Sunday, April 19, 2009

Is Anti-Semitism at core Anti-Intellectualism?

(No, it's not a JR post - but apologies to Dr John if I am repeating one of his points)

Dennis Prager (US conservative talk show host) notes that those societies which treat their Jewish population well prosper, and that those who don't do badly. It's an historical fact with many illustrative examples from Ancient Egypt on down to the present day. Prager, who is Jewish, sees The Hand of God in this, reasonably enough; the Old Testament certainly does make the same point.

There is clearly something real going on here, even apart from The Hand of God.

From this article in the LA Times we see that though Jews represent less than 3% of the US population they have won more than 25% of the Nobel Prizes awarded to American scientists since 1950, account for 20% of this country's chief executives and make up 22% of Ivy League students.

Something to note is that many of the actual achievements behind these statistics would not have happened if the United States did not give the Jews of Europe a safe haven in which to prosper. Intellectual achievement is not like a foot race where, no matter how slow the field of runners, someone, in the end, wins. In the intellectual world, if the runners are slow, no one wins the prize. The task doesn't get done. The scientific discovery doesn't get made. The new inventions don't appear.

(This is the Arab world today. Scientific and technical progress comes from a tiny, tiny fraction of the brightest people - and the Arabs got rid of theirs.)

People who are used to dealing with the very smart - university maths lecturers for example - know not to stress out when, occasionally, a student comes along who is obviously far smarter than they are. Intellectual ability - unlike athletic ability, which varies by only 30 or 40% in healthy people - varies by orders of magnitude between people. Even though university maths lecturers are far above the average in mathematical ability, they know there will be others who are equally as far above them, also.

The problem is that many people don't have this relaxed view toward the very bright. They harbour miss-trust and suspicion. Since most progress is made by smart people, a society which is suspicious of and shuns smart people is generally going to stagnate; the Hand of God moves against them.

Suspicion of intellect will naturally attach itself most strongly to a group which is both very bright and distinctive in some way - in the case of the Ashkenazy Jews, they are both religiously and ethnically distinct.

So, is anti-Semitism at its core a manifestation of anti-intellectualism?

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