Cal State Long Beach (CSLB) psychology professor Kevin MacDonald, as a recent New Times LA article describes it, uses
psychology to argue that Judaism is not merely a religion; it is
also a Darwinian strategy that serves to raise Jewish IQ, and
that anti-Semitism can be understood rationally as a by-product
of natural selection. He writes that Jews have reacted to
anti-Semitism by taking over intellectual movements and
attacking Gentile culture to promote Jewish interests. The
result, he warns, is a “present decline of European peoples in
the New World.” He also asserts that Jews protect their
interests by suppressing criticism of Judaism, and cites David
Irving as an example of a writer whose work has been
suppressed by Jewish groups.
MacDonald agreed to testify on behalf of Irving at the prominent London libel suit Irving recently lost against Deborah Lipstadt, whose academic criticism of Holocaust deniers claims distortions in Irving’s work. MacDonald says he is an “agnostic” about the question of the reality of the Holocaust because he has not studied its history extensively enough and that his decision to support Irving was based on academic freedom considerations. (He writes here about his reasons for testifying.)
Now critics on the faculty of CSLB want him to defend his own controversial doctrines in a public academic forum, which he refuses to do partially on the grounds that it is not appropriate to ask a tenured professor to present such complicated ideas orally to an audience that is likely to be hostile. CSLB, whose enormous psychology dept. (with over 1200 students and 55 faculty) was criticized in a 1994 external audit for doing too little to foster open debate of academic issues, has put off until the fall its decision on calls for a public forum on MacDonald’s ideas. Many colleagues say they’ll be reading his work this summer, vowing to move forward with criticism in the fall whether MacDonald participates or not. His colleagues point out that they believe MacDonald’s right to do the kind of research he does is protected by academic freedom, and no one is calling for his discipline or expulsion.
One prominent critic is UC Santa Barbara professor John Tooby, arguably the founder of the discipline of evolutionary psychology in the early ’90’s. Tooby wants to defend the good name of evolutionary psychology against what he perceives as a disreputble extremist extrapolation. He has recently reportedly denied that MacDonald’s work is even evolutionary psychology at all. ‘Blaming the new science for MacDonald’s views, Tooby says,
is like asking doctors, “What do you physicians have to say
about Josef Mengele?”‘ A lengthy refutation of MacDonald’s work on which Tooby is currently at work is slated to appear on his website later this summer.
MacDonald may essentially be cursed simply by being a shy, reluctant public speaker whose trio of books on Judaism, published between 1994 and 1998, received little attention (except among rightwing extremist hatemongers, whose websites have been laudatory), but he may now regret the visibility his decision to participate in Irving’s trial has engendered. Academic work in which there is such a dramatic tension between scholarly freedom and the use of the work in the service of extremist hatred and divisiveness has long provoked heated ethical controversy on campus. I recall the very similar bitterness of the debate over the work on the genetic basis of intelligence done by Harvard professor Roger Herrnstein in the early ’70’s, EO Wilson’s sociobiology (also engendered at Harvard in the ’70’s), and the Bell Curve flap (Herrnstein again, with Charles Murray) several years ago. Critics always claim that these are bad science even if well-intentioned; prejudice presented as if it were undistorted scientific fact. It’ll be interesting to see how explicitly MacDonald paints himself as a victim of the “Jewish agenda” he sees at work against threats to its “eugenics program” in public defenses.
Read an earlier New Times LA article about MacDonald and his work here. And, thanks to Jorn Barger who commented that the above exposition was one-sided (I actually feel I’m not being unfair to MacDonald as much as noting with interest a one-sided groundswell of response), this link to MacDonald’s replies to the New Times LA publicity. MacDonald says in part:
Ortega quotes me as saying that the Jews brought the Holocaust on
themselves. This is just wrong. I claim only to have a theory of anti-Semitism,
not a theory of the Nazi Holocaust. In my book, Separation and Its
Discontents, I argue that perceptions of real conflicts of interest engendered
and exacerbated widespread popular anti-Jewish feelings in Germany prior to
and during the Nazi era, as they have in many other times and places. These
perceptions of conflicts of interest are related complexly to real conflicts of
interest. For example, exaggeration and even fantasies may color the
situation once the battle lines have been drawn between groups. Other
scholars have also argued that Jewish behavior—very often Jewish success—is
an important factor in anti-Semitism; see, e.g., Albert Lindemann’s Esau’s
Tears[Cambridge University Press, 1998]). My position is that we should not
simply assume that every instance of anti-Semitism is completely irrational.
Rather, we should suppose that in general there are indeed real conflicts of
interest between groups and that outbreaks of hostility are a complex
interplay of fantasy and reality. Anti-Semitism has taken many different
forms from simple dislike to economic boycots, pogroms, expulsion and
In the last chapter of The Culture of Critique I suggest that the
increasing ethnic division in the U.S. and other European-derived societies
resulting from high levels of immigration and the rise of multiculturalism will
lead to increased ethnocentrism on all sides and a decline in the
Enlightenment values of de-ethnicized individualism. I state only that this is
a dangerous situation and I do so on the basis of psychological theory and my
reading of the history of the Jews as well as a great many examples of ethnic
conflict in contemporary and past societies.
This is just a start; I imagine MacDonald would agree with me that a “soundbite”, or weblog, review cannot be thoughtful enough about these complex issues. If this controversy interests you, I’m sure you’ll delve further.
In connection with my post on this issue, Barger has also referred me to his page on Israel Shahak, a Holocaust survivor turned anti-Zionist civil rights campaigner in Israel. He has paid special attention to the efffects of Jewish fundamentalism on Israeli policy and politics. I’m just beginning to absorb this material. Thank you again, Jorn.