Steven Pinker: The Lessons of Jewish Genes

Steven Pinker in The New Republic:

Pinker_4My grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe who owned a small necktie factory on the outskirts of Montreal. While visiting them one weekend, I found my grandfather on the factory floor, cutting shapes out of irregular stacks of cloth with a fabric saw. He explained that by carving up the remnants that were left over when the neckties had been cut out and stitching them together in places that didn’t show, he could get a few extra ties out of each sheet of cloth. I asked him why he was doing this himself rather than leaving it to his employees. He shrugged, tapped his forehead, and said, “Goyishe kop,” a term of condescension that literally means “gentile head.” 

He wasn’t exactly serious, but he wasn’t exactly not serious either. Jews have long had an ambivalent attitude toward their own intelligence, and toward their reputation for intelligence. There is an ethnic pride at the prevalence of Jews in occupations that reward brainpower. A droll e-mail called “New Words to Add to Your Jewish Vocabulary” includes “jewbiliation, N: pride in finding out that one’s favorite celebrity is Jewish” and “meinstein, N: My son, the genius.” Many Jews subscribe to a folk theory that attributes Jewish intelligence to what would have to be the weirdest example of sexual selection in the living world: that for generations in the shtetl, the brightest yeshiva boy was betrothed to the daughter of the richest man, thereby favoring the genes, if such genes there are, for Talmudic pilpul. 

But pride has always been haunted by fear that public acknowledge of Jewish achievement could fuel the perception of “Jewish domination” of institutions.

More here.

UPDATE: A couple of people have said that they are unable to access the full article, even though I am able to, and it is not marked as a premium article at TNR. I am also posting the whole thing in the comments to this post for the convenience of those who are having trouble, so click on “comments” if you have trouble at the TNR site. I hope TNR won’t mind.

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