A conversation with Volkmar Weiss, for American Renaissance

1863396  Volkmar Weiss is a German geneticist and historian. He graduated from Humboldt University of Berlin with a doctor of science degree in 1972, after presenting his dissertation on the heredity of intellectual giftedness for mathematics and technology. In 1990 he earned his postdoctoral qualification as a geneticist with the book Psychogenetik: Humangenetik in Psychologie und Psychiatrie [Psychogenetics: Human Genetics in Psychology and Psychiatry] and in 1993 as a social historian with the book Bevölkerung und soziale Mobilität: Sachsen 1550–1880 [Population and Social Mobility: Saxony 1550–1880]. He co-founded the German Social Union in 1990 and was a member of the German Christian Democratic Union from 1990 to 1993. From 1990 to 2007, he was head of the German Central Office for Genealogy.

  In 2000 he published Die IQ-Falle: Intelligenz, Sozialstruktur und Politik [The IQ Case: Intelligence, Social Structure, and Politics], which is commonly considered the German counterpoint to The Bell Curve. He has spent his retirement writing nonfiction books and alternative history novels, among them, in 2012, Die Intelligenz und ihre Feinde: Aufstieg und Niedergang der Industriegesellschaft [Intelligence and Its Enemies: The Rise and Decline of Industrial Society] and, in 2007, Das Reich Artam: Die alternative Geschichte 1941–2099 [The Reich Artam: The Alternative History 1941–2099]. In his 2010’s book Deutschland schafft sich ab [Germany Abolishes Itself], Thilo Sarrazin refers to and uses Weiss’ arguments to support his own conclusions on demographic substitution. A short actualized version of his 2012’s monograph is the book IQ Means Inequality: The Population Cycle that Drives Human History (KDP 2020).

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Against the consensual position in social sciences that interindividual differences in intelligence are exclusively molded by the membership in a given social class, you do not hesitate to present intellectual inequalities as mostly rooted in genes—and nonetheless correlated with properly social inequalities. How do you develop your subversive claim?

  Volkmar Weiss: The Communists, who came to power in 1945 in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, started from the assumption that all social differences were based on social causes and only on them. By abolishing these causes and, first and foremost, the differences in education, one also abolishes the social differences, so orthodox communists believe. Therefore a “counter-privileged educational policy” began in East Germany. Children whose parents belonged to the intelligentsia were discriminated against, while children of workers and peasants received special support, for example in “workers and peasants faculties”. At the end of the 1950s, East Germany had managed to make considerable progress towards the goal of equal opportunities. But what happened then?

  In the 1960s, the proportion of high school graduates whose parents had once received special support after the war as children of workers and peasants and who had meanwhile become managers or members of the intelligentsia grew from year to year. In the statistics, their children no longer counted as children of workers and peasants. This was annoying and embarrassing to the representatives of the “leading working class,” and the special promotion of workers’ children was abolished in the mid-sixties. In the meantime, there was already social research in East Germany, which, since it could do nothing with such deliberately blurred categories as “working class”, had to work with clear classifications and therefore began to speak of educational strata. Empirical social research defined all university and technical college graduates (i.e. all those with an IQ above 115), regardless of their job, power or function, as members of the intelligentsia.

  Uniform school conditions not only have a homogenizing effect, but also a differentiating one and social differences are intensified. In the 1960s, in view of this development the East German power elite became more and more interested in the promotion of talents and did not longer categorically rule out the possibility of a genetic background of high IQ. In 1969 professor Hans Grimm, director of the Institute of Anthropology in Berlin (East), proposed to me to do research on the inheritance of mathematical high-giftedness. I saw myself in the footsteps of Francis Galton, agreed and received permission for this research from Margot Honecker herself, Minister of National Education.

I used the annual “Olympiads of Young Mathematicians” held in East Germany as the starting point of my investigation. In the period 1963-1971 about 2.8 million students participated in these competitions, all mentally healthy students of the grades 5-12. The registration cards of the 1329 best placed pupils and questionnaires provided data on around 20 000 relatives.

  The following empirical findings were particularly important:

  1.   In families in which the father belonged to the same top IQ occupational group as the highly gifted, all siblings of the test persons were far above average (i.e. all attended a school leading to a high school gratification certificate [German Abitur]).
  2.   In the families in which the father had a different occupation than one from the IQ top group, the siblings spread over the entire possible occupational spectrum. Approximately 14% of siblings were in jobs that generally did not require more than average mental power.
  3.   A particularly striking finding was found among the collaterals (the siblings of the parents of the highly gifted and their spouses), where both parents either belong to the top IQ occupational group or both are unskilled workers, almost always have only children who again exercise occupations of the respective qualification and thus IQ level. Parental couples in the IQ range around 110, on the other hand, have children who are spread over the entire possible occupational spectrum.

  For someone who has Mendel’s law and their statistical distributions in mind, these findings suggest the segregation of genes as the background of high IQ and high giftedness. The same effect as a major gene locus could have a series of additive alleles.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the publication of your article on the European proletariat (in which you challenged the Marxist notion of a hereditary and disproportionately increasing proletariat), how do you assess the economic integration of Eastern Germany—and the global fate of free enterprise and laissez-faire capitalism in the reunified Federal Republic of Germany?

  Volkmar Weiss: East Germany became and remains the poor annex of the West. Up to 1989, the inhabitants of East Germany did see decades of decline. After reunification they are afraid to live again in a state whose historic fate as a whole is decline. Therefore we have in former East Germany a strong opposition against unlimited immigration.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Relying on the logic of genetics and available knowledge on allele frequencies, you used to judge it highly probable that C2orf16 rs1919128 was the major gene locus of general cognitive ability. How did you come to endorse, then dismiss, the hypothesis?

  Volkmar Weiss: Genes underlying IQ should have a certain distribution within social strata, ethnic populations and samples of high and low IQ subjects, in 2012 this was the starting point to look into all available databases of human genes. Despite the extreme probabilities, which spoke for C2orf16 rs1919128, it was a false positive finding. Many of genes claimed to underlie schizophrenia, Alzheimer and so on are false positives.

  Another approach would have been to look for the greatest genetic differences between man and apes. On this route of research the group, led by Prof. Sikela, Denver, Colorado, found out that the number of copies of the gene DUF1220 (Olduvai) in the human genome is highly correlated with IQ and the risk to have autism or schizophrenia. High IQ subjects have about 20 copies more than low IQ persons. The number of copies has the same effect as the number of alleles of one genetic locus.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: It can easily be noticed that the greatest philosophers since the break in the 17th century with the scholastic approach have most often been Protestant German males—with the eminent names of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Is the sophistication of German language a sufficient explanatory factor?

  Volkmar Weiss: It is true, you cannot translate some German terms as Heimat, Besitz- und Bildungsbürgertum, Abitur and many others into equivalent English. And, of course, I did read Nietzsche as I was 18 years old and was very impressed by his thoughts and his style. However, the centrality of Germany in the midst of Europe as its geographical fate seems to have played a more important role for the development of its historical philosophy: Karl Friedrich Vollgraff, Otto Seeck, and Owald Spengler, I would like to mention as forerunners of Eckart Knaul.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: In your endeavor to elucidate the biocultural mechanism underlying the rise and fall of empires, you have been highly indebted to German physician Eckart Knaul’s insights on the subject. How do you sum up his “biological law of mass action”?

  Volkmar Weiss: Reading Knaul was for me a revelation. Spengler did not go beyond parables, Knaul stated in the sense of science a chain of causes and effects with a turning point.

  When a piece of earth is broken up for the first time, plants settle on the fertile soil and quickly fill the entire room. These annuals are followed by perennials and finally shrubs and trees. They grow denser and denser and higher and age, until the area is seized by a devastating forest fire and completely devastated. Then succession begins again.

  Among mammals we find density-dependent regulation, resulting in a constant fluctuation of numbers, by which any plague of mice or rats is followed by the subsequent collapse of their population. Among social mammals, which usually live in a social hierarchy, the breakdown of the population and a new start are forced upon nature by a chain of events: crowding and hence strong intra-species competition leads to a striving for equality and to the destruction of social hierarchy. A population with a destroyed hierarchy is becoming more and more incompetent and unable to act, and the individuals are fighting each other. In an overcrowded cage with rhesus monkeys we see murder and homicide, and with rodents apathy, sterility and cannibalism. Such cruelties have also been reported from overcrowded and undernourished camps of prisoners-of-war. Not only on Easter Island has such a cycle come into effect in all its stages and its cruelties, but also in various other, more complex human societies.

  A society that can increase per capita energy production accelerates its own social change. Also within China, rise and decline, formation of a powerful central state and its disintegration, have taken place several times in the last three thousand years. Chinese historians speak of the dynastic cycle: a capable ruler founds a powerful dynasty. The empire is united and its borders secured, roads are built, the irrigation system is repaired, life becomes better for everyone and the population increases. Although in later generations the bureaucracy, which is growing like a cancer, constantly increases taxes, public benefits decrease and decline sets in. Among the masses the opinion spreads that the dynasty has lost the mission of heaven. Under chaotic circumstances, under which the population is drastically reduced again, the dynasty is finally overthrown.

  According to Knaul, the rise in the number and density of population always leads to crowding. Crowding and overcrowding are the prerequisite to constitutional changes which lead to universal suffrage and socialist demands, Nature regulates population density in a feedback loop. The full cycle requires the destruction of social order and a disorientation of female individuals away from the normal pattern of successful reproduction and rearing of offspring. Western societies call such behavior emancipation and feminism.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: The creative and cognitive potential in Western industrialized countries appears to have been gradually eroded as monarchy and warlike aristocracy gave way to bourgeois democracy and as the latter instituted a pro-immigration welfare state. How does that correlation between dysgenic trends and the evolution of socio-political constitutions fit into the population cycle driving human history?

  Volkmar Weiss: The history of the Greek city-states gave Aristotle the insight that the form of government of a state depended on its size and the relative distribution of rich and poor, that is, on what we today call population density and social structure. Between the greatness of a community and the relative shares in various occupations and social roles and the relative size of its elite, there was ever and is a determined relationship.

  A consistent goal on the road to modernization is the demand for universal, free and equal suffrage. It is the fundamental political demand whose fulfillment in mass societies separates the corporate from the modern society. In the 19th century in England the view spread that the introduction of universal suffrage as a prelude to a radical redistribution could solve all the problems of the “social question”.

  Large and bad animals are known to be rare. Why? They are at the top of the food chain and their existence presupposes the presence of enough small prey animals—hares, deer, etc. In German, we speak of a “high animal” if someone occupies an outstanding social position. His status also stands or falls with the many little sips who pay taxes or work directly for him. The large animals cannot reproduce arbitrarily, they feel also as first, if it begins to become narrower for them.

  At the same parliamentary session where tax progression was passed in Prussia in 1891, a very first law was put to the vote, exempting low-income earners with children from taxes. We know today: On this day the breeding of stupidity began, marking the turning-point. In the entire history of mankind up to then the economic efficiency of the parents was the condition that their children could grow up. If the parents were incapable, they were not allowed or should not marry and if they had children, their chances of survival were low. The end of the corporative society thus brought not only democracy, but also the introduction of tax progression and the welfare state with child premiums for the have-nots.

  Couples then limit their number of children if they fear that their descendants can no longer maintain the social status of their parents, if social advancement is unlikely and ways out through emigration or settlement are cancelled. Since upper class places are rarer than the places further down, the birth restriction begins in the upper class. The relative social density is more important than the absolute population density. Birth control is the response to the fear of the specific social misery of being defeated by intensified social competition. This affected both the economic ruling class in the last third of the 19th century, which began with birth control, and the middle classes—salaried employees and skilled workers—who after the turn of the century become classes with few children. In such a way a decline of population quality was and is the effect of socially differentiated overpopulation. Increasing social density, first felt by the upper and middle strata, therefore led to a sharp decline in the birth rate from 1900 onwards. The number of children was limited in order to protect the offspring from a possible social downward mobility. When this became apparent around 1900, Francis Galton predicted the drop in IQ levels, which is taking place since.

  Additionally, millions of foreigners with a mean IQ below 100 are pushing to reach Central Europe, and democracy seems to us like a warm late summer evening that we enjoy. We enjoy and know that this beautiful evening will be followed by colder and stormy days, from which we cannot escape.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: In your novel Das Reich Artam, you proposed an alternate story of the fate of Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War… more precisely, what would have become of Germany and the rest of Europe if Adolf Hitler had found death before he could declare war on the United States. It is not uncommon to believe that in such alternative scenario, the Third Reich would have survived and prevented at least Western Europe from sinking into cosmopolitanism, miscegenation, and the emasculation of Aryans. To what extent does your tale imagine a similar outcome?

  Volkmar Weiss: Das Reich Artam can be read and understood as a utopia or a dystopia, parts of it even as prognosis or parody. In the course of decades Franco’s Spain and Stalin’s Soviet Union developed into something quite different. Therefore, the deeper message of the novel Artam is not the survival of the Third Reich in Eastern Europe, but the role which it could have played in the cycle of political constitutions. Adolf Hitler was a man against the time, and if his Reich would have survived him, it would have changed, too. Such an outcome does not enjoy publishers, who do not like or understand the deeper message.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: You make no secret of the non-Hodgkin lymphoma which you were repeatedly diagnosed with, and that rendered you all the more anxious to carry through your scientific works in the shortest possible time. Besides you do not fail to point out the process through which overexploiting an ecological niche results into natural selection backfiring against the whole concerned population. In addition to those in intelligence, in psychopathic personality, or in ethnocentricity, do you believe that race differences may be manifested in the attitudes towards death?

  Volkmar Weiss: Simply, I do not know. Especially, at this moment the whole world seems to be stricken by irrational panic and fear of death.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: In a couple of articles co-written with your son Harald, you approached memory span as the missing link between psychometric intelligence and cognition; and the golden mean as the foundation of the brain’s information coding in a Pythagorean universe essentially composed of numbers—more precisely, a world functioning like a cellular automaton running with and counting numbers. Could you come back on the scaffolding of that theory?

  Volkmar Weiss: In 1986 the first two versions of my “Quantum Mechanics of Intelligence” were printed by Helmar Frank in Paderborn (physicist from home) and Hans-Jürgen Eysenck in London. I sent my manuscript directly to Eysenck on carbon paper, but distributed it over several days on several letters, whereby no letter exceeded the weight of a simple letter of 20g. That’s how I undercut the mail control by the East German State Security. Foreign publications were strictly forbidden to me. Eysenck had a feeling that a very unusual work had come to him on the table. He provided my contribution with an introductory text in which he stated that one of the positive reviewers had been a Nobel Prize winner in physics. (That could only have been Brian D. Josephson.)

  In 2001, on the basis of this, Harald and I, we began a two-year search for the coding principle of the brain. I can’t remember exactly what made our breakthrough in autumn 2002. There were a few books that proved to be particularly important for the progress of our thinking: Schröder: Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws. 1991; Wolfram: A New Kind of Science: 2002; Lakoff and Nunez: Where Mathematics Comes From. I was deeply impressed when I browsed through a facsimile print of Srinivasa Ramanujan’s formula notebook, in which a world beyond any everyday understanding was opening; and finally the encouragement by Prof. Vera W. de Spinadel (Buenos Aires), author of “From the Golden Mean to Chaos” (1998).

  Then I read somewhere on the Internet: The resonance point, which corresponds to the eigenvalues and zero crossings of a wavelet, does not correspond to the fundamental frequency (i.e. the first harmonic), but to half the fundamental frequency. If we assume the fundamental frequency of the EEG to be 3.236 Hz (which is consistent with empirical data), then half the frequency is 1.618 Hz. And that is the golden mean!

  With this we had opened a gate into a world of numbers, which is so miraculous and finally so simple, that only it can be the basis of the information processing of our brains. Through hints by colleagues we found two editors, in Argentina and England, who let two versions of our paper go into print. I am sure, in the course of decades our work will become more and more important for building computers with a completely new architecture.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add a thing or two?

  Volkmar Weiss: If it had not been for the Christian Drosten working group in Berlin, who developed the test for Covid-19 and made it available to China in January 2020, there would not be a single statistical number on the spread of a new virus. Not a single one. A somewhat puzzling flu-like epidemic would rush around the world as it has done a hundred times before. Each time, thousands, even millions of people, mostly old people, did die, and did not appear in the mortality statistics of the following years.

  That could be all also this time, nothing more. What is taking place instead is an anxiety- and media-driven infection of common sense, which is no longer able to balance costs and risks, as it has been since Adam and Eve.

  Now the uncompromising enforcement of the human right to die in an intensive care bed, is our most important goal. Everything is subordinate to this. The problem is not a new virus, but the inability of mass society to deal with it.

  That conversation was initially published (in a slightly abridged version) in American Renaissance, in May 2020

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