Posted October 17, 2007
Let me begin by pointing out that this essay came primarily as a reaction (and not a response by any means) to an article by Prof. Steven Pinker (henceforth SP), published in the Internet version of The New Republic magazine  in June of 2006. This article, which generally stands on its own, presents a review of a sensational study conducted by a group of scientists from the University of Utah , analyzing a theory according to which there are, let's say, biological causes behind the remarkable intellectual achievements of Ashkenazi Jews.
Let us start with several preliminary thoughts.
Having reflected at some length, I had to admit the veracity of what is probably the most popular text in the world: in the beginning there indeed was the word, or rather the name. Putting it simply, before embarking on an analysis of a phenomenon, it would be wise to name it in a fitting manner. Sometimes, as in the case of SP, this is far from simple, for a name must not only label the necessary, but also conceal the superfluous. Thus CH&H, perhaps somewhat rashly but for understandable scientific reasons, attributed a "genetic advantage in intelligence" (but not "superiority") to Ashkenazi Jews. This is a fairly reasonable choice of a label on the part of the authors of this biological study. On the whole, SP adheres to this term; yet in his article it takes on a different connotation. Since his own thoughts are not specifically biological in nature, his use of the word "advantage" has social, cultural, and partly even political and therefore dangerous, implications.
Most importantly, both SP and CH&H consider the Jewish genetic (and thus a priori) advantage not as an object of study, but as an object of investigation. Its existence is taken for granted; all that is left is to examine the mechanism. What is it, self-delusion or a psychological strategy? If this concerned some harmless and, most importantly, unassuming Bushmen, Finns, or Mayans, one could tentatively, albeit cautiously, tolerate both the term and the approach, giving them the benefit of the doubt. However, both SP and CH&H are dealing with the Jews, who for centuries have openly proclaimed their superiority over all the other mortals, a superiority that translates as chosenness. It is difficult to believe that the choice of the object of study was accidental. It is even more difficult to shake off the suspicion that both the work of CH&H and the article by SP constitute attempts (whether conscious or not quite) to validate the age-old Jewish myth of being a chosen people, to cloak it in science-like guise, and to bring it into the mainstream of modern social thought.
At the very least, this is a justifiable suspicion -- and for several reasons simultaneously. First, one could just as well (employing the same methods) undertake a study of the natural causes behind the exceptional traits of many other nations. Why, for example, should we not study the roots of the remarkable musical achievements made by the Germans? These achievements may be not quite as exciting as those made by the Jews in physics (although the Germans are quite proficient in physics as well), but who said that scientists should concern themselves exclusively with exciting issues?
Second, quite a few ethnic groups have a social and historical past that is very similar to that of the Jews. Why not sift through their genes for a change -- at least for comparison's sake?
Third, this and other similar studies cause such gleeful and narcissistic reverberations in the Jewish world, including Israel, that one cannot help wondering whether they were intended to meet a social demand -- at the very least, they are sure to please a supportive audience.
Fourth, in recent years there has been a spate of genetic studies of Jewish society; what is more, for some reason all of them attempt to verify ancient Jewish notions rather than new and original assertions formulated in the language of science. Moreover, to the best of my knowledge the opposite is also true: the vast majority of genetic social studies focus on Jewish subjects, poking about various aspects of Jewish antiquity or genetic purity. It is definitely studies of this sort which cause the biggest stir. Since the Jews are the only ones in all of today's Western society who are allowed to discuss their chosenness seriously and with impunity, what we have is an indisputable and rather unsavory coincidence .
One way or another, the theory of Jewish inborn intellectual advantage inevitably suggests the deplorable idea of chosenness. Whether we like it or not, it is this idea that has galvanized SP, along with the majority of the followers of CH&H. However, the idea of chosenness should be handled with extreme care, even outside the Jewish context, at the very least because the idea of chosenness makes frequent appearances in world culture, even in the modern era, invariably in dubious settings. It was no accident that Thomas Mann, by giving his post-war mythological novel on Pope Gregory the appropriate title of Der erwahlte (lit. The Chosen), associated him with incest and other iniquities. No wonder: over the last two centuries, we have encountered scores of chosen peoples -- a dismal experience that does not bode well for the future.
There is yet another, albeit not critical, factor involved. A Jew, or rather a person who clearly identifies himself as such and who moreover participates in some form of Jewish tradition (inseparably intertwined with being convinced of one's chosen status, which by definition presupposed natural superiority), should think twice before writing on this topic, let alone in an uncritical tone of restrained elation without casting the slightest doubt on the very fact of superiority. SP, a shrewd professor of psychology, is well aware of this tiny problem and takes measures intended to disarm the unbiased reader. That is precisely why SP opens the article by making a dramatic, anecdotal declaration of his Jewishness as well as of his adherence to Jewish tradition. Let the reader lap it all up in one gulp, and know from the start that SP has nothing to hide! However, he makes a blunder by counting both on the automatic solidarity of the Jewish reader and the guaranteed incompetence of the non-Jewish one. If (as we may safely assume) this blunder reflects the natural laxity of a run-of-the-mill nationalist, SP deserves nothing but pity.
Here is the gist of his story.
SP's ancestors were Ashkenazi Jews -- the same group whose genetic intellectual advantage he goes on to discuss; incidentally, he is certain to have inherited this alleged advantage. His grandfather owned a small necktie factory on the outskirts of Montreal. One day he found his grandfather on the factory floor, cutting something out of leftover cloth. He explained that by carving up the remnants, he managed to stitch together a few extra ties out of each sheet of cloth. SP asked him why he was doing this himself rather than having his employees do it. He tapped his forehead and replied, "Goyishe kop" -- which means "gentile head" in Yiddish. End of quote.
I am recounting this story with some discomfort. It is completely atrocious, and fully as unfit to be told in public as, say, obscene jokes. It is quite difficult to explain the humor here -- yet I am forced to do so. Getting ahead of myself, I should point out that if a Caucasian American were to say something of this nature about an African American or an Indian, the incident could very well lead to criminal charges.
What we have is a humorous aside, or rather a classical racist Jewish joke (not to be confused with racist jokes about Jews). It begins with the fact that the Jewish grandfather has gentile employees. The grandson asks him why he does not delegate certain work to his gentile workers. The grandfather slaps his forehead and replies, "The gentile head!" This reply, like many Jewish jokes, contains a clever duality. At first glance, the grandfather seems to admit: I am just as stupid as the goyim whose work I am doing for unclear reasons! Yet in fact he is mocking his grandson (the anecdotal Jewish grandfather is always smarter, being a better Jew than the grandson, who cannot even speak proper Yiddish): Would gentile heads be able to do what I am doing?
I repeat: if a WASP dared to publicly use a term like "Schwartze kop" ("black head") or "Yiddishe kop" ("Jewish head") in a genuinely negative context, he could be in for serious trouble. Yet the expression "Goyishe kop" is permissible even today, and so SP allows himself to use it in the beginning of this essay . This alone is sufficient to make it clear that SP accepts without question the claim of Jewish inborn intellectual advantage. Nevertheless, he finds it necessary to spell it out. For example:
"The appearance of an advantage in average intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews is easier to establish than its causes."
"The Ashkenazi advantage has been found in many decades, countries, and levels of wealth, and the IQ literature shows no well-understood environmental factors capable of producing an advantage of that magnitude."
"Jewish achievement is obvious; only the explanation is unclear."
In fact, there is more: SP is also guilty of other assertions unacceptable in modern society, having little relevance to the issue at hand and describing mainly himself. We will quote one by way of an example:
"The CH&H study could lower people's resistance to more invidious comparisons, such as groups who historically score lower, rather than higher, on IQ tests."
One way or another, SP's article strikes us as problematic, not only because its author does not examine the issue with a priori scientific indifference -- he also exhibits an obvious cultural bias. His case is compromised even further by another fact: he does not discuss the key issues without which both his review and the work of CH&H cannot be called scientific.
It is time to examine these issues.
The issue is the advantage of Ashkenazi Jews -- and not just a mere advantage. We quote:
"The Utah researchers… proposed that Ashkenazi Jews have a genetic advantage in intelligence, and that the advantage arose from natural selection for success in middleman occupations (moneylending, selling, and estate management) during the first millennium of their existence in northern Europe, from about 800 C.E. to 1600 C.E."
According to SP and CH&H, the numerous fully biological (as yet hypothetical) patterns of Jewish "selection", according to the initial assumption, are attributable to no other than the socio-historical mechanism, or rather the distinctive elements of the socio-historical existence of Ashkenazi Jews during a clearly defined period.
To begin with, we are quite surprised: for a scientific hypothesis, SP's assertion is much too vague. It would be a good idea to provide a clear definition, clad in objective terms, of what is meant by Ashkenazi Jews. The lack of a clear-cut definition (as well as admitting the impossibility of formulating such a definition) is virtually tantamount to a voluntary relinquishment of a real scientific hypothesis.
As a matter of fact, the hypothesis proposed by SP and CH&H immediately gives rise to striking anomalies -- or, if you will, incongruities. The first and the simplest anomaly is of a "horizontal", synchronic nature: why should this hypothesis, with its abstractly social mechanism, apply to Jews alone -- and Ashkenazi Jews in particular? After all, quite a number of other ethnic groups, including "Sephardi"  Jews who mainly resided in Moslem countries in the vast area stretching from Moorish Spain to Iran, fall under the aforementioned "middleman occupation" category as well as, and probably even better than, their Ashkenazi brethren. It was the Sephardi Jews who were the quintessential merchants and middlemen  for almost fifteen hundred years, up until the present time. Fortunately for them, they were largely spared the bloodshed, exile and ruthless religious oppression that befell the Jews living in Christian countries. On the other hand, Sephardi Jews were routinely barred from certain professions and subjected to other restrictions, which pushed them in the direction of middleman occupations, management, international and domestic trade, and so on. Sephardi Jews were engaged in these fields much more frequently than Ashkenazi Jews. On the average, they were wealthier than the Ashkenazi Jews; they found it much easier to take advantage of the material benefits involved in middleman businesses (and consequently, they had better chances of being selected); and they were in a better position to advance their careers in the ruler's court (especially since rulers frequently preferred to rely on outsiders). As a result, there were far more Jewish viziers than Jewish ministers. On the whole, the situation of Jews in the countries of South Africa, Persia or Turkey was far more stable and consistent with the model proposed by SP and CH&H than that of the Jews in medieval Germany, France or England. In the West there were actually few Jewish middlemen and managers; and most importantly, they could hardly count on centuries of untroubled existence, something that is tacitly implied in the hypothesis proposed by SP and CH&H. On the contrary, European Jews were constantly exiled from the countries in which they had settled and forced to start everything from scratch in a new place -- when they found one. It is worth noting that during a certain stage in Poland's history, the situation of Polish Jews and accordingly the nature of their economic activity, resembled that of the East -- but back then, Poland was actually an Eastern state. In short, any comparative study of the history of Western and Eastern Jewry will immediately determine that the model of SP and CH&H is applicable -- if at all -- more to Sephardi than Ashkenazi Jews.
This elementary ethno-geographic absurdity immediately pinpoints the reason for the Ashkenazi, or in other words European, bias on the part of SP and CH&H: they choose Ashkenazi Jews not a priori, as people branded with a certain social destiny, but a posteriori, as an ethnic group that gave birth to Kafka, Einstein and Freud. They did so not because their unique socio-economic function merits particular attention as a possible mechanism of unique genetic selection, but for a purely phenomenological reason. SP and CH&H prefer to regard European Jews (regardless of their real ethnic homogeneity) as an extraordinary phenomenon solely because they have won striking success in certain prestigious fields. In their turn, Sephardi Jews, despite a similar and even more spectacular social history, are overlooked merely because they have not attained outstanding results in physics, mathematics or literature. However, methodological licentiousness of this sort does not go unpunished. If we are to study geography, Jewish or otherwise, we should do it seriously: one look at the globe will tell us that Jews achieve intellectual success solely among societies that are intellectually advanced themselves. Thus, Nobel prizes go to German Jews along with Germans, to Russian Jews along with Russians, to American Jews along with Americans, and so on -- almost regardless of how many decades or centuries they have coexisted. As soon as we shift to countries whose native inhabitants have made no outstanding contribution to the field of intellectual endeavor, we discover that the Jews in those countries are in a similar situation, whatever their ethnic origins.
So then, SP and CH&H arbitrarily and vaguely defined the subject of their study as the set of all Ashkenazi Jews. In our opinion, given the a posteriori approach that concerns itself exclusively with "successful" Jews, it would have made more sense to focus on distinctive and more suitable groups of Ashkenazi Jews while leaving the others aside -- particularly since it would be easy to make a list of "exceptions", i.e. territorial sub-sets of Ashkenazi Jew who failed to reach any exceptional intellectual summits. At any rate, as we have noted above, the researchers should have started by providing a functionally comprehensive, and moreover historically accurate, definition of the Ashkenazi population, tracing its genetic evolution through times and places, and establishing the degree to which its various sub-groups are linked with one another or with other Jewish and non-Jewish ethnic groups. SP and CH&H have not done so, nor has anyone else. No wonder: it is suspected that Ashkenazi Jews historically did not form a stable ethnos, and hence cannot be constructively incorporated as such into any theory. At the very least, we must admit that there is no coherent theory regarding the ethnic origins of Ashkenazi Jewry, and that the assumption of its ethnic homogeneity is largely unsubstantiated. Thus the very idea of constructing a single genetic model of Ashkenazi Jewry deserves initial critical analysis, and this is where CH&H should have started.
Moving ahead, and at the risk of repeating ourselves, we stress that at the turn of the 20th century the overwhelming majority of Ashkenazi Jews were citizens of the Russian Empire. The number of flourishing Jewish communities in Russia (or rather in Western Russia, including Poland) had grown at least fivefold in the 19th century, leading to significant changes in the Jewish ethnic map. By that time all the other European Jewish communities had already reached the state of demographic decline, and had actually come to the end of their insulated existence. One could hardly claim that Polish and Russian Jews are direct descendants or even close relatives of the Jews of Western Europe, who went through centuries of genetic evolution which, though common to all of them, was at the same time extraordinary and unique. On the contrary, there are good reasons to believe that the blood flowing in the veins of East European Jews is not quite the same as that of the Jews of Western Europe. In fact, the latter definitely includes quite a lot of blood from Eastern Jews (who actively intermingled with their East European brethren in the Balkans, Asia Minor, and the entire area between the Black and the Baltic seas). Nor should we ignore the pagan gentiles who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages in different places. That being the case, how can we possibly regard the "Jews of Northern Europe" as a single genetic whole?
Let us, then, sum up. SP and CH&H repeatedly substitute a manifestly non-existent ethnic homogeneity by citing the virtually total absence of either intermarriages or conversions (an equally dubious assertion, requiring proof even in the case of the Middle Ages, and patently wrong where the last two or three centuries are concerned). Even the absence of conversions is a highly questionable claim (undoubtedly there were outbreaks of conversions in different countries, where non-Jews adopted Judaism, usually with active Jewish support). What is far more important for us, however, is the fact that we are talking about two completely different things. Moreover, even if we were to ignore the biological intermixture with non-Jews during one historical period or another, it is impossible to overlook the intermixture between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews who, due to their lack of Nobel success, are considered an unsuitable object of research by SP and CH&H.
Furthermore, we fail to understand why SP and CH&H, who believe that they are using a strictly scientific approach, did not devote a similar study to other, non-Jewish and socially comparable subjects -- such as the modern Armenian and Chinese diasporas, or some ethnic groups from the past (e.g., the medieval Tuscans or Lombardians). Such a project would be of value simply as a control study, not to mention other interesting respects. Then again, it would almost certainly nullify the specifically Jewish substance of the study, a substance that CH&H attempted to illustrate rather than substantiate; and that, perhaps, is what this is all about.
It is now high time to pass from geography to history, and from the synchronic errors in the theory of SP and CH&H to the far more painful, and more importantly, much more crucial diachronic ones.
I shall begin by following SP's mistaken strategy, and share a childhood memory of my own. (This may be a good time to tell the reader that SP's ancestors are ludicrously similar to mine: the same traditional Ashkenazi Jews with nationalistic tendencies, the same Yiddish, albeit in moderate quantities -- though without a necktie factory in my case). At a relatively young age, I came across a thick volume of an old Russian encyclopedia, published, if memory serves me right, in 1863. This was volume "J", and it was no accident that it was preserved by the owners, our remote relatives. Naturally, it included the article "Jews", written during the time when, to repeat ourselves, the overwhelming majority of the world's Jews (let alone Ashkenazi Jews) were subjects of the Russian Empire.
This long, serene, incredibly benevolent article (which, in fact, would make an interesting subject for discussion) contained something highly relevant to our analysis. "Among the Jews," the article said, "there are many sensible, able, and even talented people. However, they lack any people of genius whatsoever."
This claim, which seems rather absurd today, was, strangely enough, quite true at the time. Furthermore, substantially it is not very different from the assertion made by SP and CH&H, which ascribed a "systematic advantage" to Jews in prestigious intellectual fields -- or, putting it simply, a disproportionate number of geniuses in their midst. Both instances involve a sound description of a misunderstood reality. Today, there is incontrovertible evidence to support the claim made by SP and CH&H; the encyclopedic article from the mid-19th century relied on equally ironclad facts.
Indeed, the "disproportionately brilliant" results achieved by Jews in science, the arts and other worthy fields is an undeniable hallmark of the 20th century . That century was full to overflowing (though not to a uniform extent -- by the end this tendency appears to have run out of steam) with Jewish genius -- be it in science, literature or music, not to mention business. If, however, we step back a few decades further, we will see that brilliant Jewish individuals conspicuously vanish from the world culture.
This amazing fact -- the turning point in Jewish intellectual history -- is not new and has been discussed at length. Sadly, it was ignored by SP and CH&H. This is unfortunate, for the real state of Jewish affairs which preceded the middle of the 19th century and was accurately described in the old encyclopedia is more than relevant to our discussion. The fact of the matter is that for centuries the Jews, for clear reasons, were unable to keep up with the rapid pace of Western thought. Essentially, they were deeply and thoroughly bogged down in the Middle Ages . The emergence of a new European culture, which began with the Renaissance, left them largely unaffected. As a result, among the truly great, top-grade minds of the modern age, up until the middle of the 19th century, there are no Jewish names (the third-rate example of Spinoza only confirms the rule). There was not a single outstanding Jewish mathematician or physicist, chemist or musician, writer or philosopher, astronomer or geographer for centuries. Any list speaks for itself: Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Fermat, Leibniz, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe, Pushkin, Schiller, Voltaire, Rousseau, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Pascal, Kant, Hegel… Whichever way you stack the list, there is not a single Jew in it. We could go back further, to even earlier times -- the result would be exactly the same. In other words, had Nobel prizes been awarded in the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, or even in the first half of the 19th century, there probably would not have been any Jews among the winners -- and not because of anti-Semitism.
As late as the 18th century Jews were absent altogether from the cultural map of the modern age. During the early 19th century the situation started to change. More and more Jews began to gain a sound European education, and accordingly to acquire corresponding interests and ambitions. Naturally, most of them engaged in free professions and private enterprise rather than in the sciences and arts. Among European (not American, mind you) millionaires, there were quite a number of Jews; it is no accident that Rothschild became one of the symbols of his time. That is precisely what the encyclopedia talked about: a host of talented, successful people -- and not a single genius. The authors of the article mistakenly believed that Jews were incapable of reaching the heights of abstract thought; contemporary facts were on their side, as opposed to sound social analysis. They overlooked the fact that the Jews were only beginning to move away from the traditional medieval way of life, that a realistic assessment required time, and finally, that even the first decades of emancipation had already yielded interesting results . That the majority of outstanding Jews living in the first half of the 19th century converted to Christianity is hardly significant in itself; it is more likely that the change of religion symbolized the act of replacing the old, Jewish reference-points, clearly unsuitable for intellectual endeavor, with new, Western standards.
One way or another, by the middle of the 19th century the majority of West European Jews had left the insular Jewish communities, acquired European education and adopted their norms to the modern lifestyle. It wasn't long before this socio-cultural revolution began to bear intellectual fruit. However, West European Jews were a negligible minority among Ashkenazi Jewry. Its real core, as we have mentioned, was thickly concentrated in the Russian Empire, and up until the last third of the 19th century they staunchly refused to abandon the medieval lifestyle, provide their children with European education, or even learn any kind of "goyishe" language. These Jews eked out a wretched existence (by modern standards at least), essentially unchanged from the previous two or three centuries, uninterested in the arts and sciences in any modern sense. This, of course, explains the virtual lack of any creative achievements in their time. Interesting exceptions to this were a handful of Jewish converts to Christianity  who made rapid advances in their respective fields -- but they were too few.
The facts speak for themselves: virtually all Jewish intellectual accomplishments were achieved in the last 120-130 years (with minor traces of Jewish intellectual presence discernible in the preceding decades), predominantly in the countries of Western Europe. The rest is silence.
At this stage, we are merely stating the facts -- their interpretation will come only in part 3. And the facts are so eloquently silent that this silence itself puts the genetic theory of SP and CH&H in a very precarious position. Indeed, the last thing this "innate genetic advantage" was expected to produce was a single blinding explosion that synchronized, both geographically and chronologically, with the collapse of the medieval community and the rejection of that very lifestyle which, according to SP and CH&H, had given birth to this advantage. What is worse, for some reason the genetically pure and uniquely selected Ashkenazi Jews invented by SP and CH&H achieved their intellectual accomplishments at the very time they began to actively assimilate among European nations, or, in other words, to lose their genetic advantages. Since, as SP admits, there are so many half-breeds among Jewish geniuses , this calls, at the very least, for a theory to explain why the alleged genetic advantage is retained when selected genes are diluted. Naturally SP and CH&H avoid this subject, for it explicitly demands a sociological rather than a purely genetic approach.
Given the situation, SP and CH&C would be well advised to consider the following extravagant idea: perhaps Jewish selection "coincided" exactly with the time mentioned, i.e. it produced significant results only in the last decades of the 19th century. That is very unlikely, for in that case it would also have to be credited with the transformation in Europe's Jewish societies. Furthermore, we must not forget that in addition to the diachronic discrepancy, we also have the aforementioned synchronic one, which inexplicably sets Ashkenazi Jews apart from Sephardi Jews, as well as from all other nations with a similar history. The motley nature of this picture rules out the very idea of genetic selection; an explanation for Jewish cultural phenomenology -- whether of the 20th or the 16th century -- must be sought in the social sphere, or, if you will, in the dialectics of Jewish ethnogenesis.
But there is still more to come. Besides the two aforementioned mismeasures, SP and CH&H are guilty of at least one more -- that of gender.
The first thing that strikes anyone who reads their work is the way they casually limit the alleged genetic advantage of Ashkenazi Jews to Ashkenazi males. This element has several distinctive facets. First, it is more than likely that SP and CH&H were simply unaware of the preference they had conferred on a single gender: sadly, the chauvinistic idea of human accomplishments is deeply ingrained and often taken for granted. Second, even in the 20th century the estimated female contribution (both Jewish and gentile) to science, art and even politics is relatively insignificant -- therefore in sociological terms, culture can still be considered as an exclusively male domain. But not in terms of genetics! Thus as soon as we begin to examine the mechanism of Jewish male advantage, tacitly accepting its biological nature, it becomes immediately clear that the number of Nobel prizes per male capita is far from everything. It is not enough to win a prize for outstanding genetic achievement -- one must also manage to pass it on along the male line! An implausible scenario, you must agree. Therefore we must choose once and for all one of the two possible explanations for cultural male domination -- either biological or social. We are not about to start refuting the biological version from scratch -- this has been successfully done before us. Suffice it to note that women's emancipation in the 20th century, particularly in its second half, proved to be no less effective than the emancipation of West European Jews in the first half of the 19th century, which provided the initial impetus for the Jewish contribution to modern culture. Women, all but cut off from creative endeavor as recently as a century ago, exactly as the Jews in their old communities, invaded hitherto forbidden territory. This parallel is doubly effective, for it allows us to predict a full-scale female break-through in a matter of decades. The female version of the Jewish 20th century is yet to come.
To put it simply, if we accept the idea of fundamental creative equality between men and women, SP and CH&H, with their male genetic selection, find themselves in an extremely tight spot.
Indeed, Jewish social reality, up until the demise of the shtetl, set completely different life models for men and women. Regardless of whether the Jewish man engaged in trade or shoemaking, his wife and daughters stayed at home. Potential genetic benefits, the product of middlemen activities, whether acquired a la Lamarck or passed down through natural selection, were transferred exclusively along the male line; women could only spoil the precious intellectual genes. This being the case, in order for the theory proposed by SP and CH&H to have any validity, one of the two must be true: either all "intellectual genes" are attached to the male chromosome only and cannot be spoiled by female genes, or, at the very least, this is where the genes specifically responsible for Jewish intellect are located. The first hypothesis can probably be rejected outright. Adopting the second one would mean (we will not spell out the reasons; let the reader figure it out) that at least among Ashkenazi Jews, males are inherently more gifted than females. Under any other scenario, including the most plausible idea that intellectual qualities are inherited from both the father and the mother, the genetic selection touted by SP and CH&H immediately breathes its last.
The attractive gender theme could and should be explored further, but we believe that a professional geneticist would do a much better job with this. We will limit ourselves to two additional points. First of all, this brings to mind an old anecdote highly pertinent to our case, commonly attributed to the late George Bernard Shaw. It is said that a London beauty once tried to seduce Shaw, promising to give him a child combining his brains and her beauty. "Yes," replied Shaw reasonably, "but what if it had my beauty and your brains?" SP and CH&H should provide an intelligible explanation as to why something similar cannot happen in an Ashkenazi family, i.e. why the male intellectual genetic line has inherent dominance over the female line, barring a castling a la Shaw.
Secondly, the folklore model of Jewish intellectual selection put forth by SP and CH&H is similarly unisexual: for generations, the brightest young man in the shtetl, the yeshiva champion, was supposedly betrothed to the daughter of the richest Jews, begetting scores of children. Never mind that the social reality of the shtetl was completely different (there, as everywhere, money was usually attracted to money). Never mind that the very context (shtetl-yeshiva-wealth) was drawn not from the reality of medieval Western Europe, but rather from the measly last century alone at best. Never mind that this model tacitly implies that the yeshiva champion definitely carries the genetic intellectual advantage, and one, moreover, that is equally relevant to nuclear physics. This and similar notions assume that this advantage is automatically passed on to this children, i.e. that the mother's genes have no significant impact on their intellect. All we can do is sigh: and what if the opposite is true, and intellectual genes are transferred along the female line? This feminist hypothesis is no worse than the preceding one; it is just that it is at odds with the politically incorrect genetic theory of SP and CH&H.
Before we proceed to discuss the issue of "Jewish advantage" in a serious and constructive manner, we find it essential to go back to SP's article and to distinguish between reality and wishful thinking. In other words, we intend to conclusively demonstrate not only the scientific bankruptcy but also the mythological nature and parameters of the approach used by SP and CH&H (as well as scores of others) to study Jewish issues, an approach that is entwined with the idea of Jewish chosenness, which has not had any substantial corroboration for centuries. Along the way, we will discuss a number of central tenets employed by CH&H -- the mainstays of their theory.
We will begin by taking another look at the passage quoted earlier:
The Utah researchers… proposed that Ashkenazi Jews have a genetic advantage in intelligence, and that the advantage arose from natural selection for success in middleman occupations (moneylending, selling, and estate management) during the first millennium of their existence in northern Europe, from about 800 CE to 1600 CE.
It would be highly appropriate to have more than a cursory look at the second part of this hypothesis, concerning the "middleman occupations" during the aforementioned 800 years. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to have an in-depth discussion of the problematic history of Ashkenazi Jewry -- particularly since there is no coherent, commonly accepted version of that history. There is no doubt, however, that the rational kernel of Ashkenazi history is incompatible with the concept proposed by SP and CH&H. One way or another, the Ashkenazi communities -- the branches of what is actually a southern Jewish ethnos that flowed north and east (from south-western Europe) and north and west (from Asia Minor, Persia and Byzantium) -- grew to a noticeable degree at the end of the first millenium CE at the very earliest. These communities (in any kind of undiluted ethnic form) were simply non-existent circa 800. Correspondingly, any rational thoughts about the dynamics of Jewish ethnicity during the first two or three of the aforementioned centuries (say, prior to 1000-1100) inevitably spoil the picture, since they also apply to parts of the Jewish ethnos which are excluded by SP and CH&H, and which should be called non-Ashkenazi in hindsight.
And another thing. There is an important factor that invisibly affects the majority of genetic studies of the Jewish ethnos. (We will return to it at least one more time). The European Jewish ethnos in the region underwent a drastic reduction in numbers around 1500-1600, down to several hundreds of thousands by some estimates. Moreover, during the 12th -- 16th centuries Jews in most European countries were subjected to persecution and exile, which led to a reduction in the size of Jewish communities, and most importantly, to their intermixture. It is this factor, according to many researchers, that accounts for the data indicating a genetic bond between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, as opposed to the Jews of India, to take one example, who appear to spring from different origins. That is why any attempt to construct a separate ethnic, let alone genetically pure, medieval past for Ashkenazi Jews is probably untenable. In our opinion, SP and CH&H deliberately omitted a crucial component of the real Jewish ethnogenesis -- to wit, its spatial dynamic during the Middle Ages, without which their study cannot be taken seriously. The fact that SH&H are biologists, and SP is a psychologist, does nothing to vindicate them.
Jews are remarkably over-represented in benchmarks of brainpowers. Though never exceeding 3 percent of the American population, Jews account for 37 percent of the winners of the U.S. National Medal of Science, 25 percent of the American Nobel Prize winners in literature, 40 percent of the American Nobel Prize in science and economics, and so on. On the world stage, we find that 54 percent of the world chess champions have had one or two Jewish parents.
There is no doubt: during the strictly defined, brief span of history that, as we have seen, is roughly termed the 20th century for the sake of convenience, the Jews (specifically the European Jews, as SP and CH&H emphasize) were indeed "over-represented" in science and culture -- as well as in business and politics. In fact, they enjoyed considerable overall success during that period. It should be kept in mind, however, that this phenomenon is far from unprecedented in history. For example, in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, it was the Italians, mainly the Tuscans, who were over-represented in every possible intellectual, business and other fields, while in early antiquity it was the ancient Greeks. While this phenomenon of over-representation certainly merits examination, it can hardly be explained by selection. For the sake of accuracy, we should stress that the issue of over-representation has yet another aspect: over-representation has a tendency to disappear as well as to appear. Where are they now, the geniuses of Miletus and Athens, or the titans of the Renaissance? The issue of their disappearance is fully as interesting as that of their appearance. Indeed, why does this celebrated over-representation shift so actively -- now west, now east, now north? Once again, the causes are unlikely to be genetic. And another thing: SP mistakenly succumbs to the statistical temptation to use half-breeds in conjunction with ethnic Jews, though they are hardly compatible with his genetic model -- a non-Jewish or non-Ashkenazi parent would effectively cancel out the results of the alleged selection. But half-breeds are more than a match for pure-blooded Jews; the indisputable abundance of brilliant and fabulously successful Jews of mixed parentage is an almost certain indication of the environmental, or, to put it simpler, the social nature of the phenomenon in question. This is particularly true in view of the fact that far from all famous half-breeds had Jewish fathers, who alone -- according to SP and CH&H -- are highly likely to pass the necessary selection and reliably transfer it to their offspring. Since we are on the subject of world chess champions, it is worth recalling that Fisher and Karpov had Jewish mothers, and the same goes for Smyslov; it is true, however, that Kasparov had a Jewish father.
Their (Jews') average IQ has been measured at 108 to 115, one half to one standard deviation above the mean… [A] decade ago, the American Psychological Association commissioned an ideologically and racially diverse panel of scientists to review the evidence. They reported that IQ tests measure a stable property of the person; that general intelligence reflects a real phenomenon (namely, that measures of different aspects of intelligence intercorrelate); that it predicts a variety of positive life outcomes; and that it is highly heritable among individuals within a group.
It is difficult to imagine a more social -- or, better yet, a less asocial, and thus less suitable for a purely genetic study -- yardstick than the classical IQ. It would make sense to discuss it and similar indicators (in the genetic context) if we were talking about spontaneous testing of unprepared people, preferably at a very young age. But where would SP and CH&H find any such tests? It is common knowledge that in reality IQ very rarely constitutes a person's natural, inborn trait; on the contrary, it is almost invariably a quality that is significantly enhanced through special techniques. Today, no one in his right mind would take an IQ test without some serious and costly training; SP, being a psychologist, can attest to this personally. However, the readiness to go through such training, not to mention the ability to afford it, is a purely social phenomenon. It would be like testing adults for their ability to solve logical problems, and being surprised that university graduates, particularly form the faculties of mathematics and physics, do better than others.
The reverse side of psychological testing is figuring in the motivation factor, i.e. the degree of the person's interest in raising his IQ and other intellectual parameters; this factor, too, is patently social. In reality, the tests involve people of more or less mature age, with a long and varied educational background, who, moreover, had gone through special training whose impact is difficult to overestimate.
What is remarkable in this context is the ease with which SP (in the quoted passage), without batting an eye, replaced the notions of "high IQ" with that of "general intelligence" -- a term whose meaning he attempt so establish. Yet from the point of view of methodology, and even of common sense, his observations have no informative value. A high IQ predictably correlates with social motivation (such as the desire to get a good education and subsequently a good job) multiplied by the accessibility of IQ enhancements. Education, in turn, correlates with every type of successful intellectual activity, from scientific research to management, as well as with a high income and prominent social status. We can go so far as to say that high IQ actually correlates with talent and even genius (without being either a necessary or a sufficient condition for the latter, as in the case of Einstein), which remain untapped in an unfavorable environment. However, this does not lend itself to any clear genetic implications.
This immediately suggests several points.
Point one: even though women are not inferior to men where IQ is concerned, this does not make them equal to men in terms of their success in science and other prestigious occupations, as well as in terms of their social accomplishments. Once again, this is a compelling anti-genetic argument, but also a worthy subject for a study that is yet to take place (or one that has not been completed, or at least has not yielded sound results).
Point two: IQ and other psychometric data measured in Israel, which is known for its multitude of Jews and scarcity of genius, are very ordinary, exhibiting no upward trends. At the same time, they are precisely socially correlated, the same as in America or any other country.
Point three: No one will question the fact that a person's IQ reflects his intelligence -- but is it inborn? Could it be, at least in part, acquired? Furthermore, although it does indeed "predict a variety of positive life outcomes", one's social pedigree, or better yet, financial standing does so at least just as well.
Point four: SP notes that IQ is heritable within a group. Well now, that is stating the obvious: the motivation to engage in intellectual activities, pursue a career and acquire money is passed on from parents to children without any need for genetics. Educational and social factors are more than enough, not to mention the influence of friends and neighbors. We could similarly talk about the inborn proclivity for army service on the part of British and French aristocrats, or about their genetic predisposition for earning officer ranks.
It remains possible that the advantage is caused by some poorly understood environmental cause.
In our opinion, this statement (the original passage is much longer; we have only quoted its beginning) is in poor taste. In essence, SP claims that the only alternative to genetic selection must be something esoteric like the effect of a little-known microbe or unusual atmospheric phenomena. He thereby eliminates the most natural, social (perhaps in addition to biological) approach to explaining the Jewish cultural phenomenon. It should be noted that so far our common mastery of social material is just as tenuous as our overall grasp of biochemical processes within the cell and the body as a whole; nevertheless, we are making headlong progress in both fields.
This is followed by the "hypotheses", i.e. those crucial statements by CH&H which, in SP's opinion, are supposed to explain the "inborn Jewish advantage". Respectfully, and despite their transparent weaknesses, we will list them here, at least so as not to encounter them in a different guise, as well as to forestall a justified reproach: if the "hypotheses" are so weak, why have we not made the slightest mention of them?
1. "The CH&H theory can be divided into seven hypotheses. The first is that the Ashkenazi advantage in intelligence is genetic in the first place."
appears to be a relatively innocuous statement that contains no additional
information, only establishing the initial hypothesis; nevertheless, it is not
as harmless as it seems. From the outset CH&H assume the existence of
distinct "intelligence genes" -- and that is all. In other words, intelligence
is not the sum total of a varied range of inherited and acquired qualities, a
product of environmental influence and other factors, with inherited material
only part of the mix. It goes without saying that Jews (or rather Ashkenazi
Jews) possess this inherited material to a higher degree than anyone else --
hence their unquestionable intellectual advantage.
We are not about to attack this thesis all over again -- the entire first part of this article is devoted to its criticism, and we don't want to sound repetitious. Suffice it to note that even if "intelligence genes" do exist, the alleged Ashkenazi intellectual advantage is phenomenologically quite incompatible with it, so that it would be far more reasonable to attribute it directly to divine will: at least this way there is nothing to prove. And there is another important point to add. The very idea of "intelligence genes", as in fact of any genes at all which expressly determine complex biological or behavioral phenomena, is terribly outdated. It is well known that the genetic code in the narrow sense of the word -- the sequence of nucleotides in DNA -- is merely one of several (possibly many) schemes, inherited or acquired, that govern the functioning of our body. The nature of this complex mechanism is still far from understood , so it makes little sense for CH&H to propose ideas like the first hypothesis, which either focus exclusively on the nucleotide code -- which is hardly appropriate -- or bring into play every known and unknown mechanism at once -- which is downright ludicrous. By maintaining that intelligence is determined by an unknown hereditary mechanism, CH&H behave in an unscientific fashion. At present this hypothesis lacks any predictive power. It cannot be proved or refuted; it is essentially philological or ideological, depending on one's choice. What is more, it is quite possible that environment has the ability to influence the workings of this mechanism: where, then, does that leave the hypothesis?
The aforesaid does not mean, to be sure, that one or another biological trait cannot be exclusively determined by a gene, as shown by numerous examples. At the same time, the opposite is not only true but (in our case) much more relevant: in those instances where there is no practical evidence of a definite "gene of influence", to assume that such a gene is the only influencing factor is inappropriate, at the very least.
2. "The second hypothesis is that Ashkenazim tended to marry their own during most of their formative history."
Unfortunately, this thesis is not only patently untrue in the genetic context CH&H need, but it is also misphrased. At the very least, CH&H should have said "Ashkenazim, and only Ashkenazim, tended to marry their own during most of their formative history". The lack of indispensability in this thesis makes it extremely vulnerable; another problematic link is the lack of a clearly defined and foolproof notion of "Ashkenazi". Next, in order for the quoted assertion to have any meaning for the following, two conditions must be fulfilled. First, Ashkenazi Jews, whoever they may be, must not admit outsiders into their midst. Second, they themselves must form a homogenous marital group -- otherwise (think about it) unrelated Ashkenazi groups, and they alone, had to have produced similar genetic effects, which would be going too far. The first is open to debate; as for the second, it is out of the question. Ashkenazi Jews have never been a single endogamous group. At the most (and even this is arguable) we could talk about ten or twenty more or less endogamous units that may be termed Ashkenazi; units that led their separate lives in different times; that were not biologically interrelated, and certainly had no permanent ties, during the period in question; and that, incidentally, dissolved separately. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that the prohibition against mixed marriages, even when it was observed, did not require segregation within the same Ashkenazi community. Both marriages between members of different Ashkenazi communities and marriages between Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jews were totally legitimate. Therefore the genetic homogeneity so essential to CH&H was never achieved in principle.
3. "The third hypothesis is that Ashkenazim were concentrated in mercantile, managerial, and financial occupations at a time when their neighbors were likely to be peasant farmers, craftsmen, or soldiers. Jews presumably had an accidental head start in these occupations because of their religious obligation of literacy, their ability to network with one another across far flung communities, and their role as a go-between amid Christian and Islamic civilizations. In the Middle Ages they were funneled into middlemen profession by their exclusion from guilds, their inability to own land, and the niche opened up by the Christian prohibition of usury. CH&H cite historians who have documented that a majority of Jews were middlemen during the Middle Ages, many of them moneylenders."
We have partially discussed this thesis above. It is erroneous, at the very least, for the following reasons: a) Jews were not by any means the only ethnic group with a propensity for the role of middlemen. b) Ashkenazi Jews never had an advantage over Sephardi Jews in this respect; in fact, the opposite is more likely. c) More importantly, even by the most optimistic estimate, only a negligible percentage of Jews (the same as Italians, Arabs or Greeks) were actually engaged in middleman occupations; the overwhelming majority confined themselves to their community and worked as ordinary craftsmen. In fact, the hypothesis proposed by CH&H depicts Jewish society as open and flexible, whereas up until recently it had been ossified and impermeable. The percentage of literate monks and priests (most of whom did not procreate) in Catholic society was higher than that of Jewish middlemen in Jewish society. d) Jewish women were definitely excluded from middleman occupations. e) Finally, talk about universal Jewish literacy in the Middle Ages is highly exaggerated. Even in those times when the number of literate Jews was high (say, in the 19th century), this applies solely to the largely useless mastery of the written Hebrew and Yiddish. Jewish communities did everything to prevent their members from learning European languages, the same languages that these members, according to SP and CH&H, had to know in order to work, along with mathematics and other sciences. We should note that here, too, Sephardi communities were far more liberal than Ashkenazi.
4. "The fourth hypothesis is that in traditional Ashkenazi occupations higher intelligence led to greater economic success. CH&H cite contemporary data that IQ predicts income and occupational success in every profession, and that the minimum IQ requirements for financial and managerial occupations are higher then for farming, crafts, and the military. Presumably, numeracy, verbal skill, problem solving, and social intelligence are invaluable in calculating slim profits and interest rates, in assessing creditworthiness, in anticipating trends, and in meeting other cognitive demands of the middleman niche. Cultural historians have noticed that these skills seem to be cultivated among contemporary middleman minorities."
This assertion has already been discussed above. Even though it makes some phenomenological sense, at least as long as it stays within the framework of "IQ predicts income and occupational success in every profession", it does not tally well with genetic considerations, while it tallies perfectly with social ones. We will return to this later.
5. "The fifth hypothesis is that richer people had more surviving children during the centuries in which Ashkenazim were middlemen. Today the wealthy tend to have fewer children, but before the demographic transition (which began with industrial revolution) wealth brought better nutrition and healthier surroundings, and hence more children who survived to adulthood. CH&H cite historians who made this point about the Ashkenazim in particular."
The claim that during the Middle Ages more children survived in rich families than in poor ones probably merits some consideration. It should be noted, however, that the decreased birthrate in higher social classes is certainly not unique to the 20th century. Consider, for example, the aristocratic and bourgeois societies of the last three centuries, when so many wealthy families had one child or none at all . It is equally interesting to recall the Jews of the 19th century Russian Empire: their notorious poverty did not stop them from multiply at a rapid rate for a century, increasing their numbers roughly fivefold. It is not quite clear to what extent the survival thesis is applicable to medieval Jewish societies, which practiced a certain degree of mutual help. Moreover, the frequent calamities and migrations of entire communities leveled out the material differences to a considerable extent, making them transitory. What is more important, however, is the tacit assumption made by SP and CH&H in claiming that since intellectual qualities foster prosperity, the reverse is also true: namely, that the majority of affluent Jews owed their wealth specifically to intellectual advantages. Sadly, here we have another logical fallacy that renders the entire line of thought fruitless. SP and CH&H had the responsibility to inquire at least a little into the sociology of Jewish communities. Had they done so, they would have easily discovered that in those communities high status, closely related to wealth, was largely inherited -- the same, in fact, as in other medieval societies -- so that the alleged Jewish selection simply had no room to unfold. Furthermore, it is once again unclear why this thesis applies to Ashkenazi Jews more than to Sephardi Jews. At first glance, the opposite seems much more convincing.
6. "The sixth hypothesis is that the common Ashkenazi diseases are the product of natural selection rather than a genetic drift, the other mechanism of evolutionary change. In any finite population, some genes can go to extinct and others can take over the population by sheer chance. Imagine an island on which a lighting bolt happened to kill everyone but the redheads; the descendants would found a redheaded race, despite the lack of any advantage to redheadedness. As the example suggests, drift is most potent in small populations. It can leave a genetic stamp on an inbred community that was founded by a small number of pioneers, or that suffers a bottleneck in population size and subsequently rebounded, multiplying copies of whatever genes were possessed by the lucky survivors."
It is hardly worth it to seriously discuss the possible origin of "common Ashkenazi diseases"  in this essay. Clearly, SP and CH&H, who neither can nor want to ignore hereditary Jewish traits other than the alleged genetic intellectual advantage, opt for "natural selection" as preferable to the other, more feasible alternative for their origin -- "genetic drift". After all, if the latter actually took place, the type of selection they favor would have been unlikely to bear any significant fruit. At the same time, as we have noted above, it is more than possible that at one or several stages in Jewish history the Jewish population was markedly reduced in size, which could gave led to a "bottleneck in population size". Wherever there is a reduction in population size, there is possible "genetic drift". Even more importantly, SP and CH&H need the "natural selection" hypothesis for a smooth transition to the seventh hypothesis, which is called "pivotal" by SP for a good reason. Its main purpose is to make the genetic advantage hypothesis more harmonious, at the same time eliminating superfluous notions, exactly as Occam would have it. Indeed, selection not only turned Jews into intellectual supermen, it also made them pay for the privilege…
7. "The seventh and really pivotal hypothesis is that the common Ashkenazi diseases are by-products of genes that were selected because they enhance intelligence. The alternative is that they were selected for something else, such as resistance to infectious disease. CH&H discount disease resistance for most of the genes in question because the genes are not shared by other Europeans, who must have been victims of the same germs."
As a result of sticking to the idea of Jewish genetic selection, CH&H (SP should probably be left aside in this instance, for he has not yet made his choice) were forced to adopt the old hypothesis stating that Ashkenazi diseases are the payment for Jewish genius. They either foster intellectual advantages, or, at the very least, invariably accompany it. At present, this hypothesis is unverifiable, absolutely unscientific, and in itself of no interest to us. We will only note that the claim made by SP and CH&H, to the effect that the alternative to the "intellectual value" of these inheritable diseases can only be of some other direct benefit such as "resistance to infectious disease", is wrong. There are other alternatives, which we do not intend to discuss here. The reductionism to which SP and CH&H unwillingly resort is a wonderful illustration of the deadlock into which they have been driven by their futile initial hypothesis. Having started with the myth of genetic intellectual advantage, they quickly deteriorated into pitiable pseudo-scientific babble -- an almost inevitable end-result of an ideological reaction that assumed a scientific form.
And another important factor. SP writes that all seven hypotheses put forth by CH&H must be true in order for their main theory, conferring a genetic advantage on Ashkenazi Jews, to survive. We are not convinced that he is right. It is quite possible that he was overly demanding and could have managed very well with only some of the hypotheses -- so long as they hold water. Nor are we convinced that some of them are not logically inconsistent with one another. Since, in our opinion, they are simply untrue, there is no point in delving into this problem. At the same time, SP should give the issue some thought.
So then, as we have mentioned earlier, a reaction is in evidence. SP, who begins his article with a racist passage, ends on basically the same note:
"But is it good for Jews? More to the point, is it good for ideals of tolerance and ethnic amity? In one interpretation, perhaps it is. Jewish achievement is obvious; only the explanation is unclear. The idea of innate Jewish intelligence is certainly an improvement over the infamous alternative generalization, a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. And attention to the talents needed in the middleman niche (whether they are biological or cultural) could benefit other middleman minorities, such as Armenian, Lebanese, Ibos, and overseas Chinese and Indians, who have also been targets of vicious persecutions because of their economic success."
It will be patently obvious to any even slightly traditional Jew that this time SP reverts once again to an uncomplicated folklore code. In this case he exploits the fact that the majority of readers are unaware of the folklorist, and thus true meaning of the innocent-sounding expression "Is it good for Jews?" In the Jewish jargon intended for internal use, it replaces the conventional "Is it good for mankind?" The beauty of it is that the words "man" and "Jew" are used in the framework of traditional Jewish culture as synonyms, which is not all that absurd if we truly join SP in regarding Jews as supermen. The next sentence is equally charming: "More to the point, is it good for ideals of tolerance and ethnic amity" -- again, where the Jews are concerned. It is no accident that after this folklorist introduction he states his credo: Jewish achievements (what he actually means is superiority, but this way is far more elegant) are unquestionable; therefore they should be correctly presented to humanity. It is better for "goyishe heads" to imbibe the idea of innate Jewish advantage with their mothers' milk than to believe in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. This is racist reductionism all over again, as if there were not other means of arranging inter-ethnic relations. In SP's opinion, that is indeed the case: the Jewish advantage comes first and foremost; the rest follows. It appears that SP would be happy to see every school in the world teaching his genetic, not to say racial, theory. He is not even deterred by the fact that the "middleman niche" hypothesis could be of some benefit to other groups that deservedly occupy that niche (he sites Armenians, Lebanese, and others as an example) -- for these ethnic minorities, despite their business acumen, have not acquired the sought intellectual advantage, have not won Nobel prizes (besides, the Armenians had success in chess), and are no match for the Jews. The most fascinating factor is that where Jews are concerned, SP staunchly defends the theory of genetic selection; yet as soon as other minorities come into the picture, the nature of the advantages involved in occupying the "middleman niche" immediately becomes ambiguous ("whether they are biological or cultural"). The pinnacle of scientific consistency -- and of one's desires. Yet this is not all. Fending off future opponents, SP has the audacity to write as follows:
"In recent decades, the standard response to claims of genetic differences has been to deny the existence of intelligence, to deny the existence of races and other genetic groupings, and to subject proponents to vilification, censorship, and at times physical intimidation. Aside from its effects on liberal discourse, the response is problematic. Reality is what refuses to go away when you do not believe in it, and progress in neuroscience and genomics has made these politically comforting shibboleths (such as the non-existence of intelligence and the non-existence of race) untenable."
So, it is important for SP to defend the general idea of the genetic nature of intelligence (or Jewish intelligence at least). And who are the people he is he defending it against? The scientists, most of whom admit the existence of a biological (possibly inheritable) intellectual factor while maintaining that biology is probably (this is still a wide open issue) not the only, and perhaps not even the main factor. After all, if it is not the only or even the main factor, the hypothesis of innate Jewish advantage is not even worth discussing. In defending his position, SP employs the typical reactionary strategy of misrepresenting his opponents' point of view: it seems that they reject outright the role played by heredity in individual intelligence. And in order to conceal his deception, he ups the ante: these awful scientists also deny the existence of races, as well of "other genetic groupings"!
A worse absurdity is difficult to imagine. The existence of races is the cornerstone of several sciences at once, including applied genetics; the existence of genetic groups forms the foundation for research of specific genetic diseases and many other things. SP is grossly misrepresenting the factual disappearance over the past centuries, as admitted by most scientists, of pure races, whose last remnants are still found in remote and out of the way pockets of the globe. The latter probably applies to the purity of the Jewish ethnos as well, but SP is unlikely to accept this.
And the last point: to sweeten his pill at least a little, SP attempts to convince the reader that genetic studies can yield interesting non-biological information.
The genetics of groups is also an exciting frontier in the study of history. Many Jews have been thrilled by the discoveries of a common Y-chromosome among many of today's kohanim (believed to be descendants of the priestly caste in ancient Judea, who were themselves the descendents of Aaron), of genetic commonalities between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews traceable to a common ancestry in the Middle East, and of the presence of these genes in isolated communities in Africa and Asia that retain some Jewish rituals.
Regrettably, he lacked the imagination to distance himself, at least for a minute, from Jewish issues; then again, he sincerely believes that the entire world concerns itself solely with Jewish issues. What is more, he is recounting unreliable, as well as mutually inconsistent, findings of "Jewish genetic studies". He does not say anything specific about the "non-Jewish" findings of such studies (which is unfortunate -- today all the theories of man's dispersion on the planet rely on genetic data), confining himself to the following:
"Studies of the genes of African, American, and Australian populations could shed light on their prehistory, filling in pages that are sadly missing from the history of our species, as well as enlightening curious individuals about their genealogy."
The resulting impression is that he is not overly concerned with all this, particularly since -- whether consciously or not -- he targets exclusively traditional Jewish readers. This would explain -- but not justify -- his folkloric flirting with them.
Now for some thoughts regarding the crux of the issue.
To begin with, what is the issue?
Why, it is the same Jewish issue -- which, however, must be wired for sound.
After some deliberation, we have decided to avail ourselves of SP's help. As we have seen, the word "over-representation" features prominently among his other expressions. In our view, this word is far more appealing than the notorious "advantage", which has the flaw of being a value-laden term, implying from the start a very definite racial conclusion. The word "advantage" can and should be questioned, which is what we have done earlier. On the other hand, the term "over-representation" is self-evident. In the 20th century (and only then), the Jews (that's right, those same Ashkenazi Jews, ever-elusive, and what is even worse, never defined in other than blatantly flawed geographic terms) were manifestly "over-represented" in most prestigious spheres: business, politics, journalism, and free professions above all, but also in science and art, and with no concessions, including the most refined areas. The question is, what can we say about the mechanism of this phenomenon in and of itself?
SP holds on to the "advantage", and defends a purely genetic and, as we have seen, erroneous theory of natural selection, one that contradicts the facts and is preposterously outdated to boot. Moreover, against all scientific logic he applies it exclusively to Jews, who come across as supermen as a result, no matter how you look at it. Yet science does not confer a methodological monopoly on anyone, Jews included; and the Jews are definitely not the first people in history to be "over-represented" across the entire intellectual spectrum. They were preceded by, first of all, ancient Greeks -- who, incidentally, were not content with intellectual achievements alone, in addition, or perhaps as a consequence of which, they conquered half the world and spread their culture from India to the pillars of Hercules. What is equally instructive, they subsequently lost all they had conquered -- their military prowess, their intellectual superiority -- having let first their heirs and later their rivals supplant them in both. What was the mechanism of the Greeks' rise -- and eventual fall? Was it any different from the Jewish one? Probably not; but then, this has to be proven. Or take the early Renaissance, the unquestionable immense explosion of Italian genius. What produced it? Was it really natural selection? And where did it go afterwards? If we are to believe SP, someone must have sabotaged the Italian race. Who could it have been?
Even more interesting is the example of the Arabs. In the 7th century, rather backward, mainly nomadic tribes exploded in a burst of extraordinary zeal -- political, religious, military and intellectual at once. For several centuries, they were the guiding light of Western civilization -- and then, exactly like their predecessor, they lost their zest. The list of such examples may be continued; we shall do so below.
The multiple occurrence of the "over-representation" effect points at its natural character, and instills the hope that we can manage without mysticism and the meaningless ideas it engenders. However, there is no point in giving up one extreme for another, particularly since they overlap in this instance. Neither divine nor genetic selection is capable of providing a coherent explanation for the historical recurrence of the "over-representation" phenomenon. Therefore we must look for another explanation, free from ideological bias and true to facts, straddling the boundary between biology and sociology.
In our opinion, a careful examination of the phenomenology of the Jewish intellectual explosion allows us to determine -- at least roughly -- its mechanism. In all likelihood, this mechanism also accounts for earlier similar phenomena, including the vivid instance of the Greeks. However, we will refrain from detours into ancient history, if only because we would then have to rest our conclusions on a rather shaky factual foundation .
We should point out yet another factor: the discussion that follows may be also applied in exploring other, broader evolutionary questions. After some hesitation, we decided to leave them aside, focusing exclusively on one phenomenon: the Jewish intellectual ascent of the modern age (with minimal asides whenever necessary).
Everyone (with the exception of confirmed theists, and we are not about to enter into a debate with them) knows beyond doubt that man is a multi-level biological machine, so that our traits, including intellectual qualities, are ultimately determined by biological contents and mechanism. So far, the well-fortified biological citadels cannot be taken by frontal assault; biological mechanisms, particularly those as complex as human intellect, do not give themselves up to direct analysis. Thus we should concentrate not so much on the biology of intellect in its pure form as on the phenomenology of group intellectual dynamics, which sheds a bright light on a hitherto totally unexplored mechanism.
Before we get down to business, a short digression is in order.
We believe that one of the most impressive examples of obtaining a brilliant objective result from virtually nothing, by means of an elegant argument structured as a phenomenological approach to the problem, is Leonard Eiler's formulation of the so-called equation of thermal conductivity. A lecture on this subject (one of the introductory lectures for a course in the equations of mathematical physics) which we had heard many years before was forever etched in our memory. We were deeply moved when it turned out that our admiration for Eiler's wonderful argument was shared by many outstanding scientists and thinkers. Though we do not aim to be compared to Eiler, we intend to use an approach somewhat similar to his, without striving for mathematical precision, but doing all we can not to violate the laws of logic.
In examining the Jewish intellectual explosion (JIE) of the modern age, the following facts draw attention to themselves:
All of this is more than relevant for a discussion of the nature of human intellect, and of Jewish intellect in particular. Of course, this would be a good time to define it, as least roughly. Without delving too deeply into this issue, let us tentatively define intellect as the readiness and ability to raise and solve a certain broad range of issues -- scientific, artistic, social, and so on. From here on, we will regard the degree of this readiness and ability as the level of intellect. It would be quite easy to make this definition more elegant and precise, but in this case it will not be necessary.
There is an abundance of data showing that human potential, both physical and intellectual, is tremendous and far in excess of the level actually reached by most of us. Plenty of examples illustrate this fact. There are recorded cases of people who, in order to escape mortal danger, make impossible jumps, climb sheer cliffs or demonstrate incredible strength enabling them to break chains, crush rocks, and strangle wild animals. Similarly, there is hardly an intellectual who has not performed at least one small scientific feat in his lifetime, solving a problem in extreme conditions that would have ordinarily been beyond his powers. Moreover, the outstanding results obtained by teachers using extraordinary teaching methods on ordinary students speak for themselves: it is possible to unlock the intellectual potential dormant in virtually everyone. In other words, practically every child has the capacity to become, if not a genius, at least a competent physician, linguist or lawyer. The educational system, social environment, family standards and other elements have the power to squash or, on the contrary, stimulate the intellectual (as well as physical) capacity of the overwhelming majority of people. The important point is this: our biological shell conceals a far greater intellectual potential than we usually manage to fulfill.
Based on this, it would be reasonable to raise the question of the biological and other natures of the intellectual level actually achieved by a person, rather than of his potential intellect as such; the latter is probably much more extensive than is commonly believed. This being the case, the most instructive aspect of this matter concerns the possible ways of breaking the fetters that hamper intellectual development. In this regard, social factors are far more potent than genetic ones.
Dramatic collective instances of intellectual and other explosions, like the recent Jewish one, are related to unconventional changes in the lifestyles of the groups in question, to unexpected challenges they have to face, and to other momentous circumstances that produce and propagate psychological stimuli enabling the members of these groups to fulfill their potential to a higher degree than usual. What actually happened to the Greeks and the Tuscans is a matter for conjecture only. We have some theories on this issue, but they will have to wait for more opportune times. We will also resist the powerful temptation to analyze the thought-provoking Arab intellectual explosion -- this would take us too far. A somewhat more transparent example we have not yet mentioned is that of Genghis Khan, who transformed a small Mongolian tribe, one among similar nomadic neighbors, into a formidable war machine. The Mongols, without a doubt, became the best soldiers and generals of all times, conquering enormous areas between the Pacific Ocean and the Adriatic Sea within several decades (during the lifespan of two or three generations, depending on how one calculates it). The awakening of Mongol military genius, inseparable from the unprecedented motivation that engendered it, was, just like in the case of Jews, related to the radical disintegration of the traditional way of life, although it was probably not the only contributing factor.
The Jewish example is even more explicit.
For centuries the tribal Jewish unit lived in conformance with the medieval paradigm, i.e. as an ideal insular society with a totalitarian structure. Each Jew was brainwashed into believing that he belonged to a chosen race (it is easy to show that this was a race, and not a religious community) which is the be-all and end-all of history. He was told that only Jews are fully human, that they live in the midst of inferior sub-humans out to devour them; finally, that all of human and divine wisdom is contained in traditional Jewish teachings. The collapse of this concept, the mass abandonment of the Jewish ghetto, the break with tradition, the replacement of medieval Jewish scholasticism with European education and a contemporary worldview, complete with the modern system of intellectual priorities -- all of this gave rise (why and how is a different question that belongs to the field of collective psychology) to a wave of unprecedented, passionate collective ambition. This ambition was personified by the European (as well as American, naturally) Jew we all know so well, who finally fulfilled (just like the Greeks, the Tuscans, the Romans, the Arabs and the Mongols before him) his ambitious talents driven exclusively by zealous motivation.
To be sure, we cannot interpret the Jewish example in a way that is too mechanical. Not every breakup of collective tradition leads to a zealous explosion; on the contrary, it frequently brings about collective depression. Furthermore, we have already seen that such explosions do not necessarily result in intellectual motivation -- there are other alternatives. Nevertheless, human history contains quite a few examples of this kind. The Jewish example is not only one of the most dramatic (second only, we believe, to that of ancient Greeks), it is also recent and fresh, all but unfolding in front of our very eyes -- it is still incomplete, in fact, and thus so impressive.
It should be kept in mind that the JIE, like any zealous explosion, has limits and boundaries, temporal ones above all. To begin with, it can only endure for a limited time, and even then with some difficulty. The Mongols retained their military prowess for about two centuries, the Romans slightly longer; the Jews, in our opinion, have only a few generations at their disposal. In fact, the inheritable nature of zealous qualities is rather peculiar. Even if we unconditionally accept that a Jew breaking out of the ghetto becomes inflamed with ambitious ideas, how would they make their way to his son, let alone his grandson or great-grandson? Sadly, the break with one's social roots is not instantaneous; on the contrary, it lasts for decades at the very least, as long as the parents and brothers back in the ghetto survive, as long as the past life and stories about it are still alive, as long as the ghetto continues to exert a direct or indirect pull on the fugitive and his offspring. We have clearly seen, for example, that SP has not broken his ties to the ghetto, and that it continues to affect him. Many Jews, in a sense, were returned to the ghetto by the Holocaust, which reminded them of the allegedly irrational nature of being Jewish. In short, like almost any other phenomenon, zealousness is inert and coexistent with time.
On the other hand, it is not infinite. There is ample data indicating that at present, the Jews are gradually losing their hysterical, gleeful ambition, primarily of the intellectual kind, becoming the aristocracy of the Western world. It appears that they are more interested in preserving their won social positions than in paving new roads; and finally, that new ambition-driven people, mostly of Asian descent, are beginning to appear. Naturally, this process is far from complete. We are pleased to see considerable number of relatively young Jews rightfully winning Nobel prizes, earning millions and solving complex mathematical problems. Nevertheless, the present generation of Jews and their accomplishments are a far cry from the generation of Einstein, Kafka, Lasker, Trotsky, Shenberg and Ben-Gurion. No wonder: the memories of medieval ghetto (sadly, not the ghetto itself; fortunately, today's Mea Shearim has no sentimental attraction for most of the world's Jews) will soon be gone. A Jewish child born in a fashionable area of New York, Boston or Tel Aviv is unlikely to grow up eager to prove to the world that it will perish without him. Finally, the existence of Israel, with all its virtues and shortcomings, is a clear sign that modern Jews are no different from all the other nations, and that there is nothing remarkable about their qualities. Normality is the cost of success, if not its prerequisite. Only now can we say with confidence that Jewish emancipation is completed, at least in regard to Ashkenazi Jews in the form they have taken over the recent decades. As long as the Jews remained zealous intellectuals, businessmen and politicians, they could still be credited with the ontological traits of a collective superman. The end of zealous ambition spells the final break with ghetto theories, as well as with the Jew depicted by Jewish theology and the hostile environment. It is also the end (or at least the beginning of the end) of the phenomenon that SP alternately calls "advantage" and "over-representation". Until now we have preferred the second term. Now, given the reality of desegregation emptied of intellectual zeal that we have described, we no longer care one way or another.
 The New Republic Online, "The Lessons of the Ashkenazim: Groups and Genes", by Steven Parker. Post date: 06.17.06. Issue date: 06.26.06.
 Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending, "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence", Journal of Biosocial Science, 2005. This work was subsequently reprinted (not always in its entirety) in such popular publications as The New York Times and The Economist. SP refers to this work as an article (or a study) by CH&H. We, too, will use this abbreviation.
 A number of Far Eastern nations, such as the Japanese and the Chinese, hold a similarly deep conviction of their chosen status, which also implies genetic superiority. Nevertheless, we have not come across any studies designed to verify this tradition. What is more, to the best of our knowledge neither nation has made an attempt to link its supposed superiority to achievements in one empirical field or another, let alone prove it in genetic terms. Yet they both have a lot to boast about; they have the traditions and the chromosomes -- why not give it a try?
 Alas, in the Jewish world "Schwartze kop" and other similar expressions are far from uncommon. Racism? Absolutely.
 We deliberately use the term "Sephardi" rather than "Oriental Jews", for the latter is essentially a somewhat broader concept, encompassing a number of other groups (the Jews from India and China, the Mountain Jews, etc.), whom we have no intention of discussing at present.
 Although not to the all-encompassing degree that is essential for the genetic hypothesis of SP and CH&H to have any validity.
 To be sure, this does not mean a precise span between two round dates; then again, the question of the exact beginning and end of the 20th century has been raised repeatedly and in various contexts -- it is not for us to settle it.
 Today, virtually the same sentiment is justifiably expressed regarding the Moslems.
 For example, during the first half of the 19th century poets like Heine, as well as phenomenal musicians like Mendelsohn, Meyerbeer and Bizet materialized out of thin air.
 Such as the Rubinstein brothers in music.
 This invites comparison between Einstein and Bohr, Kafka and Proust, Mahler and Schoenberg, and so on.
 Although for discovering one of them, American biologists Andrew Z. Fire and Craig Mello were awarded a Noble prize in October of 2006.
 Come to think of it, we should begin with earlier times. Countless Roman emperors were childless, and were forced to adopt their heirs.
 It is far from clear whether a serious discussion of this issue is even possible at this stage. It may very well be too much for modern science to handle at this point in time.
 We cannot discuss Greek genius without wandering back at least to the 8th centuries BCE. Yet we know too little about pre-classical Greece, and would have to gather the required information piecemeal. If someone well acquainted with the relevant historical issues volunteers to come to our aid, we will gladly join him.