Pincher Martin's Bibliothèquewebbie -- Sunday, January 29, 2012 -- 01:39:17 AM
Reviews and commentary on all things related to books. Extended discussions on political, social, and cultural topics sparked by a review of a book are also welcome.This thread is tagged:
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Pincher, that review was really a tiny masterpiece. If the New Yorker ran criticism that good, I would allow my husband to resubscribe.
When I was reading more about the nuts-and-bolts of education, I came across the theories of Jim Cummins, who developed the BICS/CALP distinction. Translated from their true educationalese, these would be Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills vs Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. In other words, this would be the elaboration of the aforementioned ability to chat, negotiate in the market, or tell bar stories in one or more languages vs the ability to do academic work in one or more languages. I would suspect that while the BICS level is more independent of IQ, CALP would be strongly linked to IQ, since it draws on academic proficiency in general.
Cummins' theories have been widely recommended to teachers, especially at the elementary level, and have certain policy implications, but I thought it was interesting to see that discussion here.
Pincher, I somehow missed post #18. That's fascinating and yes, that synchs up nicely with my opinion. Which is probably why I think it's fascinating.
Stay of Execution: Saving the Death Penalty from Itself by Charles Lane, Bowman and Littlefield, 2010, 164 pp.
When an EU delegation arrived in Japan in 2008 with the goal of persuading Tokyo to abolish the country’s death penalty, Japanese Justice Minister Kunio Hatayama had an uncharacteristically eloquent response for a country whose political leaders are not known for their rhetorical flourishes: “[Japan] places extreme importance on the sanctity of life. For that reason, we feel extreme anger toward those who rob another of life. We have a culture of repaying a death with a death. I feel proud to have been born into such a culture. I feel that, on the contrary, giving someone life in prison rather than the death penalty, no matter how many people they kill, is a dry and coldly logical way of thinking.” The Japanese minister’s language was a sharp rebuke to the EU. He refused to accept that his country’s position on the death penalty was a moral burden and turned the tables on the delegates by suggesting that their own position had some serious moral shortcomings. More than two centuries earlier, on the other side of the world in a place with a very different culture, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant had already come to a similar ethical conclusion. He dismissed death penalty abolitionists as both overly compassionate to the guilty and too utilitarian in how they would dispense with justice. Kant reasoned that when thinking about capital punishment one should ignore deterrence and instead focus on the crime itself. He concluded that the moral calculus of a murder requires the ultimate retribution, with the state morally obligated to put the offender to death.
Prominent U.S. supporters of the death penalty today rarely speak in such direct moral terms. During one of the 2000 presidential debates, then-Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush said “...[deterrence is] the only reason to be for [the death penalty]. I don’t think you should support the death penalty to seek revenge. I don’t think that’s right. I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people’s lives.” Bush’s opponent in the debate, Vice President Al Gore, supported Bush’s reasoning, even as he admitted it was controversial. (There is, in fact, no solid evidence that the death penalty deters crime.) Both Bush and Gore were articulating a view that Kant and Hatayama had each in their own ways rejected -- the utilitarian merits of capital punishment. To the Japanese minister and the German philosopher, it wasn’t important that capital punishment saved lives. They instead chose to emphasize the ethical necessity of retribution.
Some American politicians might shy away from advocating the death penalty for retributive purposes, but as Charles Lane points out in his cleanly-argued book Stay of Execution, the views of the German thinker and the Japanese minister still have excellent company in the U.S. “Retribution remains one of the few purposes of capital punishment,” Lane writes, “whose constitutionality has been specifically and repeatedly acknowledged by a majority of the Supreme Court.” The American legal system’s concept of justice reflects what most of the American public feels. Poll after poll has shown a majority of the public wants criminals who have been found guilty of terrible crimes to pay with the ultimate sanction, even on occasion when those crimes do not involve murder.
At some level Lane must agree with these views, as his book is an attempt to save the death penalty in the U.S. But he rarely lets his guard down to reveal his own values or how he came to believe in them. He argues with the same cold and dry logic the Japanese minister accused the EU delegation of employing in their arguments. Nothing bleeds in this book. There are no real-life examples of justice denied to raise one’s blood pressure. The reader never has to sweat through a case where a vicious murderer gets off scot-free or escapes after a lengthy incarceration to murder again. Lane acknowledges that both the supporters and opponents of capital punishment have an equal moral claim, and he makes a strong case that there are no proven utilitarian reasons to favor capital punishment. But if he’s really trying to preserve a moral choice the majority of Americans have favored over the last four decades and for nearly all their history, why argue for trimming the sails of the death penalty’s scope? Why just play defense by blunting the best arguments of the abolitionists? Why not go on the offense by explaining why so many favor the death penalty in the first place?
The cinematic version of Charles Lane wonders if Stephen Glass is eligible for the death penalty.
If Lane is unwilling to be more proactive in advocating for capital punishment, he’s certainly a capable defender of it. One by one he takes on the best arguments against capital punishment and methodically dismembers them. Does the death penalty inadvertently kill men who are innocent of the crimes they’re convicted of committing? Lane cleverly uses the abolitionists’ own facts to show that these controversial cases are extremely rare among all death penalty cases. He takes what they consider the questionable cases in the modern era and, after properly vetting a handful of them, builds a simple statistical argument showing less than one percent of all death sentences to be in error. Lane’s method is quietly devastating to the abolitionists’ case. Using their figures, only 62 cases of potential factual innocence exist out of 7,280 death row judgments in the modern era of the death penalty. As Lane puts it, “under these assumptions, the criminal justice system got it right 99.2% of the time.” He also points out that the backlog of death penalty cases where DNA has not yet figured into the review has almost been cleared and there is still no definitive proof an innocent man has been put to death by the state in the modern era. From here on out, the use of DNA science will be routine in death penalty cases, making it even less likely mistakes will occur.
What about the connection between capital punishment and racism? Racism was a serious problem in how the death penalty was applied before the 1972 Supreme Court decision of Furman v. Georgia forced the states to revise their statutes to deal with its suspect nature. In the thirty years before Furman, 90% of the men who were executed for rape in the United States were black. Lane looks at both sides of the question -- not just the possibility that blacks are more frequently given a death sentence than whites who are convicted of the same crime, but also the fact that black victims are far more likely than white victims to have their killer get a life sentence instead of the death penalty. He shows that the disproportionate numbers of African Americans who were executed before 1970 -- a skewed ratio obviously racist in intent because it was unrelated to the number or nature of the crimes blacks committed -- has been so effectively reversed in the modern era, and the courts now so dismissive of this line of legal attack, that the best-informed opponents of capital punishment have ceded the point by moving on to other arguments. They now argue that residual racism is still inherent in the death penalty because white victims of crime are much more likely to have their perpetrators sentenced to death than are black victims of crime.
Do prosecutors put more value on white life than black life? Lane carefully builds a case showing that this statistical phenomenon is actually the result of racial sensitivity combined with local prosecutorial discretion. The U.S. has not fifty potential jurisdictions where different sentences are applied -- fifty-one, if you include federal law -- but over 3,100 counties where local prosecutors have the power to decide what penalties to seek. So even within states that allow for capital punishment, there are still substantial differences in the frequency death penalty cases are pursued within the various counties. And most black citizens in black-majority counties do not like the death penalty. They associate capital punishment as one method the south used to keep them under control in the Jim Crow era. The local prosecutors in those counties know this and so routinely choose not to seek the death penalty in cases where it might be applied. The twist is that the victims in these black-majority localities are also likely to be black, thus causing the irony whereby prosecutors are less likely to seek the death penalty in cases where there are black victims because they defer to black opinion about capital punishment. Lane finally dismisses this statistical argument with one of the best lines in his book: “In the old days, it did not take multivariate regression to find the evidence of racial bias in capital punishment.”
Lane is always fair and generous to the opposition. He says they have a principled position in supporting abolition of the death penalty. He treats all their arguments seriously. But his approach of constantly bending over backwards in respect of the opposing view, while it strengthens many of his individual arguments, works against his book’s aim. The reader who comes to Stay of Execution with soft support for the death penalty could very well finish reading the book, agree with all of Lane’s points, and still wonder why bother. Because with a couple of brief exceptions, Lane never makes the case for why the death penalty is needed. He’s so busy playing defense against the abolitionists’s arguments that he never goes on the offense. His book lacks that emotion on which to build a moral case -- that crucial element Immanuel Kant and the Japanese minister found so compelling. What direction an important marginal segment of the U.S. public swings on capital punishment often depends on context, on what they’ve recently heard, or (as Lane shows) on what way the crime rate is trending. Those people can’t be reasoned into a position that started off as a moral impulse, any more than they can be reasoned into a religion. When that retributive impulse on behalf of others has been dulled in them for some reason, they can only be reminded of what caused them to support capital punishment in the first place. Lane’s book might blunt some of their misgivings about the death penalty, but it’s unlikely to provide that spark of support that can only come from hearing the details of a heartbreaking case that gets those retributive juices flowing in them again.
Rating: Seven out of Ten Stars. ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Synopsis: Completely convincing in its individual arguments explaining how the abolitionists greatly overstate their case, but lacks the emotional punch to convince any undecided readers of the continued need for a death penalty.
I like Lane. I don't know when he switched from liberal to skeptic, but it's been a welcome change. Maybe it was the Glass affair.
If this book is any indication, he hasn't quite made the switch as fully as I would like.
I'm against the death penalty. My reason is pretty simple: I think it's wrong for the state to kill people in "cold blood", as it were. I think all of the usual arguments against the death penalty are ill-conceived and incorrect. I have no argument with people who support the death penalty; I think their reasons are entirely grounded in a different, but entirely valid, morality. Were I to write a book pointing all this out but refrain from making passionate arguments in favor of the death penalty or point out why it is needed, you might call it bloodless. I would call it intellectually honest.
It's quite possible that he doesn't agree with the death penalty, and before you argue that no one would ever write a book deconstructing the opposition while agreeing with it, remember that you know me. (g)
Lane does say at one point in the book that he supports the death penalty, but he puts the comment out there almost as an aside. If he hadn't made that slight admission, though, there's almost nothing else in the book that would have clearly signaled to me what side he came down on. Even his arguments against the abolitionists are so carefully couched in respectful and generous terms that I could have inferred he might be one of those types trying to find middle ground on a difficult issue, but who didn't really particularly care one way or the other how the issue was resolved.
Whether the death penalty deters murders has never been proven, but if it were proven to your satisfaction would you still not support it?
I do agree that, given what we know now, both support and opposition to the death penalty is a personal moral stand. You either agree with the practice or you don't.
But if someone says the death penalty is racist or frequently kills innocent people or deters crime, there are effective rebuttals to those points.
Probably not. I imagine the death penalty would also deter rape, but I wouldn't support it for that.
In a weird way, this is me. I am not galvanized by the issue, precisely because I understand how strong a moral argument can be made the other way. But I'm also pretty unmoveable on the subject.
In fact, it's one of the earliest adult views I remember forming. I remember George Deukmajian, in his first run for governor, making a simple group of statements about his views. The last one, as I recall, was "And I believe we should bring back the death penalty to California." I was about 20.
I'd never really considered it before that moment, but in that moment, I thought, "I don't." And I've never really changed my opinion.
I don't believe I've ever held negative views about people who supported the death penalty, which isn't as true about my earlier views about people who opposed abortion or gay rights (back in my 20s, I mean).
Yes, I agree. And you can go back as far as my online opinions go, and find me saying the same thing.
I recently read Christopher Hitchens' Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, but I won't be reviewing it here. The book is fairly bland and predictable, and I'm not sure what I could say about it that might be of interest. I wonder if Hitchens wrote the book to make money. Or perhaps he did it to establish his literary connection to one of the few Founding Fathers whose temperament was congenial to Hitchens' religious and political views.
But whatever the case, the book is short and forgettable. I wouldn't have even mentioned reading it if I hadn't come across this wickedly funny obituary of Hitchens by Andrew Ferguson: Why they Wept for Hitchens
This puts Hitchens' Vidal Loco in an entirely different light.
The Chosen People: A Study of Jewish Intelligence and Achievement by Richard Lynn,Washington Summit Publishers, 2011, 405 pp.
When Jews began the long process of emancipation that started in the late eighteenth century and would last more than a century, astute Gentile observers in both Europe and America were quick to notice there was something very special about their talents. Jews had not invented, or been important to the development, of any major feature of modernity. With rare exceptions, they had been on the outside of European thought as the theoretical foundations of democracy, capitalism, secularism, rationalism, and science were laid down by Gentiles. For nearly two millennia, Jews in Europe had been subject to the most baleful caprices of their Christian neighbors. They were frequently expelled from their homes and from the lands in which they were born, their property expropriated, their lives constantly in danger. They were often unable to enter guilds and professions open to their neighbors unless those jobs (lender, tax collector, etc.) were universally reviled. They were usually forced to live in ghettos and almost always unable to farm or buy land. It isn’t too much of an exaggeration to say that for much of Europe’s history their status was little better than that of a slave. And yet from the moment Jews were free to compete on anything resembling a level playing field in the areas of life that required some wits to do well, they quickly got the better of their former Gentile masters.
This fact didn’t go unnoticed at the time. A prominent British politician, Lord Ashley, said in the House of Commons in 1847 that “[t]he Jews are a people of very powerful intellect.... [They] presented...in proportion to their numbers, a far larger list of men of genius and learning than could be exhibited by any Gentile country. Music, poetry, medicine, astronomy, occupied their attention, and in every field they were more than a match for their competitors.” Lord Ashley’s fellow countryman, scientist Francis Galton, also believed that Jews were highly intelligent, commenting that they “appear to be rich in families of high intellectual breeds.” American novelist Mark Twain had perhaps the highest praise for them in 1899, commenting in Harpers that “[p]roperly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers....”
What’s remarkable about these three quotes is that they all date back to a period when the Gentile’s boot was still firmly placed on the Jew’s neck, even if it was applied with somewhat less force than it had been previously. The nineteenth century was a period of transition for Jews. Emancipation happened slowly and unevenly. If Jews were no longer subject to all the malicious whims of their Gentile neighbors, they were still not playing on a completely level field. When Lord Ashley made his comment about Jews in the House of Commons, he was speaking to an audience that Jews were not allowed to join. Jewish emancipation in Britain was still more than a decade in the future. American Jews were allowed to be full U.S. citizens at the time Mark Twain made his flattering comments about them, but even into the mid-twentieth century, they were still subject to many forms of petty discrimination that prevented them from attending some elite U.S. schools and clubs. But despite this continued prejudice towards Jews in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they thrived in ways no one in the eighteenth century could have predicted before emancipation began.
That record of Jewish success would only increase. If Jews made their mark soon after emancipation, they would steadily widen the distance from their Gentile peers in per capita achievement as time went on and discrimination towards them was reduced even further. What Twain and Lord Ashley noted in the nineteenth century became even more true in the twentieth century. It was as if Jews were hyper-adapted to modernity. They didn’t invent modern life, but they were certainly ready when the currents of modernity swept them up and allowed them a chance to succeed in the secular world Gentiles had created. Their success somewhat resembles the better-known Japanese and German industrialization catch-ups that took place in the late nineteenth century. But unlike Meiji Japan or Bismarck’s Germany, the Jewish advance was spread across several countries, found in almost all cultural and economic areas of life, and has persisted much longer. How to explain this?
Psychologist Richard Lynn thinks he has the answer: Jews are naturally smarter than Gentiles; not all Jews, but rather just those European Jews called Ashkenazim. The success of other Jewish groups -- including Sephardim, Mizrahim (i.e., Oriental Jews), and Ethiopian Jews -- are much more modest and, except in certain local and historical circumstances, not particularly noteworthy. It is the Ashkenazim which have made such a mark of distinction in the modern world. Of the 143 Nobel Prizes awarded to Jews, for example, only two were not given to Ashkenazi. Both of those laureates were Sephardic Jews awarded the prize in literature (the Bulgarian novelist Elias Canetti and the British playwright Harold Pinter), probably the least intellectually-demanding Nobel prize given out after the peace prize. Another example can be found in the intellectually-challenging game of chess; among the numerous Jews who have attained prominence in the game, all are Ashkenazi.
Harold Pinter is one of only two Sephardic Jews to have won the Nobel Prize.
Lynn is a psychometrician and so he seeks to quantify the exact degree to which Ashkenazi intelligence differs from that of other Jewish groups, and from their Gentile neighbors. The results are fascinating. The Ashkenazim, whose recent roots are in central and eastern Europe, have an average IQ of around 110. This is ten points higher than the average IQ of Gentiles in Europe. The Sephardic Jews have an average IQ of 98. This is six points higher than their Gentile neighbors in the Balkans, but twelve points lower than the average IQ of Ashkenazim. (The Sephardim’s recent roots are in Portugal and Spain, but they immigrated in large numbers to the Balkans several hundred years ago after being welcomed by the Ottoman Empire when they were expelled from the Iberian peninsula in the fifteenth century.) The Mizrahim are the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa. They are sometimes grouped together with the Sephardim and called Sephardic Jews, both because many in the latter group relocated to North Africa when they were expelled from Spain and Portugal and because the two groups share many religious practices which they don’t share with the Ashkenazi. But they are not the same group. The Mizrahim’s common colloquial name (“Oriental Jews”) is also incorrect since many are found in North Africa. The Mizrahim have an average IQ of 91, which is nearly twenty points lower than the Ashkenazim, but only seven points lower than the Sephardim and seven points higher than their closet Gentile neighbors the Arabs (IQ 84). Finally, there are the Ethiopian Jews (i.e., Falashas) -- a small group of Africans whose recent designation as Jews by Israel was made before genetic evidence found they were not any more closely related to other Jews than were other African groups, but whose cultural practices are Jewish. Their average IQ is 68, which is almost identical to what was once their neighboring African Gentiles.
All four of these Jewish groups can be found in modern Israel, which makes for a very interesting stew of humanity. Lynn points out that the four groups give the Jewish state an IQ differential of more than forty points between its highest and lowest groups, which is nearly three times the white/black IQ differential found in the U.S. The accomplishments of each Jewish group closely track their group IQ. Ashkenazim dominate in every field of intellectual and business endeavor. Sephardic Jews are far behind in second place, but they have several notable men of accomplishment. The Mizrahim are almost completely undistinguished in any modern area of scholarship or achievement; and as Lynn points out about the Falashas, “[i]t has not been possible to find anyone of any distinction produced by the Ethiopian Jews.” But the three largest Jewish groups all share the distinction of having significantly higher IQs than their closet Gentile neighbors. The one exception is the Ethiopian Jew.
Lynn takes the reader through nearly every country of the world where a group of Ashkenazi Jews can be found, detailing their achievements in that country and how they measure up as a percentage of its demography. He does this by using a measurement called achievement quotient (or AQ), which is the calculation of gifted Jews in relation to their population numbers, as compared to the percentage of European Gentiles in the same area. For example, if the percentage of gifted Jews in some particular area of endeavor was 10% and the percentage of gifted Gentiles in the same area of endeavor was 2%, then the Jewish AQ for that field would be 5. To cite a specific example from Lynn’s book, Jews in Australia have consistently measured about half-a-percent of the country’s population since 1850. But the percentage of Australian Jews who were college students in 1921 was 3.74%, compared to only 0.71% of all Australian Gentiles, giving Australian Jews an AQ of 5.2 in that area. Another example Lynn gives in the book is from Hungary -- a country which has had on average a population of Jews around 1.8% of the country’s population. But among Hungary’s twelve Nobel Prize winners and four Wolf Prize winners in mathematics, thirteen have been Hungarian Jews -- an amazing AQ of 25.
Some of the AQs Jews have achieved are hard to believe. Among Russian Nobel Prize winners, for example, Russian Jews attained a 47 AQ. Seventy percent of Russia’s Nobel Prizes have been awarded to Russian Jews, despite them averaging less than 3% of the country’s population over the last century. Among the seven Germans awarded the Fields Medal or Wolf Prize for mathematics over the last half-century, three have been Jews -- an AQ of over 100 because Jews make up less than half-a-percent of Germany’s population since the end of WW2. Among Denmark’s eleven Nobel Prize winners, three have been Jews (and all three have been in physics). Since only 0.1% of Denmark’s population is Jewish, that gives Danish Jews an otherworldly AQ of 270. Canadian Jews have made up on average less than 2% of the country’s population over the last century, but they have contributed four of the country’s nine Nobel and Wolf Prize winners, giving them an AQ of 35.
Even in areas and countries where Jews are not so dominant, they still consistently outperform the local Gentiles. Much to my surprise, Britain was probably the European country where Jews had the thinnest margin of superior performance. Of seventy-nine Nobel prizes awarded to British citizens, for example, only three went to Jews. Since Jews have never been more than 0.8% of the British population that still gives them an AQ of 5.8, but it’s a steep drop-off from Jewish performance in most of continental Europe. And none of the seven British citizens who have won the Fields Medal or Wolf Prize for mathematics is Jewish. In France, where Jews are also less than 1% of the population, they achieved AQ ratings of 19 for France’s Nobel winners and a very high 37 for France’s best mathematicians who have won the Fields Medal or Wolf Prize. For some reason, British Gentiles tended to hold their own against British Jews much better than other European Gentiles, even if the performance of British Jews was still much higher than their numbers in the country suggest it should be.
Lynn goes through the various explanations that have been put forward for this superior performance by Jews. Could it be cultural? If so, then why has that Jewish culture not helped Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Ethiopian Jews to overachieve? There have been a number of notable Sephardic Jews, including the philosopher Baruch Spinoza and the economist David Ricardo, and the Sephardim were certainly overachievers in medieval Spain, where Jews like Moses Maimonides helped bring Arabic science and learning into the European continent. But Lynn makes a convincing argument that this historical Sephardic over-performance was a cultural blip. The Sephardic Jews in Spain were almost universally literate, while the local Gentiles were almost universally illiterate. The Sephardim were carriers of a superior learning that they themselves had not developed. Lynn says that though they numbered a few mathematicians and scientists, they made no significant mathematical or scientific advances of their own, but were largely commentators and compilers of classical Greek and Arabic learning.
Ethiopian Jews have an average group IQ of 68. They have made no significant contribution to Jewish overachievement in any field.
Lynn then works through a number of related hypotheses explaining Ashkenazim overachievement, all of which he believes have some merit. The first is the Eugenic Hypothesis, which claims that Jews, and the Ashkenazi Jews in particular, developed breeding practices that were responsible for raising their intelligence. Lynn believes this explains why the three main Jewish groups (excluding the Falashas) all have higher IQ averages than the Gentiles they live among. He also believes the Ashkenazi bred less with neighboring Gentiles, which explains why so many diseases associated with Jews are mostly found among the Ashkenazim. In effect, they inbred more than other Jewish groups. This selective breeding both raised their intelligence higher vis a vis their Gentiles neighbors, but also left them vulnerable to various genetic diseases. Lynn then explains the Persecution Hypothesis or the Gentile Selection Hypothesis. The Ashkenazi Jews in Europe were subject to more vicious discrimination than Jews in other parts of the world. In effect, the dumber European Jews were killed off, leaving the smarter Jews to procreate. In Russia, for example, Lynn points out that it was the poorer Jews who suffered the most from Cossack pogroms, and that the middle class Jews were much more likely to escape the Nazi concentration camps. This hypothesis is built on the assumption that wealthier and more successful Jews were also more intelligent.
The Discrimination Hypothesis is similar to the Persecution Hypothesis. Ashkenazi Jews were limited in the jobs they could perform in Christian Europe and those jobs needed a high IQ to do well. As a result, the Jews who were more successful and could raise larger families with a better chance of survival had higher IQs. The difference between the Discrimination Hypothesis and the Persecution Hypothesis is that the former doesn’t require killing Jews to shape the Jewish genetic destiny toward a higher group IQ. Lynn then moves on to the Apostasy Hypothesis, developed by social scientist Charles Murray. It is one of the most novel interpretations given to explain Jewish achievement. Murray claims that when a Jewish high priest established universal education among Jewish boys as a foundation of their beliefs in 64 AD, the faith lost numerous adherents. The population of Jews dropped from over four million to just over one million in a century, not all of which can be explained by the diaspora, killings, or conversions. Murray believes that universal education was too difficult for many Jews and so they gave up the faith, leaving the brighter Jews to establish a genetic foundation of superior men of learning. Murray also supposes that further discrimination against Jews over the coming centuries only heightened this tendency. The bright got brighter.
Lynn finds something of value in most of these hypotheses. What he doesn’t find credible is that a few vague cultural innovations and social traits have catapulted Ashkenazi Jews to the forefront of learning and business. Throughout his book, Lynn quotes several social scientists who attempt these kinds of explanations for Jewish success -- i.e., Jews apparently have “a desire to succeed, an emphasis on education and learning, and high self-esteem.” They all fall flat. One cannot examine the exact contours of Jewish achievement without appreciating that something beyond mere high self-esteem and a desire to succeed is at work here. Unfortunately, Lynn makes little effort to extend his book beyond a catalogue of Ashkenazi achievement. The parts of his work where he defines Jewish groups and goes through the various interpretations for why Ashkenazim have been so successful make up less than one-tenth of the book. He doesn’t appear to have done any new research or even updated the results of his IQ tests. There is much here to provoke thought, but much more could have been done.
Rating: Seven out of Ten Stars. ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Synopsis: A fascinating catalogue of Jewish achievement filtered convincingly through the science of what is known about IQ, but like all catalogues it eventually begins to weary the reader with repetition.
He notes a few of the same points I did, but it's still a very different review.
The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement: The Compendium of a Culture, a People, and Their Stunning Performance by Steven L. Pease, Deucalion, 2009, 622 pp.
In the late spring of 2010, the novelist Michael Chabon took to The New York Times to write an opinion piece disclaiming the right of Jews to think of themselves as more intelligent than other people. His purpose in writing the piece seemed to be, at least in part, political. Israel had once again done something to earn the ire of liberal American Jews, and Chabon, one of those liberal American Jews, thought it fitting to use the occasion to remind his audience that Jews had the capability to be just as stupid as any other group on the planet. In something of a non sequitur, he pointed out that Jews are chosen, not special. It was left to a Gentile to set Chabon straight. Writing in the Huffington Post, Steven L. Pease, the author of The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement responded to Chabon’s piece with a terse set of facts showing the disproportionate accomplishments of Jews over the last few decades and concluded the brief exercise by saying no Jewish kid should grow up thinking he wasn’t special. His tribe had accomplished too much, and other tribes might learn from the Jewish example.
Something of an overachiever himself, Pease had an unusual background from which to take an academic interest in Jewish accomplishment. Raised a Presbyterian in the state of Washington, he did well in school, eventually got a Harvard MBA, and went into business. After a few years, he became a CEO, a venture capitalist, and now seems to have made enough money to settle in California’s wine country, do good works for charity, and enjoy his leisure time. So why did he turn to this subject? It turns out that the observant Pease kept noticing that Jews were all around him in the business world. Growing up, he knew a few Jews in Spokane. But the deeper he went into his educational and business life, the more he noticed them. Jews seemed to be all around and doing quite well. With this perception of Jewish success firmly planted in his mind, he later had the chance to do some research on why they might be so successful after he was forced to go into semi-retirement to take care of his ill mother.
The results of Pease’s research make up The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement. He divides the world of accomplishment up into its component parts -- science, education, invention, entrepreneurship, real estate, Hollywood, radio and television, CEOs, philanthropy, social activists, etc. -- and carefully sorts through the evidence for superior Jewish accomplishment in each field. He then looks for some objective standard in any areas he can find to create an exhibit which he puts into the back of his book in the appendix. There are more than a hundred pages of these exhibits in the appendix, and they form a massive research tool for anyone interested in Jewish accomplishment. Leafing through them, I was able to look up Jewish contributions to Encyclopedia Britannica’s 321 Great Inventions (14 invented by Jews, including blue jeans, lipstick, the laser, and contraceptives), the percentage of Jews in the Radio Hall of Fame (18%), the number of Grammy Awards for Jazz won by individual Jews (22 - or more than 10% of the awards given out), and the number of Jews found among Business Week’s 50 Most Generous Philanthropists (19). There is a wealth of information here and nearly all of it confirms that Jews are indeed quite special in their talents.
Not every Jew has put their talent to productive use or charitable deeds, of course. Pease also has a Bad Boy category where he lists the Jews who were infamous killers, traitors, and gangsters. Here you can find David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, Meyer Lansky, Ira Einhorn, Bugsy Siegel, the Rosenbergs, and Arnold Rothstein. He also looks at Jewish white collar criminals like Bernie Madoff, Leona Helmsley, and Ivan Boesky. He has a couple of interesting observations in this section. In the early twentieth century, Jews and Italians were the two likeliest ethnic groups to become gangsters in America. But where Italians groomed their sons to take over the family business, Jewish gangsters did not encourage their children to become involved, and so the number of Jewish gangsters gradually dwindled down over time. Pease also claims that while there have been numerous Jewish white collar criminals in finance, far out of proportion to their numbers in the U.S., they’re still proportional to overall Jewish numbers in the sector.
Unlike Richard Lynn in The Chosen People, Pease comes to his research with no obvious preconceptions or ideas about why Jews might be successful. Given his background, I thought he would likely ignore the possibility that Jews were naturally more intelligent than Gentiles. IQ research can be dangerous for ordinary people to take up seriously, and Pease comes across as a man of liberal sentiments. But much to my surprise, he was open-minded enough to read all the theories, not just the politically-correct ones. In his summary at the end of the book, he gives a fair hearing to the IQ scientists who believe in a genetic basis for Jewish achievement, accurately summarizes their views, and avoids coming to flip judgments about their arguments. He even flirts with the idea that there is something to their arguments, writing that “[n]atural selection or some other as yet not understood aspect of genetic predisposition may have played a role.” But he eventually sides with the culturalists, even approvingly citing several of Thomas Sowell’s books. Jews are special, not because of any innate gift, but because 4,000 years of culture made them that way.
One can still greatly appreciate and benefit from this book, however, even while disagreeing with its conclusions. Pease has put tremendous effort into a single volume and turned it into a excellent resource for anyone interested in Jewish accomplishment. The book has some weaknesses, even as a resource guide. I would have liked to see more on Jewish accomplishment outside of the United States. It's a little too centered on American Jews. But it’s hard not to like a work that digs so deeply into the Jewish experience in the U.S. that it goes to the trouble of listing the one Jewish country-western singer (k.d. lang) among the forty greatest singers in country music, and even mentions Kinky Friedman’s boast to be the first full-blooded Jew ever to appear on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.
Rating: Eight out of Ten Stars. ★★★★★★★★☆☆
Synopsis: As detailed and comprehensive a resource of Jewish achievement over the last two centuries as one is likely to ever read in a single book, but the author is too cautious in his interpretations.
The book, however, rarely mentions what Jews in Israel are doing.
Remember when the floor fell out of that wedding on tape? The stories at the time reminded everyone that Israel is a middle eastern country more than a haven for really smart people.
No, I don't. I have no idea what you're talking about.
One of the problems I have with Lynn's work is that it seems a little too pat for me. He takes a lot of old facts, some of dubious quality or questionable application to his thesis, and works on elaborate theories to sort them all out when he should probably be updating his facts and sharpening their quality.
A couple years back, a major paper on IQ came out by Hermann Rindermann that dealt with a country-by-country analysis of what he called smart fractions. Rindermann looked at the smartest 5% of people in several countries and estimated where along the global bell curve that smart fraction's IQ fell.
I was surprised to see that Israel's cognitive ability at 95% was so low, something like 118. The Jewish state's smart fraction was lower than Ireland's, Bulgaria's, Kazhakstan's, and Slovenia's, not to mention almost all of the countries of Western Europe, East Asia, and the Anglo offshoots.
If you believe Lynn's work has merit, then Rindermann's estimate about Israel's smart fraction makes no sense.
I really don't see those kinds of one-off disasters as having any significance when talking about group IQ. Even smart people do dumb or evil things, and we have no idea just how smart were the various Jews involved in the building of that wedding hall. What's more, in any complex task, all it takes is one person not doing their job at a crucial point in time to cause a massive and potentially deadly failure.
Bernie Madoff was probably a pretty smart guy and could have gotten rich without ripping people off. So why did he set up a large-scale scam of his clients, why did so many of his smart clients believe his all-too-predictable investment results, and why did smart regulators fail to stop him even when provided proof of what he was doing?
In an event similar to the Versailles disaster, one of the worst aviation disasters in history involved a Boeing 747 that had been improperly repaired by Boeing's workers. The Japanese were understandably upset at what they took to be the shoddy nature of American work, but does that really reflect on group IQ?
One of the reasons Israelis don't perform as well as Jews in Western countries is because their demographics are less concentrated in the Ashkenazi.
Israel has a population of six million people, but 20% of that population (1.2 million) is Arab. According to Lynn, Arabs have an IQ of 84.
Another 40% of Israel's population (2.4 million) is made up of Mizrahi Jews, the so-called Oriental Jews. According to Lynn, these Jews have an average IQ of 91.
Another one to two percent of the population (80,000) is made up of the Ethiopian Jews, the so-called Falashas. According to Lynn they have an average IQ of 68.
That still leaves approximately 2.4 million European Jews to make up the rest of the Jewish state's population. Only a small portion of these European Jews are Sephardic -- maybe 120,000. They have an average IQ of 98.
The rest of the European Jews must be the high-performing Ashkenazim, right?
But Lynn cautions that it's not so simple. According to Israeli demographers, as many as one million Russian Gentiles pretended to be Jews to get out of the Soviet Union. Since the average Russian Gentile has an average IQ around 100 and the average Ashkenazi has an average IQ approximately ten points higher, that's a significant demographic fact to know when discussing average group IQ.
Compare that to the situation in the United States, which has a population of Jews as large as Israel. But whereas Israel's Ashkenazim make up about 20% of the Jewish state's population, Ashkenzai Jews make up nearly 100% of the Jews in the U.S.