Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Jewish" as privilege

Your regular programming (you were to be getting a post on personal-style blogging) is interrupted to bring your attention to this pile of whoa. I think this guy might be someone who lived in my dorm freshman year (sweatshirt logo suggests yes), but he kind of looks like a lot of people, so maybe, maybe not. That is not our concern. What is our concern is that this 1%er who stands with the 99% writes:

I have always had many advantages. I am: 
1) White 
2) Male 
3) Jewish 
4) Son of Wall Street bankers who never had to worry where his next meal was coming from or how to pay rent. 
And I have a trust fund valued at over $1 Million.
WTF, WTF, WTF re: "advantage" #3. Emphasis mine, but really, this ought to have leapt out at you even without the font-fussing.

This... relates to my mulling, I suppose, about how trustafarian self-hatred and Jewish self-hatred (sorry, commenter Dan O. who hates the term) are intertwined. But do not bog yourself down with my links back to related discussions here at WWPD. I want to know what it means that dude here is listing his being Jewish as an advantage. How that is not redonkulously anti-Semitic?

23 comments:

eamonnmcdonagh said...

The standard explanations offered as to why it isn't antisemitic are, a) the dude in question is a Jew and nothing said by a Jew can be antisemitic and b) he is not advocating that a start should be made to finishing Hitler's work by executing Jews in batches of 50 to get into the swing of things and gradually build up the number till we get rid of all of them. Everybody knows that any less brisk opinion about Jews is not antisemitsm and and to suggest that it might be is a merely an attempt to to divert criticism from/silence debate on.... etc etc etc

Dan O. said...

It is prima facie anti-Semitic. Of course, on a glib blip like that, a first look is all one expects. So, I agree - it is anti-Semitic full stop.

I think there are some advantages to growing up with Jewish values, broadly speaking. To the extent that 'being Jewish' is shorthand for growing up in a family structured by those values (plus some distinctively Jewish culture), I do think it's an advantage. That's an oversimplification, but when I say that my wife and I believe that we advantage our kids with a (religiously lax) Jewish household, broadly understood, I don't think I'm saying anything remotely anti-Semitic.

However, the explicit mix between entitlement and ethnicity pretty much rules out my kind of explanation in this jerk's case. So, damn that excuse.

I don't like the self-hating Jew language, because it often results in what I call 'Wissian degeneration', where an ordinarily smart and hard-headed thinker utilizes a mushy psychoanalytic concept to make links between disparate phenomena on the basis of zero evidence and a political agenda.

In that vein, I had a comment prepared for your 'mulling', but it got lost in transmission. I'll just say this - I don't think much of your idea that younger Jews feel guilty about their parents' unwavering support for Israel. I mention this because I think the concept referred to by 'Jewish self-hatred' classes this supposed phenomena with assholes like the guy, who explicitly goes in for anti-semitism. And I maintain that this is the truth about this concept, whether you like it or not.

Without relation - can this dude spend please spend some of his trust fund on a decent outfit? I'm on your side when it comes to fashion.

Sigivald said...

TL;DR version of a ramble I didn't even feel like posting (and granting, as you might have inferred from previous comments, if they were worth remembering, that the entire "privilege" narrative is one I find baffling and reject per se):

If he's a self-hating Jew because he thinks being Jewish has given him privilege*, what does that mean about his identification of "white" and "male" as also providing privilege?

Are they also indicators of self-hate "as a white person" and "as a man"?

If so, that's... a bit much even from my reflexively-opposed-to-the-entire-endeavor position.

If not, what's the difference, in the privilege-examination context?

["What makes this self-hate different from all other self-hates?"

Sorry. Some wordplay I just can't resist.]

(* Bracketing the question of whether it "really has" done so, or whether his belief that it has has any possible basis in reality, though I suppose the truth or plausibility of that question ought to be relevant...)

Phoebe said...

Eamonn,

True enough. I have yet to see anyone deny that dude's remark here is anti-Semitic, but I have yet to see any response to it, beyond the assorted "likes" and "reblogs" it received. But that anyone would read this and be all rah-rah suggests either that people aren't really looking at what they "like" on the internet and merely clicking "like" whenever it's something they imagine fits their politics, or... that many now think "Jewish" is basically a synonym for "coastal elite," so why wouldn't dude have included this? That he did merely shows that he's in touch with more facets of his privilege than usual, so sensitive and caring. Aww.

Dan,

I'm not going to redo the whole debate about that term here, but it seems to me that someone who lists "Jewish" in this way is apologizing for being Jewish, as though "Jewish" is some quality that one received from one's parents, along with a million dollars, and must atone for, would qualify if anyone does. You think no one qualifies; fair enough.

Re: shame at parents' support for Israel, I'm not sure that this is such an issue for my generation (or, by extension, dude's generation). Maybe those in their 40s with parents in their 70s? I don't know when, exactly, but at some point there was a shift, and support for Israel came to seem dated, overly-particularist, right-wing, like you're Uncle Leo on "Seinfeld" or live in Del Boca Vista with Seinfeld's parents.

Finally, re: advantages to being Jewish, I think everyone who embraces a religious/cultural framework (which is different from the passive "Jewish" that dude inherited along with his million bucks) thinks positively about that framework. But that's not privilege.

If he means that he's from an "overrepresented" minority (of course, if he were Asian-American, there wouldn't be the added factor of their being longstanding myths about his kind controlling the world through finance), that Jews traditionally value education, traditionally not drinking much, etc., he's not adding that key bit of nuance about how some minorities are hated not for seeming to underachieve but for seeming to overachieve. Even if one is not comfortable calling Jews in America today marginalized (and we won't deal with this question in these comments because we're already too far afield in too many directions), it at least evens out. If dude has privilege from his ethnicity, it's from his being not black, or from his being white. It's not like doors open for you when people find out you're Jewish.

Sigivald,

It's uncontroversial (outside right-wing-extremist circles) that being white and male are advantages, in America and elsewhere. It's controversial to say the least that being Jewish constitutes privilege. Indeed, it can be rather convincingly argued that Jews constitute a marginalized group. Not the most marginalized in America in 2011, hardly, or even in America historically, but still marginalized. Whatever relative privilege this dude's heritage affords him comes from his being white, from his being non-black, not from his being Jewish.

Dan O. said...

Phoebe,

"You think no one qualifies; fair enough."

No, I think that if anyone qualifies, far too many qualify. Psychoanalysis is for therapy, not for politics. I believe that people who use it for politics are selling something. After all, an elaborately constructed ad hominem is still only a fallacy.

I'm happy with 'Jewish Anti-Semite'. There's no need to psychoanalyze someone in order to condemn him.

The existence of anti-Semitism here is uncontroversial. Neither is the fact that this dude is a fucking brat. Still, I don't care to ascribe to him a psychological problem that others are so willing to ascribe to me or members of my family.

Phoebe said...

Dan,

Not every post can rehash every debate, although I'll admit that I brought this one upon myself by mentioning this in passing. I think you've made it clear what your objections are to the term "Jewish self-hatred." While I agree that it can be overused (as in, applied to any Jew not 100% on board with whichever right-wing approach to the I-P conflict, any Jew who marries out, any Jew who isn't religious, doesn't keep kosher, etc.), I also think it points to a real phenomenon, or perhaps a few related phenomena. My conclusion last time was that one can speak of Jewish self-hatred but not call individuals self-hating Jews. Dude's post is making me reconsider... but why not look at it like this: dude's post expresses Jewish self-hatred. We can't know what goes on in the depths of his soul, we can't psychoanalyze him via some stupid thing he put on the Internet, but we can analyze the text, and to me, this is a text I'd file under, among other things, "Jewish self-hatred." Even if dude loves himself and loves being Jewish.

Anonymous said...

I guess I can see how this would be buying into the stereotype of Jews as privileged/uncanny moneymakers, the only aspect of being Jewish this idiot believes was his "birthright". But he is embarrassed by his unearned bounty, and unaware of negative historical connotations specific to Jews and money. If he is remarkably ignorant of Jewish history, does that make him a self-hating Jew?

Dan O. said...

Phoebe,

I think that post expresses Jewish anti-Semitism. If I thought Jewish anti-Semitism was identical to supposed Jewish self-hatred, I would have no problem.

You can file things as you like. But in doing so, you're subscribing (as your odd relation of a stereotype mocked in Seinfeld indicates) to the Kristol/Wisse narrative about Jews and power. It's not surprising that an ex-Trotskyite would find a grand pseudo-scientific narrative appealing, as such a narrative is endemic to Marxism.

I've always been fascinated by pseudo-science from Herbert Spencer and Peter Kropotkin to Marx, to the eugenicists. Because they all make the same mistake, over and over again - which is that history is such that, there must be some intrinsic cause within a segment of humanity that drives history to some inexorable goal. The narrative of Jewish self-hatred is that it is the internalized goal among allegedly effected Jews to promote the extinction of the Jews. It is not merely the fact that Jews can be anti-semitic. It's rather, that there's some sort of ethnic Stockholm syndrome of magical operation, transmitted down through the generations, that effects least Jews who have been directly victimized by violent anti-Semitism, but mostly Jews who have been victimized only by latent anti-Semitism.

The truth is that this is Ruth Wisse's concept. It is Kenneth Levin's concept. When you us it, like it or not, you class yourself with them. Maybe you too could go on talk shows a decade + after an important moderate is assassinated, say like PM Rabin, and explain to the world how he was kinda sorta just like Patty Hearst. Fun.

Phoebe said...

Dan,

"Jewish self-hatred" is a commonly-used expression. I'm not asking you to use it. And I agree with you that hurling it at individuals is in bad taste. But you're way off if you think that all who use it are somehow on board with specific strands of ex-Trotskyite pseudoscience. It is an expression that points to the specific problem of being identified by others as a member of a group that you yourself are bigoted against. This is not a phenomenon unique to Jews, of course. But it is different to be a Jewish anti-Semite, a gay homophobe, a black anti-black racist, etc., than to have these bigoted views and not be associated with the group in question.

I respect your choice not to use the term, and am not trying to convince you to use it, but I think you're digging too deep re: what others mean when using it.

Dan O. said...

Phoebe,

So you believe the writers I listed are a bunch of cranks?

Phoebe said...

Dan,

What I believe is that you're offering way too narrow an explanation for how this term is used. Do you really think those who use the term to mean "anti-Semites who are Jews" all know the history of neo-conservatism? Or that they're all, inadvertently, announcing that they take a particular stance wrt these writers?

Sigivald said...

It's uncontroversial (outside right-wing-extremist circles) that being white and male are advantages, in America and elsewhere. It's controversial to say the least that being Jewish constitutes privilege. Indeed, it can be rather convincingly argued that Jews constitute a marginalized group. Not the most marginalized in America in 2011, hardly, or even in America historically, but still marginalized. Whatever relative privilege this dude's heritage affords him comes from his being white, from his being non-black, not from his being Jewish.

Overall and generally, true. Well, at least the last part (given, again, that I'm dubious about "privilege" of that sort at the very basic level).

But that doesn't mean that he, personally has not experienced Jewishness as "privilege" rather than marginalization.

And if he has, due to the very specific social and personal context he operates in, can he be meaningfully gainsaid on it?

(Or in other words, does he have to be speaking for anyone other than himself, or any experiences other than his own?)

If it really does match his personal experience as being just as privileging, in his specifics, as "male" or "white", then it's not (can it be?) anti-Semitic, and more than the preceding would be anti-Male or anti-White.

Dan O. said...

Phoebe,

I know we're all tired of this argument. But to your last question my answer is, more or less, yes.

Phoebe said...

Sigivald,

If dude is Israeli and feels that he, as a Jew, has had it easier than Israeli Arabs, maybe he can specify this. But wherever you stand re: Israel, there is no institutional racism favoring Jews as Jews in America. He may have benefitted from being not-black, not-Arab, etc., but this still falls under the rubric of "white." If he thinks he has benefitted specifically from being Jewish - independent of being the white son of Wall St. bankers - that's a bizarre enough thing (not to mention one sufficiently evocative of well-known anti-Semitic tropes) to throw out there that he'd have to provide one heck of a lot more information. Whereas it stands to reason that he'd have benefitted from being white, male, and rich, and if anything the burden would be on him to prove otherwise.

Dan,

I'm not convinced, because:

-The term predates these writers. The phenomenon well predates them. Once we're author-name-dropping, see Sander Gilman.

-These are writers sufficiently minor that there's no reason to think those using or hearing the term "Jewish self-hatred" have read or even read about them. I mean, for all I know my entire blog expresses a particular stance to some theorist I've never even heard of. But there's a limit to what we can expect people to be attentive to. Dude, for example, should be sufficiently with-it that, even if he doesn't know the full history of economic anti-Semitism, he knows about its contemporary American manifestations, or at least has noticed that "Occupy Judaism" and other Jews involved with OWS are forever having to defend OWS of that charge. But specific theorists other than, say, Marx? No.

-Equivalent expressions/concepts exist for groups other than Jews; the dynamic referred to is the same if we're talking about "self-hating" gay homophobes.

eamonnmcdonagh said...

about the best thing I've read on OWS and also deals with matters relevant here

http://bit.ly/uznWw3

Dan O. said...

"The term predates these writers. The phenomenon well predates them."

Yeah, right, and Judah Maccabbee was the original hater of the self-haters. But he's not relevant (especially if Mel Gibson thinks so). The 1930's-1960's politics of assimilation is not relevant either. What is relevant are those figures who are driving the counter-cultural movement that makes the term relevant in contemporary culture.

"-Equivalent expressions/concepts exist for groups other than Jews; the dynamic referred to is the same if we're talking about "self-hating" gay homophobes."

No kidding. 'Self-hating queer' is just like 'self-hating Jew' in that it is not applied merely to the George Rekers of the world. If it were, I would not have a problem with it either. But, in fact, it is often applied to people who are partially closeted, or who don't meet some other political or lifestyle standard. I don't like it either, but it's not nearly so personal.

I've never heard anyone call another person 'Uncle Tom' in real life (except by my daughter, to my brother in law named 'Tom' :-P). I imagine I'd be pretty offended.

But how could I possibly think my understanding of the term has contemporary currency? Well, how about when the AJC promotes an essay as a contest-winner whose entire purpose is to call out an activist for being a self-hating Jew. Very timely: http://www.propagandistmag.com/2011/11/16/2nd-propagandist-essay-contest-and-winner

Maybe you know that Ben Murane, the object of that screed, and Dan Sieradski are principal organizers in Occupy Judaism. And so, now, you see that this self-hating Jew slur is meant to extend not to those expressing anti-Semitism (like dude), but at a much wider group who are not a bunch of non-self-aware ignoramuses. (Although, I contend, that Ben Murane drinks the Kool Aid by buying what, for example, AJC sells as definitive of Zionism.)

And so, we have come full circle. Calling dude a self-hating Jew fits a ready-made narrative that's there, again, whether you like it or not. And that narrative is meant to extend, by guilt by association, to things like Occupy Judaism, and from there to my neighborhood synagogue (which I don't attend often enough).

Putting your head in the sand and say, "but those people never read Wisse" is really beside the point.

Phoebe said...

Eamonn,

Interesting, although it kind of reads as though it's written by someone forcing himself, against his better judgment, to stay on the political left.

Dan,

I understand what you're saying, that "self-hatred" has been misused, that its misuse is offensive, and that for this reason, you want it scrapped. I will present a compromise position, as I did the last time, and say that I think we can refer to "self-hatred" but that we should hold off on calling individuals "self-hating" because we can't look into the depths of their souls, because it's not precisely themselves they hate, because it's essentializing, because it will either offend or more likely be worn as a badge of pride, etc.

I'm much more interested in what you and the others think about the significance of dude having listed "Jewish." Not in terms of dude's psychology, but in terms of the culture, in terms of political alignment, etc. My experience at this blogging thing should have taught me that referring back even in passing to the "self-hatred" debate here would have gotten things sidetracked. Alas.

Dan O. said...

Phoebe,

No, thank you. But I'll drop the issue, if it'll suffice.

As far as how the expression aligns dude, how's this for an answer: dude is ignorant of any positively Jewish progressive culture. And that's really hard to believe because we're so loud about it. But somebody needs to get in his fucking face. He doesn't look like he gets out much, and that might be the problem.

Perhaps some radical got in his face and told him that being an ordinary progressive is just so privileged and passe. He's got to do something dangerous. He's got to reject himself.

Maybe, he did it as an attempt to get into someone's pants. Dude looks desperate.

Phoebe said...

Dan,

In any future post, should the term come up, either I'll add, or you can assume the existence of, the following: "...which Dan O. finds horribly offensive and strongly objects to." But I'm not in love with throwing the term around, either, nor do I enjoy beating this particular dead horse.

Anyway, I wouldn't over-dwell on the sweatshirt, on what you call his "desperate" appearance. I'm not interested in bashing him on the basis of what he looks like, which is gratuitous and, while we're on the subject of offensiveness, potentially offensive, but in his ideological cluelessness or, if it's not cluelessness, what that's about. You may be onto something re: his being ignorant of the rather vocal presence of progressive Jews/Jewish progressives, if he so associates "Jewish" with "stodgy rich people." But he also might know and not care - in the past, economic anti-Semites never much cared that there are Jews on the left, working-class Jews, etc. Why should dude?

Dan O. said...

"You may be onto something re: his being ignorant of the rather vocal presence of progressive Jews/Jewish progressives"

Actually, I doubt it. Sorry, I was tired when I wrote that. It is hard to speculate from the position of a true believer.

A better answer may be that people like dude sees the intersection of class and the earnest Jewish Progressive movement to be such that we must eventually sell out. That explanation doesn't quite work, however, because it is circular. The alleged faithlessness that comes from the intersection between class and Jewishness is derivative of anti-semitism.

I guess I'm not sure that "stodgy" people is the problem. I'm guessing it's more likely likely that dude associates the baby-boomer history of selling out with Jewishness. Call it The Joe Lieberman Perception, that somehow Jewishness will necessarily betray progressive politics in favor of the establishment in the end.

Selling-out, of course, has everything to do with self-interest (or class and generational self-interest), and nothing to do with Jewishness. And Progressive Jews of one generation are likely to sell out the next only insofar as all progressives are likely to do so. (For every Joe Lieberman there's several Chris Dodds, Nancy Pelosis, and Bill Clintons.) My guess is dude may be too close to the situation to see that. Still, it doesn't make it not his fault.

Phoebe said...

Dan,

That could be. I think it's simpler still, and he just thinks "Jewish" means "coastal elite" but more so, white but more so. Kind of like nerdiness as whiteness-but-more-so.

Phoebe said...

Or, or! Maybe dude includes "Jewish" for an even more obvious (and anti-Semitic) reason - not because he thinks "Jewish"="privileged" but because he thinks "Jewish"="stingy" or at least perceived-of-as-stingy, and he wants to show that contrary to what one might expect of him, a Jew, he wants his taxes raised. How had I not thought of this immediately?

Dan O. said...

Phoebe,

If he wanted to show he wasn't stingy, he could at least buy a sweatshirt with taut elastic.

I'm just kidding.

Shabbat shalom.