As the novelist Gary Shteyngart wrote on Twitter: “Woke up to a New York Times op-ed about one group being intellectually superior to others and citing a paper co-authored by a white supremacist as evidence.”
The op-ed in question, by columnist Bret Stephens, was called “The Secrets of Jewish Genius,” and the white supremacist Stephens invoked – from ignorance, one hopes, rather than malice – was the late anthropologist Henry Harpending. Harpending’s work has been repeatedly and spectacularly debunked by far better scientists, and most recently rejected as unfounded in March 2018 on the pages of the New York Times itself. It’s too much to expect Stephens to read the newspaper for which he works, I suppose.
Within a day, the Times appended an editors’ note to Stephens’ piece, explaining that it removed the reference to Harpending’s paper and to Ashkenazi Jews in general. The bizarre note also denied the column said what it said: that Ashkenazi Jews are inherently superior to others, including Sephardic Jews.
Hmm, well, we don’t think that humans are different from other animals in the inheritance of genetic traits. We’re also aware that intelligence is inheritable, although there’s no such thing as “the” intelligence gene.
So, now let’s run an experiment for a few hundred, possibly a couple of thousand, years.
In one group of humans we’re going to make being the priest, at least the religious leader, the most honoured and lauded of all occupations. Rich men will marry their heavily dowried daughters to the young men studying to be such. The encouragement will be that these couples explore their fertility to the maximal extent. Those tribes of 10 and 12 children, being of those who are by definition the richer in the society are more likely to survive and to go on to breed.
Entry into that priestly caste is going to be by being able to show exceptional intelligence.
We’re now rather breeding humans for intelligence, aren’t we?
In another group we’re going to again select for intelligence. Into that priesthood. And we’re also going to insist that the priests are celibate. Or at least officially so, any children being bastards and thus not enjoying that possibly higher socioeconomic status. Priests’ bastards weren’t unknown, by any means, but they were not high up the societal totem pole.
We could call our first group Ashkenazi Jews and their priests rabbis. We could call the second Catholics and their priests, well, priests.
So, run the experiment from around the year 1,000 AD, when Catholic priestly celibacy was first taken seriously. Now, that thousand years later, what would we predict would be the effect?
We’d rather think that the first population would have more of the genes of the clever chaps, the rabbis, than the second would of the clever chaps, the priests, wouldn’t we?
As to what we do find when we test those populations – well, Brett Stephens might actually have a point, mightn’t he?
And what’s fun about the opposition to what he said is what those opposing are saying. That it shouldn’t be true that this is possible therefore it isn’t and we shouldn’t talk about it. Rather than anyone managing to show that it isn’t true in the first place.