The NYT reports today that Charles Murray, the Josiah Nott of contemporary social science, is back at it. It seems that Murray has set out to prove empirically that the West, especially Euro-Americans, are more accomplished than any other civilization. I'm not a cultural relativist, but this seems a silly excercise. First, judging civilizations on the basis of standards of accomplishment that are in large part a product of one civilization seems to tilt the playing field. Also, Murray himself points to the biggest flaw in such a comparison. According to the article:
"As for the near total absence of women — they represent a mere 2 percent of the inventories — the reason is clear, Mr. Murray writes. Until the 19th century, laws and social convention severely restricted their vocational pursuits."
But why shouldn't the same logic be applied to non-western peoples? Colonialism and other forms of domination surely limited the attainments of many. Perhaps the demise of colonialism is the reason why Murray believes that the West is losing its superiority in the areas he catalogs.