Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Why the Jews? Come to Think of It, Why the Palestinians? (Hint--the answer is the same)

In his book Human Accomplishment, Charles Murray describes how Jews did not even begin to be emancipated in Europe until the late 18th century. While they technically had full rights under federal law in the United States, protection at the state level had to await passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.

“This history,” he writes, “provides us with a nice example of what social scientists call an interrupted time series. Until 1800 Jews are excluded. Then, over about 70 years, the legal exclusions are lifted and the social exclusion eases. What happens?"

Historian Raphael Patai notes that “the suddenness with which Jews begin to appear is nothing short of astounding.... It seemed as if a huge reservoir of Jewish talent, hitherto damned up behind the wall of Talmudic learning, were suddenly released to spill over into all the fields of Gentile cultural activity.”

In graphic form, Murray demonstrates how, in nearly every important human endeavor--biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, medicine, visual arts, literature, music and philosophy--Jews are staggeringly over-represented given their small numbers. In mathematics the actual-to-expected ratio is 12:1. In philosophy it is 14:1. In physics 9:1. In medicine and biology, 8:1. Remember, these ratios are not just measuring the raw numbers of doctors, scientists and artists, but the number of truly great and significant ones.

Do we have any idea why? Murray gets into some speculation, and there is no doubt some truth to what he writes--for example, the devotion to learning that has always been central to Jewish culture. Jews also have a much higher proportion of people with high IQs, but that introduces the possibility of environmental factors that I will discuss below, since IQ is influenced both by genetics and the environment. Jewish family units also tend to be quite strong, with fewer children growing up in broken homes. But here again, we’re dealing with a chicken-egg problem, since psychoanalysts believe that the ability to have deep and fulfilling relationships as an adult is rooted in early attachment experiences.

So no one really knows why Jews produce this disproportionate excellence, even in the wake of having been perhaps the most persecuted group in human history. Therefore, we are free to speculate, which I will proceed to do.

You know the story about the tailor who met the pope? Someone asked him what the pope was like, and he responded, “Oh, about a 38 regular.” As a psychologist inquiring into "what Jews were like," I naturally focus on their child-rearing practices--not now, but from the time of antiquity. Referring again to the book we were discussing yesterday, The Slaughter of Innocents: Child Abuse through the Ages and Today, Breiner devotes a chapter to some of the striking differences in child-rearing practices between the ancient Hebrews and some of their contemporaries. This chapter is fairly lengthy, so I will only have time to hit some of the highlights.

It is almost impossible for us to imagine the barbarity of the ancient world--very similar to how contemporary liberals find it impossible to comprehend the evil savagery of the Islamists with whom we are in a mortal struggle. As we mentioned yesterday, in all other ancient lands, the abuse of women and children, including infanticide, was common. Breiner notes, for example, that On, the King of the Swedes, sacrificed nine of his ten sons in the belief that it would prolong his life. Think about it. It was if the entire ancient world consisted of Palestinians who think that murdering children will lead to their own salvation.

Surely it is no coincidence, therefore, that the story of the Jews as a people begins with the motif of child sacrifice, and G-d intervening to stop it. What was that voice in Abraham's head? Whether it was G-d or just his “conscience,” it was something new in human history. And even if you want to say it was his conscience, that just begs the question, for where did that come from?

In any event, the story of Abraham and Isaac allows us to assume that, up to that time, the ancient Hebrews were just as barbaric as any other ancient people. This biblical story preserves one of the truly shocking and unexpected “right turns” in human history--when something caused us to empathize with the sacrificial victim and lay down the knife. Not that it wasn’t a struggle afterwards. The Bible chronicles many instances of backsliding and regression, which gives it even more of a ring of authenticity. The struggle against absuing children was (and is) very real.

But the benefits were obvious. For the first time in history, Jews were also able to intuit the one God. Not only that, but he was a loving God. Other primitive peoples lived in the psychological fragmentation of polytheism. In my opinion, they did not know God because they could not know God. Early childhood trauma leads to what is called “borderline personality structure,” in which the mind is subject to vertical splitting and the inability to maintain psychological unity and coherence. Therefore, primitive polytheism was actually an indirect measure of child abuse. Note as well that the gods of ancient Greece and Rome were arbitrary, selfish, and narcissistic, and even got a kick out of lording it over the “little” humans. They were suspiciously simlar to abusive and uncaring parents.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Hebrews began viewing themselves as having an intimate relationship with a benevolent God who took a deep and abiding interest in them, instead of having to live in fear of a multitude of arbitrary and self-absorbed gods.

Again, we are not comparing the ancient Hebrews to modern peoples but to their own contemporaries in the ancient world, and by that standard, they were moyels ahead of the pack. Marriage began to be viewed as a sacred institution composed of two individuals who were in the image and likeness of God. “He who marries for money shall have worthless children,” says the Talmud. Here again, this cannot be separated from psychological issues. One will not be capable of a stable and loving marriage so long as one lives with the psychological fragmentation produced by vertical splitting. It is no coincidence that the “one loving God” was discovered at roughly the same time that it became possible to conceive of a monogamous, loving, companionate marriage between two equals.

Breiner speculates that this prevailing attitude--“to take care of and love one’s wife so that she will care for and love one's children”--was “fundamental in determining why ancient child abuse and infanticide were rare among the ancient Hebrews.” The Talmud stated that those who practiced pederasty were subject to stoning. In ancient Greece, pedophiles were subject to being lionized as immortal philosophers.

One of the most striking differences was in the attitude toward female children, which is one of the hinges of psychohistorical evolution. Unlike other ancient peoples, the Jews began cherishing and protecting female children. Many laws that we might now look upon as chauvinistic were, as reader Yesterday pointed out tomorrow--I mean Tamara pointed out yesterday--very advanced and innovative for their day. They were meant to protect women and girls, not to degrade them.

The Talmud has many laws about the proper treatment of infants and children. “A baby should be as well looked after as a king, high priest and learned man.” Fathers were enjoined to educate their children under penalty of fines. Furthermore, the father was admonished not to envy his son or pupil, which is very wise, for envy of childhood innocence is one of the psychological bases of child abuse. While there were still laws “on the books” allowing for a rebellious child to be put to death, there is no record of that actually occurring. (In fact, being that I am hardly a Jewish scholar, it is possible that this was a figure of speech, a way to emphasize the importance of filial piety, of honoring one’s parents.)

Again, it is easy to be historo-centric and view ancient Hebrews as barbaric by our standards, but the punishment meted out in Hebrew courts of law was lenient and humane by the standards of the day. So too their treatment of slaves, of captured enemies, of the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the stranger. They were the first people to achieve nearly 100% literacy, a development which had staggering implications for the way children were raised. In other words, it makes a huge difference if you happen to be raised by a literate mother capable of abstract thought vs. an illiterate mother capable only of concrete thought. Think of the contemporary Muslim Middle East, where female literacy continues to hover around 50%.

Tacitus, the renowned Roman historian who lived in the first century A.D., viewed the Hebrews as contemptible because “they considered it a crime among them to kill any child.” Nothing has changed. To paraphrase Golda Meir, the Arabs will only begin to make psychohistorical progress when they love their own children as much as they hate Jewish children. The two attitudes are simply two sides of the same coin: Palestinians and other Arabs engage in systematic abuse of their own children, who then grow up to externalize their implacable hatred onto Israelis.


R. Sherman said...

"Gehenna," a synonym for "hell" originated in the Hebrew word for a valley south of Jerusalem where children were sacrificed to Moloch or Baal.

Gives you an idea of how the Jews thought of the practice.


The Bunnies said...

I've studied Objectivism rather extensively, and I find it to be quite spiritual in spite of itself.

Although Rand spurns religion, she worships Man at his highest. She claims that there is nothing beyond what we can see and touch, yet she describes the sense of accomplishment attained trhough defeating external and internal demons in terms I find inspiringly vertical.

Her criticisms of the Left are spot-on, and after reading an interview with Chomsky, it struck me how he was the actual embodiment of Ellsworth Touhy of the Fountainhead.

Her description of money in the chapter entitled "The Aristocracy of Pull" is a brilliant description of how money and how we use and value it reflects the deepest part of who we are. Her ethical code in regards to sexuality (as written in Atlas Shrugs, not necessarily as reflected in her personal life) I find to be as healthy as any I've encountered.

I would argue that the flaws in Rand's philosophy stem from its fundamentalism, which you can see slowly developing as she wrote Atlas. She simply got too full of herself.

I have much more to say, but I'm at work so I can't. However, Rand has helped me substantially on my spiritual path. That may only mean that I'm of a lower order, but I've observed enough to think that's there's much that needs to be said that only she has said particularly well.

Alan said...

My two cents on Rand:
1. She put together a very coherent philosophical argument for personalism - that the human person can never be a means to an end but possesses dignity and value as an end in himself/herself though...
2. Her understanding of religion was childish
3. Her understanding of the vertical was limited to "Reason" and, as such, if you substitute the spirit/soul/vertical for Reason in any of her writings, you can integrate her arguments quite nicely into a cosmos-view that fits with that espoused by Bob.

Personally, reading her novels are, IMHO, the best antidote to socialist thinking and should be read by everyone at the right stage in their lives - as long as they already have a sense of the vertical or know someone who can guide them as they are reading the material. I grew up in a climate where the people were just too much like the negative people depicted in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and the books were enormously profitable for my development.

The Bunnies said...

In regards to her criticism of religion, I find the "childish" accusation to be partly true.

What she criticized was that religion required "sacrifice", but so much depends on the definition of that term. One one hand, Jesus "sacrificed" Himself by going through all sorts of pain, etc., but I think that He not only helped out humanity, He gave everything to what He believed and became greater as a result.

Giving up something you enjoy simply because somebody tells you to is a bad thing, and I think that's the sacrifice to which Rand objected. However, if I want to get in shape, I can look at my forebearance of Twinkies as a sacrifice, or I can see it as the embracing of something better.

Some religions recommend forebearance for its own sake, or because a book tells us we should. I agree with Rand's criticism of this. However, sometimes "sacrifice" is actually quite beneficial, but Rand doesn't make this connection in regards to religion.

Religion sometimes tells me that it's not about me. True enough. But it is about Me, the I AM, and some religions don't get this quite straight. Rand assumed that none of them do, and that's where she becomes "childish."

PS Before I wrote my last post, there were two posts here on Objectivism that seem to have disappeared, so my comments on Rand were not a non-sequitur when I wrote them.

Gagdad Bob said...

A note from the proprietor--

I am exercising a much heavier hand in deleting posts for a variety of infractions. For the record, it has nothing to do with rooting out dissent or criticism, but there is a certain tone that won't be tolerated any longer.

Jacob C. said...

Really, it comes full circle to what Bob was saying: that the Jews were the first to look at the sacrifice of a higher life form - a human being - to appease an agry deity, and say, "Damn it, that's not how things work with a Deity!" They realized - or were told - that the Lord would be just as happy if they made a sacrifice that didn't waste human life, if they pledged something ELSE.

What the Jews realized is the same as what Ayn Rand was incapable of understanding about religion - that you can commit to a Higher Power without completely submerging in self-effacement.

Alan said...

the bunnies: much better said than me :-)

Her use of the word "selfish" ties into this as well.

"doing what you want" has entirely different meanings for someone who is evolved spiritually vs. someone who isn't.

Jacob C. said...

In other words, it is possible to exist in vertical and horizontal reality - in the spiritual and the tangible - simultaneously. Attaining a grasp of the former does NOT imply denial of the latter.

Alan said...

"Attaining a grasp of the former does NOT imply denial of the latter."

In fact, this is what many of the original doctrinal battles were fought over in the early church with regard to the nature of Christ (e.g. arianism, gnosticism).

Petey said...

Word made flesh = vertical made horizontal. It could never work the other way around--the horizontal could never have become vertical on its own.

jwm said...

Good evening folks.
Well, since I haven't read Ayn Rand (except for Anthem)and the news of the day is rather grim, I will offer up a shameles plug for some amusing nonsense. The final episode of my ridiculous toyshelf epic is on line. You can view this little masterpiece here:

Sometimes a little silliness is a good thing.


Jake said...

Petey: "...the horizontal could never have become vertical on its own."

Or as someone else put it: "No one comes to the Father except through Me."

Lisa said...

It's almost like the horizontal deepening into something vertical.

micrdick said...

In his book Jesus and Muhammad, Mark Gabriel, a Muslim convert to Christianity, says that those in the Judeo-Christian tradition see themselves as "Children of God" while Muslims see themselves as "Slaves of Allah".

The Bunnies said...

I've been trudging my way through the Old Testament (I'm about halfway through the Psalms). At first all the talk of sacrifice rituals of the ancient Hebrews struck me as somewhat pointless.

But although the ancient Hebrews sacrificed countless flawless bulls despite their harsh environment, Jews have ended up being incredibly prosperous.

In the purely horizontal/Randian sense, it makes no sense to take your best goat and simply get rid of it. On the other hand, those rituals were continuously training the ancient Israelites to recognize that your perfect goat really doesn't matter, what matters is the Source from whence it came.

I'm sure that there was plenty of complaining going on among the more horizontally-minded Israelites. But through sacrificing their short-term financial well-being, they learned that prosperity is in fact quite vertical.

So depending on your definition of sacrifice, what they did was either horrendously stupid or amazingly wise. Their future success for me is evidence of the latter.

Michael Andreyakovich said...

When you say horizontally-minded Israelites, I can't help but remember Edward Robinson's performance in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.

What was that line about? "Let us have a god that we can see!"



Mr. Spog said...

Very interesting how putting Biblical events in the context of a history of spiritual evolution makes them so much more meaningful. Eric Voegelin and Christopher Dawson similarly set out to put great philosophical and religious books in their historical context. Shouldn't religion be taught in this way, rather than as eternal absolute truth?

Jauhara said...

We need more Jews.