Andrew Marantz: Retract your libelous statement

Journalist Andrew Marantz published an article on Mike Enoch (“Birth of a White Supremacist“) in the New Yorker in which he wrote the following:

In January, 2015, Enoch read “The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements,” by Kevin MacDonald, a former psychology professor at California State University, Long Beach. The book—published in 1998, heavily footnoted, and roundly debunked by mainstream social scientists—is a touchstone of contemporary intellectualized anti-Semitism. On “The Daily Shoah,” Enoch called it “important and devastating, something I urge everybody to read,” and then offered even higher praise: “It triggered me so hard.” From then on, he began to express his anti-Semitism more frankly. He sometimes spun his Northeastern upbringing as an advantage: having grown up around Jews, he understood the enemy. “You’ll talk to white Americans today, and they don’t actually know if someone’s Jewish or not,” he said. “I have very honed Jewdar. I can tell.”

The problem is the statement that CofC was “roundly debunked by mainstream social scientists.” This is false, and in saying it, Mr. Marantz has shown reckless disregard for the truth. His statement is libelous and I demanded on Twitter that he either support it or retract it.

Much to my surprise, Mr. Marantz messaged me on Twitter’s Direct Messages feature.

Hi Prof. MacDonald, as you’ll see in the piece, I bought your book and have read much of it, and I don’t think I characterized it unfairly. I have also read your many replies to your critics, here () and elsewhere, and I understand your rejoinders (that Pinker never finished the book, that Tooby takes too narrow a view of genetic variation and adaptation, etc.)—and yet I don’t think it’s unfair to say that CofC was roundly debunked by mainstream social scientists. First, I think it’s fair to say that Pinker debunked the book even though he didn’t finish reading it. Whether it’s fair to debunk a set of arguments without engaging with them fully is another matter, but it is what he did, as did many others, not limited to Tooby. Of course, as you know, on your site you tend to emphasize the positive reviews of your book (by Derbyshire, Gottfried, etc.) but there are, of course, many negative ones as well, many of which are by mainstream social scientists (Jefferson Singer, John Hartung, etc). Again, not all of these took the form of published papers, but they were “debunkings” nonetheless. Your work is obviously influential in certain circles, and I would love to talk to you about it sometime—I am genuinely interested in it, and I think you’d find me a fair interview—but it’s just a fact that the mainstream has largely rejected your arguments. Moreover, it’s a fact I’ve seen you acknowledge (and complain about) fairly often…

First, the word ‘debunk,’ which, according to Merriam-Webster, means “to expose the sham (see sham 2) or falseness of.” ‘Sham’ means “a trick that deludes hoaxcheap falseness hypocrisy; an imitation or counterfeit purporting to be genuine.” 

Has anyone shown that CofC fits this description?

Pinker never said he didn’t finish CofC. He didn’t read it at all — and the same for my other two books on Judaism. As Frank Salter pointed out in his review of CofC,

It is overdue that John Tooby and Steven Pinker applied their professional skills seriously to critique MacDonald’s work in the appropriate scientific forums. This now seems obligatory as a matter of professional duty given the severity of their attack on a colleague who has refrained from ad hominems throughout this sorry event. Still, it is now too late to reverse the harm done to both MacDonald’s and probably HBES’s reputation by what can only be judged reckless, unscholarly, and plain uncivil slurs. For these they should apologize.

Writing extremely negative things about my work without having read it is the height of professional irresponsibility, especially since my first two books on Judaism, A People that Shall Dwell Alone (APTSDA)and Separation and Its Discontents (SAID), received positive reviews in evolutionary journals and at the time I was an officer of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. The fact is that CofC has basically been ignored. Apart from the positive reviews of Gottfried and Salter — both of whom are, by any definition, mainstream social scientists, there have been no reviews by social scientists, mainstream or otherwise.  It’s out there and and it’s having an influence, but mainstream social scientists — the vast majority of whom would doubtless be hostile towards it — refuse to engage it.

John Tooby never claims to have read CofC either, and he never reviewed it. He has made negative comments about my work on cultural group selection and modularity in psychology (to which I have responded; see above link. Critically for A People That Shall Dwell Alone (but not The Culture of Critique), cultural group selection is entirely respectable these days [see above link] and I would like to think I was a pioneer in that area).

John Hartung never reviewed CofC but he did a positive review of APTSDA (I cited his work several times in APTSDA)—for which he was condemned by some as an anti-Semite.

John Hartung, a professor at the State University of New York and a former secretary of HBES, concluded that the Holocaust, “the most enormous act of reactive racism ever perpetrated,” had been misrepresented as an unjustified evil so as to cow non-Jews into looking the other way while Jews “purloin” land in Israel. According to Lingua Franca, which covered the incident, the only public reaction to Hartung’s review was a “tepid” letter by the journal’s editor saying he didn’t realize that it could be offensive, and an outright defense of Hartung by HBES’s then-president, Dick Alexander. As for MacDonald, the author of the book that inspired these remarks, there was little visible effort at the time to refute him or to challenge the appropriateness of having him serve in so many key positions.

Hartung likely learned his lesson because he is quoted in the SPLC hit piece on my work as having “called MacDonald’s The Culture of Critique ‘quite disturbing, seriously misinformed about evolutionary genetics, and suffering from a huge blind spot about the nature of Christianity.'” One doesn’t know what to say about a one liner like this, except that I seriously doubt that Hartung is aware of the research on cultural group selection; there is now an entire academic society dedicated to the study of evolution and culture, the Cultural Evolution Society whose central goal is understanding human culture in evolutionary terms. CofC is not about evolutionary genetics—genetics is never mentioned as a mechanism. Nor is Christianity relevant to the intellectual basis of the book; it’s all about culture and the psychological mechanisms underlying cultural influence. In Chapter 6 when I sum up the Jewish intellectual movements I reviewed, I mention mechanisms like social learning, access to elite media and academic institutions, and Jewish ethnic networking versus Western individualism.

Nor is cultural group selection an issue: I don’t discuss the genetic effects of these the shifts inaugurated in Western culture by the Jewish intellectual and political movements discussed in CofC.. Although this is certainly an important topic, it is not discussed in CofC with the exception of this brief passage, from the end of Chapter 1:

Collectively, these movements have called into question the fundamental moral, political, cultural, and economic foundations of Western society. It will be apparent that these movements have also served various Jewish interests quite well. It will also become apparent, however, that these movements have often conflicted with the cultural and ultimately genetic interests of important sectors of the non-Jewish, European-derived peoples of late-twentieth-century European and North American societies. (p.17)

For a more recent version of my thoughts on culture and evolution, see “Evolution, Psychology, and a Conflict Theory of Culture.

Jefferson Singer never reviewed CofC. He wrote an extremely negative review of SAID, published in Shofar, an academic journal of Jewish studies. Singer’s only comment on CofC is that it is “forthcoming”—certainly not a review and clearly implying he never read it. However, there is little doubt he would have hated CofC. There’s also little doubt that he would not have come up with any valid criticisms.

His review of SAID is savage, but it is noteworthy that he acknowledges that as a psychologist he has no training in Jewish history or Jewish studies. His review never mentions the extensive discussion of social identity theory in Chapter 1 which is the psychological basis of the book and where he might have some expertise, but he makes sweeping negative statements about how I deal with the history of anti-Semitism. My problem in replying is that he provides no specifics of exactly where I went wrong. What are some examples of logical contradictions, cherry picking, oversimplification?1 It’s no secret that SAID relied on secondary sources—the vast majority by Jewish authors, but that is not really relevant and quite common in academic writing, particularly in theoretical papers and reviews (which both describe SAID). Without even one detailed example, the review cannot be taken seriously.

And in any case, Singer’s review of SAID provides no support for Marantz’s statement that CofC was “roundly debunked by mainstream social scientists.”

So in conclusion, I am still waiting. Marantz should provide some support for his “debunking” statement, or retract it. Of course, a suit for libel is always a possibility.

1 Singer: “There is no evidence of any careful empirical confrontation of the hypotheses he proposes. In fact, a number of these hypotheses, such as Jewish eugenic practices with regard to intellectual superiority and cultural values, he simply states as givens and then builds trains of inferences from these assertions. In fairness to the author, it is possible that his first book on evolutionary strategies of the Jewish people may provide empirical support for these claims, but he provides no examples of this evidence in the current volume.” Right. Those were topics in APTSDA.

Singer: “Even worse, he presents a particular writer’s viewpoint about Jewish conduct or the response to Jewish conduct in a particular era (e.g., pre-Revolutionary Russia) and then generalizes this perspective to support his highly speculative ideas about universal Jewish breeding strategies to maintain a competitive advantage over other groups.” Again, the material on Jewish eugenics in in APTSDA; these ideas are not important for SAID.

Singer: ” In order to build his case for various assertions, he often simply cites the assertions of another writer, as if this citation provides additional evidence beyond someone else’s opinion.” Without knowing whose opinion I am citing in a particular case, one can’t defend its authoritativeness. For example, is he complaining about my use of Albert Lindemann’s Esau’s Tears cited in the section on anti-Semitism in pre-Revolutionary Russia, as suggested by the previous point? I’ll stand by that. 

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