From: Joey Kurtzman To: John Derbyshire Subject: The euphemism treadmill, Gog and Magog, and so forth Wow, John, your last e-mail was 4000 words and could serve as the springboard for five different dialogues. Great reading, too, and not just the part where you complimented me on my “insufferable tone of sneering moral superiority.”
Allow me to distill your argument down to its basic points. I do this not because I hope to straw-man you or dumb you down, but because I want to identify our major points of agreement before moving on.
If the American chattering classes determine that you have the “wrong” views on race, you lose their esteem and the capacity to influence them on other issues. For that reason, conservatives wade into dangerous waters whenever they address race. It is particularly perilous to speak negatively of Jews as a group, because they have the means and the will to “smash you to pieces” (Sobran’s words, not yours, I know), i.e., stigmatize you as bigoted and thereby marginalize you in public debate.
And yet it moves: Humans do have group loyalties, these loyalties do influence how we view the world and interact with the people in it, and this applies to Jews just as it does to other people. This is plain to anyone who looks at the world honestly, and we’d best come to terms with it. Whatever his flaws, Kevin MacDonald at least goes to the trouble of exploring group loyalties and intergroup competition, and in this respect you find him appealing.
Is that a faithful (if drastically abbreviated) recapitulation? I hope so.
So here’s our problem: I agree with most of that. We agree on the basic story, on the general cultural context into which MacDonald’s Jewish trilogy emerged. But I must niggle over a few points.
I’m not arguing that you should have written a celebratory puff piece on MacDonald. That’s not because it would be offensive to do so, but because it would be poor journalism. There are too many problems in his work, too many disputed premises and wild conceptual leaps, to review of him with unqualified praise. But I certainly hope you wouldn’t be fired for turning in a positive review of MacDonald.
I don’t buy your claims about the dire professional consequences of pissing off Jews. I wanted to hear you describe the Jew-wrought professional Armageddon of your rather febrile imagination.
I’m aware that it’s all too easy to piss off lots of very vocal Jews. And I sympathize with writers who fear the anger of an aggrieved minority. But the fact remains that myriad writers make fine careers with material that pisses us off to no end.
You’re getting a lot of mileage out of William Cash, but you're also familiar with Buchanan, Novak, Fisk, Finkelstein, Cole, Chomsky, and a litany of others whose status as nationally known “opinion makers” is not threatened (and is arguably enhanced) by their incessant tipping of Jewish sacred cows.
That’s not to mention the cartoons and cover art: an award-winning cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating a baby, a Palestinian Jesus on the cross asking God not to let them “crucify me again,” the Union Jack pierced by a Jewish star, and on and on ad infinitum, all of it driving Jews bonkers with hurt and anger.
Or there’s Arthur Butz, a professor in good standing at Northwestern who for the past thirty years has spent his spare time “proving” the Holocaust never took place.
So this mythic Jewish goliath that’s awoken by even the faintest stirrings of dissent against the cult of Jewish victimhood, and which promptly “smashes you to bits”…well, it’s a fantasy, so far as I can tell. And if it’s true that one young British journalist had his career destroyed because he noticed there were lots of Jews in Hollywood, that’s a shame, and terribly unjust. But it's an anomaly.
As the Talmud says, “teku”: we’ll agree to disagree on this until the messiah comes and all debates are settled.
Another issue: I don’t know how you managed to interpret my last e-mail as “retailing” the view that group differences are a “figment of our imaginations.” I stated very clearly that group differences are real, including in the allele frequency for various genes—in other words, human populations are genetically different. That there are also vast cultural differences goes without saying.
But the existence of these differences does not militate one whit against the notion that in a sloppy, pluralistic society, we ought to make at least a modest effort not to piss on people’s cultural sensitivities. Is that what got your knickers in a bunch? Just my suggestion that sometimes it’s worth avoiding terms that other groups find offensive?
To the extent that group differences are real and group loyalty is a hardwired human impulse, I should think that’s only more reason why we should avoid triggering group resentments when there is no reason to do so. That’s provided, of course, that the adjustments we’re asked to make are not too elaborate or otherwise unreasonable.
I don’t think I am waffling or being inconsistent by stating all of this and then acknowledging that the ways in which American ethnic groups try to show respect for one another—for example by obsessing over ethnic terminology—have long spun out of control and come to preclude discussion rather than improve it. But to me, what we’re dealing with is too much of a good thing. Courtesies (good) that have grown into an inexplicable, intimidating set of rituals (bad). We need to take it down a notch, or a whole bunch of notches.
And yes, we need to step off the euphemism treadmill. Calling someone an “Irishman” or a “Jewess” or “black” when they’d prefer something else should be a small trespass, not a grave one.
As for this tidal wave of intense, theologically informed philosemitism among American evangelicals…well yes, at least some evangelicals think most Jews will end up rotting in the hellfires, or will be annihilated in the war against Gog and Magog, or other charming scenarios. At least some Jewish conservatives couldn’t care less about the theological complications so long as the evangelicals support Israel. Whether that’s more an expression of evolutionary strategy than is, say, Irish-American support of Irish Republicanism, I don't know. We should ask MacDonald…to whose work we should in any case turn back.
Where does he get it right, and where does he get it wrong? I’d like to dig into his take on left-wing politics and Jewish attitudes toward immigration policy: immigration is the issue closest to MacDonald’s heart, but I think the tradition of utopian Jewish leftyism is at the root of most all the behaviors that bother MacDonald.