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Today, professor Jordan Peterson published an article in which he responds to what the alt-right calls the ‘Jewish Question’. It’s not a random publication, as there has been somewhat of a build-up towards Peterson addressing this matter.

Jordan Peterson has been asked to comment on the ‘Jewish Question’ on several occasions. Twice during his monthly Q&A, one time phrased as “Address the Jewish question“, the other as “Thoughts on the Jews“, which he started off delightfully by saying:

“Most of my friends are Jews, which is pretty interesting. I grew up in Northern Alberta and there were no Jews up there at all. (…) I think part of the reason that so many of my friends are Jewish, and I’m obviously speaking in a general sense here, is that they have a rich intellectual life and a tremendous respect for intellectual pursuit. And so we have a natural affinity.”

But Peterson’s stance on the ‘Jewish Question‘ really caught the attention of alt-right fora when on January 23, 2018, a man in the audience at one of Peterson’s talks asked a question that can best be summarised as:

“In the book ‘200 years together’, Solzhenitsyn documents the overrepresentation of Jewish individuals in the Bolshevik leadership. He claims that the ethnic hatred these individuals have for Christians – because they have been persecuted by Ukranian Christians – lead them to contribute to the Ukranian famine that killed between 2.5 million and 3.9 million people in 1933.

Just like the Bolsheviks, Jewish individuals are overrepresented in the ownership and senior staffing of the US news media, which is also inexplicably hostile towards Russia. Is the current warmongering against Russian Christians in any way motivated by the same ethnic hatred that motivated the Ukranian famine?

And could the same thing happen today? Could Jewish individuals use their positions of power to seek revenge against places like Europe and Russia, that have a history of expelling Jews.

In his response, after a short silence to contemplate, Peterson establishes that for now, the matter is:

“So difficult to disentangle. (…) I can’t do it”.

However reasonable and understandable to elect not to tackle such a matter on stage without the necessary preparation, the alt-right went after Peterson for it relentlessly. Overtly antisemitic alt-right Podcasts like Red Ice TV (below) ridiculed him, and stuff like the screenshots below was making the rounds on alt-right fora.

But it now seems Peterson had enough of it, and set out to settle the matter once and for all in a hand-written article, which is somewhat of a rarity for him these days. Check it out right here, or below, if the doc once again overestimated the traffic his bandwidth can handle.

On the so-called “Jewish Question”

By Jordan B. Peterson, published on Jordanpeterson.com

“The players of identity politics on the far right continue ever-so-pathologically to beat the anti-Semitic drum, pointing to the over-representation of Jews in positions of authority, competence and influence (including revolutionary movements). I’m called upon–sometimes publicly, sometimes on social media platforms–to comment on such matters, and criticized when I hesitate to do so (although God only knows why I would hesitate 🙂)

So let’s take apart the far-right claims:

First, psychologically speaking: why do the reactionary conspiracy theorists even bother? This is a straightforward matter. If you’re misguided enough to play identity politics, whether on the left or the right, then you require a victim (in the right-wing case, European culture or some variant) and a perpetrator (Jews). Otherwise you can’t play the game (a YouTube video I made explicating the rules can be found here). Once you determine to play, however, you benefit in a number of ways. You can claim responsibility for the accomplishments of your group because of your racial/ethnic similarity without actually having to accomplish anything yourself. That’s convenient. You can identify with the hypothetical victimization of that group and feel sorry for yourself and pleased at your compassion simultaneously. Another unearned victory. You simplify your world radically, as well. All the problems you face now have a cause, and a single one, so you can dispense with the unpleasant difficulty of thinking things through in detail. Bonus. Furthermore, and most reprehensibly: you now have someone to hate (and, what’s worse, with a good conscience) so your unrecognized resentment and cowardly and incompetent failure to deal with the world forthrightly can find a target, and you can feel morally superior in your consequent persecution (see Germany, Nazi for further evidence and information).

Second, in what manner (if any) are such claims true? Well, Jews are genuinely over-represented in positions of authority, competence and influence. New York Jews, in particular, snap up a disproportionate number of Nobel prizes (see this Times of Israel article), and Jews are disproportionately eligible for admission at elite universities, where they, along with Asians, tend to be discriminated against (see this Newsweek article). It’s possible that we should be happy about this, rather than annoyed: is the fact that smart people are working hard for our mutual advancement really something to feel upset? What, exactly, is the preferable alternative? In any case, the radical/identity-politics right wingers regard such accomplishment as evidence of a conspiracy. It hardly needs to be said that although conspiracies do occasionally occur, conspiracy theories are the lowest form of intellectual enterprise. Is there another, more credible explanation? Yes. Three well-documented factors in fact appear to be at play:

a) The significantly higher than average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews (see this article in the Economist for a credible layman’s analysis; for a scientific take (one of many) see Gregory Cochran’s work: abstract and full paper). Consider that IQ is the most powerful single determinant of long-term socioeconomic success and influence (my lab has published on this issue). Consider also that the effect of a mean or average difference in IQ is dramatically increased at the tails of the distribution, so that a 10-15 point difference produces increasingly large inequalities in group representation in proportion to the degree that a given job requires higher general cognitive ability. This means that proportional Jewish over-representation increases as the demand for IQ increases. Simply put: if a very complex job or role requires an IQ of 145, three standard deviations above the mean and characteristic of less than one percent of the general population, then a group with a higher average IQ will be exceptionally over-represented in such enterprises.

b) The relationship between IQ and Big Five trait Openness to Experience. Openness to Experience is one of the five cardinal personality traits (Wikipedia will fill you in rapidly if you need more info). Openness to Experience has often been considered the reflection of general cognitive ability or intelligence in personality. It’s what you are referring to when you describe someone as thoughtful, smart, artistic or philosophical. People with high IQs tend overwhelmingly to be higher in trait Openness to Experience (particularly in the Openness to Experience aspect of Intellect. My lab has produced a paper on this issue, as well).

c) The relationship between Openness to Experience and political liberalism: Political affiliation is importantly associated with personality. Conservatives/right-wingers tend to be high in Conscientiousness (particularly in the Conscientiousness aspect of Orderliness) and low in Openness to Experience while liberals/left-wingers tend to  have the reverse pattern (low Conscientiousness (particularly aspect Orderliness) and high Openness to Experience. The story is somewhat more complicated than that (which we also reviewed) for a good review), but that covers the basics.

So, what’s the story? No conspiracy. Get it? No conspiracy. Jewish people are over-represented in positions of competence and authority because, as a group, they have a higher mean IQ. The effect of this group difference (approximately the difference between the typical high school student and the typical state college student) is magnified for occupations/interests that require high general cognitive ability. Equal over-representation may also occur in political movements associated with the left, because high IQ is associated with Openness to Experience, which is in turn associated with liberal/left-leaning political proclivities.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Ashkenazi Jews are over-represented in any occupations/interests for reasons other than intelligence and the associated effects of intelligence on personality and political belief. Thus, no conspiratorial claims based on ethnic identity need to be given credence.

Readers interested in such issues may also be interested in a broader recent critique of the idea of Jewish conspiracy: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy: A Critical Analysis of Kevin MacDonald’s Theory