It is a backhanded complement to be called out in a smart and witty manner by a leading member of the pundit classes whose skills you respect.
In response to the kerfuffle about the piss poor social science research done by the Heritage Foundation's Jason Richwine and his efforts to correlate IQ and race, Sullivan wrote at his site the Dish how:
But it is abhorrent to tar someone researching data as a racist and hound him out of a job simply because of his results, honestly discovered and analyzed. One particularly disturbing statement came from 23 separate student groups at Harvard:
We condemn in unequivocal terms these racist claims as unfit for Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard University as a whole. Granting permission for such a dissertation to be published debases all of our degrees and hurts the University’s reputation … Even if such claims had merit, the Kennedy School cannot ethically stand by this dissertation whose end result can only be furthering discrimination under the guise of academic discourse.
My italics. They are, of course, caricaturing the argument – I know of no scholar who believes that genes are entirely responsible for the racial differences.
Central to his claim is the idea that certain groups are genetically predisposed to be more intelligent than others. In his troubling worldview Asians are generally at the top, with whites in the middle, Hispanics follow, and African Americans at the bottom. To justify his assertions he cites largely discredited sources such as J. Philippe Rushton whose work enshrines the idea that there are genetically-rooted differences in cognitive ability between racial groups.
Sullivan then playfully twisted my ear--or alternatively hit me on the nose with a newspaper for making a mess (you will get the reference in a moment)--as he continued:
Here’s another caricature of it:
Human beings have not existed long enough to be divided into separate and distinct racial “species.”
Of course not. We remain the same species, just as a poodle and a beagle are of the same species. But poodles, in general, are smarter than beagles, and beagles have a much better sense of smell. We bred those traits into them, of course, fast-forwarding evolution. But the idea that natural selection and environmental adaptation stopped among human beings the minute we emerged in the planet 200,000 years ago – and that there are no genetic markers for geographical origin or destination – is bizarre. It would be deeply strange if Homo sapiens were the only species on earth that did not adapt to different climates, diseases, landscapes, and experiences over hundreds of millennia. We see such adaptation happening very quickly in the animal kingdom. Our skin color alone – clearly a genetic adaptation to climate – is, well, right in front of one’s nose.
The analogy between human beings of difference "races" and dog breeds is problematic on a number of grounds: I will let such reasons go uncommented upon; they are for you to engage.
I reiterate my default position on race and IQ.
There is no such thing as human sub-species. Two, race is a social fiction. Three, race is a category that is arbitrary and not fixed. Melanin is accounted for by a rather minuscule part of the human genome. There are lose groupings of people based on in-breeding and geographic proximity. This is not an accurate proxy variable to accurately measure "racial" differences.
I am willing to allow for the following, however.
Perhaps IQ tests measure the ability to take a particular type of test designed by certain parties to measure a certain narrow range of abilities?
Let's entertain the following thought experiment: If Kalahari Bushmen gave their version of an IQ test to me and Andrew Sullivan, while we are both of different "races," it is likely that we would each fail it miserably.
A twist. The Kalahari Bushmen and I are both "black." So by failing their IQ test, am I closer to being "white?" Is this a function of biology, nature, or nurture?
One final quick exercise as a means of demonstrating both the almost inevitably problematic destination of discredited race science and the unstated (and dangerous) assumptions underlying its internal logic.
Let us suppose that Mr. Sullivan's above passage was altered as followed:
Of course not.
WeHuman beings remain the same species, just as a poodleCaucasian and a beagleNegro are of the same species. But poodles,Caucasians in general, are smarter than beagles,Negroes and beaglesNegroes have a much better sense of smell. We bred those traits into them, of course, fast-forwarding evolution.
Ultimately, we are left to ask have human beings been "bred" like dogs as a function of environmental and geographic adaptation.
I am comfortable being called a "naked ape." A dog? Not so much.