Edward Dutton on The Culture of Critique: The importance of Jewish ethnocentrism

Edward Dutton, who is affiliated with Richard Lynn’s Ulster Institute for Social Research, has written an article supporting the main contention of my book, The Culture of Critique in an academic journal, Evolutionary Psychological Science: “MacDonald’s model is the more plausible hypothesis due to evidence that people tend to act in their ethnic group interest and that group selectedness among Jews is particularly strong, meaning that they are particularly likely to do so.” This is a most welcome development, and I agree with Dutton’s comments. Here I note some elaborations and a possible anomaly.

Dutton defends the multi-level selection model. The argument that group selection applies to Judaism is contained in the first book, A People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy (APTSDA). The argument there really has two parts—a cultural group selection model described in Chapter 1, and the idea that Jews are high on ethnocentrism, discussed in Chapter 8. Both aspects are important in thinking about how group selection applies to traditional Jewish groups. Cultural controls on individual Jews in traditional societies closely regulated things like within-group charity and business relations among Jews and between Jews and non-Jews (Chapter 6), preventing marriage to non-Jews (Chapters 3 and 4), and creating environments that selected for high intelligence (e.g., facilitating marriage between scholars and wealthy Jews), high-investment parenting, ethnocentrism [selection via defection of non-conformists], and conscientiousness (Chapter 7). In Chapter 5 I showed that in traditional societies there was resource competition between clearly demarcated groups that had results on group fitness—e.g., the Ashkenazi Jewish population explosion in the nineteenth-century Eastern Europe.

These cultural controls imply that behavior was confined within certain parameters that were clearly intended to advance the interests of the group as a whole. The fact that a Jewish businessman could not interfere with a monopoly held by another Jew meant that even if a Jew was so inclined, he would be effectively prevented from doing so by the group. Similarly, if a Jew was not inclined to contribute generously to Jewish charity, pressure would be brought to bear, independent of individual (perhaps genetically based) proclivities toward altruistic tendencies.

As a result, there was no need to subscribe to group selection models, such as the ones Pinker criticizes, that work solely at the genetic level. Even people who are genetically inclined to be individualists (paradigmatically Northern Europeans), may create and participate in effective, highly cohesive, and even altruistic groups because of group level controls—hence the idea of mirror-image anti-Jewish strategies that in effect mimic the social controls and intense group commitment characteristic of Jewish groups and discussed in Separation and Its Discontents.

However, Jewish ethnocentrism is also important and particularly so since the Enlightenment. After the Enlightenment, Jewish groups lost the internal cohesion typical of Jewish groups in traditional societies. The controls on Jewish behavior exercised by the rabbis (who had life and death power over group members in traditional societies) disappeared except in groups that remained Orthodox (including Hasidic Jews). Because there were now no formal penalties for going against group interests, the only remaining force of cohesion for non-Orthodox Jews was ethnocentrism. Remaining in the Jewish community and marrying within the ethnic group became voluntary, and of course, many Jews became secular. Less ethnocentric Jews defected.

As a result, the framework for The Culture of Critique is not a group selection model that relies on establishing the sorts of differences in group fitness discussed in APTSDA. In Chapter 8 of the latter I discuss what I term Jewish “hyper-ethnocentrism” as indicated by a pronounced tendency to retain group cohesion over long stretches of historical and in many different places, often despite hostility from the wider society (“ethnic separatism among Jews is an extremely robust tendency, which was retained independently by several Jewish groups and which was not dependent on a large amount of the Jewish canon or on the activities of a hereditary priestly aristocracy). The Jewish history of martyrdom is also discussed:

For example, Josephus, the first‑century Jewish historian and apologist, stated that

[We face] death on behalf of our laws with a courage which no other nation can equal. (Against Apion, 2:234)
And from these laws of ours nothing has had power to deflect us, neither fear of our masters, nor envy of the institutions esteemed by other nations. (Against Apion, 2:271)

     Although not all Jews were willing to die rather than betray the law, “story after story reveals that this generalization is true” (Sanders 1992, 42). “No other nation can be shown to have fought so often in defence of its own way of life, and the readiness of Jews to die for their cause is proved by example after example” (Sanders 1992, 239). Crossan (1991, 103ff) shows that Jewish political activity against the Romans often included threats of martyrdom if external signs of Roman domination were not removed from Jerusalem and the Temple. Only the Jews, of all of Rome’s subject peoples, were exempted from having to sacrifice to the Empire’s gods, and they were the only group that was allowed to have their own courts and an ex officio government under the Patriarchate/Sanhedrin. (APTSDA, 231–232)

I elaborated on Jewish ethnocentrism in  two subsequent papers. “An Integrative Perspective on Ethnicity” which reviews data supporting J. Philippe Rushton’s Genetic Similarity Theory and  argues (using the example of historical Jewish groups) that at the extreme of ethnocentrism, people have a sense of common fate that trumps individual interests, thus predisposing to martyrdom or other altruistic acts. “Background Traits for Jewish Activism” provides an array of examples from recent and contemporary Jewish writers/activists illustrating that extreme ethnocentrism remains mainstream in the Jewish community.

In Dutton’s article it is most gratifying to see the positive discussion of ethnocentrism based on Rushton’s theory as well as Frank Salter’s writing on ethnic genetic interests and to see it published in a major journal dedicated to evolutionary psychology. These ideas have not gotten the attention they deserve. Yes, the default hypothesis should be that ethnocentrism influences people’s choices, and particularly so in the case of Jews with their long history in which ethnocentrism has been so central to Jewish group continuity over the centuries.

Dutton also argues that Judaism is characterized by a slow life history strategy involving high parental investment, conscientiousness and being high on the general factor of personality (based on a positive correlation among all of the Big 5 personality systems). APTSDA was written before Rushton put life history theory as applied to humans on the map with his Race, Evolution, and Behavior. However, as noted, I discuss high-investment parenting and conscientiousness in Chapter 7 of APTSDA. It’s interesting that in  that chapter I noted that “There is some indication that Jews tend to be extreme on all personality systems” (p. 211). This might be thought to be consistent with Dutton’s point about the general factor of personality. However, the GFP includes emotional stability (low neuroticism). In APTSDA I reviewed research indicating high neuroticism as characteristic of Jews. This creates an interesting anomaly.

Consistent with the hypothesis that Jews are high on affect intensity, Zborowski and Herzog (1952, 414ff) show that emotional extremes were typical of the inhabitants of traditional Eastern European shtetl communities. The Jewish holidays were intensely emotional affairs, and the emotions that were expressed were quite opposite ones, a sort of rhythmic alternation of extremes. Rapid emotional oscillation was also characteristic of Yiddish drama However, there is also a strong emphasis on control—being able to exhibit intense, contradictory emotions at the appropriate time.

The common perception of Jewish and gentile psychiatric workers from the late 19th century until at least the end of the 1920s was that compared to gentiles, Jews (and especially male Jews), had relatively sensitive, highly reactive nervous systems, thus making them more prone to the diagnoses of hysteria, manic‑depression, and neurasthenia (Gershon & Liebowitz 1977; Gilman 1993 92ff).Consistent with these early findings, Gershon and Liebowitz (1977) find that Jews had a higher rate of hospitalization for affective disorder than did non‑Jews in New York.[iii] Strongly suggestive of a genetic basis for the greater prevalence of affective disorder among Jews is their finding that among Jews bipolar affective disorder constituted a higher percentage of all affective disorder than was the case in gentile populations in the United States or Sweden. Individuals with bipolar affective disorder have periods of intense euphoria or paranoid‑anger as well as periods of despondency, worry, and hopelessness‑‑exactly the traits expected to characterize individuals who are extreme on affect intensity.

[iii]. In an epidemiological study based on interviews of a stratified sample of the 1949‑1958 birth cohort in Israel, Levav and his colleagues (1993) found that bipolar affective disorder I (a form of manic‑depression) was more common among those deriving from Europe. The most common diagnosis was generalized anxiety disorder and labile personality disorder, the latter characterized by periods of depression and hypomania. Again, the suggestion is that Ashkenazi Jews have highly reactive nervous systems and are prone to alternating between intensely positive and intensely negative emotions. Anxiety disorder was found less frequently in Israel than in several other areas, but the authors caution that the studies estimating prevalence used different diagnostic criteria, different interview schedules, et cetera.

Patai (1977, 391) provides a long list of personality traits which appear to be more pronounced among American Jews.  Although this type of data must be evaluated with caution, the traits involved appear to include items from all of the Five‑Factor Personality Dimensions (see Digman 1990), including items suggesting a strong tendency toward neuroticism (e.g., “is more neurotic”; “anxious”) and extraversion (e.g., “greater extraversion”). Indeed, this pattern would be expected given the supposition that Jews are higher on affect intensity. Affect intensity is related to all personality systems with a strong emotional component (Larsen & Diener 1987) and may be viewed as a behavioral energizing system that can be directed toward behavioral approach (related to extraversion) as well as behavioral avoidance and attention to danger (related to neuroticism and conscientiousness) (MacDonald n.d.). Individuals high on affect intensity are thus highly motivated to intensive interaction with the environment and often have conflicting goals because both behavioral approach and behavioral avoidance systems are prone to activation. Thus, the proposal is that a critical component in Jewish adaptation has been the elaboration of affect intensity as a personality system. (APTSDA, 211-212)

One might argue that there is no anomaly because, as noted, “there is also a strong emphasis on control” as well. In other words, being high on affect intensity has very large benefits as a behavioral energizing system (e.g., energizing the Behavioral Approach System designed to motivate obtaining resources and mates) as long as it is under control. Given that Jews are also high on Conscientiousness (Effortful Control)—which is linked to control over emotions—it may also be inferred that Jews are typically able to control their emotional intensity. Nevertheless, the above data on affective disorder indicate that this is certainly not always the case. In any case, I would agree that Ashkenazi Jews have a slow life history profile in general. However, personality systems have different adaptive functions and the GFP explains less than half the variance, so we should not be surprised when results depart from what one might expect on the basis of the GFP.

Finally, regarding whether the ideologies advanced by the Jewish intellectual and political movements were in fact “good for the Jews,” realize that my point is that they were seen to be in the interests of the Jews participating in them, not that they necessarily were in the interests of Jews. Communism is a good example. Dutton notes Cofnas’s point about Jewish communists in Poland being persecuted by the security forces. As I note in my second reply,

Jews were increasingly victimized by the government and security forces from 1949–1968 because of their prominent positions in the government—an account in agreement with the material I cite from Schatz. If there is one thing Jews have learned, it’s that no system of government is guaranteed to be resistant to anti-Jewish attitudes. The main story line is the gradual triumph of Polish nationalism at the expense of Jewish power. Similarly, after being a dominant elite in the Soviet Union beginning with the Bolshevik Revolution and extending at least well into the 1930s (and really until after World War II), Jewish power declined, Jews were purged from positions of power, and Jews ultimately became leaders of the refusenik movement aimed at being able to emigrate from the USSR.

Even very intelligent people may not be able to see what their real interests are in the distant future. Strong support for the USSR was entirely mainstream in the American Jewish community for decades based on the elite status of Jews in the Soviet Union, but it eventually became clear, certainly by the 1970s and especially to neoconservative Jews, that the USSR was not good for the Jews any longer. As I emphasize in APTSDA, Jews are flexible strategizers (Richard Alexander’s felicitous term). When one strategy fails, another will be adopted. And of course, there will be disagreement among Jews as to which strategy to adopt, and not all Jews are highly ethnocentric and therefore may not be concerned about Jewish interests at all. The task of the social scientist is to see if there are Jewish movements defined by a sense of perceived Jewish interests and determine how influential they are. I believe I have done that.

Dutton’s article is most welcome. It’s long overdue that these ideas were seriously considered within the community of scholars interested in the intersection of evolutionary biology and human behavior.

55 replies

Comments are closed.