The Slow Death Of The Blank Slate Continues

Some years ago, a popular science writer named Malcolm Gladwell penned a book in which he insinuated — short of outright claiming — that what made epic talent was practicing a certain number of hours. In his view, because the greats did this, it meant that it was what made them great.

We call that “blank slate” reasoning because it assumes that people are identical in ability. Our society must assume that, because it is based on the assumption of human equality, and ability serves as a proxy for wealth and power. Therefore, we must pretend that everyone is the same, even though when it is time to choose a doctor we want a smart and naturally talented one.

Gladwell has one massive talent, and that is recognizing the crest of a wave created by a notion that will flatter people that is about to float into public consciousness. What the top ten percent knew twenty years ago will become available to the lower ninety percent today, and the writer who scripts it in an engaging text will get quite rich.

Against the blank slate assumption however have emerged a number of challengers, especially The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. In this view, people are not equal; genes determine abilities, and some people get more of this or more of that than others, in a matter of degree. This explains how some people have genius or talent that can be shaped by those hours of practice.

On the topic of genius studies, a recent article on the innate nature of genius hammers a further nail into the coffin of the blank slate:

“Whether we like it or not, these people really do control our society,” says Jonathan Wai, a psychologist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program in Durham, North Carolina, which collaborates with the Hopkins centre. Wai combined data from 11 prospective and retrospective longitudinal studies2, including SMPY, to demonstrate the correlation between early cognitive ability and adult achievement. “The kids who test in the top 1% tend to become our eminent scientists and academics, our Fortune 500 CEOs and federal judges, senators and billionaires,” he says.

Such results contradict long-established ideas suggesting that expert performance is built mainly through practice — that anyone can get to the top with enough focused effort of the right kind. SMPY, by contrast, suggests that early cognitive ability has more effect on achievement than either deliberate practice or environmental factors such as socio-economic status.

Since democracy inevitably mutates from the idea of “political equality,” or treating everyone the same by making them go through a bureaucratic process, to the notion of “actual equality,” or the mistaken thought that people are identical in ability, the notion of democracy — and related notions of class warfare, diversity, sexual equality and pluralism — will die with the blank slate.

For that reason, the Left and the everyday useful idiots who fear change are hanging on with their fingernails to the idea that Gladwell advanced, which is that you can take any human and run him through the right education, instill in him the right opinions, and make him undertake 10,000 hours of practice and he will be a genius. The reality is the opposite: a genius, if not deprived of the ability to practice extensively, will gift us with acts of genius, where the average person will merely occupy space that displaces geniuses in a society based on equality.

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