Monday, April 1, 2013

Black Rednecks and White Liberals - Part 2

Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell includes several essays on a variety of subjects. I'm handling them individually.

The second essay is entitled, “Are Jews Generic?” Thomas Sowell’s mastery and knowledge of world history marks him as a true Renaissance Man. He dives into the persecution of Jews and concludes that various minorities have been similarly maltreated, when in similar circumstances. Whether they are Parsees in India, Chinese in Southeast Asia or Jews in Germany, they share the remarkably same identity as minority middlemen. 

Little capital, low barriers to entry, and the ability to work in slavish conditions lead minority groups into a rather permanent place in society as minority middlemen. Being willing to endure poverty for the hope of future generations automatically precludes those with shorter time horizons. Blacks and southerners tend to dominate in sports or music, because one can skyrocket to the top. The children of middlemen minorities, however, tend to be overrepresented in the areas of medicine or science. They are culturally adapted to taking the long view. These middleman minorities must be, by definition, different from their customers and the surrounding culture. It is this difference in basic characteristics that allow the minorities to fill a gap that the existing culture was unwilling to fill. These differences often led to persecution when a scapegoat was needed. 

It seems clear that this persecution occurs where the middlemen minorities are most essential. Although the minorities have, at times, contributed to the distrust and dislike, the pattern seems to hold that when the dominant culture sees a minority group acting in a necessary role, jealousies and hostile rhetoric can turn the masses violently against them. The majority culture will often, not just expel, but humiliate and dehumanize the minority group. This indicates shame and feelings of inferiority within the native people. The success of future generations of minority middlemen further mark them for envy and resentment.

So while the plight of the Jews has been fairly generic and applies to many minority groups around the world and throughout history, they are not exactly a generic people. Even within the community of minority middlemen, the Jews have differentiated themselves. They are highly over represented in the upper echelons of intellectualism. Maybe it’s because they have been the most persecuted for the longest time in the most places. They have learned as a people to take the long-view, to keep their resources portable (like intellectual skills) in case a rapid escape became necessary, and to work very hard despite persecutions and setbacks. Unfortunately, however, persecution of minorities is not unique to the Jews. Demagogues will use the minority middlemen in their midst for their own purposes again and again.

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