June 10, 2005

Hillel Halkin on Cochran-Harpending theory in neocon NY Sun

A reader writes:

I thought it was also "fair and balanced" as they say.

The link is here, but you have to be a subscriber to read the whole thing:

Halkin says what so many other Jewish commentators are saying: that there's probably some truth here, but that Jewish eugenic practices (marrying rich girls to brilliant Talmud students) probably matters more.

I think the reason why Jewish commentators prefer this theory is obvious: they want to think that their achievement is due to cultural factors, because that means Jewish culture and religion (which they love) are objectively good things. If Jewish achievement is largely due to historical accident (Christian restrictions on Jewish occupations to moneylending and trade leading to natural selection for higher intelligence) then that's less flattering.

In recent years, the main spokesman for this theory of Jewish eugenic breeding for higher IQ that the Jewish commentators prefer over Cochran-Harpending's new natural selection theory has been Cal State Long Beach psychologist Kevin MacDonald. Perhaps MacDonald will now become popular with neocons ...

What I liked best about Halkin's essay, though, was his conclusion: okay, Jews have always known we're very smart. But we're also very stupid - that is to say: we have an incredible knack for being smart but not wise. And wisdom, in the final analysis, probably matters more.

As somebody who is a pretty good analyst about how the world works but a lousy decision-maker when it comes to my own life, I greatly sympathize. I wrote an article about the bright and wealthy Parsis of Bombay a couple of years ago in large part because I hoped it might encourage Jews to study an ethnic group with a lot of similar characteristics to their own, but one that has enjoyed a less tragic history. I don't know whether there is anything for Jews to learn from the behavior of the Parsees or not, but it could hardly hurt Jews to take a look.

So many folks seem to be reacting to the paper through the lens of Fiddler on the Roof, and questioning the premise that most Jews were engaged in finance or trade. Halkin seems to be reacting through the lens of The Chosen (you remember: the plot revolves around a Talmud prodigy who is "raised in silence" by his ultra-Orthodox father because said father is worried that while his son is super-bright he lacks the natural sympathy and compassion that are necessary for a strong ethical backbone). I found that refreshing.

Halkin's a very good guy. He's published regularly in Commentary, and he's been taking a lot of heat for coming out strongly in favor of the disengagement from the Palestinians - both in Gaza and in the bulk of Judea and Samaria.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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