Harden’s Folly

Friday, October 1st, 2021

Steve Sailer describes Kathryn Paige Harden’s The Genetic Lottery as Harden’s Folly:

After years of trying out on the science conference circuit her arguments for why the Woke shouldn’t be so anti-genetics, The Genetic Lottery is finally here. It turns out to be an elaborately contrived triple-bank-shot attempt to head off growing Ibram X. Kendi-style science denialism by claiming that ignoring the influence of genetics upon human differences just enables the Real Bad Guys, led by archvillain Charles Murray, to easily dunk on the libs:

When social scientists routinely fail to integrate genetics into their models of human development, they leave space for a false narrative that portrays the insights of genetics as a Pandora’s box of “forbidden knowledge.”… Why would we want to hand people opposed to the goals of social equality a powerful rhetorical weapon, in the form of a widely prevalent and easily understood methodological flaw in social research?


The Genetic Lottery is all over the map. Some people try not to get canceled by adopting an obscure prose style. Harden, instead, artlessly expresses herself, and then goes back and says the opposite later.


Harden is proud of her book’s title:

A lottery is a perfect metaphor for describing genetic inheritance: the genome of every person is the outcome of nature’s Powerball.

But, except for the potential big payoff, lotteries are boring. In contrast, how a particular baby gets made is fascinating on multiple levels: scientific, sociological, romantic, and erotic. A less bad metaphor for how humans are conceived would be poker, a game that combines luck, strategy, and psychology. Murray, by the way, plays poker.

Moreover, Murray is an Aristotelian. The Greeks valued excellence not just for what it could do for the poor, but for its own sake.

This can lead to excessive Nietzscheanism. Yet, Harden’s Rawlsian conviction that society must be organized around helping the lowest potential people narrow gaps seems comparably unbalanced. The old Benthamite notion of the greatest good for the greatest number seems more sensible (but is out of fashion for its majoritarianism).

Harden propounds a sophomoric view that intelligence is “socially valued, not inherently valuable,” and follows that up with a conspiracy theory that early-20th-century eugenicists plotted to get us:

…to see intelligence (as measured on standardized IQ tests) and educational success, perhaps more than any other human phenotypes, in terms of a hierarchy of inferior and superior persons is not an accident. It is an idea that was deliberately crafted and disseminated.

In truth, intelligence has been viewed as valuable for a lot longer than that. For instance, the most famous work of ancient philosophy, Plato’s Republic, is basically about why philosophers deserve to be kings.

More reasonably, the Greeks felt it smart to invest the most in the education of the highest potential students. Thus, it used to be seen as a good thing that Plato had Socrates for a teacher and Aristotle for a pupil. Similarly, society invested heavily in the young Harden’s potential, granting her a full ride to a private college due to her high test scores.

The ideology of The Genetic Lottery seems motivated in sizable measure by Harden’s maternal feelings for her two very different children. One of her children is healthy and bright, while the other, to whom Harden devotes more of her efforts, was born with a congenital defect.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    Intelligence is only socially valued up to a point. Too many excess IQ points and you’re effectively an alien. Intelligence is inherently valuable by its very nature — almost by definition. If it doesn’t help you survive and prosper, it’s not intelligence.

    “Some people try not to get canceled by adopting an obscure prose style.”

    Defensive esotericism?

    Growing up, I was brainwashed with the idea that the profoundly stupid should be coddled, because compassion. An early life experience showed me this is a very bad idea, but I was intimidated by public sentiment into not talking about it.

    Many years later, I evolved a withering contempt for public sentiment. Now the only reason I don’t talk about it is there’s no point.

    You cannot explain the value of intelligence to the stupid. You cannot make the irrational appreciate the importance of rational thought. It’s a lost cause. But they hijack our parenting instincts: we get seduced into thinking of these people as children, to be patiently led in the right direction. The difference is, childhood is temporary. Stupidity is permanent.

  2. Bomag says:

    “But they hijack our parenting instincts [and we end up raising permanent children]…”


    And the race is on to find and promote more and more classes of these permanent children.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    It may be that the worst of our species is evolving as a sort of brood parasite. I’m not exactly calling for radical selfishness, but don’t feed the cuckoos. It takes a village to raise a changeling. It takes an island to house Gilligan… until we wake up and realize that we’re all in this separately.

    Dickens saw this coming:


  4. Bomag says:

    “…don’t feed the cuckoos”


    I’m gaining more respect for the Buckley adage, “feed them, but not too well.”

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