Crime and IQ

Genes play a major role in virtually all behavior, including alchoholism, smoking, autism, phobias, neuroses, insomnia, consumption of coffee (but not tea),76 schizophrenia, marriage and divorce, job satisfaction, hobbies, and fears. Curiously, while one study shows no genetic role in singing ability,77 another shows pitch perception to be highly heritable and estimates the heritability of tone deafness at 0.8 – about as high as it gets for genetically complex traits, rivaling features such as height.78 Animal breeders and even pet owners have no doubts about differences between and within species, and we all know from everyday experience just much people differ innately from each other. Genes evidently also play a role in crime.

In the mid-nineteenth century, criminal justice systems were still guided by the assumption of man’s free will, and crime was viewed as a sin which had to be expiated. In the late 1850s, the French physician B. A. Morel established the field of criminal physical anthropology. Galton himself favored compulsory means to limit the breeding not just of the insane, the feebleminded, or confirmed criminals but also of paupers.79 In 1876, just five years after the appearance of Darwin’s Descent of Man, the Jewish-Italian criminologist and physician Cesare Lombroso published The Criminal Man, which attempted to demonstrate the biological nature of criminality. Lombroso claimed to have established during autopsies certain physical stigmata characteristic of the born criminal, whom he saw as possessing a more primitive type of brain structure. If one accepts such biological determinism, punishment becomes meaningless.

Lombroso’s theories are now generally rejected as invalid, but studies of the role of genes in crime have not been confined to the nineteenth century. A 1982 Swedish study found that the rate of criminality in adopted children was 2.9% when neither biological nor adoptive parents had been convicted of criminal activity. When one of the natural parents was criminal, the figure rose to 6.7%, but when both biological parents were criminal, the figure was nearly twice as high – 12.1%. At first the left tended to sympathize with biological positivism, but soon Marxists came to view crime as environmentally determined. The anarchists even sympathized with criminals, who were seen as rebels challenging social injustice. Crime in a capitalist system came under the rubric of justified revolution in miniature.

If the egalitarian Franz Boaz was the “father” of anthropology, the paternal rights to criminology (sociology’s “stepchild”) have been ceded to Edwin E. Sutherland, for whom learning was entirely a social product disconnected from bio logical structures. In 1914, he published Criminology, the most influential book on the topic during the twentieth century. Thanks in large measure to its resonance, and especially that of later reworked editions, many textbooks in the field never even mentioned IQ, and when they did the treatment was largely dismissive.

At the same time, intelligence studies have consistently demonstrated a lower IQ among those found to have committed criminal acts than among the general population. The intelligence ratings of 200 juvenile offenders consigned to training schools in Iowa show a mean IQ of 90.4 for the boys and 94.1 for the girls. The mean IQ for nondelinquents was 103 for boys and 105.5 for girls.
The 1969 police records of over 3,600 boys in Contra Costa County, California, show a relationship between IQ and delinquency of -0.31. A group of a11 London boys was followed over a ten-year period so as to compare delinquent and non-delinquent groups. While only one in fifty boys with an IQ of 110 or more was a recidivist, one in five of those with an IQ of 90 or less fell into this category.
Since the advent of the revised Stanford Binet and the Wechsler-Bellevue scales in the late 1930s, it has been consistently found that samples of delinquents differ from the general population by about 8 IQ points – a significant but not an overwhelming difference. One can only surmise that perhaps the gap would be even narrower if it were possible to control for a higher arrest record among juveniles less skillful in the art of deception. The same general tendency exists within the adult population. Criminal offenders have average IQs of about 92 – that is, 8 points or one-half standard deviation below the mean.

What is actually happening? Life itself is a cruel competition, where the vanquished have ended up more than once skewered and slowly roasting over the victor’s cooking fire. Now civilization imposes rules (so-called middle-class values) that allow some people more success at winning. Imagine a situation where the fastest runner would be the only one to get supper. After a time the slower competitors would be sorely tempted simply to hit him on the head rather than futilely attempt to outdo him in speed. The same is true with intelligence. The successful stockbroker, surgeon, and lawyer do not need to commit crime to gain wealth, but further down the professional scale are those individuals whose low intelligence literally dooms them to a life of material slavery. Can at least part of the explanation for criminal behavior be as simple as that?

To what extent is inherited low altruism a factor in crime? Before axing the old pawnbroker in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov first rationalizes away his guilt. Clearly, the general population contains a vast pool of individuals for whom guilt is, at best, an underdeveloped emotion. Can we really entrust the awesome task of guiding human evolution to the bureaucrats? Are we not still far from understanding the nature of crime? Do we want passivity bred into the population? Is not crime the statistical tail of such desirable traits as adventuresomeness and the willingness to take risks?

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