Like everybody, I maintain stereotypes about various groups of people. None of us could do without them, but it’s in our interests for our stereotypes to be as accurate as possible. Of course, no one is such a fool as to imagine that general rules like “Frenchmen hate Americans” have no exceptions, but the rule is still usefully accurate if most Frenchmen hate Americans, or even if Frenchmen are just much more likely to hate Americans than the world average. Since none of my stereotypes are integral to my worldview, I’m happy to refine them when the opportunity arises.
Here is, or was, one of my stereotypes:
Jew = self-rightous liberal
Now, this has all the makings of a good stereotype: simple, easy to apply. But is it true?
But this week some Jewish leaders are beginning to wonder if American Jewry’s traditional empathy for all newcomers is now waning.
Their concern follows the Oct. 12 release of a survey by the American Jewish Committee that asked respondents if they supported or opposed Arizona’s controversial new law on illegal immigration. Fifty-two percent of the 800 respondents said they supported the law, while 46 percent opposed the measure and 2 percent said they weren’t sure.
Holy crap! Half of Jews came down on the conservative side of a social issue, the conservative side of what most of us think of as the signature Jewish social issue (alongside maybe the “war on Christmas”) because Jewish spokesmen have themselves talked about it that way (“Jewry’s traditional empathy for all newcomers” etc). So the “liberal” part of my formula needs reconsidering.
How about the “self-righteous” part? Being an official victim means never having to subject oneself to painful self-criticism, right? I’ve just gotten a very interesting email from a Jewish fan of the Orthosphere (yes, it seems we do have at least one, in spite of my own occasional obnoxiousness toward our “elder brothers”) on this point. Excerpt (quoted with permission):
Many Jews, including myself and my friends, who more or less agree with your posts you’ve written these last days about Jews — including the one that you deleted (which I read before you did: yes that’s how much of a fan I am, I read it all the time!).
I really only want to take issue with one sentence in what you wrote. A sentence which you probably meant as a minor point, ancillary to your core point — but, from my point of view, you hit on one of the key issues from the Jewish eyes. You wrote in “More on Inferiority”, still published online: “How I wish I could be uncomplicatedly proud of my people like the Jews can!”
Uncomplicatedly proud! Uncomplicatedly! What an odd vision of Jewish culture you have (and I say this as someone who almost entirely agreed with your Jewish posts and agrees with a good 90% of everything written on your Orthosphere blog)! Funny: since when have Jews ever under-thought anything, or ever thought about anything in an uncomplicated way. Appealing only to mass stereotypes, remember Woody Allen’s over-analysis of everything, making every little thing complicated. Appealing to the massively disproportionate success of the Jews, it comes, to a large degree, that we take every little simple thing and we think about them in very complex, subtle, and – complicated – ways. This is why we innovate so much.
So it’s odd you think our pride is uncomplicated. Everything we do, including that which makes us successful, is based on our complicating things. Now lets talk about the other word, pride: Let me assure you, very very very strongly, that, although we Jews are very proud — our pride in our success is *VERY COMPLICATED*.
Let me give you an example. Here is a very common question that my Jewish friends and I debate amongst ourselves all the time: “Overall, have the Jews done more good or more harm for the world?”. The Jewish mind has given birth to Einstein and Feynman and Kafa and the list goes on of the amazing contributions Jews have made. But, we Jews are very, deeply aware of the Jews have also contributed, deeply disproportionately, to the dark side as well. There’s Marx and Engels. I myself am descended from Jews who were among the thinkers in Lenin’s circle supporting the Russian Revolution and all of the evil that stemmed from it. Freud, I’m not yet sure whether he goes on the side of good or evil.
Indeed, the Jewish roots of communism and leftism is a deep source of shame, embarrassment, and humility for most Jews I know.
This is something we wrestle with and discuss all the time. We Jews tend to be conservative, we love our heritage and our tradition and want to keep it and have strong pride in the amazing things we have done. We are also aware, and constantly discuss and debate and try to understand our darker side, how we have given birth so much of the terrible, evil ideologies also.
Please don’t think that our relationship with our pride is “uncomplicated.”
All of this is written from a point of love and support! I, and many, many Jews, are on your side in the great cultural war now happening. Please don’t forget that.
I guess when I was imagining how great it would be to be an American Jew (obviously, there are some places where it wouldn’t be great at all), with all that cultural pride, I was imagining being a liberal Jew. Most Jews are liberals, but the conservative minority isn’t negligible, and a conservative Jew is bound to be more ambivalent about his people’s influence.
So, can I refine my stereotype, or must it be chucked altogether? How’s this for a refinement?
self-appointed spokesman for all Jews = self-rightous liberal
So, to all conservative Jews out there, I’m sorry for writing you off.
What a week! Next thing you know, I’ll bump into a Jesuit praying the rosary.