The Worst of “Positive” Racial Stereotyping
I rarely read the articles by the Brotherhood Press on the Intelligent Singaporean blog site, but one of their latest article is a laughable example of “positive” racial stereotyping: asking the question, entitled “Can Someone Tell Me Why Our Scholars aren’t as smart as the Jews?” the article laments on how the Jews became so damn smart…which is just about one of the most prevalent stereotypes ever placed on any ethnic group, that even today, those openly contemptuous of Jews like Richard M Nixon (who himself had a Jewish Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger) to Dr Mahathir Mohammed will nevertheless acknowledge that they are smart. Hell, I bet even Hitler knew deep down he was going to sacrifice his country’s Best and Brightest for the future of the Aryan race, just that the price would be worth it. For some reason I’d definitely like to see someone say that Jews are likely too stupid to do anything as sinister as they appear to be doing, and that the dominance of Hollywood by Steven Spielberg, all those Nobel Prizes and the simultaneous emergence of both Marx and Kissinger from one single ethnic group are all mere flukes.
One of the most ironic things about this piece is, it’s all too easy to forget that one of Singapore’s most prominent luminaries was also a Jew: the dynamic David Saul Marshall. Hell, had the island come under his rule instead of that of the People’s Action Party, the Jewish identity might have been integrated into the Singapore identity all the same. In a tantalizing what if scenario, eager Chinese parents would have demanded that their kids get circumcized and read the Torah, we may have a Yeshiva attached to NUS, and there’d be stalls selling smoked meat sandwiches and matzo ball soup in the hawker centres.
But other than that, this article is still a bad case of racial stereotyping, which even when “positive” can be a misleading thing because it prevents us from seeing and discerning the complexity of other cultures. In the short run it is a useful guideline to acting in a foreign environment, but in the long run definitely misleading. There is in fact, as much veracity in saying that Jews are smart as there is in saying that they make great comic book artists, from which I can cite Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Jerome Siegel and Joe Schuster as examples, or why their women are drop-dead gorgeous, which is a conclusion one can lead to by looking at Winona Ryder, Gwyneth Paltrow (she doesn’t look it but she is, dad’s side), Natalie Portman, Sarah Silverman, Lauren Bacall and if it is to believed, it goes all the way back to the Book of Esther (look if one woman can prevent a massacre of her people by sleeping with the King and revealing her ethnicity to him, she must have a lot of it where it counts if you know what I mean.) And I’d RATHER spend time debating the greatness of Jewish comic book artists and why certain Jewish women are so hot rather than debating why Jews are so smart.
What this article can raise though, is that the real rub is between the booksmart and the real thinkers. Our scholars are smart definitely, but how much are they real dynamic or critical thinkers who can do more than just read the writings of dead white (and dead Jewish) people? But can formulate and implement new ideas on their own.
Here is my reply to the post:
I have spoken and talked to and befriended actual Jews, so I can safely say I don’t think the average Jew is smarter than the average of whatever other race. Besides, from my research into Jewish History that I did for a paper I can say that a large number of the Jews today (the Ashkenazic Branch) may in fact be drawn from Turkic converts rather than the actual Palestian people in the Bible. The term “Jew” in the sense that we know it was coined during the Roman Empire to refer to the inhabitants of the backwater province of Judaea, not to a specific race or group at all. So who or what is a Jew is in fact a very flexible identity. The former actor Andrew Lim is now a Jew, having converted to Judaism, and wears a Yarmulke in public. That does not necessarily mean he will spring extremely bright descendants, though it is likely given his educational background.
The difference in Jewish History most likely comes from the demand on LITERACY placed upon the Jewish Community for the pride that was taken in being able to disseminate the Torah by the community. But while literacy does not necessarily make you smarter, on the whole it does make getting access to collected information easier, which is a huge asset when it comes to obtaining the right knowledge that society requires.
But what I may be able to say is this: if you notice the prominent brainiac Jews you listed are settled in highly open, liberal societies, they are not the Jews of Armenia, Kazakhstan or even of the former Iraq. Hell, during British Singapore we could attract such prominent Jews as Manasseh Meyer, the playwright Tom Stoppard and the family that gave line to David Marshall. And the thing about highly open and liberal societies is that knowledge is truly given a chance to shine, and all sorts of knowledge at that. Within such a system an already overweeningly literate population is able to thrive because of the free flow of knowledge, for good or ill. This is why the Jewish elite stretch from the far left to the far right in terms of their influence. Hard to think of a single people that can give us everyone from Henry Kissinger to Richard “Baba Ram Dass” Alpert.
The actor/writer/professor Ben Stein (son of Nixon era economist Herbert Stein) remarked that early Jews took much to the new social and economic freedom that the new world societies offered, which was so unlike the class-entrenched powers of Old Europe. There lies the rub. Likewise when changes in the market came to Europe over two industrial revolutions, they too embraced these changes. A great book to read on this is “The Brothers Ashkenazi” by Israel Joshua Singer. (The brother of Isaac Bashevis Singer.)
The scholar system in Singapore in a way resembles the Imperial Civil Service Examination system of ancient China. In such a system, knowledge is defined, regulated and placed a value upon, and thus intellectual prowess is channeled and directed rather than given free flow. When this happens and many disciplines are prized above others, selected types of knowledge are valued more than others, it has become difficult to truly become a “knowledgeable” and “educated” person.
This is the most likely reason why our scholars are not as smart as a (highly selective portion of) the Jews.