[ExI] Jews and Gentiles

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sun Jul 15 13:11:21 UTC 2007

Recall the old joke:  Abbe, a sincere and dedicated Jew realized he
was dying, and on his deathbed told his wife, "Quick, call a priest!"

"But Abbe!", she exclaimed, "Here you have a been a completely
devout Jew your entire life. Why on Earth do you want a priest?"

"I want to convert to Catholicism!"

"But why, Abbe?"

"It's better for one of them die than one of us!"

Now I was totally innocent American white shortbread, abysmally
ignorant of what religions or cultural practices my ancestors 
subscribed to back more than one or two generations. (They 
were generally Protestants of one kind or another, but ignorant
as the hills.)

I had no clue, even in my late twenties, how rent most societies
were by tribal, ethnic, and religious rivalries.  When as a boy we
joked about Italian gangsters on TV, we just thought that it was
the funny way they talked, and that in reality everyone saw everyone
else as "the same", (except black people who were colored funny
and Asian people who had strange facial characteristics, and Mexicans
who'd been out in the sun too much).

Utterly no clue.  Meeting anyone on the street---except those very
rare aforesaid instances of people who seemed like foreigners to me
---I  intuited a strong symmetry:  they were just like me in all important
ways (forgetting very surface differences in education or attitude,

Then at age 29 I went back to school to learn something about
computers, and ran into a statistics professor who was *very*
Jewish.  We got to be friends (or at least friendly in the way that
sometimes students and teachers sometimes get to to talking
about other things after the student has shown up in the professor's
office with a question about class).  It didn't take him long to get
to talking about Jews and their accomplishments. For example,
one day he announced that some really smart Omaha ten-year-
old boy had just been accepted at some college back east, and
said "That's got to be the smarted kid ever to come out of 
Omaha!".  The point of his story was that the kid was Jewish.

I retorted that Von Neumann had converted to Catholicism on
his deathbed  (this was before I heard the old joke).  "So what",
said the professor, "he was born Jewish and raised Jewish".

I was stunned, and had no reply.  I hadn't realized that many
Jews (correctly, of course) saw themselves as a separate people.
(Now "assimilated Jews" are another story---people are free to
look at these things any way they want.)  What I should have
asked him, however, was this:  "Suppose my friend who has
been thinking about doing so converts to Judaism tomorrow.
Is he then a Jew?" 

He would have had to explain the whole thing to me, I guess.
The truth is that many people are tribalists and many are not;
many give a whit about what happens to "their people" after
they're gone, and many don't.   I don't think that there is a
"right" or "correct" attitude. 

Evolutionarily, of course, caring about what happens to "your
people" or "your group" or "your tribe" is an ESS.  (That's
Evolutionarily Stable Strategy for the unwashed among you.)

Patriotism is another ESS, and in 19th and 20th century
western civilization, those groups who possessed it had an advantage
over those who didn't.   At least from the survival of the group
perspective, which, again may or may not be important to one.


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list