Jackson Jules On ”Noticing”
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From Jackson Jules’ Substack:

Book Review: Noticing: you know him through his influence

MAY 08, 2024

How does Steve Sailer do it? How did a golf-obsessed market researcher go from tracking customer purchases at grocery stores to becoming one of the most influential rightwing intellectuals in the world?

Compare and contrast Sailer with Raj Chetty. Chetty has every advantage that a social scientist could ask for. He is the William A. Ackman Professor of Public Economics at Harvard University. His genetic pedigree is impeccable; he is descended from a scholarly Tamil Nadu family. And due to his high-status position as a chaired Harvard professor, he managed to convince the IRS to give him access to their anonymized tax records, one of the most valuable data sets in the world. He employs an army of high IQ and high conscientiousness graduate students to mine his voluminous data sets for any interesting pattern they can find.

And yet: if you want to know what Chetty’s data actually says, you have to read Steve Sailer.

Chetty aimed to study the question: What is behind social mobility? Why do some places have high social mobility while others have low social mobility? The conclusions that Chetty drew from his research just-so-happened to agree with liberal pieties; he advocated for residential integration, quality education, and family support. It took Sailer’s careful eye to notice that districts of high social mobility are in majority-white places like Minnesota and Utah while districts of low social mobility are in places with larger black populations like Georgia.

Noticing is a collection of Sailer’s greatest hits from over twenty years of blogging. Sailer’s eclectic interests stretch from statistics-heavy science like computerized adaptive testing and population genetics to more average-Joe topics like the LA Dodgers and Hollywood trivia. He is best known for popularizing the phrase ”human biodiversity” (HBD), which refers to the study of how groups differ in terms of physical, cognitive, and behavioral traits. HBD focuses particularly on differences between racial groups, but also examines differences related to sex, sexuality, and the variation between individuals.

Even accounting for the fact that Noticing is Sailer at his best, it’s eerie how prescient he was on so many topics that the mainstream got wrong.

  • “What Will Happen in Afghanistan?” (01/26/01): a review of John Huston’s 1975 film “The Man Who Would Be King”. Adapted from the Rudyard Kipling novella of the same name, “The Man Who Would Be King” is an adventure film about two ex-soldiers who find themselves embroiled in an ill-conceived nation-building project in Afghanistan. Predictably, tragedy ensues.

  • “Cousin Marriage Conundrum’’ (01/13/03): an essay on the institution of cousin marriage. In the Middle East, cousin marriage is a common practice, with an estimated 46% of marriages occurring between first or second cousins. This high prevalence of consanguineous marriages results in extended families sharing significant genetic similarities, leading to exceptionally strong family ties in these societies. The strength of these kinship bonds undermines the development of non-kinship-based institutions, such as those associated with representative democracy.

  • “GOP Future Depends on Winning Larger Share of the White Vote” (11/28/00): an essay outlining his recommendations for the GOP electoral strategy. He argues that instead of pursuing minority voters, the GOP should focus on attracting working-class whites to create a broad, cross-class white coalition. Sailer emphasizes the role of immigration as the key issue to unite this coalition. The essay garnered renewed attention following Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign, which heavily featured anti-immigration rhetoric.

  • “Track and Battlefield” (12/31/1997): an essay co-written with sport scientist Stephen Seiler on the gender gap in sports performance. In the 90s, there was a common narrative that women were on the verge of surpassing men in sports. This narrative started due to the apparent convergence of male and female world records in track and field events. Sailer’s analysis of the data revealed that not only had this trend failed to continue into the 90s, but had actually reversed. He proposes that the reason for this reversal was that the rampant PED usage of the 80s disproportionately benefited female athletes compared to their male counterparts. So when sporting authorities cracked down on PEDs in the 90s, the crackdown had a greater impact on top-level female athletics than top-level male athletics.

  • “World War T” (1/22/14): an essay where he predicts that transgenderism would be the next leftwing rallying cause. Although the Supreme Court did not officially legalize gay marriage in all states until 2015, it was evident by 2014 that its legalization was inevitable. Based on then-recent coverage by the New York Times (which Sailer reads more religiously than most liberals I know), he conjectured that transgenderism would soon take the place of gay marriage as a central issue for left-wing activism.

  • “A Rape Hoax for Book Lovers” (12/03/14): his essay concerning the infamous UVA rape hoax. The original Rolling Stones article was over the top, featuring a three-hour long gang rape with broken glass strewn across the floor. Other than a lone blog post by Richard Bradley, there was very little doubt expressed anywhere. It wasn’t until Sailer shared Blow’s post on his own blog that the mainstream media started exhibiting skepticism as well.

This is a very impressive track record. It’s not just that he got the predictions right. He also explained exactly what ideological blindspots were stopping our establishment institutions from putting the pieces together.

How does Sailer do it?

The Steph Curry of Intellectuals

OK, “The Steph Curry of Intellectuals” is cool.

A pet hobby of mine is analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of public intellectuals in the same way that sports fans analyze the strengths and weaknesses of their favorite athletes. I’m not the only one who likes doing this. Arnold Kling occasionally runs something called the Fantasy Intellectual Teams project (a sendup to fantasy sports) where participants can draft intellectuals and compare their performance against one another.

For some public intellectuals, it’s readily apparent how they achieve success. Take Steven Pinker for example. When I first picked up a copy of The Language Instinct, it was obvious within a couple of pages that the author was one of the most verbally-gifted people on the planet. Of course, Pinker is also hardworking, intellectually curious, etc. But in the same way that it isn’t deeply mysterious to me how Shaquille O’Neal is good at basketball, it doesn’t feel too mysterious to me why Steven Pinker is a great intellectual.

How Sailer carved out a niche as a public intellectual is less clear to me. Don’t get me wrong: Steve is clearly a bright guy. While I can’t provide a source, I remember reading that he scored a 740 on the SAT Verbal section. And he got that score before the 1995-recentering, back when the SAT was a high-ceiling test and featured g-loaded questions like analogies. That ain’t bad.

To be precise, I scored 770 and 780 out of 800 on the SAT Verbal on the two times I took the SAT in the mid-1970s. Similarly, I scored 77 out of 80 on the PSAT in 1975 and 774 out of 800 on the GMAT in 1979.

As you might imagine from my subsequent career, I am a verbally bright guy.

Math not so much: 720 and 640 on the SAT. (Those were decent scores in the 1970s.) I’m good at doing arithmetic in my head, but I’m not good at the more abstract realms of math.

But loads of people have verbal IQs that high. Using an SAT-to-IQ conversion table, we can estimate that Sailer has a verbal IQ around three standard deviations above the mean. That’s really good! But in the US alone, there are over 400,000 people with IQs over 145. And based on my impressions reading him, three standard deviations above the mean sounds about right. A typical Steve Sailer blog post doesn’t involve complicated, multi-part, roman-numeral-indexed arguments like a Scott Alexander essay or the type of heavy-duty statistics you see thrown around casually by someone like Cremieux. And yet: time and time again, Sailer gets things right that other people get wrong. How?

As an intellectual, two attributes of Sailer stick out to me: his long-term memory and his non-conformity.

Long-term memory seems to be an underrated attribute for a public intellectual to possess. Memory also appears to be distinct from IQ (though the two attributes are certainly correlated). For example, Charles Murray (pre-1995 SAT Verbal score: 800) is clearly an incredible, generational verbal reasoner. However, on his Twitter, he is occasionally reminded of things that he has written about but has long forgotten (e.g., some obscure bit of data from his book Human Accomplishment). Meanwhile, Sailer remembers everything. It’s a bit of a punchline at this point for Steve to start a blogpost talking about the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, only to end up reminiscing about a particularly memorable stolen base in the 7th inning of a Yankees-Red Sox game that he watched on ABC’s Monday Night Baseball back in 1974.

Long-term memory is interesting because it might be connected to the difference between crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence. Sailer had a relatively late start to his career as a public intellectual. While he wrote sporadic op-eds for newspapers for much of his adult life, it was only when got diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma on his 38th birthday that he made the transition to being a full-time writer. Perhaps the reason why Sailer was such a late bloomer was that it took many years of noticing patterns and collecting anecdotes before he had accumulated enough crystallized intelligence to really blossom as a writer.

The other thing that stands about Sailer is his nonconformity. The importance of nonconformity for exceptional intellectual achievement is often included in models of genius (see: Jensen’s multiplicative model of genius). But even compared to other writers known for their nonconformity (e.g. Richard Hanania), Sailer’s readiness to entertain ideas that most people would consider offensive puts him in a class of his own.

But while he is certainly disagreeable, Sailer doesn’t seem to delight in trolling in the same way that someone like Hanania does. That’s not to say Sailer doesn’t have a sense of humor (as his petty retweets of Will Stancil show). But he is consistently even-keeled in his blog posts. And in interviews, he speaks in a slow, professorial tone that is barely a decibel above a whisper. He is also remarkably lacking in ego. Many successful bloggers are reluctant to comment on other people’s posts due to a fear of looking stupid or being seen engaging in behavior that’s “beneath them”. Not Sailer. You can see him reply-guying on Marginal Revolution, AstralCodexTen, Twitter—wherever his intellectual curiosity is currently being stoked.

Enough speculation. How does Sailer personally explain his success?

My basic insight is that noticing isn’t all that hard to do if you let yourself: the world actually is pretty much what it looks like, loath though we may be to admit it.

My main trick for coming up with enough insights to make a living as an unfashionable pundit for 23 years has been to assume that private life facts—what we see with our lying eyes—and public life facts—what the scientific data tells us—are essentially one and the same. There is only one reality out there. We don’t live in a gnostic universe in which there is a false reality of mundane cause-and-effect and a horrifying true reality in which unnoticeable racism determines all fates.

Maybe it really is that simple. Sailer tells us that there is no trick. You just have to learn how to believe what your lying eyes are trying to tell you. And yet we keep insisting: for real, Steve, what’s your secret?

The irony at the heart of Steve Sailer is that despite being associated with IQ-determinism, the story of his public intellectual career tells precisely the opposite story: how real-world accomplishment is inevitably the product of many traits that can interact in surprising ways.

The Dreaded Question
At this point you might be wondering: why isn’t Sailer famous? Sure, without a PhD, a cushy academic job is out of the question. But why isn’t he working at a well-regarded think tank like the Manhattan Institute, publishing articles at Quillette and the National Review?

This is as good a time as any to address the dreaded question: Is Steve Sailer a racist?

There was a recent viral Twitter thread by TracingWoodgrains that touched on this question. TracingWoodgrains’s longtweet is characteristically nuanced, but ultimately he concluded: yes, if the term “racist” is to have any meaning at all, then Sailer is a racist. 

I don’t disagree with Trace’s overall take, though I notice that I don’t feel the same instinctive revulsion towards Sailer’s racism. To me, Sailer seems to be more fascinated by black people than harboring strong animosity towards them. For example, consider the following quote:

In general, blacks have long done fairly well on average in fields that reward improvisational skills: jazz, running with the football, comedy, rap, etc.

Statements like this one lead his critics to accuse him of peddling old stereotypes. But what if he’s correct? What if black people really are better at freestyling than algebraic topology?

That being said, there were two chapters of the book that felt weaker than the other portions, and they are related to the racism question: the chapter on citizenism and the chapter on Obama.

The first chapter of the book is on Sailer’s concept of citizenism: that society should be designed to meet the needs of its current citizenry.

Citizenism calls upon Americans to favor the welfare, even at some cost to ourselves, of our current fellow citizens over that of foreigners and internal factions.

And Sailer carefully explains the difference between citizenism and ethnonationalism.

Nor does citizenism suffer the fatal paradox dooming the white nationalism advocated by Jared Taylor and others who encourage whites to get down and mud-wrestle with the Al Sharptons of the world for control of the racial spoils system. Unfortunately for Taylor’s movement, white Americans don’t want, as he recommends, to act like the rest of the world; they want to act like white Americans. They believe on the whole in individualism rather than tribalism, national patriotism rather than ethnic loyalty, meritocracy rather than nepotism, nuclear families rather than extended clans, law and fair play rather than privilege, corporations of strangers rather than mafias of relatives, and true love rather than the arranged marriages necessary to keep ethnic categories clear-cut.

This is a stirring vision for America. I suddenly have the urge to fire up the old grill and crack open a cold one. But upon further reflection, it feels incomplete. If citizenism is meant to embody the political philosophy stemming from WEIRD psychology, then wouldn’t that inevitably mean favoring the ethnic groups that gave rise to that philosophy in the first place? I have a hard time seeing how citizenism in any practical real-world setting would not end up being ethnonationalism with extra steps.

Uncharitably, the impression I get from the citizenism essays is that (a) Sailer has an instinct that immigration is bad, and (b) he came up with a political philosophy that justifies immigration restriction without having to fully embrace ethnonationalism. He might very well be correct that immigration is bad! But the level of argumentation in this section isn’t up to his usual standard. …

Read the whole thing there.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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