From: Joey Kurtzman To: John Derbyshire Subject: Jewesses and Derbyshire’s Law
Excellent stuff, John, thank you.
The Jewess question is a good place to dive in.
I was recently shocked, while watching Kill Bill 2 by Quentin Tarantino, to hear the word Jew used as a verb. Imagine! Jew-as-verb in a major American feature film! Maybe Harvey Weinstein allowed it because Spike Lee had recently complained that Weinstein would never let “kike” be used in his films as he does “nigger.”
Regardless, it was a shocker to hear it. America has come a long way from the days when we could play fast-and-loose with our ethnic words. I think this is, on balance, a very good thing. I just spent five years marooned in the British Isles, where I was shocked to discover that gentle race-baiting remains, in many quarters if not all, a more-or-less acceptable form of light banter.
I reacted to this much as I imagine an anthropologist might react to the discovery of an Indian village where the locals still practice sati, or a Chinese community where all the girls have bound feet: “Do they really still do this? It’s atrocious and fascinating all at the same time! Quick, grab me a notebook, I shall study them.”
Jewess snaps us to attention precisely because it’s the type of word a certain sort of Brit might use, but Americans won’t. Like Irishman and other antiquated coinages, it suggests that ethnicity is a fundamental feature of a person’s identity (for that reason, Elijah Muhammad made a concerted effort to popularize blackman). American Jews, like other Americans, dislike that implication.
We once dealt with this by using wacky innovations such as “Americans of the Hebrew faith.” And that’s not just a Jewish thing. During the height of PC tyranny in the 1990s, constructions such as these were drawn out even to sillier lengths. “John, my buddy at NRO who happens to be black…” was the hot formulation. One had to apologize for even alluding to someone’s ethnic background.
The same sensibility gives us the ongoing gag about the person who defends him/herself from charges of bigotry by announcing that “but…but some of my best friends are black/Jewish/Mexican/whatever!” The joke, presumably, is that a real non-racist would never even have noticed the ethnicity of their friends.
There has to be a middle ground. I appreciate the sensitivity that American culture affords to minorities, but I’m hardly the first to observe that there is a downside. When you police language so relentlessly, you don’t improve the quality of debate…you shut it down. But whereas this was once a mere annoyance, today it’s a real problem. More and more information on the genetics of human populations is rolling in, and we can’t be sure where it’s all headed or what it will reveal. It’s increasingly urgent that we learn to discuss group differences without flipping out over linguistic trivia or falling back on feel-good platitudes that get us nowhere.
John Tooby dealt with the Kevin MacDonald kerfuffle in Slate by offering the comforting pablum that “human races don’t exist as distinct biological groups.” Well, maybe, depending on how you define “race” and “distinct” and “group.” But that’s a spineless cop-out.
Even interested non-scientists like you and me, John, have learned that human populations have different distributions of various alleles (variants of a certain gene); that some of these variations between groups result in different distributions of biological traits such as Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anemia, and so on; and that we need prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that the list also includes psychological and behavioral traits.
I’m not asking for crudeness or intentionally insulting behavior, of course. But if puncturing some of our American and Jewish anxieties about race-related language will make it easier to have the honest discussion I’m looking for, then, hey, I say let’s go for it. Jewess is innocuous enough—let’s you and I agree to use it. If anyone calls you an antisemite or asks you to take one of the ADL’s sensitivity courses, you just tell them that a Jew gave you permission—nay, urged you!—to use the word. Pass the buck to me.
To be honest—and here is where my interest in MacDonald can be explained by resorting to his theories—I also think more open discussion of Jews and Jewishness will be “good for the Jews.” The protective veil in which American culture shrouds minority groups is a mixed blessing for us. Informed external criticism is a good thing for any community trying to improve itself.
Jews were once made to confront some of the more distasteful aspects of our scripture because European Christians called us on them during medieval disputations between rabbis and priests. And while I don’t want a return to medieval Europe or to religious disputations, I do think that when American Gentiles dance around Jewish sensibilities for fear of setting us off, when they fellate us with unqualified celebration of the wisdom of our ancient culture, the genius of our geniuses, and so on, it only encourages self-satisfaction and complacency on our part.
And the American Jewish community, as anyone involved in Jewish organizations will tell you, is in crisis. The last thing we need is complacency. Other American ethnic groups, I would hazard, derive just as little benefit from the WASP inability to discuss ethnic issues frankly.
So let it fly, John. In this dialogue and beyond, tell us what you’re thinking and why. Give us material to chew on, thoughtful criticism to work with. Sure, some Jews are so traumatized by Jewish history (in most cases, traumatized by traumas they never experienced) that in any criticism of Jews or Jewish culture they see the makings of another Holocaust. But if Tutsis can have frank conversations with Hutus hardly a decade after the Rwandan genocide, and if Bosnians can hash out political issues with Serbs, then surely a Jew who has no experience of persecution can handle a frank conversation with a Gentile who has no experience as persecutor. So bring it on.
I’m disappointed, though, to hear you discuss the catastrophic consequences of crossing the Jews. I think of it as the Robert Fisk conceit, and it’s a very old line. Guys like Fisk or Norman Finkelstein sell themselves as martyrs to world Jewry, as people who love truth so much that they are unwilling to bend to our intellectually totalitarian demands. That’s a neat marketing ploy, and it certainly gets them a ton of attention and the adoration of a certain type of intellectual groupie. But is it true?
No, it’s bullshit, is what I think. Derbyshire’s law is certainly true…no matter what you say about Jews (or any other ethnic group, for that matter), someone, somewhere will call you a bigot. But so what? If you’d given Kevin MacDonald’s ideas a more positive hearing, you’d have likely gotten a ton of criticism, sure. But that’s life as a public intellectual. Welcome to the monkeyhouse. People are allowed to criticize you, and with the democratization of ideas and arguments through the Web, more and more people now have the platform to do just that. Some will resort to nasty ad hominems. Such is life. Argumentative integrity is too rare a bird in public debate. Deal with it.
You mention the case of William Cash. I’m not very familiar with his case; I only know that he’s oft-mentioned by people who claim that an accusation of antisemitism is a professional kiss of death. But if The Spectator can run a cover image of a Magen David piercing a Union Jack, if Walt & Meirsheimer can get a relatively muted reaction in the States to their piece arguing that the pro-Israel lobby has hijacked American foreign policy, is it really true that you would be committing professional sepuku, or even just damaging your career prospects, by digging into Jewish culture and giving a positive review to Kevin MacDonald’s work? I suspect that what drives people away from these topics is a fear of harsh, emotional criticism, rather than a realistic likelihood of damage to their career.
Indulge my curiousity: what would happen if tomorrow you submitted a piece to National Review saying, “Kevin MacDonald is really onto something. He’s doing great work and I think everyone should read him.” What sort of craziness would ensue? How would your career be damaged in concrete terms?