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(content warning: discussion of racially motivated violence and coercion)


I wanted to share that I think it's not bad to think about the object level question of whether there are group differences in intelligence rooted in genetic differences. This is an empirical claim, and can be true or false.

My moral beliefs are pretty rooted in egalitarianism. I think as a matter of policy, but also as a matter of moral character, it is good and important to treat the experience of strangers as equally valuable, regardless of their class or race. I do not think more intelligent people are more worthy of moral consideration than less intelligent people. I think it can be complicated at the extremes, especially when considering digital people, animals, etc., but that this has little bearing on public policy when concerning existing humans.

I don't think genetic group differences in intelligence are likely to be that relevant given I have short AI timelines. If we assume longer timelines, I believe the most likely places they would be important in terms of policy would be in education and reproductive technology. Whether or not there are such differences between groups now, there could easily come to be large differences through the application of embryo selection techniques or other intelligence enhancing technologies. From an egalitarian moral framework, I suspect it would be important to subsidize this technology for disadvantaged groups or individuals so that they have the same options and opportunities as everyone else. Even if genes turn out to not be a major cause of inegalitarian outcomes today, they can definitely become a major cause in the future, if we don't exercise wisdom and thoughtfulness in how we wield these technologies. However, as I said, I don't expect this to be very significant in practice given short AI timelines.

Most importantly, from my perspective, it's important to be able to think about questions like this clearly, and so I want to encourage people to not feel constrained to avoid the question because of fear of social censure for merely thinking about them. For a reasonably well researched (not necessarily correct) discussion of the object level, see this post:

[link deleted at the author's request; see also AnonymousCommentator's note about the racial IQ gap]

I think it's important context to keep in view that some of the worst human behaviors have involved the enslavement and subjugation of whole groups of people, or attempts to murder entire groups—racial groups, national groups, cultural groups, religious groups. The eugenics movement in the United States and elsewhere attempted to significantly curtail the reproductive freedom of many people through extremely coercive means in the not-so-distant past.  Between 1907 and 1963, over 64,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the United States, and minority groups were especially targeted. Presently in China, tens of thousands of Uighurs are being sterilized, and while we don't have a great deal of information about it, I would predict that there is a major element of government coercion in these sterilizations.

Coercive policies like this are extremely wrong, and plainly so. I oppose and condemn them. I am aware that the advocates of these policies sometimes used genetic group differences in abilities as justification for their coercion. This does not cause me to think that I should avoid the whole subject of genetic group differences in ability.  Making this subject taboo, and sanctioning anyone who speaks of it, seems like a sure way to prevent people from actually understanding the underlying problems disadvantaged groups or individuals face. This seems likely to inhibit rather than promote good policy-making. I think the best ways to resist reproductive and other forms of coercion go hand in hand with trying to understand the world, do good science, and have serious discussions about hard topics. I think strict taboos around discussing an extremely broad scientific subject matter hurt the ability of people to understand things, especially when the fear of public punishment is enough to prevent people from thinking about a topic entirely.

Another reason people cite for not talking about genetically mediated group differences, even if they exist, is that bringing people's attention to this kind of inequality could make the disadvantaged feel terrible. I take this cost seriously, and think this is a good reason to be really careful about how we discuss this issue (the exact opposite of Bostrom's approach in the Extropians email), and a good reason to include content warnings so anyone can easily avoid this topic if they find it upsetting.

But I don't think forbidding discussion of this topic across the board is the right society-level response.

Imagine a society where knowledge of historical slavery is suppressed, because people worry it would make the descendants of enslaved people sad. I think such a society would be unethical, especially if the information suppression causes society to be unable to recognize and respond to ongoing harms caused by slavery's legacy.

Still, assuming that we were in a world like that: In that kind of world, we can imagine that the information leaks out and a descendant of slaves finds out about slavery and its legacy, and is (of course) tremendously horrified and saddened to learn about all this.

If someone pointed at this to say, "Behold, this information caused harm, so we were right to suppress it," I would think they're making a serious moral mistake.

If the individual themselves didn't want to personally know about slavery, or about any of the graphic details, that's fully within their right. This should be comparatively easy to achieve in online discussion, where it's easier to use content warnings, tags, and web browser apps to control which topics you want to read about.

But society-wide suppression of the information, for the sake of protecting people's feelings even though those individuals didn't consent to being protected from the truth this way, is frankly disturbing and wrong. This is not the way to treat peers, colleagues, or friends. It isn't the way to treat people who you view as full human beings; beyond just being a terrible way to carry out scientific practice, it's infantilizing and paternalistic in the extreme.


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