Sunday, January 02, 2011

China - Genius Genes, Gentlemen and State Power

As I said a while back, if China can set up a eugenic policy for a few Olympic basketball medals, what might they not do for a few more Nobel-winning scientists ?

Some of the world's fastest supercomputers are being set up in Hong Kong to address the age-old mystery of human intelligence.

The study of intelligence quotient (IQ) is being conducted by BGI Hong Kong, [formerly] known as the Beijing Genomics Institute. It will survey DNA samples from 1,000 child prodigies from China's best high schools, comparing them with samples from 1,000 children of average intelligence, searching for genetic variations.

The study will examine protein coding genes of the extremely smart children, many of whom are expected to enroll at Harvard, Yale or Cambridge. The results will be correlated with each youngster's school test scores, in hopes of learning how specific genetic variations affect intelligence.

The study, which started in 2009 in Shenzhen, is moving to a new facility in Tai Po. By the end of this month, 115 of the world's fastest sequencers - the HiSeq 2000 - will have relocated to the city. They will be able to sequence the equivalent of 1,000 human genomes a day, and soon surpass the entire sequencing output of the United States to become the world's largest sequencing centre.

The study by BGI, which receives strong financial backing from the Shenzhen and mainland governments, will be the largest-scale examination of its kind. Ethical and privacy concerns have hindered such work in America and Europe.
You can say that again. When a decent and humane sort like Charles Murray gets called a Nazi and a racist for writing about IQ, the likelihood of a Western government sponsoring a massive IQ/genetics research program ain't terribly high.

BTW, I'm no expert, but mightn't it be more productive to compare exceptional children with their less brilliant siblings ? I'm sure Professor Hsu knows what he's doing.

Ever since Nazi Germany misused science to support its murderous racist and anti-Semitic theories, Western societies have been extremely sensitive about linking genetics to IQ.
Yup. Even though we ain't German and we ain't Nazis, no one wants to be branded by association - which is what UK lefties will do the moment the subject's raised. But China doesn't seem to have a great deal of liberal guilt about such things - they're more into 'what works'.

Be interesting (as in the apocryphal Chinese curse) to see what comes out of this. East Asians are already among the cleverest people in the world as measured by IQ. If they could find some way of turbocharging that ... on the other hand the simplest thing would be to drop the one-child policy for clever girls.

(In the UK the cleverest girls have the fewest children - dysgenics rather than eugenics).

UPDATE - a vision of the future ? via Professor Hsu, Mark Lilla at New Republic on the two Westerners influencing bright young Chinese - Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt.

I had heard that Strauss was popular there, as was, to my surprise, Carl Schmitt, the Weimar anti-liberal (and Nazi - LT) legal theorist... Strauss and Schmitt are at the center of intellectual debate, but they are being read by everyone, whatever their partisan leanings; as a liberal journalist in Shanghai told me as we took a stroll one day, “no one will take you seriously if you have nothing to say about these two men and their ideas.” And the interest has little to do with nationalism in the nineteenth-century sense of the term. It is a response to crisis—a widely shared belief that the millennia-long continuity of Chinese history has been broken and that everything, politically and intellectually, is now up for grabs.

... Liberal thought, the young ones now feel, just doesn’t help them understand the dynamics of Chinese life today or offer a model for the future. For example, everyone I spoke with, across the political spectrum, agrees that China needs a stronger state, not a weaker one—a state that follows the rule of law, is less capricious, can control local corruption, and can perform and carry out long-term planning. Their disagreements all seem to be about how a strong state should exercise its power over the economy and how its newfound power should be exercised in international affairs. Similarly, there was complete consensus about China’s right to defend its national interests, just differences over what those interests are. When my turn to talk about American politics came, and I tried to explain the Tea Party movement’s goal of “getting government off our backs,” I was met with blank stares and ironic smiles.
That makes sense to me. Chinese national interest demands better governance, not less government. The national interest is expressed by Schmitt :

Classical liberalism sees society as having multiple, semi-autonomous spheres; Schmitt asserted the priority of the social whole (his ideal was the medieval Catholic Church) and considered the autonomy of the economy, say, or culture or religion, as a dangerous fiction. Classical liberalism treats sovereignty as a kind of coin that individuals are given by nature and which they cash in as they build legitimate political institutions for themselves; Schmitt saw sovereignty as the result of an arbitrary self-founding act by a leader, a party, a class, or a nation that simply declares “thus it shall be.”

... The Chinese tradition of political thought that begins with Confucius, though in a way statist, is altogether different: Its aim is to build a just social hierarchy where every person has a station and is bound to others by clear obligations, including the ruler, who is there to serve. Central to the functioning of such a state are the “gentlemen” (or “gentry” in some Confucius translations), men of character and conscience trained to serve the ruler by making him a better one—more rational and concerned with the people’s good. Though the Chinese students I met clearly wanted to ├ępater their teachers and me by constantly referring to Schmitt, the truth is that they want a good society, not just a strong one.
And the better governance comes from Strauss's gentlemen :

Taking a cue from Aristotle, Strauss distinguished between philosophers, on the one hand, and practical men who embody civic virtue and are devoted to the public good, on the other: While knowing what constitutes the good society requires philosophy, he taught, bringing it about and maintaining it requires gentlemen. Aristocracies recognize this need, democracies don’t ... But for the young Chinese I met, the distinction between sages and statesmen and the idea of an elite class educated to serve the public good make perfect sense because they are already rooted in the Chinese political tradition. What makes Strauss additionally appealing to them, apart from the grand tapestry of Western political theory he lays before them, is that he makes this ideal philosophically respectable without reference to Confucius or religion or Chinese history. He provides a bridge between their ancient tradition and our own. No one I met talked about a post-Communist China, for obvious reasons. But students did speak openly about the need for a new gentry class to direct China’s affairs, to strengthen the state by making it wiser and more just.

Now this is all fascinating stuff, implying a future China a little like Victorian Britain, with an elite class of gentlemen born (or bred) to rule in the national interest. But the British were always sceptical of ideology, let alone an ideology like Schmitt's, with its theory of 'the enemy' or 'the other', not to mention a love of dictatorship and 'decisive action'. Schmitt considered the Night of the Long Knives to be "the highest form of administrative law" - not a guy you'd want to be up in front of in court.

When I see people like Andy Newman worshipping at the People's Shrine, I do wonder - is he just making his obeisances to whatever rising power isn't British (hedging his bets by also backing Islam), or is he genuinely confusing some idealised Socialist Republic in his skull with the reality of the PRC ? What I see in these young Chinese patriots is a desire for something more like the "ancient virtues of courage, patriotism and devotion to duty" which Glubb Pasha describes in a rising empire.

“Chinese tradition has many good things, but we’ve ditched them,” Wan told me. “I feel there have to be people to carry them on.” She came from a middle-class home, and Tang’s humble roots and old-fashioned values impressed her. “Most of my generation has a smooth, happy life, including me,” she said. “I feel like our character lacks something. For example, love for the country or the perseverance you get from conquering hardships. Those virtues, I don’t see them in myself and many people my age.”

Those who came into conflict with Victorian Britannia usually came off worse - she was pretty robust about defending her interests. How robust will a 'Schmitt-powered' Chinese elite be?


Moriarty said...

What effect Schmitt's philosophy might have I wouldn't like to guess. (most likely his ideas will picked clean of whatever they think is relevant and the rest dumped, the usual fate of cross cultural thought I suppose) But if the quote from 'Wan' at the end is representative, the Chinese have the future all sewn up, it's a attitude that promises great things. It would be nice to think that's something that has reached China from old Britain, via Hong Kong.

Anonymous said...

We are encouraged to believe utter nonsense in this regard by our betters.

Remember Steven Hawking going to Africa to find a new Einstein? Funny, we've not heard back from Steve on this for quite a while.

moriarty said...

In regard of state sponsored geniuses you're right anon, but the latter part of Laban's post is more interesting. Beijing doesn't really need it's own science genius to be Rome to the West's Athens.