Evolutionary Psychology's Anti-Semite

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Jan. 24 2000 10:35 AM

Evolutionary Psychology's Anti-Semite

What scares people about the trial going on in London over whether Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt libeled Holocaust denier David Irving by calling him a liar is that British law requires Lipstadt to show that her statement was true. If she can't prove beyond a doubt that the Holocaust took place, Irving might win. That would be a devastating blow to historical accuracy if it happens, but Culturebox thinks it won't. There's a lot of truth on Lipstadt's side, and very little on Irving's. Plus Lipstadt has one of the best lawyers in London and is planning to call several heavyweight scholars to testify. Irving, on the other hand, is acting as his own lawyer and so far has named very few witnesses and experts, none of whom anyone has ever heard of.

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If Irving doesn't appear to be taking the necessary steps to win, why else might he have brought the lawsuit? For publicity, is the obvious answer--to air his own views, as well as those of his witnesses. And that's what scares Culturebox. Irving's claim that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz is bad enough, but since it bears directly on the question of his truthfulness, it will be refuted on the spot. Irving's experts, on the other hand, are being called to testify on issues tangential to the case, and their twisted theories could well go unanswered. One expert, John Fox, the former editor of a British Holocaust journal, will probably argue that Lipstadt and the Jews are trying to shut down free discussion of the Holocaust. Irving's other expert is an American professor named Kevin MacDonald, whose ideas about Jews have almost no relevance to the case but represent the broadest, ugliest, and most vicious anti-Semitism passing for scholarship in this country today.

We know more or less what McDonald will say on the stand, because he recently put a copy of his written statement to the British court on the Internet. (Click here to go to the discussion group where he posted it. At the drop-down dialogue box, select postings for January 2000, then click on a posting titled "MacDonald's statement in the Irving/Lipstadt trial," dated Jan. 18.) The bulk of MacDonald's testimony will be a summary of his three books about Jews: A People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy (Praeger, 1994); Separation and Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism (Praeger, 1998); and The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements (Praeger, 1998). Here is what he says in them--in Culturebox's words, not his. (If you want to read MacDonald's own summary, clink on the link above. To read a fuller account of his books, go to his Web page.)

MacDonald's central thesis is that Judaism is best understood not as a religion but as a blueprint for an experiment in eugenics--a "group evolutionary strategy," he calls it--designed to maximize a single trait: intelligence. For thousands of years, he says, Jews have separated themselves from their neighbors, choosing to confine themselves to a closed society with strict rules against marrying outside the group. They have lived by policies of extreme group loyalty and obedience to rabbinical authority, which served to maintain their racial purity; and they practiced low-birth-rate, high-investment parenting, which is the royal road to a high group I.Q. They conferred social status (which brings along with it the most desirable women) on men according to their brilliance--indeed, says MacDonald, study of the Talmud was nothing more than a casuistic exercise meant to weed out the dim. Eventually, their highly developed genes for mental and verbal acuity, as well as their social aggression (also carefully bred-in), gave the Jews powerful tools that enable them to dominate neighboring ethnic groups in the endless war of all against all for food and resources.

In his second book, MacDonald explains why Jews have encountered so much anti-Semitism for so many years: It was justified. Gentiles reacted to Jews the way any group of animals on the veldt would when confronted with a group of superior animals likely to challenge them successfully for control of the available resources--they tried to destroy the Jews before the Jews destroyed them. Even the most extreme forms of anti-Semitism, such as Nazism, can be seen not as aberrations but as "a mirror image" of Judaism, with its emphasis on creating a master race. (MacDonald does not deny that the Holocaust occurred, but he appears to think it was rooted in an immutable biological chain reaction that the Jews set off.) Faced with the hatred of gentiles, Jews have often resorted to a "strategy of crypsis"--that is, they have pretended not to be Jews. Do the Jews themselves realize what they're up to? MacDonald goes back and forth on this point; one moment he'll chastise Jews for believing their own religious rationalizations, the next he'll explain that they can't help it--they're genetically "prone to self-deception."

In his third book, MacDonald takes on what he calls the "Jewish" intellectual movements of the 20th century, from psychoanalysis to Marxism to "Boasian anthropology" and "the Frankfurt School of social research." His argument is that the ideas of secular Jewish intellectuals are merely a device to promote tolerance of the Jewish presence by gentiles--so that the Jews can more efficiently pursue their nefarious agenda of systematic breeding and control of resources. A good example of this is cultural anthropology: Its Jewish founder, Franz Boas, shifted the focus of anthropology away from Darwinism and eugenicism and toward the study of culture in order to bring an end to the criticism of Jews as a race. Even if an intellectual movement (such as liberalism) was founded by non-Jews, the minute Jews join it, they'll take it over, because their ancestral history predisposes them to form "highly cohesive groups": "Intellectual activity is like any other human endeavor: Cohesive groups outcompete individualist strategies." Ideas that MacDonald identifies as Jewish, he invariably finds to be not only subtly self-interested but also repellent by any ordinary (which is to say gentile) moral or intellectual standard. Freud "conceptualized himself as a leader in a war on gentile culture." When Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin expressed doubts about sociobiology back in the 1970s, their approach exemplified the kind of "skeptical thrust of Jewish intellectual activity" that results in Jewish "nihilistic anti-science."

Toward the end of the third book, MacDonald lays out his solution for restoring what he calls "parity" between the Jews and other ethnic groups: systematic discrimination against Jews in college admission and employment and heavy taxation of Jews "to counter the Jewish advantage in the possession of wealth."

It is not a coincidence that MacDonald spends much of his time in his third book attacking the enemies of Darwinism and sociobiology--or evolutionary psychology, as it is usually called today. MacDonald identifies himself as an evolutionary psychologist, and indeed, most prominent figures in the field would at least know his name. But, remarkably, to Culturebox's knowledge, no American evolutionary psychologist has publicly objected to his work. This is not to say that it has been celebrated. A man in his 50s, MacDonald is still an associate professor of psychology at a third-rate school, California State University in Long Beach. [Note from Culturebox two days later: She was wrong about this. He is in fact a full professor. My apologies for the error.] But much more important to an academic than his title is his standing among his peers, and there MacDonald is on firmer ground: He's the secretary, archivist, newsletter editor, and executive board member of the professional organization the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES), to which the majority of America's leading evolutionary psychologists belong. He edits a small journal called Population and Environment. And the three books summarized above appeared in a series edited by Seymour Iztkoff, a well-known if extremely conservative scholar of the genetics of intelligence at Smith College.

Are MacDonald's peers aware of what he's writing in the name of a field long accused of fostering--unfairly, many of them would say; by Jews, MacDonald would say--sexist and racist stereotypes? Do other evolutionary psychologists have an opinion on MacDonald? Culturebox called several well-known members of HBES, specifying in her voice messages that she was writing an article about MacDonald. Few returned her phone calls, but those who did said they'd never read his Jewish trilogy. Two leading scholars said they had read papers of his on other subjects and found them "muddled"; one academic said she had been forced to reject a paper by MacDonald on child development for an anthology she was editing. When Culturebox described the contents of MacDonald's books to them, they expressed extreme shock and said he contradicted the basic principles of contemporary evolutionary psychology. "The notion that Jews are a genetically distinct group doesn't make it on the basis of modern population genetics," said John Tooby, the president of HBES and a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Also, he said, "group-selection theory"--the idea that natural selection can occur at the level of a group (such as a bunch of Jews) as opposed to individuals--was debunked in the 1960s, and though some scholars are working to bring group-selection theory back, it remains a minority view.

Not everyone in the field is as critical as Tooby, however. A review praising MacDonald's first book appeared in the journal Ethology and Sociobiology four years ago (the publication was in the process of being taken over by HBES at the time); the author, John Hartung, a professor at the State University of New York and a former secretary of HBES, concluded that the Holocaust, "the most enormous act of reactive racism ever perpetrated," had been misrepresented as an unjustified evil so as to cow non-Jews into looking the other way while Jews "purloin" land in Israel. According to Lingua Franca, which covered the incident, the only public reaction to Hartung's review was a "tepid" letter by the journal's editor saying he didn't realize that it could be offensive, and an outright defense of Hartung by HBES's then-president, Dick Alexander. As for MacDonald, the author of the book that inspired these remarks, there was little visible effort at the time to refute him or to challenge the appropriateness of having him serve in so many key positions.

On the contrary. MacDonald thanks several prominent evolutionary psychologists in the acknowledgments to his trilogy. Among them is David Sloane Wilson, the leading advocate of group-selection theory. What exactly these scholars did for MacDonald is unclear. (Wilson did not return Culturebox's phone calls.) But MacDonald appears to have given them an opportunity to have their names suppressed, because there are other scholars he says he could have identified but didn't: "Regrettably," he writes, they "have asked that their names not appear here."

Can we blame the field of evolutionary psychology for Kevin MacDonald? Intellectually speaking, no. Evolutionary psychology is a fairly new endeavor trying to overcome an extremely disturbing past, and you can't make serious scholars accountable for all the discredited notions their peers cling to. But we can hold specific academics responsible--Itzkoff comes to mind--and we can ask what on earth the officers of HBES were thinking when they allowed MacDonald to become such an active member of their organization. If the response to Hartung's review is any indication, they would probably say that they don't believe in censoring their members. But it is the job of a scholarly association not just to foster discussion but also to police the boundaries of its discipline. When this evolutionary psychologist and HBES officer testifies in the Irving trial, he is bound to get his counterparts in a lot of trouble. In many ways, they deserve it.

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