10 July 2010

Breeding Stupidity

What is the average Sri Lankan IQ? Two recent global studies of the relationship between IQ and other important national statistics (popular religiosity and national disease burden) both include Sri Lanka among the countries studied. Naturally, both studies give a figure for mean national IQ. I confess I don’t know how far we should trust these figures, but I don’t see any reason for discounting them altogether.

IQ is, I know, a controversial statistic. There is massive disagreement about whether it is a fair measure of intelligence or whether, indeed, it measures anything at all. Its origin in eugenics makes it suspect – and scandalously, black people tend to do worse on IQ tests than whites. Less scandalously (since they didn’t invent the tests), East Asians do better than either. All this is worth remembering, yet there is no other measure of general intelligence that works as well as IQ, and it correlates to other measures of intelligence too. Perhaps intelligence cannot be measured at all; yet IQ tests certainly measure something like intelligence.

With all these caveats in hand, then, what do the statistics tell us? The IQ-vs.-religiosity study uses data from a famous and controversial book, IQ and the Wealth of Nations, and it puts the average Sri Lankan IQ at 81.

This is pretty shocking. However, it’s probably an extension of the figure for India, which is the kind of thing the authors of that book did quite a bit of. The more recent Economist study gives figures of 82 for India and – more shockingly yet – 79 for Sri Lanka. This puts Sri Lanka on par with Nepal as the lowest-IQ countries in the non-black world.

Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me. The Sri Lankan environment actively selects for - that is to say, breeds - stupidity. Here's how.

  • Because life here is nearly unbearable for an intelligent person, and prospects are so poor, the brightest Sri Lankans of every generation emigrate, taking their genes (IQ, like intelligence itself, is strongly heritable) out of the pool. This has been happening without pause since a few years before Independence – a matter of three generations now.
  • The society they leave behind is one that has evolved to nurture and celebrate stupidity, while intelligence and originality are penalized at every turn. Tradition, religion and caste all load the dice against independent thinking and creativity; you can’t even record a new version of the National Anthem without being accused of disrespect to the nation. So intelligent people prosper less than stupid conformists, have fewer children and perpetuate their genes less.
  • Arranged marriage, which works against the natural tendency of intelligent people to marry one another and produce intelligent offspring, is widely practised.

In fairness, it must be said that other South Asian countries are not a great deal better than Sri Lanka when it comes to average national IQ. This does not surprise me: the same driving-away of the most intelligent in every generation, the same coddling of stupidity through religion, caste and ‘the way we do things here’, is as evident in these countries as in Sri Lanka.
India, of course, is changing fast. But will Sri Lanka? From a Ceylonese perspective, the prospect doesn’t look good.

Map source

07 July 2010

Religion: Addictive Drug, Social Poison

Evolutionary Psychology, an online magazine that publishes new research in the field (not always peer-reviewed) features a report on a fascinating study, snappily titled 'The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity on Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions'. If the title doesn't put you off, you may find it makes interesting reading. 'Nationalists' and others who think that what Sri Lankan society needs is a dose of that good old-time religion may be in for a shock, though:
Conservative religious ideology apparently contributes to societal dysfunction... The antagonistic relationship between better socioeconomic conditions and intense popular faith may prevent the existence of nations that combine the two factors.
As a bonus for trend-watchers, the study findings also explain why, as Sri Lankan society disintegrates, publicly-professed concern with 'insults to religion' has become ever more frequent and more ridiculous. Read it and tell me what you think.

02 July 2010

Early Aviation Images

My friend Longoff has put together a wonderfully nostalgic collection of early Ceylonese aviation photographs and trivia on Picasa, which you can look at by clicking on the picture below. They include such gems as a Chance-Vought Corsair fighter-bomber being towed to its hardstanding by an elephant, pictures of old Air Ceylon timetables and in-flight menus and some fantastic images of the RAF base at China Bay, later inherited by the Sri Lanka Air Force, where the rotting carcass of a Fairey Fulmar used to greet Air Ceylon internal flights from Colombo at the end of the runway back in the 1960s.

Early aviation in Sri Lanka

The photo of a gang of indentured native labourers building the runway at Katukurunda aerodrome tells a less agreeable tale of Ceylon, but one that was always an inseparable part of the experience. Lest anyone think Sri Lanka superior to the land of my birth in even this sorry respect, let's not forget that, right now, gangs of Chinese convicts under the supervision of Chinese warders are hard at work in the South, building the government's vanity projects for it. Meanwhile, some surveys of youth unemployment in Sri Lanka put the figure as high as fifty percent. Yes, you read that right.