Antisemitism and IQ revisited

1 Jan

I opened my December Reads post last month with an Andrew Joyce piece in a far right website whose sentiments repel me. When replicated on OffGuardian my remarks drew a fair amount of flak. Not for giving a platform to antisemitism, but for this claim:

Ashkenazi Jews are overrepresented in many areas favouring intelligence: finance capital, yes, but also media, science, arts and the Left (Marx, Trotsky and Luxemburg exemplify a wider trend). Mean IQ for Ashkenazis is 107-15 against 90-110 in the population at large.

This was flung back at me in hyperbolic form. One comment referred with dripping sarcasm to a claim for “Ashkenazi genius” I never made. Misrepresenting an opponent in heated debate is of course common, and not always deliberate.

Also common are misunderstandings as to where the other is coming from. The genius sarcasm was paired with a charge of narcissism. This threw me. Even if I’m wrong on IQ, how would that make me a narcissist? Does my accuser think I’m Jewish, and claiming genius for myself?

I’m not, and I don’t.

Other comments invoking Palestine, and the Israeli Lobby’s widening of an already weaponised “antisemite” accusation to include criticisms of Israel, are similarly off target. On both matters I have set out my views. Here and here for instance.

Not that misunderstanding the other is a one way thing. I for my part may not assume that my accusers’ remarks indicate which side of the barricades they’d have stood at Cable Street in ’36.

But let’s move to the substantive points. Some critics pointed out that IQ is a flawed measure.1 I agree, though it is not, I think, a worthless one.

Some say IQ is biased to the tacit assumptions of a white man’s worldview. Again I agree, and this is a telling argument against psychologists like Arthur Jensen and Hans Eysenck, who used IQ to support their view of white people as innately2 more intelligent than black people. But if we are looking to IQ as one strand of a wider explanation of the seemingly disproportionate success of white Jews in that white man’s world, any racial bias of IQ testing is less problematic.

(And since the seeming dominance of Jews in finance capital is a man thing, any male bias of IQ testing – see footnote 1 – is also less problematic here.)

I have myself to blame. One, I failed to add that qualifier, “one strand of a wider explanation”. Two, if we make major factual claims on so inflamed a topic we must be prepared to defend them. We must set the scene with care, rather than citing IQ the way I did, in a two sentence aside with only a wiki reference to back it up.

I don’t say I’m wrong, mind. Just ill advised in leaving readers free to assume, not unreasonably, a reductivism I do not in reality subscribe to. I should have been clear that I offered IQ as only one plausible strand of a multifaceted answer to a question far from simple – and emotionally and politically loaded.

Unless we think the Holocaust never happened.

Other strands might include the high value accorded to learning and attainment in Ashkenazi families3 and exclusion of Jews from many livelihoods.4 But full explanation of why Jews might be overrepresented in high status fields was not only beyond my powers. It was unnecessary.

My point that Jews seem also to be disproportionately represented in media, science, arts and socialism needed no explanation. Not for my purposes. I should have left it to my detractors to offer their explanations, ideally above the line.5 And to show with quantitative data that Jewish overrepresentation is greater in finance capital than in those other fields.

I did not though, and my error has diverted attention from the two things I’d intended to be the thrust of my introduction to Joyce’s piece. One is that overrepresentation of a large group in a much smaller one may not be taken to indicate any statistically significant vice versa.

Consider this. British Asian men have been disproportionately involved in organised grooming of vulnerable girls for sex; the authorities slow to investigate, at least in part for fear of stoking racial hatreds. But though these agencies were wrong, disastrously so, we should not dismiss that fear out of hand.6 In an ideal world it would be self evidently clear that disproportionate involvement of British Asian men in organised sex grooming does not make sex groomers of most British Asian men.

In an ideal world.

In this world we have folk unable to tell paediatricians from paedophiles. Given this, the finer distinction I speak of is a big ask, and those who cite British Asian involvement in organised sex abuse the way Tommy Robinson and EDL do – or Jewish involvement in finance capital the way Andrew Joyce and Occidental Observer do – are playing with fire.

Joyce, writing in a far right journal, does not explicitly draw that fallacious conclusion. But he is inciting his readers to draw it. How? Simply by failing to counsel against that error despite the ease of making it, and the dangers of so doing.

Unless we think the Holocaust never happened …

… and Islamophobic attacks a PC fiction.

My other key point, also lost amid the brouhaha on IQ, is that Joyce’s assertions about “Jewish vultures” are of a piece – nastier, but falling into the same category of apologetics – with Ted Heath’s 1973 depiction of Lonrho and Tiny Rowland as “the unacceptable face of capitalism” …

… with Theresa May’s 2018 attack on all “who profit from building expensive properties rather than the new homes [Britain] needs” …

… and with the ritual vilification, as toxic aberrations, of a Philip Green or Bernie Madoff.

All appeal, implicitly or explicitly, to an idealised version of a system premised on exploitation of the many by the few. (From which truth all manner of further evils follow.) A version whose laws of motion do not drive it to monopoly, to imperialism (export of capital and repatriation of profits) and to the dominance of finance over ‘productive’ capital.7

All invoke that clean and wholesome capitalism which can be “ours” if only “we” can be rid of the Tiny Rowlands, the land speculators, put and call gamers, insider traders, toxic sub primers, military-industrial complex and of course those frightful Jewish vultures. That capitalism which, trust me, exists somewhere over the rainbow.

* * *

  1. The male bias of IQ shows in its ignoring of emotional intelligence. More generally, IQ reflects a core assumption of cognitive science, the most generously funded branch of psychology. Its Robinson Crusoe Model of Man – the Lone Problem Solver – comes drenched in the unexamined assumptions of bourgeois society’s one-sided emphasis on our individuality when we are also, irreducibly, social beings obliged by physiology to come together to satisfy the material conditions of existence. Unlike some species – tigers, say, or pike – we are ill equipped to do this alone.
  2. The nature/nurture debate is the most fundamental and the most heated in the entire field of psychology. One reflection of this is that psychologist Cyril Burt falsified data on the IQ of identical twins, separately raised, to ‘prove’ that intelligence is innate and unaffected by environmental factors. Such claims have real world implications, as in the channelling of state educational funding.
  3. Re footnote 2, Ashkenazi prizing of learning and educational prowess may not even be distinguishable from IQ. While Burt, Eysenck and Jensen were innatists on this, not all psychologists and pedagogues are. This Psychology Today piece argues that boot camp methods can increase IQ by 28 points on average. Again, such claims have real world implications which include but are not confined to this inquiry.
  4. On social exclusion forcing other outlets for talent and effort, the business success of Quakers in 18th and 19th century Britain may be instructive.
  5. Where those explanations invoke a nepotistic culture, as Joyce’s does, they must also show that Jewish nepotism crosses a line which other nepotisms – Freemasonry, Eton, Oxbridge, Ivy League, Wall/Threadneedle Streets and dynastic accumulations of vast wealth and power – do not.
  6. One of the more nuanced discussions in the wake of the Rotherham and Rochdale infamies is given in this House of Commons publication. Sensitive to the potential for furthering far right agendas it explores, amongst other things, why grooming by British Asian men appears to have been mainly organised, that by white British men mainly solitary. But subsequent events have thrown at least one of its suggestions into doubt. Published in 2012, the report quotes the Deputy Children’s Commissioner’s view that abuse rings are reflective more of the demographics of northern towns than of any given culture. Given that view, and the Oxford Abuse Ring which came to light shortly after, we may well ask if the reluctance informing police and social services denialism over Rotherham and Rochdale was still informing the thinking of experts cited in the report. I raise such issues not to be awkward, self defeating even, but to draw attention to how complex and sensitive these matters are. This is no arena for bullish certainty; not if our primary interest is in uncovering the truth.
  7. That these things are indeed inescapable features of really existing capitalism can be shown both empirically and logically, as sketched out here, though a fuller Steel City Scribblings account is long overdue.

14 Replies to “Antisemitism and IQ revisited

  1. I’m not sure about the Ashkenazi connection. Most of the Jews involved in the world of high finance in the sixteenth to eigtheenth centuries were actually Sephardic Jews, mostly those displaced by the post 1492 Inquisition in Iberia.
    One of the reasons why there is such a fascination with the supposed uniqueness of the Jewish cultural tradition is related to ethnocentrism. Because the Jews are only one of several groups, sects or castes which concentrated on money lending and credit – but most of them were located in India or China which is where, in Asia, the real demand for financial services was until American silver had begun to draw the world together.

  2. I tend not to respond to a lot of the stuff about “anti-Semitism” on Off-G because it seems to be quite wrong headed in that it allows understandable frustration and disgust at the politicised use of the term “anti-Semitism” to boil over into actual anti-Semitism. Which of course means that the politicised use of AS has worked i.e. if the ones who are deliberately stoking up the charge of AS can cause actual AS then they can preen self-righteously about it.

    What we can expect – indeed what we have already seem – is that the charge of AS will be used to discredit the Left. I daresay that Marx’s unfortunately titled “On The Jewish Question” is just waiting like a time bomb for our anti-Marxists to discover.

    • a lot of the stuff about “anti-Semitism” on Off-G … allows understandable frustration and disgust at the politicised use of the term “anti-Semitism” to boil over into actual anti-Semitism.

      Yes. My thoughts too. And as with so many oppositions there’s a diabolical dialectic between real antisemitism and hard core Zionism. They thrive on one another.

      On Marx, I recall being in an otherwise excellent Capital readers group thirty-five years ago. One evening we’d gone through a particularly colourful passage with Marx taking several sideswipes at “the Jew”.

      “I suppose we can forgive this”, opined the leader, “since Marx himself was Jewish”. I didn’t agree and said so. The fact his grandparents converted to Catholicism doesn’t help – nor would it have saved the Marx family in the Holocaust.

  3. The debate around IQ reminds me of an animated talk on Education (or to be more precise, schooling – which is not the same thing) I came across on the Royal Society web site about ten years or so ago.

    At one point, in a clear example to distinguish between education and schooling the talk referenced a study in which a study group were initially assessed on the basis of creativity. At the initial assessment the group scored somewhere in the high 90% level for creativity.

    Over a period of around 12-13 years the group were regularly put through the same assessment every two years and the results were quite dramatic. On each bi-annual assessment the % scores for creativity reduced. At first by a small reduction and subsequently by larger and larger amounts until by the final assessment the % was down to around the low to mid 20% on the creativity criteria.

    The point being that on the initial assessment the ages of the study group were around 2-3 years of age and the assessment followed the impact on the creativity of the groups individuals through their respective school years up to about 15-16 years of age.

    Giving a clear quantative and qualitative result on the negative impact on human creativity of what is sold as an education system but is n reality a schooling system which treats children in much the same way as a factory producing tins of peas.

    On the issue of what is sold as “Capitalism” not doing what it (or Adam Smith) says on the tin the point made is certainly accurate – to a given value of accurate.

    Before he lost it Paul Mason, in his 2009 book ‘Meltdown’, supplied a succinct overview of the long wave theories about Capitalist renewal by the executed Soviet economist Kondratiev. The basic model being one of cycles, around 50-60 years in length, of creative destruction as old productive capitalist industries based on previous new technologies are replaced to drive capitalism out of the slump produced by the running out of steam of the previous cycle.

    The point being a that at present that observable cycle/trend has been disrupted. We are overdue. On its own terms Capitalism is not doing what it previously did.

    This seems to me to be a feature introduced by what is labelled ‘ neo-liberalism.’ Where the emphasis is on an earlier model of rentierism across the whole, rather than part, of the system. Probably last seen on such a scale under Feudalism.

    Certainly, there seems to be a concerted attempt to stop everything at a given point of social, economic and political relationships to maintain a permanent, rather than temporary, dominance of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism as the optimum point of human development. Stopping progress along the lines Fukuyama originally postulated, which he subsequently retracted.

    There seem to be plenty of observable examples to draw from. And the point is that in an era of perception management I’d suggest there could well be a good deal more milage to gain by consistently and loudly pointing out at every opportunity that Capitalism is not doing what it says on the tin on its own terms AND why that is so. That the emporer has no clothes.

    Finally, I remain to be convinced about the implied difference in terms of scale and outcome of child grooming between different social groups (don’t know whether the best term would be nationality, ethnicity, class or ???).

    There has been sufficient data detailing systemic abuse of young people across long periods of time in large established institutions from religion (Catholic and Anglican churches); entertainment (take your pick from Saville through to Harris); children’s homes (right back to the post war relocation of children, whether orphans or not, to Australia – Kincora in N. Ireland amongst many others); politics/Establishment (Cyril Smith – the original Rochdale example – Epstein, Prince Andrew, and no doubt others we will never get to know about).

    The scale is far larger than more recent examples involving non traditional groups in the UK/West, over longer periods of time and tend to receive far less blanket coverage or vehement criticism compared to examples involving non-UK, non – white actors. Which disappointedly suggests that for too many people the issue is not the actual principle but who is involved.

    • Much food for thought here Dave. I regard neoliberalism as capitalism’s natural state, so am at one with the Chicago School on that if nothing else. Me’n thee grew up in an unusual bubble, with Cold War requiring – and plunder of the global south allowing – more caring capitalism in the West: mixed economy, demand-side economics, NHS etc. I see neoliberalism as capitalism reverting to type following the collapse of the USSR.

      On the separate and more specific matter of child abuse, and predation on vulnerable girls – be they pre or post pubescent – I did not discuss the industrial scale abuses of the Catholic Church (nor the abuse I and others were subjected to in a Baptist children’s home). On the very specific type of abuse at Oxford, Rochdale and Rotherham there are strong indicators of its being dominated by British Asian (mainly Muslim) men. This was acknowledged by the crown prosecutor (a British Pakistani Muslim) who reopened the Rochdale case – though he did stress that when we widen the focus to all child sexual abuse the perps are overwhelmingly white males.

      • …and then there are the “public” schools. Child abuse is part of class society and a necessary part of it too.
        And its forms are legion, I often wonder if perhaps the most dangerous forms of child abuse are not the norms to which all are taught to aspire.
        So far as I, who knows very little about the matter, can see one of the few remnants of Weber’s famous thesis, regarding the relationship between capitalism and calvinism, still intact is the coincidence of (neo-)liberal- you’re right there- values (or lack thereof) and sexual asceticism/mortification.

        • Very interesting ref there to Weber and the spirit of protestantism. Writing on sexual abuse of children is one of many things I keep promising myself I’ll do. Meanwhile these thoughts.

          One, wherever adults are given custody of children they do not love, and that custody is not subject to close monitoring – as it assuredly was not in the Christian communities of the sixties – sexual and other abuse is not a possibility or even a probability. It is inevitable.

          Two, the sternly non conformist abusers of my childhood would have experienced guilt and self loathing. Add to this that all who work with sex offenders say the big issue is denialism. Put the two together and those Baptist men (and at least one woman I knew of from a girl in a separate wing) must have at some level of consciousness blamed the children for inciting their sinful desires.

          Three, the sections on religion, non conformism in particular, in E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class struck me, on reading them as a young man, as brilliantly insightful. I must re-read. As for Weber, I only know of his work by allusion. I never read him at source.

  4. You seemed to have prompted a lot of response and some interesting comments regarding putting forward data an over-representation from a particular community and the criticism you received by inference made from such data by others . Me thinks your mistake was to cite evidence you should in the post-modern age stick with opinion. Look how effective it has been for Trump, Bolsorano Modi and Johnson to name a few!!!

    • My own innate genius detected, with lightning speed, a modicum of tongue-in-cheek in those last two sentences, Jawed!

      • Tongue in cheek they may be but there’s many a true word spoken in jest and those two sentences also represent an extremely astute observation which is just as applicable to what is labelled the ‘left’ as they are to what is labelled the ‘right’.

        The recent threads and discussion on this site relating to Douma and Syria, which identified bedfellows from different ends of both those labels occupying the same positions based on objective evidence rather than self defined subjective opinion which insists something is so because that opinion says it is so, represents merely one of a plethora of such available examples.

        As (Dirty) Harry observed: “Opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one.” Though it was once the case that finding both of those elements (opinions and assholes) together in one entity was as rare as rocking horse droppings that anti reality post modern plague has now reached epidemic proportions.

        Seems the reality based community is an endangered species.

  5. I’ve never taken the IQ scale seriously. Gramsci summed up my feeling where he says that ALL people are intellectuals in the sense that they must engage their brains for every human activity. Also that there are many types of intelligence – and I prefer to talk of types rather than levels since the latter takes us back to that invalid notion of a single scale.

  6. You have a gold mine of a site here Phil. It pays to revisit old pages. Marvellous insights in the above:
    That bit about how we (i.e. everyone born into the four or so decades after WW2) grew up “in an unusual bubble, with Cold War requiring – and plunder of the global south allowing – more caring capitalism in the West: mixed economy, demand-side economics, NHS etc.”

    Also, fascinating definitions of “neoliberalism”:
    • capitalism’s natural state
    • capitalism reverting to type following the collapse of the USSR
    • A condition where “the emphasis is on an earlier model of rentierism across the whole, rather than part, of the system. Probably last seen on such a scale under Feudalism”.

    The mention of “Feudalism” suggests that capitalism, being unable to go forward, is now going backward.

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