Times' David Brooks on Evolution and the Survival of the Fittest Jews

An op-ed in the Times, "The Tel Aviv Cluster," By DAVID BROOKS is a glowing love letter to Jews and Israelis - so what Jew or Israeli could criticize it? Wait. You will see the Times fill with letters. Jews is News.

"No single explanation can account for the record of Jewish achievement." We agree. That does not mean you shouldn't try. So we are writing a new book about how Jewish religious culture contains some of the DNA that makes Jews the special folk that they are.

We also are reading Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth, and cannot resist the temptation to make evolutionary speculations about our people. Like this rumination Brooks doesn't mention, but we make.

We Jews were faced with serious predators over the centuries. Via cultural and historic natural selection, we developed the smarts to elude them and then we embedded our fittest genes back into our national DNA. Brooks doesn't go this way.

We are not big Brooks fans because he is so simplistic and predictable. And yes he is the Grinch who ruined Hanukkah this year. But again, how could you not like a column with all these glowing details about your people?
Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates.

Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 21 percent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 percent of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 percent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 percent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.
In his book, “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement,” Steven L. Pease lists some of the explanations people have given for this record of achievement. The Jewish faith encourages a belief in progress and personal accountability. It is learning-based, not rite-based.

Most Jews gave up or were forced to give up farming in the Middle Ages; their descendants have been living off of their wits ever since. They have often migrated, with a migrant’s ambition and drive. They have congregated around global crossroads and have benefited from the creative tension endemic in such places.

No single explanation can account for the record of Jewish achievement. The odd thing is that Israel has not traditionally been strongest where the Jews in the Diaspora were strongest. Instead of research and commerce, Israelis were forced to devote their energies to fighting and politics....

Tel Aviv has become one of the world’s foremost entrepreneurial hot spots. Israel has more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation on earth, by far. It leads the world in civilian research-and-development spending per capita. It ranks second behind the U.S. in the number of companies listed on the Nasdaq. Israel, with seven million people, attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined.

As Dan Senor and Saul Singer write in “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,” Israel now has a classic innovation cluster, a place where tech obsessives work in close proximity and feed off each other’s ideas.

Because of the strength of the economy, Israel has weathered the global recession reasonably well. The government did not have to bail out its banks or set off an explosion in short-term spending. Instead, it used the crisis to solidify the economy’s long-term future by investing in research and development and infrastructure, raising some consumption taxes, promising to cut other taxes in the medium to long term. Analysts at Barclays write that Israel is “the strongest recovery story” in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Israel’s technological success is the fruition of the Zionist dream. The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world....

For example, between 1980 and 2000, Egyptians registered 77 patents in the U.S. Saudis registered 171. Israelis registered 7,652....more...

1 comment:

Richard said...

I think the explanation for Jewish success lies in Jewish culture - expectations with respect to offspring were always higher with Jews than with the native cultures (Christian and Islamic) in which they lived at the fringe. They had to be just in order to survive. The same phenomena can be observed with all minorities - Chinese in South East Asia, Lebanese in Africa, Jains in India, etc... Now that Jews finally have their own country - Israel - and they don't have to live with the insecurity of being a stateless minority, it will be interesting to see whether this trend continues. I suspect that over time the Gaussian distribution of achievers to non-achievers will flatten to match the rest of humanity.