Misconception: 'If it's genetic it's beyond our control. We therefore don't deserve it.'

Thursday, 12 April 2018 · Posted in

It is disappointing seeing intelligent people welcoming the much appreciated and (on the Left) abused buzzwords 'merit' and 'deserving'. Listening to the podcast you'll notice how those are central to Ezra Klein's general view. Comprehensively divergent, on this specific issue (merit versus luck) Sam Harris seems to be in unison with Klein. (And so does much of Sam Harris' audience.) Unsurprisingly, I'll add, as Sam Harris is unquestionably a very decent individual. The point as it was mistakenly presented goes as follows: Be it mostly 'genetic' or mostly 'environment', hardly anyone has actual merit (therefore no-one actually deserves) whatever good goes their way with regards to intelligence. This makes apparent sense. We don't choose either our genes (the way by which we're biologically programmed) nor our environment (where we're born, who we engage with as a child, who we grow up with, and so forth), elements (genes and environment) that will largely if not entirely determine our intellectual (intelligence) capacity and how that potential expresses itself. What merit do we then have? None. Accordingly, how responsible are those of us who happen to be born with a worse combination of genes and in the wrong environment? That's basically the argument, one that would be appropriate if, and this a breaking if, 'merit' had any relevancy in the matter.

It doesn't.

Klein (thinking of Charles Murray) at one point says (ipsis verbis):

«Should we be much less within this construct that what we’re getting, we’re getting because of hard work and determination and intelligence and the application of our talents? In fact, we need to move to something that is, I’m not literally advocating this, but more in the range of full socialism. What I think is so interesting about the way he takes this debate — and I recognise this is not somewhere you took the debate, but I do think this is a useful thing to talk about — is that if you really did believe things (to be) immutable, if you really did believe that this was our inheritance both environmental and genetic and we can’t do much about it, then I think the implications of that are radical, and the implications aren’t that you take away help from people. It’s that you say pretty much what all of us has is primarily illegitimate. We didn’t do anything to earn it. I just happened to be born with the collection of talents that got me where I am. And as such, what we should spread around in society is much more vast

Disappointingly, this gibberish seems to strike a chord with many sensible people. Sam, comprehensibly, didn't repel it, both because they were extremely out of tune with each other and (probably) this nonsense appeals to his / our / most people's human / good nature. But why is it nonsense? With regards to genes and/or environment, we don't need to 'merit' or 'deserve' them, nor does anyone need to 'merit' other traits and/or 'circumstances' that will map their / our lives. Instead, what we have is 'the right to' our genes and to our specific environment, whatever those may be. Think of it in terms of almost every other possible properties: You or I don't need to 'merit' or 'deserve' the fact that we're born with 2 arms and 2 legs, when it's true that some people aren't unfortunately born with 2 arms or 2 legs. But you're entitled to enjoy (you have the right to) fully operate your 2 arms and 2 legs. By the same token, you don't need to 'merit' being born in San Francisco or in Japan, as opposed to being born in Ethiopia or in Islamabad. Sam Harris doesn't need to 'merit' being infinitely more intelligent than I am, nor does Michael Jordan or Goku need to 'deserve' being unbelievably more physically capable than I am. This is true for most anything. However, do they deserve the attributes offered to them by their genes and upbringing? If you find the question challenging, you've missed the point completely.


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