Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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Not laughable at all.

I'm reading "Cancel Culture Claims Another Scalp" by John Hinderaker (at Power Line), which is about the Bret Stephens column on the "genius" of Jews. I blogged about the column, here, before the Twitter outrage cranked up.  I said:
So, according to Stephens, there are the people who can build things and do things in the real world. They can perform feats of engineering or devise military strategy. But those things are "prosaic," and — in Stephens blunt view — not what Jews do with their "prodigious intellect." Jews — in Stephens view — stand apart from these practical things and "question the premise and rethink the concept," they "ask why (or why not?)," they see absurdities and "maintain[] a critical distance." It may be good to value different kinds of intelligence and to roughly opine that there are the people who do things in the real world and people who stand back and observe and critique everything, but it's a big problem to put a group — even your own group — in the second category.
I was focusing on the danger to Jews that was inherent in the praise Stephens was attempting to offer. The outrage on Twitter (and elsewhere) was more about the use of IQ data from a paper co-authored by the anthropologist Henry Harpending. Hinderaker is critical of that outrage:
[L]iberals promptly swung into action, in many cases weirdly accusing Stephens of perpetuating an anti-Semitic stereotype.
Hinderaker quotes "Bret Stephens under fire for NY Times column on Jewish intelligence" (Jewish Telegraphic Agency):
But the Southern Poverty Law Center said that Harpending was an anthropologist who possessed a white nationalist ideology and promoted eugenics, which was studied and practiced by the Nazis.
Hinderaker comments:
I would’t take the SPLC’s word for anything, and there is something laughable about a supposed pro-Nazi who publishes an article finding that Jews have high IQ scores. 
Wow! I do not find that laughable at all. Whatever may or may not be true about Harpending, it is not inconsistent with anti-Semitism to believe that Jews are especially intelligent! Bigotry takes many forms, and the stereotypes about some groups include the notion that they have lower intelligence, but other stereotypes — for other groups — have the idea that they are more intelligent. That can be a basis for admiration, but it can be — and has been — a source of fear and the desire to disempower the people who you might imagine are deviously arranging the world to hurt you.

And let me add this passage from the Wikipedia article on Harpending:
Harpending's hypothesis about Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence has attracted both praise and criticism, with some scientists regarding the theory as highly implausible, while others regard it as worth considering. According to cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, this theory "meets the standards of a good scientific theory, though it is tentative and could turn out to be mistaken." 
The theory, described at that internal link is:
From roughly 800 to 1650 CE, Ashkenazi Jews in Europe were a mostly isolated genetic group. When Ashkenazi Jews married non-Jews, they usually left the Jewish community; few non-Jews married into the Jewish community. During the same period, laws barred Ashkenazi Jews from most jobs, including farming and crafts, and forced them into finance, management, and international trade. Wealthy Jews had several more children per family than poor Jews. So, genes for cognitive traits such as verbal and mathematical talent, which make a person successful in the few fields where Jews could work, were favored; genes for irrelevant traits, such as spatio-visual abilities, were supported by less selective pressure than in the general population. Given the high heritability of IQ, 800 years is more than sufficient time for the selective pressure on verbal and mathematical intelligence to produce a 16-point increase in IQ.
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"Protesters broke into the heavily guarded compound of the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday and lit fires inside..."

"... to express their anger over American airstrikes that killed 24 members of an Iranian-backed militia over the weekend. Chanting 'Death to America!' thousands of protesters and militia members demonstrated outside the embassy compound, throwing rocks, shattering surveillance cameras, covering the walls with graffiti and demanding that the United States withdraw its forces from Iraq."

From "Iraq Protesters Break Into U.S. Embassy Compound in Baghdad/President Trump blamed Iran after demonstrators breached the compound’s outer wall and lit fires. Tensions are high after American airstrikes killed 24 members of an Iraqi militia backed by Iran" (NYT).

Trump's response:
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"The 20th-century German philosopher (and victim of the Nazis) Walter Benjamin warned how fascism engages an 'aestheticization of politics'..."

"... where spectacle and transcendence provide a type of ecstasy for its adherents. Watch clips of fevered crowds, from today or the past, chanting against 'enemies of the people'; they are malignant scenes, but ones that in no small part mimic religious revivals. Critics of democracy often claim that it offers no similar sense of transcendence. The 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche castigated democracy as a system of 'quarantine mechanisms' for human desires, and as 'such they are … very boring.' If the individual unit of democracy is the citizen, authoritarian societies thrill to the Übermensch, the superman promising that 'I alone can fix it.' Yet I would argue that all of the hallmarks of authoritarianism — the rallies and crowds, the marching and military parades, the shouting demagogue promising his followers that they are superior — are wind and hot air. What fascism offers isn’t elevation but cheap transcendence, a counterfeit of meaning rather than the real thing. [Walt] Whitman understood that democracy wasn’t 'very boring' but rather a political system that could deliver on the promises that authoritarianism only pretended it would. For the poet, democracy wasn’t just a way of passing laws or a manner of organizing a government; democracy was a method of transcendence in its own right."

From "Why We Will Need Walt Whitman in 2020/With our democracy in crisis, the poet and prophet of the American ideal should be our guide" by Ed Simon (in the NYT).

What's so bad about boring? Some things — important things — you want to be boring (for example: the operation of your internal organs). I'd prefer a boring government. I don't like people getting all emotional about politics. Rather than pumping up the pro-democracy propaganda and rhetoric, why don't we give respect to boredom. Let politics be boring so our own individual life engages our interest.

I have a tag "I'm for Boring." I started that tag here (in 2014). Reacting to a WaPo columnist who fretted about low turnout in elections, I said:
Boring!... I mean hooray for boredom in politics.

It's healthy. These people who are incessantly trying to excite us about politics should feel horribly frustrated by our boredom. Our nonresponsiveness to their proddings and ticklings is the best thing we've got. No amount of money spent on advertising can move us. We've seen it all, and we've got lives to live.

Some people don't arrive at enough of an opinion to want to add their tiny bit of weight to one side as their fellow citizens determine which candidate wins. Their nonparticipation has meaning that deserves respect....

In the comments, Freeman Hunt wrote:
I have paid much attention to these elections in the past, and I see no difference that my attention has made. I therefore plan to devote very little attention to this election until it is time to vote. At that time, I will select the most boring, competent person who aligns with what I'd like to see done.

The End.
I've started a new tag: I'm for Boring. Like Freeman, I do vote, but I'm not voting because someone has excited me, and I don't think I ever have, now that I think of it. And I don't want other people to get excited. If that means they don't even vote, I respect that. Thanks for not getting excited and impulse voting. Politics should be boring. I want the government to be boring.

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