Friday, June 03, 2005

On Smarter Jews

Are Ashkenazi Jews smarter than the rest of us? This fascinating report says so and suggests why (via Andrew Sullivan):
The selective force was the restriction of Ashkenazim in medieval Europe to occupations that required more than usual mental agility, the researchers say...
Of course the study focuses on genetic diseases, which is important but not as controversial. Saying that one ethnic group is predisposed to a disease is fairly acceptable. Saying one group is smarter than all other groups is considered controversial:
It would be hard to overstate how politically incorrect this paper is," said Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, noting that it argues for an inherited difference in intelligence between groups. Still, he said, "it's certainly a thorough and well-argued paper, not one that can easily be dismissed outright."
This resonates well with my own thoughts. Why else would Jews be so incredibly successful in America?
..the researchers cite the fact that Ashkenazi Jews make up 3 percent of the American population but won 27 percent of its Nobel prizes, and account for more than half of world chess champions.
And from Exceptionalism (via Matthew Yglesias):
Strikingly, non-Jews greatly overestimate the size of the American Jewish population. A 1992 national survey conducted for the Anti-Defamation Leage by Marttila & Kiley found the median estimate of the percentage of Americans who are Jewish is 18. Only a tenth perceive them as less than 5 percent. . . .

An analysis of the four hundred richest Americans, as reported by Forbes magazine, finds that two-fifths of the 160 wealthiest Americans are Jews, as are 23 percent of the total list. Jews are disproportionately present among many sections of elites, largely drawn from the college educated. These include the leading intellectuals (45%), professors at the major universities (30%), high-level civil servants (21%), partners in the leading law firms in New York and Washington, DC (40%), the reporters, editors, and executives of print and broadcast media (26%), the directors writers and producers of the fifty top-grossing motion pictures from 1965 to 1982 (59%), and the same level of people involved in two or more prime time television series (58%).
So, if a) Jews are smarter, and b) Jews are more successful, what does that mean? For one thing I don't see the point of pretending it isn't so. The following is also important:
  • Non-Jews should be vigilant and forceful in our rejection of any hint of genuine anti-Semitism. We should not just leave it up to Jews to defend themselves.
  • Since the success of Jews in business and media is due to their talents we should not resent nor glorify them any more (or less) than we resent or glorify other successful people.
  • Efforts to label legitimate and non-racist opposition to Israeli policies as anti-Semitism should be forcefully countered. The always-excellent (and Jewish) Matthew Yglesias leads the way here.
  • Jews themselves should seek to minimize the use of their often privileged (and well-deserved) positions in society to advance the interests of Israel in a "hidden" or "deceptive" way.
By "hidden" or "deceptive" way I refer to the advancement of arguments that do not acknowledge the inherent (and perfectly understandable) bias of many Jews towards politics in the Middle East.

Case in point: Neoconservatives and Iraq. As I've said before:
Imagine for a moment that Sweden and Norway are mortal enemies at war. Then ask yourself this question: Would it be in America's best interest to have me and my fellow Norwegian-Americans direct US policies in Scandinavia?
How is this relevant? Well the end goal is simple: Happy coexistence, mutual respect, and above all: No repetition of the conditions in 20's and 30's Europe (and previously) where envy, racism, and ignorance among non-Jewish populations paved the way for widespread sentiments that were exploited by an evil dictator.

If I were a Jewish-American today I would be angry with people like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz whose efforts to advance democracy in the Middle East leave them open to the charge of "inventing" threats to deceive the American public into helping Israel.

They may think they are helping both Jews and the wider world (in fact I'm sure they genuinely believe they are) but unfortunately the world is such that privilege and deception breeds envy and resentment.

Thankfully there is very little resentment in the country that matters the most today (America) but if the Bush presidency has shown us anything it is that popular perceptions of what is "acceptable" behavior can change very fast.

If current trends torwards Christian fundamentalism and Gitmo-style human rights continue then who knows what might happen tomorrow. Our best insurance policy is open and honest debate and as such I very much welcome this contribution from the Utah research team.

UPDATE: The Economist weighs in.

UPDATE II: Discussion at slashdot.

1 comment:

2hp said...

Mads, thanks for leaving your rational opinion where I could find it for use in Jews | Java | Pornography

Jack Mardack