Jews and the tragedy of universalism

One of my commenters recently pointed me at the work of Kevin McDonald, and academic who has studied the adaptive strategies of diaspora Jewry in great historical depth, largely drawing from Jewish historians as his sources.

I have yet to read his actual books, but I’ve found a great deal of review and discussion and analysis of them on the Web, and he makes some interesting cases. Through reading about his work, I’ve found a possible answer to a historical question that has troubled me for a couple of decades. That answer implies a terrible, bloody irony near the heart of the last few centuries of Jewish history.

The question is this: why have Jewish intellectuals invested so heavily in socialism and communism, a movement that has repaid that investment with oppression and massacre of Jews on a huge scale?

I noticed and wrote, years ago, that Jewish thinkers from Spinoza onward have been attracted to a style of political and philosophical analysis that could be described as messianic secular rationalism. That is: if you look at reform movements that are anti-religious or a-religious in character, but that are organized around some notion of justice founded in abstractions that are supposed to be universal to all cultures, you’ll usually find Jews heavily represented among their foundational thinkers. This pattern is part of what’s behind the trope common in anti-semitic literature that the Jews are “rootless cosmopolitans”.

As a relatively minor but interesting case historically close to me, consider Richard M. Stallman’s free-software movement. RMS is a secular Jew; I’ve noted before that Stallman’s thinking reads like a sort of Jewish meliorism crossed with New England transcendentalism a la Thoreau. RMS’s insistence on an absolute standard of morality completely and aggressively decoupled from any religious ideas is diagnostic of the sort of thing I mean.

As a contrasting example, consider the “classical liberal” secular reformism of John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and the framers of the U.S. Constitution. That tradition is simultaneously less interested in completely divorcing itself from religious ideas and less interested in questions of absolute morality. The emphasis is not on “how should we live?” but “how can we coexist despite having different agendas?”

Some of the key differences between RMS’s thinking and mine — thus, some of the differences between “free software” and “open source” tendencies in the reform movement we have both shaped — trace directly to the fact that Gentile classical liberalism is my background tradition in much the same way that Jewish secular messianic rationalism is his.

As a much more important recent case, Jews have played a central role in the socialist left ever since Marx, who was himself Jewish by genetic and intellectual heritage even though his parents converted to Lutheranism as an assimilation move. Ever since, secularized Ashkenazic Jews have provided the left with most of its intellectual firepower and a disproportionately large share of its footsoldiers.

And I have long wondered why this is. I used to think the main reason was simply that Jews are on average brighter than gentiles; thus, we can expect to find them disproproportionately represented in the leadership of any reform movement that doesn’t actively exclude them. But I was never completely satisfied with that explanation; it seemed true but insufficient.

Kevin McDonald agrees with that explanation, but proposes another one as well. He thinks that the behavior of diaspora Jewry expresses an evolutionary strategy in which it competes collectively as a largely endogamous ethno-tribal group against other ethno-tribal groups. McDonald believes that one of the tactics proceeding from this strategy is to sell Gentiles ideas that weaken the cohesion of their ethno-tribal and nation-state groupings.

That is, the best outcome for the Jews as a cluster of related genetic lines is that Jews maintain ethno-tribal identity, but everyone else loses theirs. Thus, I think McDonald would interpret Jewish intellectuals’ tendency to promote what I have called “messianic secular rationalism” as a move in reproductive competition!

It’s an audacious idea. The only fault I can find in it is that, if true, it’s not clear how Jews learn and transmit this tactic. Neither McDonald nor I believe there’s some cabal of Elders of Zion orchestrating the behavior, so how is it maintained without anyone consciously intending it? I have some ideas about this, centered around the observed fact that cultures often learn useful adaptations without any understanding why they’re adaptive; Jews not eating pork is a relevant example. But pursuing that inquiry would wander away from my main point, to which I shall now return.

First, I think McDonald’s proposal does in fact answer the question I opened this essay with. That is: Jewish intellectuals invested heavily in socialism precisely because it is a universalizing theory that actively aims to disrupt, deprecate, and destroy ethno-tribal bonds. This was good for the Jews as long as the Jews themselves remained a mainly exclusive, endogamous ethno-tribal group.

Second: the tragedy. If you’re part of a stubbornly exclusive/endogamous ethno-tribal group, and you successfully invent and sell the world a universalist ideology that considers ethno-tribal loyalties regressive and dangerous, sooner or later that “success” is going to come back around and bite you hard.

This is what happened to the Jews in the 20th century. Their most successful, infectious form of messianic social rationalism (e.g. Communism) massacred them in ton lots, then mutated into an irrationalist ethno-tribalism (Naziism) that massacred them in more ton lots, then Communism took a third whack at them after WWII under Stalin and made the survivors’ lives so miserable that most of them decamped to ethno-tribal Israel.

There are a few obvious lessons here. One: Some tactics don’t scale well. Another: Be careful what you wish others to believe, because you might succeed.

136 thoughts on “Jews and the tragedy of universalism

  1. I’m sorry, dear esr, but both the idea of McDonald and your endorsement are pure antisemitism.
    And I can explain why: most of jewish messianic secular rationalizers as you call them never cared about their genetic heritage – married with gentiles, and set their fire on observant “ethno-tribal” jews wherever they could.

  2. >I’m sorry, dear esr, but both the idea of McDonald and your endorsement are pure antisemitism.

    Sigh. I knew some idiot was gaing to make this charge.

    I approve of the long-term agenda of weakening ethno-tribal bonds. McDonald doesn’t. I’m a radical individualist who likes Jews. He self-describes as a white nationalist and doesn’t. Learn the difference.

  3. “part of a stubbornly exclusive/endogamous ethno-tribal group” …
    considering that even at 1900 about 30% of the European Jews married
    non-Jews, and that Jews (like any other human group) behaved like an
    “exclusive/endogamous ethno-tribal group” only when actively
    persecuted and prevented to do otherwise
    (for example, XVIIth century sources from Cyprus tell about
    the Muslim, Jewish and Christian families trying really hard to forge
    matrimonial alliances with members of each of the other religious
    group), I wonder where do you got that …

    “the Jews as a cluster of related genetic lines” … huh …

    Communists massacred Jews in ton lots ? Care to give an example ?

    The Nazis as mutation of “Comunism” ? … how about Eugenics … with
    documented and extensive links between the eugenics movement in Europe
    and US, who was neither Socialist nor Communist, though it recruited
    some Socialists, including the Webbs and H.G.Wells ?

  4. Well, I expected such reaction of yours. When an antisemite is caught he calls his opponent an idiot.
    And your claims of liking Jews is nothing more than hypocrisy.
    I don’t care of your approval of weaking ehtno-tribal bonds.
    Since you endorse McDonald’s idea of jews selling such a weakening in order to install their power by preserving their own ethno-tribality, you’re antisemite and, as we call it in russian “нерукоподаваемый” – nonhandshakefull.

    So rote in hell.

  5. One tactic that always scaled and still scales well: the universal financial world. Before cry wolf, it’s not antisemitism, just a pure observation.

  6. I adopt as a ground rule that taboo ideas are more likely to be true. Claims such as McDonald’s – that Jewish culture is an evolutionary strategy designed to weaken the tribal bonds in Gentile society while hypocritically maintaining their own identity – meet this criterion and are labeled “anti-Semitic.”

    But are they true? I think so. While all-pervading conspiracy theories, on the level of the Protocol of the Elders of Zion or the Bavarian Illuminati, are of course completely ridiculous, many critics of Jewish culture, such as Kevin McDonald, do not subscribe to such theories, as you are correct to note. These theories serve as a straw man used by Jews to discredit their critics. The fact remains that the Jews exist as a separate ethnicity, with their own institutions and organized political will. The label “anti-Semitism,” much like “racism,” is word with many meanings, used as a verbal weapon to conflate these separate meanings and smear anyone who adheres to one meaning with all the connotations of the others, in this case as the kind of anti-Semite who hates Jews and wants to see them exterminated in gas chambers or by starvation or disease. We should be quite clear that this is the charge being made every time the word “anti-Semitism” is used and flag it up for the being the totally absurd notion that it is.

  7. @Nick,
    I don’t see anything particularly anti-Semitic in this article.
    Group X has a better mousetrap.
    How is it derogatory to point this out?
    For heaven’s sake: emulate success.

  8. Any discussion that involves Jews is a massive third rail. Even in Israel proper. Of course, one Israeli Jew will not call another Israeli Jew an antisemite, but aside from that, flamewars in such discussions are just stunning.

    Anyway…

    The percentage of Jews in leftist politics is significant, but so is the percentage of Jews in mathematics. Perhaps lefty ideologies are close to the Jewish culture (just as mathematics and logic is).

    Jewish community had something like a welfare system for poorer members of the community several centuries before the modern welfare state.

    Russia might be a special case. The tsarist system was so oppressive against the Jewish population that Jewish intellectuals might have supported *anything* that stood a chance to overthrow it.

  9. Neither McDonald nor I believe there’s some cabal of Elders of Zion orchestrating the behavior, so how is it maintained without anyone consciously intending it?
    ..
    That is: Jewish intellectuals invested heavily in socialism precisely because it is a universalizing theory that actively aims to disrupt, deprecate, and destroy ethno-tribal bonds.

    While you try to distance yourself from the larger conspiracy theories of an organized effort on the part of the “masters” (in this case the intellectuals) you want to play on that fear at the same time.

    There’s no organized union of jewish intellectuals that have concocted an plan to overtly disrupt/confuse and bring chaos to their ethno-tribal rivals. None of that.

    What I believe is missing from your analysis is the study of the intense jewish schooling (largely being the orthodox yeshivas) and genetic disposition within jewish families toward psychological disorders (it is much higher in the jewish community compared to “gentiles.”)

  10. “if true, it’s not clear how Jews learn and transmit this tactic. Neither McDonald nor I believe there’s some cabal of Elders of Zion orchestrating the behavior, so how is it maintained without anyone consciously intending it? I have some ideas about this.”

    Well, if you want to roll out this old chestnut you’d best be working on those ideas first, don’t you think? Otherwise we might think it happens via some sort of Gaian planetary telepathy amplified by the Na’vi with their tendril tails.

    You should know by now that there are certain subjects where you’ll have to show your work. Liking this or that group has nothing to do with it.

  11. “Of course, one Israeli Jew will not call another Israeli Jew an antisemite”
    Usually they call them self-loathing jews or inverted antisemite.

  12. The percentage of Jews in leftist politics is significant, but so is the percentage of Jews in mathematics. Perhaps lefty ideologies are close to the Jewish culture (just as mathematics and logic is).

    Perhaps that’s true. In my own experience, Jewish people in software engineering and other fields related to mathematics often show much prowess and aptitude for math and logic; they also have stronger tendancy to be either overwhelming liberal-left in their politics or entirely apolitical.

  13. esr:

    I am about half-way through Norman Podhortetz’ “Why are Jews Liberals”. He arrives at a similar conclusion as you, but with a different rationale. He argues that Jews adopted leftist messianism as a survival strategy because they had been driven there by their persecutors, most of whom would be described in today’s political categories as being on the right. I hope in the second half he addresses the issue of why they are still mostly liberals, given that the left seems to be trending more anti-semitic.

  14. Evan Sayet, who says he grew up a NY leftist Jew, and had his eyes opened to what was wrong with leftism on 9/12 (when he saw the Left’s reaction to 9/11), says that leftism is attractive to Jews because it promises to weaken the risk of being sent to ovens, etc. This promise requires classification of National Socialism as “right wing”, and the anti-semitic acts of communists to go down the memory hole. When a conservative Jew like Jonah Goldberg dares to refer to “Liberal Fascism” he is immediately attacked as a “neocon” nutjob. It’s bad enough in the Left’s eyes for a WHAM (White Heterosexual Anglophone Male) to hold conservative/libertarian views, but whenever a member of any minority group strays off the plantation, they bring the hounds upon them.

    The bargain embodied in the First Amendment is a difficult one for many to adhere to; it requires that people be free to practice their religions and advocate their ideologies. It’s very attractive when you are a member of a minority that wants protection from the majority. The tough part is that if you’re in the majority, you give up the natural tendency to use armed state agents to enforce conformity with your norms.

  15. If Jewry as a endogamous group is able to grow while “shedding skin” as secular jews sent as viral messages into the world who weaken the bonds of other groups, then indeed this is pretty adaptive “as a group” (but mightn’t scale, etc.). Whatever moral conclusion one makes or fails to make from that value-neutral statement is one’s own problem that reveals more about one than about jews.

    Jews are not just intelligent. They are raised to obey lots of arbitrary behavioral rules as moral imperatives, questioning the how to interpret the rules, but blindly accepting the authority behind the rules. That makes them great for optimization under constraints, detective work, etc. In politics, that makes them indeed lean towards socialism.

    I say that while claiming for myself the title of “kike”. http://fare.livejournal.com/153836.html

  16. What would you say about the notable case of Alissa Rosenbaum?

  17. What would you say about the notable case of Alissa Rosenbaum?

    Well, there are always the exceptions, but Ayn Rand grew up in Russia during the Russian Revolution. Exceptional circumstances tend to produce exceptional people.

  18. Indeed, as a studied algebraist myself, I could not help but notice that the set of mathematicians specialized in algebra could be roughly partitioned into thirds: a third were Jews, a third were East Asians, and the final third was the rest of the world.

    And, since the Jewish mathematicians were more willing to travel into Central Europe than the Japanese etc., every conference I ever helped to organize, had approximately half Jewish mathematicians and half the rest. It was an useful rule of a thumb when getting the evening meals ready (though especially Russian Jews were not strictly observant re kosher).

  19. esr,

    If you’re going to use the word “Jew” properly in a sentence, you’re going to get called antisemitic. That’s how it works.

    As for the subject at hand, it isn’t clear to me how selling “Gentiles ideas that weaken the cohesion of their ethno-tribal and nation-state groupings” actually gives Jews that much advantage in society, given that they are in such a minority. If doing this actually makes that society somehow less competitive, then it’s going to effect Jews as well as Gentiles, right?

    Socialism and communism both place the individual subordinate to society as a whole, while capitalism and free markets tend to value the individual above the group. It seems pretty conceivable that Jewish tradition and teaching tends to promote the group ahead of the individual, giving them a natural tendency towards those philosophies.

    Locke and Jefferson were geniuses because they could see through the trap of valuing the good of the many ahead of the good of the individual: no one really knows what’s best for everyone as a whole. Often, things that seem like a good idea for everyone turn out to really stink. If you let everyone judge for themselves what is good for themselves, you get much more efficient choices in the long run (though, of course, ostensibly “free markets” aren’t always).

    I have no evidence to support this idea, it just seems to me that small ethnic groups buried inside of larger societies and trying to maintain their cohesion would naturally place a higher value on the group as a whole than the individual.

  20. Sheesh.

    The reason why there are so many Jews in left-wing circles is that Jewish law, as codified in the Torah and Talmud, is pretty left-wing, especially when you consider its era. Off the top of my head, there is:

    * Taking care of the poor not out of kindness but as a religiously-binding commandment (the Hebrew word for charity has the same root as the word for commandment and the word for righteousness)
    * Anti-animal cruelty laws (which forms the root of Kosher laws for slaughter and the separation of meat and milk)
    * Worker’s rights (up to 7 years of indentured servitude, master could not harm the worker, workers must be paid by the end of the day)
    * The Jubalee year rules for cancelling debts (every 7 years) and returning all property to their original owners (every 50 years).

    Furthermore, the universalist idea stems from the concept that the God of Israel is the God of everyone, not just this one particular tribe.

    The very fuzzy notion of an afterlife contributes, too. The message is that this is the world that counts, and people are responsible for making it a better place. Look up “Tikkun Olam”.

    Now, when you had Jews who were (a) tired of being told what to do on Saturday, and (b) tired of being a second-class citizen, they became securlarized. The basic cultural values didn’t go away. The groups they are going to be attracted to are going to be the groups that share these values.

    Basically, Jews are predominantly left-wing due to 3,000 years of culture. Or you can believe in magical messages that Jews are exchanging via their secret Jew telepathy in order to destroy everyone else’s culture. It’s your choice.

  21. What do you mean by socialism? The European strong safety net sort of socialism has a clean record in regards to anti-semitism.

    I don’t think the early Communist Jews had any reason to think Communism would turn out to be as anti-Semitic as it did. I don’t know what went on later, but Communism makes some awfully powerful appeals to wishful thinking. I also don’t know whether a more moderate Anglo-Saxon sort of tolerance could have been convincing in Russia.

    I don’t know how much people care about genes– memes are at least as important, and sometimes memetic reproduction trumps genetic. (People in sufficiently misogynistic cultures would rather kill their daughters than have them marry into a culture which is more likely to lead to grandchildren.)

    To the extent that Jewish thinkers go in for principles divorced from practicality, there’s something weird going on there since Judaism is a relatively practical religion– with a very few exceptions, religious law is overridden by staying alive, and martyrdom is not a central value. Maybe they thought other people’s tribalism is so dangerous that a no-exceptions approach was needed. Maybe there was some degree of envy of Christian absolutism.

    In Betraying Spinoza, it’s stated that he was probably the first publicly secular person. The title of the book refers to the evidence that he generally didn’t care about being Jewish, but it’s tempting for Jewish people to claim him as one of their own because he’s so cool.

    You know, Jewishness is as blurry around the edges as any other human concept, and a lot of Jews assimilate out to one degree or another. If you want a history of modern western Judaism, I recommend Outwitting History, an account of a project to save Yiddish books and other written materials. It’s definitely a matter of a little project that grew.

    I feel as though these comments are legitimate, but I’m not getting to the center of whatever the point is.

    I don’t think Communists attacked ethnic groups just because of universalism, though universalism turned out to be an excuse for a dominant ethnic group to try to squelch others.

    Communism and Nazism didn’t just go genocidal because Jews pushed a bad idea. (Maybe that’s the central point.) There was something in both which took the brakes of relative decency off governments, and I’m curious about any theories you’ve got about about what was happening there.

    I was just arguing this past weekend with someone Jewish that there’s a qualitative difference between Nazism and the Russian pogroms which might kill 100,000. I’m not sure whether I convinced her or just repeated myself so many times that she quit pushing back. In any case, I do think the intent of extermination is different from just killing.

  22. Another hysterically funny post! Thanks for the laugh. You have a higher percentage of funny posts than Scott Adams who’s trying to funny. I get the felling you’re trying to be serious, but I can’t be sure.

  23. This is interesting. My first thought when reading the review you linked in your previous post was ‘How would this get communicated such that the “Diaspora” stays in sync?’ I am curious as to your thoughts and hope you will post more on it. The obvious vector to my mind is scripture. Maybe the behavior could be subtly codified in the Torah (they do take great pains to reproduce the documents exactly, eh?) and reenforced through tradition.

    I could almost see it being a deliberate strategy encoded some thousands of years ago (~500-400 BC) into the scripture due to the harsh environment (desert, war, general nastiness) and especially after the Babylonian exile etc etc. The weakening of the two Kingdoms due to their separation clearly did not go unnoticed in the years after by the scholars that tried to pawn off the occurance of the Babylonian captivity on the inequities of the divided kingdoms.

    Though, whether the strategy was intended to be so long-reaching is open to debate. I severely doubt the existance of any Jews today who actively pursue it. (I will admit conspiracy theory can be fun fiction telling.)

  24. >You should know by now that there are certain subjects where you’ll have to show your work.

    OK, here goes.

    Instead of thinking of the Jewish diaspora as one big wave, think of it as a bunch of little waves or cliques that communicate culturally and genetically. Each subgroup tries out slightly different adaptive strategies. Successful groups propagate more, and their strategies outcompete others to become the whole diaspora’s “Jewish customs”.

    In an environment like that, over generations, the diaspora can learn adaptive responses without having any conscious account of why they’re functional. The prohibition against eating pork and the custom of rapid burials are two examples; clustering in professions that made them important to the Gentile power structure but unthreatening (trade, banking, tax farming) is another.

    That’s how you get complex but unconscious adaptive responses coded into tradition. No telepathy or Elders of Zion required.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that the Diaspora groups who learned how to manipulate their local cultural environment to decrease tribal cohesion in the groups around them did better than those which did not, and the entire diaspora eventually learned that strategy too.

  25. >What do you mean by socialism? The European strong safety net sort of socialism has a clean record in regards to anti-semitism.

    Twenty years ago I would have agreed with you. Now I think that statement means you’re not paying attention.

    >I don’t think the early Communist Jews had any reason to think Communism would turn out to be as anti-Semitic as it did.

    Well, of course not! The case I’m arguing is that any ideology as hostile to ethno-tribal loyalty as communism will eventually become anti-semitic. The tragedy is that the Jews didn’t anticipate this and avoid the trap, probably exactly because promoting anti-cohesive ideologies was a strategy that the diaspora developed without intention or a conscious account of what they were doing.

    >Communism and Nazism didn’t just go genocidal because Jews pushed a bad idea.

    No, that’s clear enough. I think Ayn Rand, whatever her other flaws, called this one correctly; genocide is the result you get when you do collectivism seriously. Other commenters have argued that Jewish tradition has a collectivist bias and that this is important; there may be something to that, and this may be another instance of some adaptive tactics scaling up poorly.

  26. You should read Yuri Slezkine’s _The Jewish Century_, which treats some of these issues from an intelligent viewpoint, and ignore the vile crackpot MacDonald.

  27. Let me offer a different interpretation of the facts. Due to the Jewish culture, which is generally very encouraging of hard work, and the cultural environments in which they live, which channeled them into unpopular but profitable enterprises, the Jewish community and Jews within it became wealthy. Wealthy people favor big strong governments oftentimes, because big strong governments prevent the masses from coveting, or at least taking, their neighbors’ goods (though obviously the big strong government takes a cut to compensate them for their efforts in that regard.) This is especially so when those rich are deeply dis-empowered themselves such as by limiting their civil rights and ability to defend themselves. Shylock, after all, did not take the pound of flesh at a time of his own choosing, but had to appeal to the ducal courts to execute his contract.

    So then, as Portia may have said, being Jewish means being twice blessed: working hard and being persecuted into serendipitously profitable business; these characteristics make you wealthy; wealth encourages favoring of big governments; therefore being Jewish encourages you to favor big governments.

    Of course this is a Faustian agreement, since the big governments whom they sought out to save them often turned on them before too long. They say that when you sup with the devil you should use a long spoon. However, if them’s the only eatings, and all the spoons are short, I suppose you have to choose between singed fingers and starvation.

    Although many of the initial conditions are no longer true, the basic ideals and beliefs are transmitted memetically through the culture. (This is a fancy way of saying that you tend to believe what you Mommy and Daddy believe.) This is amplified by the isolation arising from persecution preventing the normal dilution of such beliefs by the surrounding culture.

    Of course, all of the above are huge, broad generalities, and do not refer to any specific Jewish person. I know lazy Jewish people, and rich people who hate big government. But one always has to generalized when talking about cultural norms and trends.

  28. I’d chalk it up to an almost constant (historically) sense of insecurity. Jews as a group were never afforded the same level of protection as the majority population in whatever country they inhabited.

    Thus, to a liberal, secular Jew, a nation that abandons all tribal, ethnic and class distinctions is a nation in which he can be reborn equal to everyone else, part of the group, not just part of the group, but perhaps a leader in the group, and all reasons, both conscious and subconscious, for insecurity fade away.

    Unfortunately, it never works out that way. The tragedy, as Eric points out, is that no matter how loyal, passionate, and dedicated the idealistic Jew is to the new regime, the new, totalitarian regime never forgets his heritage.

    I think that for a Jew born in the early and middle part of the last century, this insecurity was always felt, regardless of whether or not he had abandoned his heritage. I wonder how much it is still felt by Jews today.

  29. ++twr. The reason Jews tend to be left-aligned is that a large number of the core Leftist beliefs are also core Jewish beliefs. The initial thesis? A crackpot theory, frankly; an attempt to explain the facts with direct causation without actually examine the details (which, while I don’t think esr is anti-Semitic, is an example of the kind of faulty logic that leads to prejudice).

    This doesn’t mean that -all- leftist beliefs are shared or spread by Jews — it’s true that there’s a lot of secularism in the left, but then, there are a lot of secular Jews; correlation isn’t causation. Moreover, by and large, the rich establishment is served by the right, whereas the rank and file are served by the right (in theory). Lets rule out novelties like libretarianism as irrelevant — and what you end up with is people (particularly educated people) choosing politics that fit with their ideals. Go figure.

  30. The religion of the ancestors is a very strong cultural meme.

    Here, in Czechia, Christianity was almost eradicated by the Communist rule, but the archetypes and some of the principles still remain as the core values of the society, albeit many people do not recognize Christian roots of the principles. It is sort of a shared common cultural ancestry.

    The same applies to the secular Jews – they are influenced by the ancient religion even though they live mostly secular lives.

  31. I think the evolutionary explanation doesn’t survive the test of Occam’s razor.

    Here’s a simpler explanation: Enlightenment ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haskalah ) arrived to the shtetl much later than to the Gentiles because the shtetl was a closed and very traditionalist community. Enlightenment swept over the Gentiles, reached the apogee of it’s craziness in Roberspierre’s terror in the historical sphere and in Henri de Saint-Simons (seriously meant) suggestion of founding the Church of Newton in the intellectual sphere (his valet boy, Auguste Comte, had actually founded a modified version, the Church of Positivism), and then the people generally sobered up, Immanuel Kant has published his famous critique of Enlightenment, people began to understand why it didn’t work, the practical-mindedness of empiricism and utilitarianism defeated the wild dreams of the Enlightenment era and things generally became a bit calmer and bit more normal again.

    While it all happened in the Gentile world almost nothing happened in the shtetl.

    In the shtetl in only happened a good 100 years later and the Jews plain simply repeated the Gentile history because their world was too closed to learn from it’s failures. Marx was basically a combination of Voltaire and Rousseau. Trotsky wanted to become the next Roberspierre, except that he failed.

    Nothing really new happened, just the repetition of history.

  32. ESR,

    “a style of political and philosophical analysis that could be described as messianic secular rationalism. That is: if you look at reform movements that are anti-religious or a-religious in character, but that are organized around some notion of justice founded in abstractions that are supposed to be universal to all cultures”

    This is why you should read Eric Voegelin’s explanation of the Gnostic roots of modernity. “The New Science of Politics”, available on Amazon. It would shake your worldview, but you would have no choice but to accept at least certain parts of it, because every statement in that excellent book is supported by much evidence.

    I’ve talked about it here a few times, I won’t repeat myself, just one thing: Voegelin’s theory predicts that the later happens the modern revolution in a community, the more Gnostic it becomes. This is why America and Britain are the most conservative or classical liberal, least Gnostic nations because their respective revolutions happend early, this is why Western Europe is more Gnostic and less conservative or less classical liberal, because the revolutions happened later, and this is why Nazi Germany and Soviert Russia were the most Gnostic of them all, because their revolution happened the latest. And of course the latest revolutionary, Pol Pot had won the prize of the most Gnosic tyrant who perhaps ever lived.

    There wasn’t really such a thing as a revolution in the shtetl, but the Enlightenment movement (Haskalah) came late, and therefore it became quite Gnostic. Fits into the picture of this theory very well.

  33. I don’t think Communists attacked ethnic groups just because of universalism, though universalism turned out to be an excuse for a dominant ethnic group to try to squelch others.

    I’d say that communists attacked ethnic groups because they were power-seekers above all else, and loyalty to anything but the state had to be stamped out. They didn’t just attack the Jews and the Chechens, they also attacked professions, religions, competing philosophies, and they even glorified kids who ratted out their families.

  34. >I’d say that communists attacked ethnic groups because they were power-seekers above all else, and loyalty to anything but the state had to be stamped out.

    Exactly. Universalist idealism plus collectivism plus state power equals a need to crush all other foci of affiliation, including Jewish identity. Jews executing a memetic strategy that evolved to weaken other ethno-tribal affiliations created a monster that devoured their own. This to me seems a very direct consequence of McDonald’s group-selection proposal.

    Of course it’s possible McDonald is wrong and just a plausible crackpot. Ask me again after I’ve read his actual books.

  35. I think the realistic analysis of Soviet Communism should rest on two parts. One from Voegelin: that it’s ideology should be understood as secularized Gnosticism. Another part from Oakeshott: that theories and ideologies are not omnipotent, that theory can only influence action only to a limited level, in practical matters people may think they are following a theory or ideology but quite often they are just following practical experiene, a kind of practical tradition because plain simply that’s the only thing they know how to do. Thus Soviet Russia is partly to be seen as the result of a Gnostic ideology and partly as the continuation of the political tradition of Tzarist Russia, because that was the only available set of practical experiences at hand. They had practical knowledge, inherited from the Tzars, about how to pursue imperial politics by an omnipotent government served by a totally servile oprichnina nobility – the Commie nomenclature was a close copy of the oprichnina servant-nobility of the Tzars. Because of the practical experience required to run a big empire, Soviet Russia had little choice but to be similar to Tzarist Russia in many aspects – except that the brutality of the system was increased by the new, Gnostic ideas. Actually the new, secular Gnostic ideas of Communism had already been there even in Dostoevsky, in their original, religious form, he was the one who theorized how Russian Orthodox Christianity as the Third Rome would conquer the world and in the process would somehow become a liberal humanist empire instead of a despotical one and bring about the perfect utopia and the end of history and the immanentization of the eschathon and all that.

    So. Soviet Anti-Semitism was partly part of the what Soviet Russia inherited from the Tzars and partly the friction between the other-wordliness or next-wordliness of Gnostics and the this-wordliness of Jews.

  36. “In the shtetl in only happened a good 100 years later and the Jews plain simply repeated the Gentile history because their world was too closed to learn from it’s failures.”

    Yeah, actually I buy this explanation — it seems to fit my observations.

    Ayn Rand was simply ahead of the curve in this regard.

    The strongest support for this theory comes from the fact that Soviet Jews in America are predominantly anti-left in their politics — despite the fact that many grew up as committed communists. But when people talk about leftism inherent in Judaism, I say NOT SO FAST.

    The ultra-orthodox Jews are NOT left-wingers politically. One has to point the finger at the “reform” Jewry in the US, which IS in essence the shul of liberalism.

    THIS is why so many American-born Jews are still left-wingers, IMO. It is a combination of upbringing and naivete born of never having been “burnt by the sun.”

  37. I like the general insight of the post even more than the semi-speculative Jewish history.

    We can hypothesize that the urge to advertise big ideas will evolve in small ethnic groups, because those groups who happen to market ideas that protect small groups will have better survivability. Another example of such a belief might be “the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, although that belief probably also benefits the larger society.

    I wonder if this effect ever resulted in a small group marketing an idea that they themselves didn’t believe in. Like a small group lying to a larger group to convince them that child sacrifice was a virtue. Fast forward 200 years, the large group has died out due to excessive child sacrifice and the small group is now large, but has an unhealthy tendency to lie to strangers!

  38. @Shenpen:

    Here’s a simpler explanation: Enlightenment ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haskalah ) arrived to the shtetl much later than to the Gentiles because the shtetl was a closed and very traditionalist community.

    Except that you make the common mistake of thinking of the Enlightenment as a singular movement, when it was, in fact, no such thing. In fact, the Enlightenment itself is merely a result of the kind of social evolution that ESR is proposing in his own theory.

  39. >You should read Yuri Slezkine’s _The Jewish Century_, which treats some of these issues from an intelligent viewpoint, and ignore the vile crackpot MacDonald.

    Entertainingly, the publisher’s blurb for the book makes it sound like an extended development from a Jewish thinker’s perspective of an argument I’ve been pushing for years, that we are all Jews now and that rage against the Jews has become synonymous with rage against modernity.

    This is why I like Jews, willingly ally myself with them, and can only laugh at the dimwit who accused me of antisemitism upthread. The Jews’ “rootless cosmopolitanism”, their love of both learning and wealth — far from being vices, I think these are among the central virtues of the modern West. Slezhine appears not only to be making this case but making it in language eerily similar to mine.

    More: I figured out before I was out of my teens that in any cultural/political environment that abuses Jews, I am sure as hell not far down the target list. So by taking their side against anti-Semites of whatever stripe, I actually protect myself as well.

    Maybe reading both books will change my mind, but I don’t see why Slezhine and McDonald can’t both be right…

  40. ESR:

    I’m just as right wing on some things as Kevin MacDonald. But some of his theories are problematic. Try guywhite.wordpress.com for more reasonable clarity (and far less A/S/ism) on these sorts of questions.

  41. As for my own theory on the issue, I don’t think Jews are as fanatically left as people like MacDonald think. But even if they were, I wouldn’t blame them. When a dictator espousing right-wing ideology almost wipes them off the face of the European continent, do you think they might have some antipathy for certain right-wing ideologies in reaction for many decades following?

  42. i would say that the Jewish intellectuals invest heavily in socialism because that’s what they practice within their own ethno-tribal group. They (the tribe) has survived by considering the tribe’s needs first and their individual needs second. And yes, trying to extend that out to everybody always backfires. I think socialism doesn’t scale beyond the ethno-tribal group at all. Nobody wants to be part of a large amorphous group.

  43. I won’t pretend to have read any of the works of McDonald. Frankly, I haven’t read enough literature in the field of Evolutionary Psychology to even discuss the relative merits of of one theory versus another (although my instinct is to cringe and shudder at the marriage of these fields of study, which on its face would seem to be made in Hell).

    However, I suspect that any argument regarding crypto-psychological motives based on ethnic adaptation – no matter how fastidious and well-crafted – is doomed to be slashed to ribbons by Occam’s blade.

    For instance, to attempt explain Chomsky in evolutionary terms would require rendering Kristol to “mutant” status. This would open corridors to all sorts of pseudoscientific mischief and fallacy, and I’d bet it already has.

    Even the best behavioral models of emergence don’t fully explain the “psychology” of birds, so theories that purport to explain subconscious (or even genetic?) political machinations beyond stated purposes seem even more akin to sorcery then some of the foamiest claims of the anthropogenic carbon warming crowd. This would be the definition of a losing argument… “I know you THINK you are a self-aware Anarcho-syndicalist, Noam. But I have it on good authority that you are ACTUALLY a poorly programmed genetic timebomb, designed to weaken ethno-tribal bonds.” I can’t afford to lose that many genuine debating points, considering someone like David Gergen is probably handling the scorecard.

  44. This thread has echoes of a theme I read in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” (Chapter 6) where he notes that the descendants of Scots-Irish remained quarrelsome and quick to take offense even today, generations after those characteristics were adaptive. (He postulates that a herder cannot afford to appear weak, because his wealth is self-transporting, thus easily stolen.)

    Leaving aside the question of whether the behavior is adaptive, how is it transmitted through so many generations? How much is nature vs. nurture. I can envision a set of circumstances where a genetic behavioral tendency can become a near universal cultural attribute – i.e. the ones who don’t inherit it are killed off, or adopt the behavior in self defense. That is easy to see in the Scots-Irish, but more difficult to conceive of for the ethnic Jews. (Maybe it was the girls selecting their mates from one end of the gene pool?)

  45. >When a dictator espousing right-wing ideology

    Fail. The categorization of Hitler as “right wing” is an artifact of Soviet propaganda. It was called “National Socialism” for good reasons; ideologically it’s not simplifying much to describe Naziism as communism with a racialist facelift.

  46. ESR,

    I think that you don’t give enough credence to the “Jews are overrepresented everywhere” idea.

    Look at the classical liberal/libertarian tradition (which, intellectually, Jews were exposed to much later, as several people upstream note) — Rand (and what seems like 75% of people in the variant flavors of objectivism), Milton/Rose/David Friedman, Rose’s brother Aaron Director, Von Mises, Rothbard, Goldwater, Julian Simon, Robert Nozick, Gary Becker, Richard Epstein, Gary Becker (and, echoing objectivism, what seems like 75% of the “names” associated with Chicago econ/law & econ)

  47. > When a dictator espousing right-wing ideology almost wipes them off the face of the European continent.

    >> Fail. The categorization of Hitler as “right wing” is an artifact of Soviet propaganda.

    Yes. I believe Hitler laid out his monstrous party’s case quite forthrightly when he said: “We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance.”

  48. ESR:

    Win. Hitler was a right-wing dictator because of his nationalism, and its emphasis on particular human beings vs the whole of humanity. Compare and contrast to communism, i.e. international socialism, of the left, that emphasized the whole of humanity and eschews any particularist/nationalist feelings, racial, ethnic, religious or otherwise.

  49. Eric, this is completely wrong, because it puts the cart before the horse. McDonald is correct that Jewish intellectuals have been “sell[ing] Gentiles ideas that weaken the cohesion of their ethno-tribal and nation-state groupings”; his fatal mistake is in seeing those intellectuals as part of the “largely endogamous ethno-tribal group” that competes “against other ethno-tribal groups”. McDonald sees a tactic of Jews promoting universalism for others and particularism for themselves; but as you note, it is secular Jewish intellectuals who have been so prominent in promoting universalism, and their message has always been aimed inward at least as much as outward. Traditional Judaism, which promotes endogamy and particularism for Jews, has tended to assume that everyone else had those same values, and has never sought to change that.

    If you want to describe this in evolutionary psychology terms, then it’s best to see secular Judaism as a recent mutation from traditional Judaism, starting with Spinoza. Shenpen is right to point to the Haskalah as an important factor; its motto was “Be a Jew at home, and a man when you go out”. Its purpose was to break down the barriers between Jews and gentiles. The maskilim embraced Napoleon’s bargain: that Jews should become equal citizens of the nation, by giving up their own national identity — stop being Jews from France, and become instead Frenchmen of the Jewish faith. Instead of German Jews, be Jewish Germans. But if the barrier between Jews and Frenchmen or Germans could come down, then so could that between Frenchmen and Germans.

    And that transformation depends on devaluing nations and promoting states. Nationality gives way to citizenship, to the extent that today the very meaning of “nationality” is almost lost, and it’s seen as just a synonym for “citizenship”. A Frenchman is no longer one who is descended (genetically and/or culturally) from the French nation, but one who owes his loyalty to the French state. Germans who happen to live under French rule automatically become Frenchmen, and vice versa, because all that matters is whether one is ruled from Paris or Berlin. If one state can cover both pieces of geography, then the distinction between Frenchmen and Germans becomes irrelevant, just as the long-forgotten one between Frenchmen and Jews, or between Germans and Jews. So the state’s power must be promoted, and the state must put down anything that diverts loyalty from it: including Judaism. Hence Marx’s antisemitism.

    More later.

  50. Wow, Puggg, way to concentrate on the theoretical and ignore the actual. I doubt you’d find anyone of an oppressed minority ethnicity between the Dnieper and the Mekong who’d agree with you, though. Or, like, any religious person from a Russian Orthodox to a Tibetan Buddhist.

  51. BTW, Eric, you mentioned that you had not read Nozick. Will you be at Confusion? If so, I’ll bring my copy for you.

  52. > Compare and contrast to communism, i.e. international socialism, of the left, that emphasized the whole of humanity and eschews any particularist/nationalist feelings, racial, ethnic, religious or otherwise.

    Tell that to the Left’s great apologists for affirmative action, ethnic nationalism, black liberationalist theology, hate-crime legislation, the U.N.’s “Zionism is Racism” contingent, the neo-Bolivarians in South America the 911 “truther” movement, etc. Today’s “international Left” is about as colorblind as the average Grand Dragon of the KKK. And, in any case, racial and ethnic “particularism/nationalism” are not exclusionary of Communism/socialism. If you think they are, visit Cuba, Venezuela, Tibet or, hell, the banlieues of Paris.

  53. Puggg is engaged in word games. Pick a difference between national and international socialism, and make that the defining difference between left and right. In fact the rivalry between the USSR and the Third Reich was exactly the same as that between the Sicilian and Calabrian mafias; they believe exactly the same things, but each wants to be in charge.

  54. I’m not sure what I think of this theory (evolutionary arguments over such a short timespan require a lot of proof) but I can add that the behaviour of the Jewish lobbying organizations in America would definitely confirm this hypothesis.

  55. >McDonald sees a tactic of Jews promoting universalism for others and particularism for themselves; but as you note, it is secular Jewish intellectuals who have been so prominent in promoting universalism, and their message has always been aimed inward at least as much as outward.

    You make a respectable argument, but I’ve already thought this logic all the way through, yesterday. First, I don’t actually buy your premise that religious Judaism hasn’t been universalist in McDonald’s sense; I think it’s been universalist ever since it entered its monotheist phase (as opposed to the earlier henotheism you can still find traces of in the Pentateuch). That is, the theological position has been that “our God is the only god there is”, with the particularism being about the Jewish ethno-tribal group’s special relationship to that God. A theology that really wasn’t universalist would look more like syncretic paganism – we’ve got our gods over here, you’ve got your gods over there, and it is good form to pay homage to the gods of the tribe you are visiting when you travel.

    But even if I granted your premise about religious Judaism, that wouldn’t rescue your argument. Because the distinction between religious and secular Jews is barely even relevant in this context! McDonald’s premise is that the entire Jewish deme is pursuing a group selection strategy. The entire deme, not just the observant Jews. With that perspective, you can regard secular vs. religious Jews as yet another experiment in variant tactics for pursuing the same overall strategy, with both groups propagating universalizing memes and the deme as a whole not really caring which approach is successfui as long as one of them is.

  56. > Win. Hitler was a right-wing dictator because of his nationalism.

    No, Pugg, you fail again and again and again. There are, have been and will continue to be many left wing nationalists (arguably, virtually all leftist political movements fall under this brand of collectivism as opposed to the expansionist Soviet model). And left wing nationalism certainly includes all manner of odious racial and ethnic left wing nationalists. If you need an example in the current realpolitik, look no further than the pseudo-Bolivarian coalition that Chavez is trying to cobble together in the Western hemisphere.

  57. I think it is important to point out that secular Jews in the US and Europe tend to be liberal and communitarian. It is a different story in Israel.

  58. Actually, I only have the impression that Jews in Israel are less liberal. I don’t actually know for sure when it comes to economics and communitarianism.

  59. ESR,

    What about Austrian economists like Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard, who are both secular Jews but are libertarian and the later one being an anarcho-capitalist.

    It would seem to me that Jew Intellectualism is a reflection of the time, 90% of the world is socialist, and so is Gentiles.

  60. Let me preface this by saying that I agree with jrok’s essentially reductionist critique at 5:59; it’s hard to pin down the unit or mechanism of evolution in this case. Evo-psych is 90% shit, and I’m getting a strong bouquet of that sort of just-so unhinged hypothesizing here too. In fairness, ESR addresses part of this as the “only fault” [ahem] in the theory. Maybe we could say that evolution has acted on higher level, and those other tribes whose patriarchs migrated from Ur 3700 years ago were less fit and just died off along the way, but let’s not.

    Since ESR isn’t strictly reductionist (I’m not either), such criticism may not convince him. We can step back a bit from the scienteriffic, however, and just say that, looking over the long span of history, we see the Jews playing similar roles in several distant civilizations. Whether that is due to parallels among these civilizations, a heritable trait of Jewish culture, Zionistic protocols, or random chance seems a moot point, speaking historically rather than from a social science stance. Contra Shenpen’s and Milhouse’s arguments for its relatively recent development, I’d say the phenomenon under discussion can be seen in at least one situation so ancient as to be apocryphal (i.e., Joseph’s viziership in Egypt) and certainly in several Near Eastern contexts that predate European history entirely. The Chaldean dynasty of Babylon soon came to regret taking the tribes of Judah into its society; the Babylonian polity never recovered from its subsequent integration into the “cosmopolitan” Persian empire. Reading between the lines a bit in Chronicles, Esther, and Ezra, and it’s pretty clear that the Jews were strong supporters of Cyrus’s campaign. It isn’t hard to imagine a Babylonian McDonald complaining in similar fashion about this insular, seemingly weak tribe that always seemed to encourage the strength of states and the weakness of other tribes.

    If you think that Rand and the libertarians complicate this theory, what about Michael Savage?

    If you haven’t heard Momus’s “Space Jews”, give it a listen!

  61. >If you think that Rand and the libertarians complicate this theory, what about Michael Savage?

    Very interesting response.

    I don’t actually think Rand and the libertarians complicate either McDonald’s theory or my extension of it at all. These are universalizing ideologies too, albeit they’re at somewhat more distance from Jewish theology than Spinoza or Marx were. I don’t know who Michael Savage is or why he’s relevant.

    I’m also curious what you think you mean by “strictly reductionist”. I know what I mean when I say that, and by my criteria I might qualify.

  62. > Their most successful, infectious form of messianic social rationalism (e.g. Communism) massacred them in ton lots, then mutated into an irrationalist ethno-tribalism (Naziism) that massacred them in more ton lots, then Communism took a third whack at them after WWII under Stalin and made the survivors’ lives so miserable that most of them decamped to ethno-tribal Israel.

    Quite a shitty adaptive “strategy” if you ask me. Seems that survival of the fittest theory should wipe this one off the earth pretty quickly if it hasn’t already.

    ESR says: As I suggested, some strategies don’t scale up well. What works at low population sizes and densities and in preindustrial conditions, in particular, may backfire horribly among large populations with better transport and weapons technology.

  63. Hahaha, Michael Savage (née Michael Alan Weiner) is a very conservative radio yapper, whose political philosophy may be the most ultranationalist the USA has ever produced. Also he’s Jewish. But apparently his current views are a reaction to more universalizing ones he held or encountered earlier, and he is fairly unique among American Jews, so he’s probably not a complication either.

    Recently I read some of your older stuff concerning paganism. My impression is that although much of your thought is in the scientific mode, you’re open to knowledge that is more about method and experience than squeaky-clean truth, especially if that doesn’t conflict with rationality. I can see logic in that stance: scientific techniques can’t yet tell us everything, and perhaps some other part of the world can be accessed through other means. What I’m calling a strict reductionist wouldn’t accept that; he needs to say “this means exactly that” and ambiguity troubles him. If you prefer another terminology I’ll defer to that.

    With respect to this discussion, I think it’s enough to think like a historian, and simply note some interesting parallels across the available narratives. After reading your description of McDonald I’m inclined to consider his “evolutionary” thinking a bit unsophisticated. When we aspire to science without formulating testable hypotheses, we often fall short. Since much of evo-psych might be said to be inspired by reductionism, perhaps it would have been clearer to fault the field and McDonald’s aping of it on empirical grounds, rather than inquiring what mechanisms would allow a behavior or a political philosophy to be heritable. That said, I think reductionism is a strong critical method.

  64. > ESR says: As I suggested, some strategies don’t scale up well. What works at low population sizes and densities and in preindustrial conditions, in particular, may backfire horribly among large populations with better transport and weapons technology.

    But does this mean that McDonald’s theory, which has failed at this scaling, is no longer relevant (or will wane in a Darwinist sense)?

  65. >you’re open to knowledge that is more about method and experience than squeaky-clean truth,

    The categories you are implying are completely alien to my thinking.

    I don’t think there is any “squeaky-clean truth” that can be divorced from “method and experience”, with the limited exception of logical entailment in mathematical formal systems (and those are meaningless in isolation). When we speak of “truth”, the strongest claim we can ever legitimately make is that we know how to predict future observables from past experience using a method (a hypothesis). Such claims can only be tested by repeated experiment. They can be falsified by negative results, but only incrementally confirmed (not “proven”) by poisitive ones. The technical term for this position is “fallibilism”, or in some accounts “operationalism”.

    I also find your use of “reductionism” a little odd, though I’m aware there’s precedent for it. What you call a “reductionist” is what I’d call someone stuck on Aristotelian categories and two-valued logic – often useful maps, but not to be confused with the territory.

    Finally, I don’t have a “scientific mode”. I maintain all kinds of knowledge in a fallibilist way, whether it’s beliefs about planetary orbits, human beings, or Wiccan rituals. All these are parts of my adaptive toolkit, and all to be handled in the same way.

  66. >But does this mean that McDonald’s theory, which has failed at this scaling, is no longer relevant (or will wane in a Darwinist sense)?

    Yes. That is, the strategy McDonald imputes to the Jews has, after 3500 years of success, failed spectacularly in the last century. A Hegelian or Marxist would say it has been destroyed by its own internal contradictions.

    That was more or less the final point of my essay.

  67. > What you call a “reductionist” is what I’d call someone stuck on Aristotelian categories and two-valued logic…

    Hmm. Well, I’m not sure I understand “Aristotelian categories” the same way you do. Ultimately, I want a theory that portends to explain the origin of individual human values to have a testable hypothesis. Absent that, I have to throw the entirety of the theory away. There doesn’t appear to be any merit whatsoever to the claim apart from some reconstructions based on selective anecdotes. I mean: given the loose criteria for the proof, I might as well posit Shakespeare’s Shylock alongside Spinoza.

    Besides, the thesis itself seems more at home in the realm of Sociology; a subject I’ve long derided as the lesser cousin of Science. The cousin you never send Christmas cards to, and avoid at weddings and funerals.

    ESR says: it’s Aristotelian categories if you have a law of the excluded middle.

  68. > ESR says: it’s Aristotelian categories if you have a law of the excluded middle.

    No, that’s where we differ I think. What you seem to be proposing is binary or Manichean, not Aristotelian. Aristotle would require an obvious contradiction. If I said “No, this theory is wrong because Jews naturally assert particularism for others but universalism for themselves(?)” then I might see your point.

  69. >No, that’s where we differ I think. What you seem to be proposing is binary or Manichean, not Aristotelian.

    You’re right. I had the right concept in mind, but typed the wrong term.

  70. If Clark Kent were Jewish, what would be the name of his alter ego?

    Supermun.
    Har!

  71. If we’re really talking about logical arity (and let me stipulate that isn’t the right term), I think we’re pretty far off the track with respect to the evolutionary fitness of a proposed centuries-long Jewish cultural subversion of other nationalities. McDonald is bullshit, and most things you build on that foundation will also be bullshit. I don’t think much of an epistemology that abides such an exercise. I apologize for my earlier mistaken inferences, but if this is fallibilism, it is well named.

    I guess I’m a bovifecal Pyrrhonist, in that I don’t particularly care about Truth or whether it exists, but I do acknowledge the existence of bullshit, and I’m usually against that.

  72. dtm: It’s actually the reverse: Superman is clearly Jewish, but Clark Kent is the identity he assumes to enable him to pass as a gentile, at the expense of concealing his true stature as a son of El. I forget who it was who wrote about Superman as the ultimate immigrant hero. . . .

  73. cultures often learn useful adaptations without any understanding why they’re adaptive

    Also note that brain scans show that people often (always?) think they have reached a decision (or an ideology?) by logical means, but that first there is activity in the emotional areas of the brain, and only after that is there logical thinking, apparently rationalizing the decision after the fact. This fits with something I learned long ago: that there were smart and stupid people on all sides of nearly every political issue, and thus politics was at least as much about emotions as it was about logic and reason.

    it isn’t clear to me how selling “Gentiles ideas that weaken the cohesion of their ethno-tribal and nation-state groupings” actually gives Jews that much advantage in society, given that they are in such a minority.

    Rob, it works because they are a minority. It usually makes sense for anyone at a particular disadvantage to say “Let’s not play by rules that put us at a disadvantage.”

  74. “I don’t actually think Rand and the libertarians complicate either McDonald’s theory or my extension of it at all. These are universalizing ideologies too, albeit they’re at somewhat more distance from Jewish theology than Spinoza or Marx were.”

    This would make transhumanism/singularitarianism the ultimate universalizing Jewish ideology, and in practice a synthesis of communism and radical individualism (and a fulfillment of Rand’s “Galt’s Gulch” dream.) What Marx appeared to have gotten fundamentally wrong is emphasis on capital as opposed to cognitive power. Kurzweil fixes that. :)

  75. ChrisGreen: “Thus, to a liberal, secular Jew, a nation that abandons all tribal, ethnic and class distinctions is a nation in which he can be reborn equal to everyone else…”

    Like the United States?

    ESR: I think you’re being too clever here. Jewish advocacy of universalism against tribalism has been, generally, a conscious choice. It has been pressed not because it is a “successful evolutionary adaptation”, but as a rational response to tribalist anti-semitism, and it has been pressed regardless of whether it was accepted.

    I’d further say that you are wrong to connect the Nazi massacres of Jews to socialist ideology. Nazi racialism traces to pseudo-biologists like Gobineau and Chamberlain. The exterminationist program was the child of racialism and authoritarian “progressivism”. I think it should be noted that other fascist regimes, such as Italy and Spain, had no similar ideology. And Italian Fascism was more of an offshoot of “Red” Socialism than Nazism. It should also be noted that Soviet Communism, Fascism, and Nazism all came into existence at practically the same time.

    Finally, it’s a gross distortion to say “Communism took a third whack at them after WWII under Stalin”. Stalin had a fit of anti-semitism in his last days, but nothing much came of it before he died. By the Brezhnev years, anti-Jewish discrimination was widespread, but it was never official – code words and unspoken quotas. There was no significant immigration from th USSR to Israel unil the 1970s, and only a minority of Jews left. The Jews who went to Israel after WW II were nearly all DPs from eastern Europe or Mizrahim from Moslem countries.

    Which is not to say that Jewish sensibilities have not been shaped by adaptation to their surroundings. This article in the Forward suggests that Jews living in the Ukraine in 17th to 19th centuries had to develop a rejection of even self-defensive violence – or they would have been massacred by their more numerous neighbors; and that this attitude is unconsciously perpetuated in the sensibilities of modern American Jewry.

  76. >I’d further say that you are wrong to connect the Nazi massacres of Jews to socialist ideology.

    You’re missing the forest for the trees. Remember that the Nazis mass-murdered numerous categories of people on lots of other grounds besides race; being a homosexual without powerful friends could get you sent to the camps, for example. Gobineau and Chamberlain are very nearly red herrings in the larger pattern, which is that you are no more than a few years from genocide any time a society takes collectivist ethical premises seriously and stops treating individual human beings as ends in themselves.

  77. “Finally, it’s a gross distortion to say “Communism took a third whack at them after WWII under Stalin”. Stalin had a fit of anti-semitism in his last days, but nothing much came of it before he died.”

    This is simply untrue. Eric is correct.

    There was plenty of anti-Jewish discrimination (e.g. college admissions quotas) in the post-WWII Stalin Era. Both my parents entered college during that time, and believe me, official or not, it was blatant.

  78. >There was no significant immigration from th USSR to Israel unil the 1970s

    Ever heard of the refuseniks? It’s tough to emigrate from a totalitarian regime that wants to hang on to its “property.”

  79. > The only fault I can find in it is that, if true, it’s not clear how Jews learn and transmit this tactic.
    > cultures often learn useful adaptations without any understanding why they’re adaptive

    Nice prestidigitation, but it doesn’t wash. This is a huge problem for this argument. You’re better off looking at Jewish culture and history. We’re naturally left leaning because we’re a weird mix of working class (NYC garment district, like my great grandmother) and professional (doctors, lawyers, architects, businessmen, like all of her children and grandchildren). This means we have a mix of the following things:

    1. A history of shared suffering at the hands of The Man
    2. A story of liberation from said Man
    3. A culture of education that produces erudite philosophers
    4. Capital to pay them to sit around and write books, and the rest of us the free time to read and discuss them.

    Naturally some of us decided it might be more efficient to overthrow The Man (communism), or reform him (leftism), become him (finance industry), or subvert him (Jewish libertarians). 100 years ago the last two options were closed due to prejudice. So people thought they’d pitch in with the first two.

    I think immigrants in this century are less likely to be sentimental that way because they can see the path to the establishment.

  80. ESR,

    You are being too dismissive of the difference between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. Many of the leftist reformers you speak of were indeed hoping to win toleration from the larger society, but they were equally hoping to destroy the traditional Jewish religion.

    You can explain a lot of modern secular Jewish liberalism (and for that matter, Jewish libertarianism) as a reflexive disgust with traditional Judaism, and hence a heedless rush for anything opposed to it. Conversely, Orthodox Jews are disproportionally politically conservative.

    As an aside, do you know any Orthodox Jews? If you did, I suspect your views would be a bit more precisely stated.

  81. ESR, I’d also dispute your take on Judaism as strictly monotheist (and would, in fact, contend that only Islam is truly monotheist). Being Jewish, I’d certainly contend that the trinity is not easy to reconcile with the idea of one god (an idea that’s even harder when you add catholics’ praying to saints and angels into the mix).

    As Neal Stephenson explained so well in Snow Crash, Judaism (at least Biblical and probably Talmudic) is more properly labeled as monolatrist — as Judaism says “Thou shalt have no other God BEFORE ME” not “Thou shalt have no other God”. The Torah is replete with stories about other gods, from Baal to the Egyptian priests in the servants of Pharoah. The God of the Torah just wins out.

  82. Loweeel,

    At the risk of starting a flame war, what does the trinity have to do with Judaism? (Hint: nothing at all.)

    Also, while early Judaism probably did believe in the existence of other deities, they were very much not on the same level with God. Samuel Finer writes that a better way to understand early Jewish attitudes towards such would be to compare with Chinese spirits (or, I would speculate, Japanese kami): supernatural beings who nevertheless are NOT “gods” per se. God is the only actor described as creator of the world; he is thus totally preeminent.

    Neal Stephenson got his short discussion of Judaism very wrong, by the way. The Pharisees were not just legalists, but also accomplished mystics in their own right. Alas, they decided to suppress the mystical teachings, and it is only in the last few hundred years that they have become popularized again.

  83. Mastiff said:
    > At the risk of starting a flame war, what does the trinity have to do with Judaism?

    Well, I think if you reread the orginal statement, he wasn’t linking the Holy Trinity to Judaism at all. He was merely qualifying his interpretation of Catholic pantheism with the statement that he himself is a Jew. He goes on to explain that strict monotheism isn’t as “strict” or as “monotheistic” as commonly proposed, except in Islam, even in Judaism. In other words “preeminence” does not translate to monism.

    Having been raised by a Roman Catholic mother, I’d tend to agree with that rather broad statement. The catalog of Saints, the division of God’s aspects into three unique forms and – in extreme interpretations – the recounting of specific Angels and Demons in the ranks of Heaven and Hell, all point to the merging of Semitic Christianity with European pantheism after Constantine.

  84. ESR, speaking of ethnotribal bonds, are you familiar with some of the research in this area? For instance Harvard professor Robert Putnam in “Bowling alone” and “E pluribus unum”. He argues that multiethnic communities suffer reduced trust (social capital) both between groups AND within them.

    I take it you are a libertarian who prefers less ethnotribalism. What’s your stance on the right to free association (both de jure and de facto, ie not hampered by demands of political correctness) and how it would affect the ethnic make-up of society? If we have full right to free association, would this lead to increased “white flight” and segregation, or less concern about ethnicity?

    Oh, and write a comment on the whole “Stuff White People Like” thing plz :)

  85. Morgan Greywolf,

    “Except that you make the common mistake of thinking of the Enlightenment as a singular movement, when it was, in fact, no such thing. In fact, the Enlightenment itself is merely a result of the kind of social evolution that ESR is proposing in his own theory.”

    Sorry, I should have defined my terms better. I leave science to the scientist and therefore meant Enlightenment = the subset of Enlightenment in the “humanities department” because that’s what I am interested in. On a blog whose author and most commenters are very interested in the natural sciences this can lead to grave misunderstandings, I can see that now. And mostly in that subset of it’s humanities subset that originated in France and than was copied by Germany (“Aufklärismus”), because the Anglo-Scottish or Dutch Enlightenment from Grotius to Hume and Adam Smith was simply “normal”, it led to quite conservative revolutions in Britain and America and to that relatively limited and sensible implementation of modernity called Classical Liberalism that have inherited many older,conservative and un-Gnostic ideas and remained therefore relatively sensible. It’s the French subset of the humanities subset of the Enlightenment is what is really interesting and important in a negative way because it was then and there where the Gnostic nature of modernity showed itself without any kind of restraint or inherited common sense. So, no, of course I haven’t meant for example Newton, but I meant f.e. Newtons effect on the philosophe’s, from Voltaire dreaming about finding a theory of politics as fundamental as gravity is in physics to Saint-Simon proposing the founding of the Church of Newton. This is what I consider the core of the Enlightenment, because this is what was the newest and worst aspect of it, the other aspects (in the humanities dept) often had a lot of older inherited and more sensible elements. Perhaps with this I made it clearer.

    Our basic problem is of course a confusion of terminology.

    ESR for example tends to use the term “modernity” in an approving sense and probably under this term he means something along the lines of “Classical Liberalism”. Stalinism or Hitlerism are, I suppose, to be seen as “less modern”.

    I use these terms in a completely opposite way: modernity = Stalinism and Hitlerism = bad, Classical Liberalism = more traditional, less modern = better, the intelligent subset of Conservatism = even more traitonal, even better.

    The root of this terminological confusion lies in the fact that the great tradition of most humane cultures was about see morality not just as an “ought” but as an “is”, a fact underlying the most basic functioning of the human psyche (see “eudaimonia”) and therefore the most traditional, the most conservative view is to see pretty much every question in the humanities dept as a moral question, as a question of virtue, because to talk about human beings and human societies without the topic of human quality is about as futile as talking about software development methodologies without the topic of software quality.

    The opposite edge is the moderns, the socialists, the progressives who refuse to see the problems in the humanities dept as moral questions, as questions of quality, and rather try to focus on value-free “quantity” questions like inequality.

    Classical Liberals like ESR are in-between, they are half-progressive, half-conservative, half-modern and half-traditional, half-quantity and half-quality, they see some questions as moral (like the NAP) and they hopefully agree that in this regard such a thing a progress in human quality is not observable in the history of recent centuries, and this is a conservative feature, however they also have these strange fancies like modernity understood as the “expression of individuality”, whatever that means, which is a morally neutral, value-free, quality-free and therefore modern and progressive idea, because they do not dwell much about the basic moral question, the basic question of quality, namely, is that what features of our “individuality” should be expressed, because they are good, and what features are rather not to be expressed much, because they are bad.

    If the “expression of individuality” is to be seen as unconditionally good in an anything-goes, quality-free way, then of course you can see some features of recent history as progressive, but I must see it as a Cartesian absurdity, namely, if human quality cannot be judged by 100% certain means then we shall not judge it by the traditional “not-certain-but-somewhat-probable” means but rather not judge it at all. I think that is nonsense – no one can tell with certainty what good food means but we still can assign Michelin-stars to restaurants.

  86. “the strongest claim we can ever legitimately make is that we know how to predict future observables from past experience using a method”

    I began to type an argument against it, re-read it more carefully, and realized that in your precise wording you are right: this is indeed the _strongest_ type of truth. My problem is rather that that in “human concerns”, unlike natural sciences, we often should not be so ambitious but accept a weaker type of truth: “critically verifiable”. Not falsifiable but verifiable, and not necessarily by an experimental method, which is a subset of critical methods, but by any kind of critical method. Experimental falsifiability should be seen as strong subset of critical verifiability, and ideal method to be used in ideal circumstances, indeed the “strongest”, an ideal maximum. Critical verifiability is not the maximum but the minimum, without which we cannot talk about truth at all. Often this is all that’s possible, often experimental falfisiability is not possibel but critical verification is possible.

    Consider history for example. A historian studies some old chronicles and claims that this and this happened. You cannot “repeat the experiment” because you cannot repeat history, and the whole stuff is just too fuzzy and complicated and human to really falsify it, and also falsification is about predicting the future and not about explaining the past, so unless he made grave mistakes or cheated falsification isn’t really a test telling good history from bad. But you can critically verify it, re-read the same sources and see if his findings make sense in the light of them or not.

    So yes, literally you are right, this is the strongest type of truth, but in the humanities we must often accept a weaker kind, of critical verification.

    Another point. Why are we interested in truth? You wrote once that we want to predict how our environment works because we want to control our environment because we have goals. Great. Except that a large number of scientific or philosophical ideas were proposed and proven by people who didn’t give a fuck about their practical utility. Often man is interested in truth even when said truth seems to have no practical use in controlling the environment. Moreover, this “disinterested” research is more older than the practically interested one, f.e. Ancient Greek science was totally disinterested in practical applications even up to inventing a steam engine and not using it at all. Thus disinterested research cannot be a product of the practically-interested one.

    I propose the following explanation of why are we interested in truth. Because we are interested in _understanding_ in the plainest sense possible: when some sort of big picture suddenly “ticks together”, when we have a Heureka!-experience, when we suddenly have the insight that seemingly disconnected parts of the world are connected by a logical way, it plain simply _feels_ _good_. Produces endorphins or whatever. Maybe I’m not even very wrong if I think that the Heureka!-experience of _understanding_ is about certain isolated networks in the brain suddenly getting connected and therefore we feel more “whole” for a while. Got what I mean?

    So if I may consider the desire for understanding as the major drive behind the search for truth, then prediction must be delegated to a secondary role: it’s a TEST of understanding.

    And not a very good test, because it is only a negative test, never a positive one. By making a wrong prediction you prove your lack of understanding, but you can never prove your understanding by a good prediction. If you go to a car mechanic saying that something is knocking under the hood, and he says we will then replace part X, and then it goes away, from this successful prediction you can never know if he understands the situation, namely, what is that part, what does it do, why does it knock after a while and so on, or he was plain simply told by someone else “if it knocks, replace part X”. You cannot know if if he truly understands the problem.

    Back to the humanities dept. It’s hard or impossible to judge the quality of a historian by checking falsifiable predictions. But if prediction is just the test of understanding and understanding is what really counts, then you can judge HIS understanding by his ability to make YOU understand things, ideally, when he makes you understand things he didn’t even write about but you connect those dots yourself.

  87. >Except that a large number of scientific or philosophical ideas were proposed and proven by people who didn’t give a fuck about their practical utility.

    That’s irrelevant. You still have no other test for such aesthetic theorems than predictivity. And who said the goal had to be “practical utility”? Your scientist might very well just be working to generate better predictions because he wants peer approval – bragging rights.

    Your “critical verification” is also a predictive test. If a historian proposes that a given event happened, you can look at the historical record for consequences that would be entailed by that event to test that assertion. The fact that those consequences would in the past — the “experiment” has already been done — doesn’t matter. (Philosophers of science call this case “retrodiction”.)

    When you say that understanding is primary and prediction is only a test of it., you are either making a completely vacuous claim or putting the cart before the horse. You cannot know that you have understood anything until you have generated predictions about it.

  88. Rich Rostrom,

    “Stalin had a fit of anti-semitism in his last days, but nothing much came of it before he died.”

    If you look a detailed map of southeastern Siberia, you will see the following: a big nothing except for a railroad, then suddenly many roads leading to nowhere, then a big nothing again. That’s the so-called Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Birobidzan, Stalin’s devilishly ingenious idea about how to kill many Jews and politically marginalize those who survive without suffering a PR hit. It was like this: every nationality of the SU deserves their own autonomous homeland. Jews are a nationality. Thus they must have an autonomous homeland and they will get it. They got it the following way: on a late autumn day, Jews were forced up to railroad cattle wagons with whatever little belongings they could quickly collect and moved to Siberia. The trip itself was not easy to survive (catering wasn’t exactly first-class), then they were left on the cold wasteland without any means of living to build a homeland for themselves. On the first winter, 50% of them died. The survivors have adapted, and created some sort of a civilization with extremely hard labour, hence the roads on the map.

    When thinking about the Soviet Union, one must not forget their extremely good ability at PR i.e. at deception. They were able to represent warlikeness as a desire for peace, conquest as defense against an agressor (Afghanistan), mass murder as relocation (Jews), extermination camps as labour camps (GULAG), mass murder as random famine (Ukraine) etc. Even in 2010 we have don’t yet have a full understanding of everything that really happened there.

  89. God is the only actor described as creator of the world; he is thus totally preeminent.

    Really? Genesis chapter 1, as I recall, uses the word “Elohim” to describe the world’s creator. It’s important to note that Hebrew uses the word both as a morphological plural (in the sense of the “majestic ‘we’”) and as a true plural. There is actually very little evidence to suggest that mainstream interpretation of the terms “Elohim” and “We” (as in “We shall create a man in Our image”) are actually morphological plurals. In fact, given the Hebrew peoples were previously polytheistic (as recorded both in the Bible itself and in other contemporary literature), it’s entirely likely that the Elohist source for Genesis chapter 1 meant the words to be literally plural. But who am I to argue to 6000 years of tradition?

  90. esr said:
    > When you say that understanding is primary and prediction is only a test of it, you are either making a completely vacuous claim or putting the cart before the horse.

    It’s both, actually. And it stands as a shining example of why the Social Sciences are grotesquely misnamed. For instance, the statement:

    > Back to the humanities dept. It’s hard or impossible to judge the quality of a historian by checking falsifiable predictions.

    “Predictions” of course is the term that is getting gummed in the the loose, colloquial usage. Often, physical scientists will substitute the word “claims,” since it properly accounts for “retrodiction” (as Eric pointed out above.)

    And NO historian worth reviewing would purport an “understanding” of a given segment of history unless he made falsifiable retrodictive claims that could stand up to at least some degree of independent confirmation. I could claim to have an “understanding” of both voodoo and the American Presidential Electoral history. But if I claim that Herbert Hoover practiced voodoo rituals in the Oval Office, I must be prepared to present some falsifiable evidence to support it. It’s worth noting that there are many forensic “hard sciences” that have been and will continue to be used to verify (or falsify) historical claims, particularly when it comes to forgeries.

  91. jrok,

    Again a similar terminological problem, again a similar misunderstanding. When I use the word “history” I do not mean an account of a single and short episodical event. Such things are falsifiable enough but that’s not history, that’s just details. When I use the word “history” I mean something as grand as Edward Gibbon’s six-volume work of the decline and fall of Rome. When I use the word “sociology” I mean something as grand as Max Weber’s three-volume work on the sociology of religions. On such a scale, one can understand something important, something truly relevant to the human condition. Understanding the big picture and all that. Such works can be critically verified but are above the level of complexity that can be tested by simple falsification or “retrodiction”. Why should it be important what happened during one presidential term? That would be no more interesting than reading the newspapers every day, a pointless and boring activity because it only gives you information about the same causes causing differently looking yet similar effects day by day, with little truly new in “news”, and I think the interesting activity is digging deeper and deeper for the real causes. You cannot just judge a statement by it’s probability, it’s relevance to understanding deeper and deeper causes must also be taken into account. There are two directions of gathering knowledge, one is horizontal, always scraping on the same surface and gather more and more irrelevant facts because they are all about the same thing, coming from the same cause, or the vertical one, going one level deeper, asking what is the real cause might on a deeper level of a thousand facts gathered on a more superficial level.

  92. Shenpen,

    Your equivocation of “history” and “A History of…”, while fascinating, does not solve the problem that history (or, A History, if you prefer) is the sum of the facts which comprise it, just as trees comprise a forest. It hardly matters if it is one historical “fact” or ten, or thousands, of tens of thousands. They must be falsifiable, and subject to some form of verification. Otherwise it is not “history” one is writing, but rather fantasy.

    Now, one might opine that the methods of historians – as in all fields of research – have improved over time. Herodotus, for instance, did not have the same scientific or social mechanisms for independent verification that Gibbon had. Nevertheless, specific claims of Herodotus are STILL subjected to inquiry and falsification some 1500 years later. If I am to incorporate Herodotus’s accounts of the Greco-Persian Wars into “A History” of the Achaemenid Empire, the authenticity of his individual claims are paramount to my larger “understanding” of what happened, including whatever soft conclusions I may propose about the myriad motivations and the “deeper and deeper causes” that sociologists seem so darn found of. The cart goeth before the horse, just as the facts goeth before the analysis.

  93. “falsification some *2500* years later” Egads, a terrible typo! Now that’s a falsifiable statement. :)

  94. ESR writes “You cannot know that you have understood anything until you have generated predictions about it.”

    I don’t think that’s true in principle; I’m pretty impressed with the learning-as compression approaches such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimum_description_length . Of course, in some sense you can’t never nohow know that you understand anything, period: nature could be pulling your leg in arbitrarily nasty tricky ways. But to the extent that you can know, finding extraordinarily strong regularity in data, even historical data, arguably does the job. And some rather sharp folks — not me, and not just philosophers, but various math-ish and engineering folk, some working on actual learning-related software — have made such arguments in considerable mathematical and algorithmic detail.

    Skipping the practical math (which I, sadly, only understand up to about Kolmogorov complexity) and algorithms (which I have hardly looked at at all), it’s not too hard to argue the principle from thought experiments. E.g., even if sudden global climate change had caused the Earth to develop 24/7/365 opaque cloud cover on the first day of Newton’s annus mirabilis, or even if an alien invasion had eliminated Earthlings’ ability to do spectroscopy around 1923, Newton’s explanation of existing astronomical observations and Heisenberg/Schroedinger/etc.+moderncomputers’ explanation of existing spectroscopic observations would be very strong support for classical and quantum mechanics respectively.

    Of course, aliens and global climate change seldom show up just at the right time to illustrate this principle. And generally new understanding doesn’t just explain old results, but both generates predictions about future results of old-style experiments and motivates new kinds of experiments that the model predicts will give interesting results. Also, scientific techniques and experimental effort have experienced a strongly rising tide for a long time, so even when theory doesn’t improve, we often have much better experimental data in year y+20 than in year y. Also in practice, theories tend to be messier than mechanics, and most data aren’t as clean as basic astronomical or spectroscopic data, and compression of historical data is hard to quantify — how many ways did you fudge by e.g. claiming your selection rule is simple while in fact having a complex undocumented policy of picking and choosing your preferred data? For all of these reasons, in practice appealing to a match to historical experiments is seldom a key selling point for actual scientific theories (as opposed to for, say, goofy new overfit models which actually provide no improvement in compression of the data compared to existing models). But it doesn’t have to be that way, and for the spectral data in particular, I think the historical data were more than sufficient to demonstrate that the QM theory had gotten something fundamentally right. A few pages of quantum mechanical math and a handful of constants (c, hbar, particle masses…) compress a very complicated precisely-measured pattern of lines very well: even if new experiments had somehow been impossible after 1924, it’d’ve been absurd to deny the QMers had reached a pretty detailed understanding of what was going on.

    (caveats: I’m no expert on exactly what spectroscopic measurements had been made by 1924, I’m mostly going from long-ago reading about detailed comparisons of Earthly spectra against spectra observed in solar radiation, which IIRC were well underway before 1924 and would suffice to give you a lot of lines. But even if I’m wrong about that inconvenient fact, the in-principle argument should hold in a parallel universe where people had happened to measure hundreds or thousands of spectral lines by 1920. Also I’m glossing over distinctions between 1927-or-so QM and later relativistic corrections.)

  95. Coffeecup: I tried to answer your question your question about Putnam earlier, here

    My stance about the right of free association of it is that it’s a right. Even if I thought it would lead to increased segregation I would defend it, because — like the rights to free speech and the bearing of arms — the results of encroaching on that liberty are inevitably worse than whatever problem some politician thinks he can fix by doing so.

  96. >But it doesn’t have to be that way, and for the spectral data in particular, I think the historical data were more than sufficient to demonstrate that the QM theory had gotten something fundamentally right.

    Quite. You’re talking about retrodiction again.

    When you compress a huge bunch of observations unto a formula which you can then play back to generate a match to those observations, you are constructing a predictive theory of the system that generated those observables. Now, it may be that you don’t actually understand what the structure of the formula means in relation to the rest of your knowledge about the universe — but you still test your formula by retrodiction.

  97. Morgan,

    It’s entirely likely that the Elohist source for Genesis chapter 1 meant the words to be literally plural.

    Except that all of the verbs, and I mean ALL of them, are in the singular. (Hebrew has subject-verb agreement of number and gender.) Now, you could argue that this represents some judicious editing; but then why not edit the problematic statement of “Let Us make man,” along with the Divine titles, along with it?

    To be sure, the statement remains puzzling, and it is something of a minefield for biblical commentators. Some proposed explanations are more convincing than others; I myself came up with one that seems rather clever, at least to me :-) It hinges on the use of the two phrases (really, two words in the Hebrew), “In Our image, according to Our likeness”; the creation itself, and EVERY further reference to it, only uses the first part (i.e. word), the bit about the image. My theory is that we humans are God’s partner in our own creation, expected to supply the “likeness” by practicing imitatio dei. The supporting evidence for this assertion is too tedious to record here, unfortunately, but if you are interested, I’ll make the effort.

  98. I mean “all of the verbs recording actions taken,” of course. “Let Us make” is plural, but the verb describing the actual making is singular.

  99. > why have Jewish intellectuals invested so heavily in socialism and communism, a movement that has repaid that investment with oppression and massacre of Jews on a huge scale?

    It was an agreement to force Jews to migrate and occupy Palestine.
    Actually, Jews were the invisible allies of Hitler.

    ESR says: And you are either trolling or batshit insane.

  100. > ESR says: And you are either trolling or batshit insane.

    You do get very binary sometimes! Can’t it ever be both? Lunatics can fish. They just use eye-of-newt and wing-of-bat for bait.

  101. JB:”There was plenty of anti-Jewish discrimination (e.g. college admissions quotas) in the post-WWII Stalin Era. Both my parents entered college during that time, and believe me, official or not, it was blatant.”

    There was blatant anti-Jewish discrimination in the United States at that time – much of it explicit and legal, such as discriminatory covenants in property deeds. Jews were excluded from country clubs and other associations. Jewish applicants to elite private universities were subjected to covert admissions quotas. Was this anti-semitic activity remotely comparable to the Nazi extermination campaign? Of course not. And neither was the discrimination in the USSR.

    I would further say that anti-semitism in the USSR had very little to do with Communism. Unlike all previous Russian governments, the USSR officially repudiated anti-semitism. Granted, there are implications of Communist doctrine that could be said to attack any ethnic minority with strong self-identification, especially one defined by a religion. But ISTM that it is straining to see this as the primary cause of anti-semitism in the post-WW II USSR, and dismiss six centuries of traditional animosity and the resentment incurred by a disproportionately successful minority.

  102. Their might be an alternative explanation to why so many Jews are “liberals”. Remember that “correlation does not imply causation”. There might just be something entirely different at work.

    Thomas Sowell once said “The most important thing you must know about the ideas of the left is that they don’t work. That is why you will find them there where ideas don’t have to work in order to survive”.
    Academics live a sheltered life, and outside their specific field they are free to engage in whatever fantasies they desire. A linguist has no need for a coherent, working model of society. Neither does a particle physicist or a biologist. Free from constraints Utopian ideas can be quite attractive. This might go long way towards explaining why so many academics are liberals. Ad in that Jews are overrepresented in academia because they are brighter than average, and you have another theory about why so many prominent Jews are liberals. Prominent Jews are often academics. Academics often have lefist ideas, ergo prominent Jews are often liberals.
    This explanation allows for the exception that most Jewish academics that are prominent in the field of economics are not liberals. Economists do have a need for economic theories that are logical and that work…

  103. # Shenpen Says: “the so-called Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Birobidzan, Stalin’s devilishly ingenious idea about how to kill many Jews and politically marginalize those who survive without suffering a PR hit.

    The Birobidzhan project was begun in 1928. Jewish Communists were the primary advocates of a “Jewish territory” in the USSR.

    “Jews were forced up to railroad cattle wagons with whatever little belongings they could quickly collect and moved to Siberia.”

    Do you have a source for this version of the story? Because everything I have seen about the Birobidzhan project contradicts it. The settlers (who numbered only a few thousand out of the millions of Jews in the USSR) were volunteers, recruited by an extensive internal propaganda campaign.

    Furthermore, while there was a slight revival of the project immediately after WW II, it would be ridiculous to describe that as any sort of general attack on Soviet Jewry. It is completely absurd to cite the project as evidence of “a whack at [Jews] after WWII under Stalin …”

    Also, you wrote:

    “When thinking about the Soviet Union, one must not forget their extremely good ability at PR i.e. at deception. They were able to represent warlikeness as a desire for peace, conquest as defense against an aggressor (Afghanistan)…”

    The Afghanistan intervention is hardly an example of the Soviets’ “extremely good ability at PR”. No one outside the Soviet bloc ever believed Soviet excuses for a minute.

    > extermination camps as labor camps (GULAG),

    The GULAG was a slave-labor empire. AFAIK the USSR never had “Extermination camps”. The Nazis did: Treblinka, Sobibor, Bełżec, Majdanek. These facilities were literal death factories: their victims were nearly all killed within a few hours of arrival, using industrial-level processes.

    > mass murder as random famine (Ukraine) etc.

    The Soviets did not portray what happened in Ukraine in the 1930s as “random famine”. Instead they denied that it was even happening – with the complicity of Western journalists and intellectuals.

  104. >A picture of Eric S. Raymond in his secret garb: http://russnelson.com/temp/eric-shlomo-raymond.jpg

    Ugh. That’s an awful Photoshopping. Trying to make me look like a Chasid is pretty doomed, anyway. I can’t grow much of a beard, for one thing.

    I will admit to having dressed something like that once or twice, though, in live-action role-playing games set in Victorian times. Edit in a top hat and a brocaded vest.

  105. > It’s important to note that Hebrew uses the word both as a morphological plural (in the sense of the “majestic ‘we’”) and as a true plural. There is actually very little evidence to suggest that mainstream interpretation of the terms “Elohim” and “We” (as in “We shall create a man in Our image”) are actually morphological plurals. In fact, given the Hebrew peoples were previously polytheistic (as recorded both in the Bible itself and in other contemporary literature), it’s entirely likely that the Elohist source for Genesis chapter 1 meant the words to be literally plural.

    No, this is incorrect. While the reason the word elohim uses the plural form is subject to interpretation and historical critique, the syntax in Hebrew clearly refers to it as a singular entity. The very first words are: “Bresheet” (in the beginning) “bara” (he created) “elohim” (god/God/gods/whatever) … Note that the verb “bara” is the singular masculine 2nd person conjugation of “to create”.

    Nor is it clear what the word is a plural of, as there are a few options, all of which are problematic:
    * “el” = lower-case god and has a plural form “elim”
    * “elil” = idol or deity and has a plural form “elilim”
    * “eloha” = archaic form of “god of” (note the genitive) and has a non-archaic plural form “elohey” (gods of)
    * Another option is that it’s some sort of collective singular. For example, “many elohim” is syntactically impossible in Hebrew. This is also why many interpretations of this puzzling word consider it to be a kind of royal “We” which is a collective singular word.

    The verdict is still out even in Jewish classic Jewish philosophy and debate.

  106. I think this theory is a wild leap that lends itself to clearly overt and unjustified anti-Semitic conclusions.

    It’s one thing to say that a fearful people will employ certain tactics to ensure its survival. It’s another thing entirely to propose that those tactics develop into an ingrained unintentioned social strategy intent on weakening (and McDonald would probably imply “ruining”) ethnotribal ties amongst their host populations.

    Ethnotribal ties change: they fluctuate over time, sometimes wildly and sometimes slowly, but they always change. So once you make that leap, it’s very difficult to dissociate any weakened ethnotribal tie from whatever effect Jews may or may not have had. It introduces a clear bias into the research process itself, which thenceforth starts looking for the Jews in the historical vicinity of any such events. Add the ambiguity inherent in the phrase “ethnotribal tie” and you can’t avoid looking for the historical Jewish boogeyman everywhere.

    It’s not like socialism and communism was the only world-shaking movement to tear apart ethnotribal ties: Napoleon managed all on his own, Luther wrote his own Letter, the Inquisition tore apart Jewish ethnotribal ties, the Romans conquered their world all on their own, Newton write his own theories. None of them needed a single Jew to help them tear apart ethnotribal ties.

    I’m also rather horrified by the conclusion that the devastation the Jews suffered over the millenia, and especially in the past century, were an inadvertent result of their struggle to survive in an environment that was hostile to them to begin with. Blame the Jews for that initial hostility and you add insult to injury. It is also troublingly analogous to the the Catholic narrative that Jews are forever collectively and innately to blame for Judas’ betrayal.

    But aside from the chicken and egg paradox inherent to the inaccurate and overreaching suggestion that the Jews have almost always been a frightened minority and therefore evolved genetic and social traits that bore theories and movements that shook the world so much and in just such a way as to cause their own slaughter, this argument sounds to me no different than that of an abusive parent telling the child “You made me hurt you. It’s your fault I slapped you. Why were you even born?”

    There is also a factual deficiency to this theory. Jewish tradition deals with universals as much as it deals with details. Jewish law has been developing for a couple thousand years, deals with civil rights, belief systems, universal truths, justice, and it also deals with taxation levels, dress codes, health, sexual positions, diseases, and just about everything else. It is not all abstract and distant, and it was not put compiled by a bunch of absent-minded rabbis. Quite the contrary: Jewish law *requires* the rabbi to be both a scholar and relevant to his constituency. Marx owes more to Hegel than to Maimonedes.

    Jews were also not always fearful, not always hunted, not always massacred, even if they were always a minority. In the pogroms and other tragedies that befell the Jews long before the 20th century, the perpetrators never chose to let the more intelligent, or more socially apt, or more financially secure Jews survive. They often killed with distinction, but not by darwinistically choosing those traits that would grant the survivors any traits different than the other non-Jewish victims.

    I won’t dispute that there are cultural differences, that a lot of Jewish thinkers might have been “rootless Cosmopolitans”, that the past two centuries have seen a high representation of foundational Jewish thinkers. I claim that we don’t know enough to know and that there are too many factors ignored by these theories. I dispute the leap by which the Jews owe their intelligence and power to the “tragedy of universalism” that supposedly afflicts them.

  107. I think this theory is a wild leap that lends itself to clearly overt and unjustified anti-Semitic conclusions.

    It’s one thing to say that a fearful people will employ certain tactics to ensure its survival. It’s another thing entirely to propose that those tactics develop into an ingrained unintentioned social strategy intent on weakening (and McDonald would probably imply “ruining”) ethnotribal ties amongst their host populations.

    Ethnotribal ties change: they fluctuate over time, sometimes wildly and sometimes slowly, but they always change. So once you make that leap, it’s very difficult to dissociate any weakened ethnotribal tie from whatever effect Jews may or may not have had. It introduces a clear bias into the research process itself, which thenceforth starts looking for the Jews in the historical vicinity of any such events. Add the ambiguity inherent in the phrase “ethnotribal tie” and you can’t avoid looking for the historical Jewish boogeyman everywhere.

    It’s not like socialism and communism was the only world-shaking movement to tear apart ethnotribal ties: Napoleon managed all on his own, Luther wrote his own Letter, the Inquisition tore apart Jewish ethnotribal ties, the Romans conquered their world all on their own, Newton write his own theories. None of them needed a single Jew to help them tear apart ethnotribal ties.

    I’m also rather horrified by the conclusion that the devastation the Jews suffered over the millenia, and especially in the past century, were an inadvertent result of their struggle to survive in an environment that was hostile to them to begin with. Blame the Jews for that initial hostility and you add insult to injury. It is also troublingly analogous to the the Catholic narrative that Jews are forever collectively and innately to blame for Judas’ betrayal.

  108. Jews are overrepresented in academia because they are brighter than average,

    No, Jews are overrepresented in academia because Jewish culture has always revered scholarship.

  109. > No, Jews are overrepresented in academia because Jewish culture has always revered scholarship.

    Well, I find myself finally agreeing with “Some Guy.” Enough of this insistence on “Intelligence Quotients” from all of these callow Science-Sociology matchmakers, laboring to erect a pyramid built upon unquantified subjectives of “race” and “intelligence.”

    It’s both sad and enlightening to see some of the same people who refuse to be taken in by 100 years of temperature data wilingly fling themselves upon 100 years of “intelliegence” data. Both are utter anti-scientific horseshit, but the latter is anti-scientific horseshit that can *only* be used for mischief. It’s not that it’s politically useless… it’s simply not Science. Human adaptation doesn’t conform to a ruleset any particular person has defined in the last 100 years any more than the average temperature of the Earth conforms to IPCC reports, or water levels of the East River conform to Hansen’s predictions. The data is not complete, and the map/terrain is so far out of whack to be laughable. If you want to set yourself or others within some racial/ethinic pyramid of problem-solving ability, you have a far more difficult set of problems to resolve before you can even begin to do so.

  110. Yes, horrible photoshopping. What do you expect at three AM? I was lucky to find someone with his head at the right angle for that photo. And the lighting is completely wrong, and it’s not well trimmed. Just trying to imply that you’re a closet Torah-reader. You’d make a better Jew than a Quaker. Too many Gaia-worshippers in the nominally Christian Society of Friends.

    And anyway, Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian, so I don’t know why Jesus-worshippers don’t convert to Judyism. I had a crush on a girl named Judy once; that’s why I’m a Judyist. Am I making sense? I can’t tell. I think I need a brain transplant. How are the brains from Brains R’ Us? Any good?

  111. AFAIK the USSR never had “Extermination camps”.

    They supposedly had one camp centered on a uranium mine, where the guards wore protective gear but the prisoners did not, thus the prisoners were in essence sentenced to death. This was the subject of a British documentary I saw on American cable during the Gorbachev era, when the camp was supposedly still in existence, but I haven’t heard anything about it since.

  112. I think I have a much simpler explanation of the phenomenon ESR is discussing.

    Being a member of Jewish “endogamous ethno-tribal group” (I assume it’s just fancy words for an observant Jew) is _hard_. The minute nagging demands on your daily activity would drive crazy any person without the required faith. However, not all Jews are saints. Some of us lose the faith, some never have it. The observant life becomes bitterly hard for such people, and impossible for their children.

    On the other hand, the observant Jewish life has a reward – an intense sense of belonging, tradition and righteousness. This is something that all people desire, and something that Jews seem to remember even if they haven’t experienced it personally – some shadow of it comes through the parents anyway, especially in the presence of a degree of oppression. Now, the traditional way to get that righteous belonging feeling is to join a church. Well, if you just left the synagogue, that move does not seem likely, does it? (it does happen – one case I remember off hand is Father Alexander Men’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Men)). Where else can you get that warm feeling? Of course “on the right side of history”! A secular social reform/social revolution movement gives one the benefits of comradeship, assurances of doing the right thing, plus a side benefit of the license to hate the non-existing God who’s been torturing him/her in the previous life. What other social grouping can offer all of these?

    I think this is a much simpler explanation, and it’s easier to believe than some unlearned “evolutionary imperative” to destroy other tribes. What we need is a control experiment – another “chosen people” on whom excessive demands are placed in the name of faith. I don’t see any around, but then I am not a specialist…

  113. “You cannot know that you have understood anything until you have generated predictions about it.”

    OK lemme explain why I brought it up and it will become clearer. My major problem with McDonalds work is that it’s a work of “grasping” and not “understanding” and is therefore missing the real point.

    In the XIX. century a clear separation between natural and social sciences were made which was later forgotten. The separation was that natural sciences are to “grasp” a phenomenon (“greifen”), while the social scienes are to “empathically understand” a phenomenon (“verstehen”), i.e. the social scientist’s aim is to put himself in the shoes of the people he is studying and learn to think like they think or thought. Example: Misesian economics – learning how the economic decision maker thinks instead of gathering data.

    This can be approached from two angles. Either we could plain simply say this is the most predictive method because people, unlike atoms and stars, conscious decision-makers and we cannot predict what a man will do without learning what is going on inside his head. This was for example Rothbard’s main argument against empirical economics: repeating the same experiment with different people is invalid because they can have very different minds, and with the same people is invalid too because they will _learn_ from the first experiment. If this can be accepted – that only “emphatical” methods that aim at learning how people think can be truly predictive about people – then my rumbling about the meaning of understanding was largely useless, and I can simply point out that this study doesn’t even attempt to do that. There is absolutely no attempt therein to figure out what exactly gone on in, say, Trotsky’s head.

    If this is not to be accepted, then comes into relevance what I said about prediction vs. understanding. Theories that don’t understand anything can still be predictive. A – perhaps too artificial, but anyway – example is a hypothetical man who has no access to instruments and no theory of electrcity – because he live in 200 BC – theorizing about lightning. One can observe a lot of things with the bare eye about lightning, that it hits high houses and people walking or bare plains, and can say that lightning is the arrow of Zeus and Zeus hates high houses and people walking in bare plains. Perfectly predictive as long as bare eye observation goes, has no logical contradictions that cannot be explained away, yet contains no hint of understanding. This is what I meant.

    Why do we have in the 21. century better theories about lightning? I think it’s either because our methods are better or our instruments are better than the bare eye. The instruments are providing better data that are harder to predict by wrong theories, and the methods provide better means at coming up with such theories. With good enough instruments one can falsify the Zeus theory of lightning and with good enough math, physics etc. one can derive a better one.

    However in the social sciences instruments are little use in studying human action, like, the actions of Jewish revolutionaries. Thus, our data is of no better quality than it was centuries before, it may be a little more accurate, because with statistical methods we can say now “54,9%” instead of “a slight majority”, but that’s not really a big change: we can present data in nice statistical tables but it’s still essentially bare-eye observation. Lacking this instrumental advantage, social science cannot really tell the difference between something analogous to a Zeus theory of lightning and an electricity theory of lighthing in human action, because both are predictive enough to the bare eye and we have no better instruments than the bare eye. Got what I mean?

    What is a person to when facing to theories that seem predictive enough but he doesn’t have the instrumental means to test them and falsify one of them or decide which is the more predictive one? How would our poor man in 200 BC decide between a Zeus theory of lightning and alternative ones when we doesn’t have the instruments to tell which one is more predictive?

    This is where understanding independent of predictive power comes into the picture. Some other kinds of testing. Such as internal logic, internal contradictions. Occam’s razor. Or common sense. That’s what I mean. Common sense is telling me that theories about people acting, like this one here, that don’t even attempt to understand the mind of the people it studies but tries to theorize if it was some sort of a blind evolutionary force I think are automatically invalid. It’s like talking about computers using the means to study steam engines. Animals evolving log hair or big teeth is not the same thing as people “evolving” certain political ideologies, because the first is a mindless process and the second one is a conscious one.

    In the social sciences we ARE in 200 BC. The data collected is not much better than the data collected in Aristotle’s politics (just represented nicer in Excel tables and with largely irrelevant precision: “usually” and “82,3% of the time” makes little difference), plain simply because technology doesn’t help much with it. This theory can be predictive enough to the current level of data. But our current level of data is about the same quality as the data about lightning in 200 BC. We just can’t test these theories by prediction alone.

  114. “Do you have a source for this version of the story?”

    A guy told me this story who was a member of the Commie party in Hungary and had actually studied in Moscow around 1975, but later turned against them and now hates Commies with a passion. My approach was that this is plausible because he really knows Soviet Russia, OTOH it can be that his change of heart made him exaggerate about their crimes. I don’t really know. Take it with a pinch of salt, anyway.

  115. “You cannot know that you have understood anything until you have generated predictions about it.”

    Define “to know”. If “to know” means to have 100% certainty then one can never know anything. If lower probabilities are allowed, you can. You can know it from the Heureka!-experience that happens when you suddenly understood something important and formerly disconnected data about the world gets connected into one big picture in your mind. Of course you know what I mean: the only possible reason why you studied dry stuff like math or physics is that it can often provide a really profound and enjoyable Heureka!-”flash”, don’t say you don’t what I’m talking about :)

    Even a friendly outsider can tell it. When people suddenly understand something important not only they will show the typical signs of being enthusiastic about it, that in itself would not be enough. They will also show a signs of feeling a profound _awe_ and that’s the tell-tale sign. Because truth is beautiful, in the sense that a logical system is always more beautiful than an unconnected, unlogical mess, and when people understand something profound, they will experience the world as something more beautiful as before. This is why the Heureka!-flash feels so good, and this is how the friendly observer can tell it, he will see the signs of being awed by this newly discovered beauty of the logicalness of the world on you.

    Of course often we have to prove we understood things to people who aren’t our friends. This is when prediction comes into the picture. But prediction can only disprove you understood something, it can never prove you understood it. (I’m driving at something similar as Popper’s idea that theories can only be falsified but never verified.) So prediction is useful for filtering out the bullshit. But what should we do with all that that remains and survives that test, yet they contradict each other?

  116. (A side-thought. “and this is how the friendly observer can tell it, he will see the signs of being awed by this newly discovered beauty of the logicalness of the world on you.” – the ability to see these signs is the ability everybody who wants to become a good teacher must develop.)

  117. A speculation about Jews: If we must take sociobiological explanations seriously, there’s a possibility that Jewish history has produced selective pressure for Jews to not “sell out” since anyone who did would remove himself from the Jewish people. Eventually this produced Jews who would only leave Judaism to join movements that were even more messianic.

    This explains both Objectivism and Marxism.

  118. > If we must take sociobiological explanations seriously

    *must*?

    > This explains both Objectivism and Marxism.

    It doesn’t explain the millions of non-observant and non-messianic Jews.
    It doesn’t explain the millions of Jews that “married out” of Judaism or live(d) in interfaith families.
    It doesn’t explain the millions of observant and/or religious Jews that did not “remove” themselves from the Jewish people in lieu of all the “even more messianic” movements out there.

  119. Yeah, I’m thinking that these explanations all leave a lot to be desired. Cathedrals in the Air, the lot of them.

    Yours,
    Tom

  120. It doesn’t explain the millions of non-observant and non-messianic Jews.
    It doesn’t explain the millions of Jews that “married out” of Judaism or live(d) in interfaith families.
    It doesn’t explain the millions of observant and/or religious Jews that did not “remove” themselves from the Jewish people in lieu of all the “even more messianic” movements out there.

    Hm. Non-observant and non-messianic Jews can be explained by the influences of our technological age; it’s the same with non-observant or marginally observant Catholics, for instance. Despite what you might see in the media, the majority religion in the US and much of Europe isn’t Christianity; many people count themselves as “Christians” though they don’t practice Christianity beyond having a family Bible. Much the same for the non-observant Jews. I think this is also partly responsible for the modern day “marrying out” phenomenon.

  121. > Cathedrals in the Air, the lot of them.

    Yep. I smell a lot of hogwashium in this “science” of Evolutionary Psychology. The (admittedly few) papers I’ve read on the subject seem to share more in common with Derrida than with Darwin or Fisher.

    ESR says: Go read this. It will rock your world.

  122. > [...] can be explained by the influences of our technological age [...]

    The point is that the proffered theory is incomplete, inadequate and lends itself to anti-Semitic generalization. Suggesting that there are other influences strengthens my argument.

  123. ESR says:
    > Go read this. It will rock your world.

    I might do so if I had unlimited free time. Even if it turns out to be every bit as bunk as Al Gore’s ice caps, some psuedoscientific digressions can be entertaining and even illuminating in certain ways. But I suspect it would be difficult for me to find a firm foothold, practically all of the conclusions I have read seem inherently unfalsifiable. No offense to you, but even the general thrust of this article seems inherently unfalsifiable and to me. I’m not sure what it would take to get me over that hill.

    This doesn’t seem surprising or new to me. Even the far more established field of behaviorism has run afoul of many ad hoc rattraps, and will continue to do so the length of its life. Claiming to understand through observation the particulars of the human mind and soul has it’s place, I suppose. I’m not at all sure that place is in a scientific journal, and I’d probably have to become convinced otherwise before I could attempt a serious stab at the literature.

  124. >But I suspect it would be difficult for me to find a firm foothold, practically all of the conclusions I have read seem inherently unfalsifiable.

    If you ever read the Cosmides and Tooby anthology you’ll find powerful predictive exceptions. In one case, for example, an evolutionary-psych prediction of a visual-processing difference between men and women led to an experimental test of an effect that had never been even guessed at before and turned out to be very marked.

    Believe it or not: one of the essays in there, on food sharing among African green monkeys, was the single most direct antecedent of my papers on software development. A stray remark about related behaviors in hunter-gatherer cultures started me thinking about what conditions reliably elicit reciprocal gift behaviors in humans.

  125. I do believe it, esr. And I am sure there is a lot of interesting food for thought in these essays and other EP works, just as works of Science Fiction often contain many interesting springboards for thought and study (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. Immanuel Kant would and St. Thomas Aquinas would also apply.)

    But I also believe that much of what I’m seeing lately is not the product of a deeper drilling of Evolution or Psychology but rather Epistemology with shiny new coat of Digital Age paint. The Computational Theory of Mind stands out as a striking example of this phenomenon for me. As this tool we call a computer becomes fully amalgamated into our daily hunter-gatherer routine, suddenly this Computational Model of Mind begins to emerge from the ether. We must be modular computers! And what is the hardware/software model of mind if not a modern permutation of Descartes “mind/body” problem. Are we substituting Fodor’s symbol decoders for Descartes’ “animal spirits?”

    Again, it doesn’t mean I think it’s worthless. For instance, I’d recommend a thorough reading of Descartes “Passions of the Soul”, Chomsky’s “Syntactic Structures” and Fodor’s “Modularity of Mind” for anyone interested in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Not as foundational works, mind you, but as interesting diversions that may illuminate despite (or, in some cases, because of) their problems.

    But I guess what I really find myself “unable to compute” is the following statement:

    “Some of the key differences between RMS’s thinking and mine — thus, some of the differences between “free software” and “open source” tendencies in the reform movement we have both shaped — trace directly to the fact that Gentile classical liberalism is my background tradition in much the same way that Jewish secular messianic rationalism is his.”

    The problem I am having with this statement is:
    1) Absent a timescale and a rigorous exploration of genealogy and biography, “background tradition” is a meaningless term. And even with that rigorous exploration, it still *might* be meaningless.
    2) The statement might be 100% accurate anecdotally, but 100% inaccurate scientifically.

    But there’s an even larger problem here, I think. The philosophical divergence between you and Stallman could have everything to do with an automated evolutionary process, or it may have to everything to do with your third grade Math Teacher breast size, or what you ate for breakfast last Thursday. But if it is an evolutionary process then we should be able to reduce the evidence to something less vague and subjective than ethno-tribal membership. Who sets the categories and constraints for such “ethno-tribes?” Geneticists? Ethnographers? Evolutionary Biologists?

    And if we agree on who defines them, what happens when we find that some of us don’t neatly fit into one of them (as I suspect I wouldn’t)? In what specific ways are this evolutionary process mutated in persons belonging to several such ethno-tribes? Are you saying that we can all use EP to predict (with reasonable accuracy) how you and Stallman will think about given subjects because we can neatly contain your ethno-tribes, but the ways in which Tiger Woods’ mind works are pure mystery?

  126. “Go read this. It will rock your world.”

    I think I will (when I figure out how to convince Amazon to ship where I live now (Vienna)).

    May I recommend another potentially-world-rocking book about how to reason about history, politics and the social sciences? It has little to do directly with the current topic at hand but indirectly it has a lot to do with almost everything else in the human sphere.

    http://www.amazon.com/Science-Politics-Walgreen-Foundation-Lectures/dp/0226861147/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264706489&sr=1-1

    Warning: it’s HARD. About as hard to parse as an advanced math textbook: skip over an obscure technical term on page 10 and on page 15 you will have no idea what Voegelin is talking about. Personally I love this book exactly because it’s hardness: it’s a challenge, a real IQ test, and it can be considered a kind of a graduation exam: by parsing it it fully you can graduate into the relatively small circle of people who can reason about politics and history based on fact and logic without any influence by the unfounded “gnostic” modern myths.

    I suspect some of you consider much of the philosophical stuff I tend to write in my comments rather muddy, and therefore may be suspicious about my reading recommendations. Don’t be. I’m struggling with this book for about two years now and parsed only about 60% of it. It’s about as clear-cut logical and un-muddy as anything expressed in words and not mathematical symbols ever can be, hence are my difficulties with it, I just cannot use my well-developed intuition and common sense and associating ability with this book – it forces me to think real hard, in purely facts and logic, like a scientist which I never wanted to be. Thus, this book is especially recommended to those who consider my comments muddy because they will have a much easier – but still challenging enough to be interesting – time parsing it as I do and will probably enjoy it more.

  127. I’ve read through about half this thread and will go over the rest when I have some time. Its fascinating.
    I’ve been thinking about the “anti-semitism or not” question. Not as to your beliefs, since I don’t know them, but as regards the idea of the Jewish tribe/nation/ethnicity collectively and unconsciously working to destroy/collapse ethno-tribal bonds in other groups.

    After some thought, my primary problem with this idea is that it seems to imply that Jews do or tend to do harm to other ethno-tribal groups by their very existence. The fact that there is no actual conspiracy makes that even worse because it means there is no conspiracy to leave or secret plot to decry, but rather an ethno-tribal meme which cannot be effectively unlearned.
    This implies that while Jews are no danger to nations such as the United States, they(we) are dangerous to nations/tribes that are in any way based on ethnicity.

    As an Israeli Jew, I find this a disturbing and perhaps anti-semitic concept – that me and mine are implicitly dangerous to ethno-tribal groups and can do nothing to change that.
    Am I misunderstanding?

  128. 1. People should be able to substantively discuss Kevin McDonald’s ideas on an intellectual level without dragging out the shibboleth of antisemitism – in effect pulling emotive shame based themes into contexts that are unwarranted. His research and theories are academic, they should be addressed as such. Recourse to the language of bigotry, antisemitism, racism, and the like, actually subverts rigorous and rational discussion of the differences between ethnic groups, races, religions, and cultures.

    Dredging up the “anti-Semite” card can be, in some cases, a cheap rhetorical shot made by people who typically are not interested in anything resembling intellectual discourse. In other cases it can be sincere but naive umbrage taken by people too emotionally wound up to really want to discuss ideas.

    Someone is bound to react to this with some emotive shame baiting finger wagging screed that will actually substantiate my point. When this occurs and i have the pleasure of reading adroit venom, I will smile.

    2. That said, McDonald is totally unconvincing to me. Whether this is or is not because he is (or is not) a bigot is irrelevant. His arguments are coherent – but only when one looks at a narrow range of historical data and avoids certain nuances. I honestly think McDonald’s thesis is based on a superficial analysis of history and Judaism, and a tendency to reduce sociological matters to matters of biological evolutionary strategies.

    There are a host of assumptions underlying this that frankly may be totally specious. People would be better off debating this than dredging up the tired old shame-tactic card of “anti-semite.”.

    I think that Jews, historically, are not as endogamous as his reductive picture suggests. In several periods of Jewish history various Jewish communities were less endogamous. Inter-marriage has certainly occurred, in some periods far less so, but in the periods he speaks of a massive amount of out-marriage had occurred as well as varying degrees of cultural and religious assimilation to non-Jewish Western cultures. Now often, not always but often, when out-marriage took place conversion took place, but this was not always the case.

    In politically radical and secular milieus, out-marriage occurred far more commonly even still. In the secular and radical milieus in which the “culture of critique” that McDonald aims to identify found home, the sort of liberal and secular Jews involved were even less likely to be endogamous than among more conservative or orthodox Jews.

    This is not to suggest that a strong degree of endogamy did not exist, It did. But to a matter of degree I honestly think McDonald exaggerates.

    3. Jewish communities have coexisted among non Jewish ones, whether adversarial or not, for centuries without needing to weaken the cohesion of the respective ethno-tribal or nation-state groupings in which they found themselves. For example, Jews existed for thousands of years in the Maghreb – Morocco and Algeria, Yemen, Turkey or Iran, on substantive well organized levels, without fomenting or pushing ideologies or movements weakening the cohesion of these societies.

    In the Near East, the only times in which Jewish intellectuals were involved in modern political ideologies or movements that had the effect of weakening such groupings (like in Ottoman Turkey) it was on a limited level, confined to a few individuals, working mostly as commercial and intellectual agents of, or in collaboration with, people who happened to be the ancestors of people like McDonald’s in the high days of Europe’s colonial project.

    What I find ultimately unconvincing lies in how McDonald crafts a VERY tight argument – and I believe most of those accusing him of antisemitism are simply intellectually incapable of addressing his actual argument on a substantive level – HOWEVER the argument he crafts is on the basis of very limited historical data. The narrow range in which he looks at the history of Jewish interaction with larger communities ignores a larger context can be interpreted in many different ways. He looks at specific socio-political cultures limited to about 150 years or so of Anglo-American, primarily, history and crafts an socio-biological or evolutionary psychological style argument on phenomena and history that occupies a tiny fraction of Jewish history.

    The same data is capable of being read in different ways, for example the penchant among specific Jewish radicals, whose intellectual background includes familiarity with and, among near ancestors, commitments to specific Messianic religious reform movements withing Western Judaism, and whose background includes centuries of oppression and pogroms, may simply reflect a general mindset touched with an awareness of constant low level persecution on by a broader non-Jewish culture, and a general cultural idea of Tikun Olam that in its secularized form resonates with earlier religious movements within the European Jewish milieu.

    The last thing that bugs me is the tendency of people who are into McDonald to overly buy into biologically essentialist hypothesis to the exclusion of other possibilities. These things become matters of creedal belief for people, one group naively buying into a totally environmental approach, the other totally into an essentiallist approach. It smacks of a belief structure, reflecting other silly dichotomies in Western thought that only the most determined or creative even bother trying to bridge.

    That said, again, dredging out the Antisemitic card is pretty lazy and stupid.

  129. Here’s the link to the “Racism Report: Africans in Israel” video mentioned in my previous comment:

  130. Any simple-minded person that uses smear words like “racist”, “anti-semite”, “nazi”, or whatever are just part of the swayable ANGRY MOB and are not even worthy of refute.

    So, grow up and argue points instead of using your childish “ad homimen” attacks.

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