. While I am not one, Ithink your argument would be stronger if you provided reasoning for your assertion.

    If my dad kills someone he goes to jail.

    This is justice

    If my dad kills someone I go to jail.

    This is injustice

    OK I am ready for your next stupid question.

  40. I for one am awaiting with baited breath Grand Chalupa’s opinion on this topic…

  41. If what the author is demanding is that wealthy people provide his continent with aid, but refrain from feeling good about it, and refrain from indulging a mental paradigm where they are the protagonist in a story of beneficence, well – nah gohn happan.

    Yep, exactly right. Oddly enough, though, the above sounds a lot like the fundamental request of the protagonist in the religion most central in the development of The West.

  42. Joshua Corning-

    I agree with you, if your father kills someone and you go to jail, that would be injustice. But lets say your father is a farmer, and he steals money, which he uses to improve his farm. Years go by, and you inherit the farm. Does that change anything for you? I relaize thatthi sis an amlost laughable oversimplification, because it’s a debateable point whether our ancestors (and by our, I mean western europe and those settler colonies descended from it) “stole” anything from Africa.

  43. wow and after re-reading my post I realize that my typos make me look like a retarded monkey. I need to proofread my stuff.

  44. cbmclean –

    By and large (and yes, I’m hedging), I believe colonialism is not a significant factor, because colonialism doesn’t seem to have consistent explanatory power.

    The legacy of Japanese colonialism in Korea and Taiwan was as brutal and distorting as anything the English or French did in Africa. Ireland has a history of foreign oppression to match anything in Africa. The Bahamas is populated by the descendants of African slaves, exploited for its sugar cane for centuries, and didn’t get it’s independence until the 1960s. All are in pretty good shape, however.

    At the same time, Ethiopia was always independent except for a brief occupation. Liberia was admittedly distorted by the Americo-Liberians, but it never had external rule. Yet both are clearly dysfunctional.

    Yes, you can go into most countries in Africa and point to problems that stem from choices in colonial times. The question is, though, would they have wound up better off under the rule of native African kingdoms? And I don’t see any reason to believe that. The core of Africa’s problems is too much Julius Nyerere and not enough Park Chung-hee, however much nicer a guy Nyerere was.

  45. Africa, for the most part, is a tribal culture that has been meddled in for the last century and a half.

    The meddling has put a wet blanket on advancement and fostered the wide spread corruption that is rapant on the continent.

    The best thing the West could do is open up our boarders to their products and LEAVE THEM ALONE.

    The geologic clock is a great reference point for realizing that growth takes awhile. If the World stays out of Africa and let’s them figure it out they will eventually join the rest of us (50 years or so).

    Schempf

  46. he core of Africa’s problems is too much Julius Nyerere and not enough Park Chung-hee, however much nicer a guy Nyerere was.

    Hey, you gotta give Nyerere some credit. He admitted his socialist policies were complete and utter crap. Yeah, I know, after the damage had already been done. Just sayin’.

  47. Let’s not forget that the richest and most powerful nation on Earth is an assortment of former western colonies.

  48. CBMClean,

    “1) What percentage, if any, of Africa’s current problems, do you attribute to the lingering after-effects of domination bythe west”

    Zero.

    “2)If your answer to 1 is “a significant amount”, what, if anything, do yo8u feelthe indstrialized west “owes” the people of the third world?”

    Nothing.

  49. There’s a joke about the development of South Korea compared to Zimbabwe. At an international conference, a Korean bureaucrat meets his zimbabwean counterpart. They strike up a freindship and the Korean asks the Zimbabwean to visit him at home in one year. The Zimbabwean arrives and sees the Korean minister has a BMW, a split-level colonial home, and his kids are in private school.

    “How did you afford this on a agovernment salary?” the Zimbabwean asks.

    “See that highway over there?” the Korean says, “Me take 10%.”

    The next year, the Korean visits zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean minister has a Rolls Royce, his house is a mansion, and the kids are in Swiss boarding schools.

    “How did you afford all this?” the Korean asks.

    “See that highway over there?” The Zimbabwean responds.

    “There is no highway.” the Korean answers.

    “Me take 100%!” the Zimbabwean says.

  50. Abdul,

    That is funny.

  51. cbmclean –

    Your point is actually not an oversimplification, and it contains the seed of the answer you’re looking for.

    I think in some extremely limited instances, you could find a case where the “debt” of a previous crime could be passed down. If I inherit the estate of someone who has died, I can’t just take the house but not the mortgage. I have to take both the assets and the debits. You could argue that the “debt” of slavery, for example, is simply an impairment to title on the assets of individual estates that wasn’t realized at the time.

    This still wouldn’t establish collective guilt, however, which is what we’re discussing. You’d just be establishing a large number of individual debts, passed down via estates. People whose ancestors were too poor to have owned slaves, or who lived in an area where slavery was illegal, or who had some intervening ancestor declare bankruptcy, or who never realized any proceeds from slavery via inheritance due to the squandering of the wealth created, war, accident, etc. would not be included in the set of debtors. To establish collective guilt, you need an analogy that ropes in all of those people, but which does not suffer from the Proudhonistic fallacy as a result.

  52. A part of colonialism that can still be said to affect Africa today is how the borders were drawn by the colonial powers. They paid no respect to tribal divisions, meaning competing tribes wound up under the same nation, often causing frictions that later resulted in civil wars.

    As for the economic side of it, several posts here have made the point that any damage done could have been corrected long ago by rational, non-corrupt economic policies. The Western Powers actually lost money in the colonies, what with the infrastructure they had to build from scratch.

    Today, some countries are doing better than others, (of course). Nigeria and the Central African Republic are cesspools of corruption. Others, such as Ghana, are doing relatively well.

  53. “”Can Bono Save Africa?””

    better yet – can bono go and like disappear, if it’s in Africa, fine. As long as he disappears.

    (and takes Michael Stipe with him)

  54. 2)If your answer to 1 is “a significant amount”, what, if anything, do yo8u feelthe indstrialized west “owes” the people of the third world?

    Well, lets assume for the sake of argument that we just go ahead and posit that part one is true. Western domination and interference played a significant role in Africa’s current woes. So what should we do?

    The first step is “Stop making things worse.” If Western meddling brought Africa to its current state, then our first step should probably be to stop meddling. It’s worth remembering that while a good portion of the West’s adventurism in Africa was motivated by avarice, a good portion was motivated by a desire to ‘save’ Africa by imposing then-Western-values. We now see what the Western powers were doing – aggressive Christian conversions and some forms of modernization – as other forms of domination only somewhat less odious than outright military domination. However, at the time, it was seen as ‘helping’, and certainly some Africans, who saw the riches of the West and wanted a share of it, probably even actively wanted such interference.

    Such is the case today. Africa might benefit from social-program-du-jour, but top-down imposition of aide programs has a tendency to be temporary fixes, which rarely produce lasting improvements. Not all African-initiated projects turn out to be helpful in the long run, either, but I suspect that they have a better track record.

    Of course, one of the biggest problems facing Africa today seems not to be of Western origin. AIDS is killing far too many Africans, but the best science can tell us is that this is an indigenous African disease, not a Western import.

    So Africa is a more complex kettle of fish than ‘West bad’ or ‘Africans primitive’ narratives would indicate. Ultimately, any solutions to Africa’s myriad problems will be brought about by Africans, and they will better be able to do this if we start treating them like equals, and not as some charitable cause to prop up our self-esteem.

  55. (and takes Michael Stipe with him)

    We’re better off if several people take Michael Stipe to several different locations simultaniously.

    If we just let Bono take him, there is always a chance that he will return. My way reduces the chance of spontanious reassembly of the various parts.

  56. My way reduces the chance of spontanious reassembly of the various parts.

    Unless Spike decides to get Dru another apocalyptic birthday present.

  57. JW – agreed!

    Maybe we could form a Stipe/Bono/Moby version of turducken… mostbo? and then send them to the agonizer…

    lunch! naughty!

  58. crimethink-

    Do you have to ask? It would be begin with the letter I and end with the letter Q.

  59. Cesar,

    Are you ruling out IQ as a factor?

  60. Are you ruling out IQ as a factor?

    I believe socialism, corruption, AIDS, geography, and tribal culture to be much better explanations for the backwardness of sub-Sahara Africa than some number from a standardized test. Especially since most majority black countries in the Carribean (Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad) are much better off than that part of the world.

  61. Cesar,

    then how do you explain the correlation between IQ and economic productivity?

  62. Low economic productivity leads to a country without money to spend on education (or in some cases even food). Someone who has never attended school and was malnourished as a child will no doubt have a low IQ.

  63. So your conclusion is that low economic productivity causes low IQ scores. I agree that malnutrition and lack of education have an impact in lowering intelligence.

    What about the other causal direction? Do you believe IQ to be a valid predictor of future economic outcomes?

  64. What about the other causal direction? Do you believe IQ to be a valid predictor of future economic outcomes?

    Perhaps, and I would imagine the impact is greatest on either the very low or very high ends.

    I don’t have problems with IQ scoring on an individual basis, comparing individuals to one another. But when demagogues start comparing average IQ in one race to average IQ in another race thats where they lose me.

  65. Cesar,

    I realize that issues of race and IQ are a taboo subject, so I’m leaving race entirely out of the equation.

    In 1995, the American Psychological Association reported that IQ predicts ~16% of income variance (about +0.4 correlation) and ~29% of job performance variance (about +0.54 correlation).

    On an individual basis, it’s a hit-or-miss predictor, as other independent factors (including a good amount of pure randomness) will still account for the majority of individual outcome variance.

    However, if you take two large samples of people, one with high IQs and one with low IQs, the odds will become quite good that the high IQ group will have better job performance and higher income. The larger the sample, the higher the probability, because the random independent factors will tend to cancel out.

    When the sample size increases into the millions, the probability approaches absolute certainty.

    When you’re talking about entire countries (as was studied in 2002 by Lynn & Vanhanen), average population IQ was found to account for 67% of the variance in GDP per capita between countries (+0.82 correlation). It is obviously not a perfect predictor because of the amount of IQ variance within each country, and the fact that only a subset of each country’s population was sampled. However, IQ was found to be the single largest factor accounting for 2/3 of the economic variance between nations.

    Fact is, IQ (like all statistical metrics) is a much better predictor for groups than for individuals, simply due to the law of large numbers.

    So when looking to explain why some nations are economic basketcases compared to others, even after taking into account other factors (history of colonialism, political turmoil, socialist vs. market economy, natural resources, etc.), one shouldn’t be too hasty in ruling out the population’s intelligence.

  66. Russ R-

    I trust you have greater knowledge in the area of statistics than I. I am horrible at math–particularly statistics (despite having a good IQ, ironically).

    So, I’ll trust you know more about the area of IQ statistics than me.

    I’m a historian by training so I tend to put more emphasis on culture and geography rather than something like I.Q. scores at the national level.

    But despite that, I have one more question for you. Is it true that someone who would score “average” on a 1920s I.Q. test today would be quite a few points lower than 100?

  67. “I have one more question for you. Is it true that someone who would score “average” on a 1920s I.Q. test today would be quite a few points lower than 100?”

    True. There has been a general rise in average intelligence test scores over time (approximately 3 IQ points per decade, though the relationship is not strictly linear). It is known as the Flynn effect, as it was first discovered and documented by Dr. James Flynn in the mid-80’s.

    This gradual increase in scores has been attributed to a number of potential causes, but there is no conclusive explanation yet. Among the most likely causes are increasing familiarity with multiple choice examinations and brain-teaser type puzzles. Other potential contributors include changes in nutrition, education, communications, urbanization and broader life experiences.

    To compensate for the Flynn effect, IQ tests are occassionally renormed so the mean score is reset to 100.

  68. Fluffy,

    I enjoyed your well-wrtiien post. Iwas wondering if you could teach me about theProudhonistic Fallacy. I’ve never heard of it. I assume it’s conected to Pierre-Joseph Produhon, but I’mnotsure.

    Thanks

  69. CBM –

    It’s not an official fallacy. Just my personal term of opprobrium. Proudhon famously asserted that all property was theft. The problem with this assertion is that the concept of theft requires a valid property claim to be violated, so…etc.

    I think “collective guilt” theories fall apart on this same basis. Essentially, if taken seriously they mean that in any society where any injustice occurred at any time in the past, no one has any valid claim to any property they own, because it’s all tainted by the injustice embedded in the sum of economic transactions that led to the current state of affairs in property in that society. The problem with this is that there has never been any time period where there was no incident of injustice anywhere in the past. This would mean that no individual has ever had any valid claim to any property. But if no individual has ever had any valid claim to any property, then nothing has ever been stolen, and there was never any injustice in the past – and at this point my paradox meter goes off and I get a headache.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.