Bret Stephens Unites the Internet

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonderandhome.com

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    Brett Stephens is a moron and one of the things punditry a perplexing career. How did so many not so smart people end up getting paid so well for cliched anecdotes, shady sources, or stuff made up on the fly?

    It is generally true that American Jews punch above their numbers in terms of educational and economic success. The reasons for this are very complicated. The paper cited by Stephens was partially written to go against Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.

    Unfortunately the Times seems impervious to criticism. Possibly because nearly everyone is dependent on their actual news reporting.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    FWIW Brett Stephens is Jewish. Not many people seem to know this. Chuck Todd is also Jewish and this surprises people.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Smart people know better than to talk about IQ.

    Therefore: Brett Stephens is dumb.

    Q.E.D.Report

  4. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    Stephens is an example of the underlying thesis of the 1619 project, where rank bigotry gets laundered and given a sheen of respectability.Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      Usually I can follow you, but you’ve lost me on this one. A quick read up on the 1619 project has not illuminated me further. The thing in the NYT seems to embody ideas such as “racism is something we will always struggle with” which is something I endorse. What am I missing?Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Doctor Jay
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        says:

        The 1619 project posits that racism is deeply embedded in American culture and shapes our discourse even in ways that aren’t obviously apparent.

        Stephens is repeating ideas that were long ago discredited, from a source that is a white nationalist.

        In so doing, Stephens is demonstrating how persistent the idea of racial determinism is, even in 2019, long after the civil rights struggles, long after eugenics and the Holocaust.

        These sorts of ideas are still, after all these years, easily accessible to groups of people who find them comforting and valuable in reassuring themselves that they possess some sort of magic essence that elevates them above other groups.Report

        • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          I’m somebody who thinks that while progress is possible, humans will always struggle with racism, because they have this thing called “affinity bias”. All humans have it. All humans are susceptible to scapegoating and racialized scapegoating and persuasion.

          I don’t think there will ever be a time when I, as a white person, can just relax and say, “Hah, we’ve licked racism, I can relax and forget about it”.

          To me, that sounds like it’s concordant with the 1619 thesis, even though it has no racially determinant element.

          I know nothing about Stephens.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Siegel
    Ignored
    says:

    What’s funny is that his article is about how Jewish success is specifically *not* a result of higher IQs (although it’s not clear exactly what he attributes it to). But you can’t dip into the IQ basket with brushing against some bad stuff.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Siegel
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      says:

      Culture is also not particularly heritable from generation to generation. How would you even measure “culture” anyway?Report

      • Avatar Jay L Gischer in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        Culture is a set of processes or procedures for doing things. Lots of the things we do, there are potentially lots of ways to do them, but they do them the way we do them because that’s what other people do, and have done. That’s culture. It doesn’t depend on genetics for transmission, other than humans are equipped for culture and the transmission of culture.

        That’s the thesis of Fred Baumeister’s book “The Cultural Animal”: https://www.amazon.com/Cultural-Animal-Nature-Meaning-Social/dp/0195167031

        One thing he cites is that while we say “monkey see, monkey do”, humans are far more imitative than monkeys or even the great apes. There are experiments that show this.

        It’s very good. I think Jews have a culture that puts weight on study and academics far more than generic American culture.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to Jay L Gischer
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          says:

          The big cultural difference is that Jews don’t marry Christmas tree salesmen. A cursory glance at the Hallmark Channel shows that gentile women do this all the time. Well, you know what? As romantic as it may be, in the real world, Christmas tree salesman aren’t typically brain surgeon material. A lot of them probably screw up by replanting with acorns instead of pine cones.

          Over the long haul, in terms of population genetics, it’s a lot better to marry the Jewish surgeon who sews the Christmas tree salesman back together after his epic chain saw accident, which of course sets him up to be the romantic lead in the next Hallmark special, playing a Christmas tree salesman who walks with a cane. That special again highlights the cultural differences, as gentile women swoon over him even more while Jewish women think “I want to marry the surgeon that reattached that guy’s leg!”

          Maybe I’m stereotyping a bit, or maybe the Hallmark Channel is (as unbelievable as that might seem), but that’s probably the key cultural difference.Report

          • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to George Turner
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            says:

            The thing is, IQ doesn’t have a big enough impact on life success to explain the success of Jewish people, even if it were completely heritable, which is questionable. High IQ is worth about +10% on most metrics of life. Which is good, but not as much as most people think it ought to be worth.

            The Christmas tree salesman probably carries and transmits a lot of attitudes and habits, which will be passed on to his children, or other people he might influence. Not that it’s a bad thing to be a Christmas tree salesman…Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to Doctor Jay
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              says:

              Asian immigrants also do better than natives. Study really hard (on a subject that is useful), work hard, and invest wisely. That’s a sound strategy for a capitalist society were merit is rewarded.

              If you’re going to sell Christmas trees, don’t be the guy standing in the lot hoping to make a few extra bucks and maybe pick up a lonely 30 something, be the CEO of Xmas Trees Inc [1], a major East Coast distributor that uses an innovative business model that combines lucrative contracts with local farmers with a strategy of land acquisition, using the “farm” aspect to buy up key real estate whose price will go way up as suburban areas expand, and buying up the best retail lots where the trees get sold. As Levy Meir (CFO of Xmas Trees Inc) put it, “We’re not in the Christmas Tree business, we’re in the real estate business.”

              There’s been fairly extensive writing on the historical reasons that Ashkenazi Jews may have gotten so smart at symbolic manipulation, which is something that isn’t in much dispute (just look at the percentage of Nobel prizes in science). But along with that are cultural norms developed over a long time to survive and thrive among a frequently hostile European population.

              What skills are the easiest to transplant somewhere else? What forms of capital are the most liquid? What forms of wealth are easy to physically transport or flip back into cash? What are the best financial strategies to maximize return and minimize risk if the local situation goes all pear shaped? What are the best ways to conduct business if building good-will (keeping a mental account of owed favors among all the villagers) won’t pay off, long term, due to being regarded as an outsider?

              This cultural heritage carries lessons that are quite different from the usual norms. For much of white European society, fatherly advice can amount to “If you don’t make it playing third base for the Mets, you can always work in the mines with me.” Norms promulgated in rap culture are really disadvantageous to anyone who wants to go anywhere.

              Basically, the dominant culture has a safety net where the natives don’t have to worry about being rounded up, slaughtered, or run out of town. They will always have some soil to till, and so what if they’re the 18th generation of middling peasant with no plans and no ambition? They still get by just fine, and can pass on their knowledge of smoked pork to the next generation. Non-optimal financial or life advice doesn’t get ruthlessly weeded out. Selling a few Christmas trees on the side seems like a pretty good strategy. And then they get pushed aside by Xmas Tree Inc and rage at the injustice of it all.

              [1] Xmas Tree Inc was made up to illustrate a more focused and financially successful way to approach problems.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Michael Siegel
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      says:

      People can be inconsistent with their attitudes towards IQ. On my Face Book feed, there are people I know that would rage against anything relating to IQ as applied to groups but love posting about this 11 year old girl in Iran who has an IQ higher than Einstein in you go girl sort of way.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    Brett Stephen’s piece isn’t originally. Jews in general and Ashkenazi Jews in particular have been stereotyped as very intelligent in a book learning sort of way for a very long time, with all sorts of pop cultural theorizing on it. The only anti-Semites that portrayed Jews as dumb where the WASP ones of early and mid-20th century America. What is new is the reaction against Brett Stephen’s essay. In the past, this sort of theorizing would go mainly un-noticed. Now it generates. a big strong reaction.Report

  7. Avatar Oscar Gordon
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    says:

    The older I get, the more I find myself saying, “WTF?! Not this shit again!”.Report

  8. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    The Ashkenazi-gentile achievement gap actually exposes some pretty serious problems with The Narrative. According to The Narrative, the white-black achievement gap is caused by historical and continuing oppression of black people by white people. White people are overrepresented in positions of power and wealth, and use that position to keep black people in positions of low status and wealth.

    But wait! There’s also an Ashkenazi-gentile achievement gap! Well, we’ve already figured out what causes ethnic achievement gaps, so all we have to do is change some nouns around, and we have an explanation for the Ashkenazi-gentile achievement gap.

    And…we’ve just independently rediscovered antisemitism.

    And there’s the problem. To explain the Ashkenazi-gentile achievement gap without sounding too Hitlery, we need to concede the possibility of ethnic achievement gaps arising from some cause other than systematic oppression of the lower-achieving ethnic group. In fact, we need to acknowledge that a systematically oppressed group can outperform the oppressor group. But this then calls into question our explanation for the white-black achievement gap.

    I notice a lot of people taking great care not to think about this issue.Report

  9. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    Also, for funsies, here’s the NYT’s write-up of the 2005 paper they apologized for Bret Stephens linking to.Report

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