(October 1996)



Recently I met an educational expert. As I had expected, he did not seem to know anything about education, but he knew a lot about political correctness. If education is about learning things, it has to be about individual differences, because most of what needs to be known about teaching people effectively is about the different techniques you need to use with different levels of aptitude.

People vary enormously in their capacity for taking in and utilising information. There was no sign that the expert knew anything about that, in fact it would probably have been at variance with his egalitarian ideals to admit that individual differences existed. But he was very keen on saving people from parental influence. Goodness gracious, he knew of a boy whose father only let him meet people belonging to the same religion! - except when he was at school, of course, where no doubt he was being exposed to goodly doses of the approved outlook. An implicit but very strong element in modern philosophical correctness is the desire to destroy families, on the pretext of saving or protecting the children from parental influence. Why should this be? When I was recently talking to Professor Eysenck (the Director of the Institute which I run here in Oxford) he told me of some experimental work in which it had been shown that if rats were classified as dull or bright and the litters interchanged so that dull rats were given bright rat babies to bring up and bright rats dull ones, the bright rats brought up the dull rat babies quite successfully. On the other hand, the dull rats killed the bright babies. Presumably this state of affairs has come about because a rat's genes are more likely to be successfully transmitted to future generations if his descendants are not competing with too many other rats which are brighter than they are. As

Richard Dawkins has pointed out in The Selfish Gene, the influence of evolutionary pressures on animals has to ensure that characteristics are favoured which maximise the chances of having offspring which will themselves survive to produce viable offspring. And, at the same time, in terms of survival of their genes, animals have the most interest in ensuring the survival of their closest genetic relatives. So you have the well-known phenomenon that someone is most likely to rush into a burning building to save his own offspring, differentially likely to rush in to save a fairly close blood relative, and rather unlikely to rush in to save the offspring or relatives of someone else. A tendency to imperil one's own genes for the sake of rescuing completely unrelated genes would be a bad strategy for ensuring the survival of one's genes, and would quickly be selected against.

So it is easy to suppose that tendencies to be altruistic in ways which were detrimental to oneself or one's own family are, by now, only weakly represented in the human gene pool. In order to be well represented in a future gene pool, an individual needs to be protective towards his own genes, in himself, offspring and relatives, and destructive towards the genes of others, especially if they are at a competitive advantage. It will not do his offspring too much good to be in a population where it is at a disadvantage to many of its competitors. The agents of the collective, such as educational experts, doctors and social workers, express the interests of society at large by acting to split up and, if necessary, destroy cohesive family groups. Next month I will give a few examples of the ways in which this is done.