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James Brody James Brody is offline
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Arrow G-d and Lotka: Why Most Jews Are Liberals

Norman Podhoretz schmoozed with Presidents Carter, Reagan, Nixon, Ford, G. H. W. Bush, Clinton, and “W.” He’s also a scholar with many well-chosen friends; his wits are clear at 81 and he asks important questions, pulling me into one when he asked, “Why are Jews liberals?” And his recent book demonstrated that not only are they liberal but stubbornly so even when it appears to be against their best interests!

Despite the politics that nurtured his question, answers to it might come from biology and physics. First, liberalism (collectivism, sharing) and conservatism (individualism) occur widely in nature. Second, living creatures—whether coral, chimp, or Vassar coed—make their individual environments as well as being shaped by them. Third, network physics reveals certain fundamentals of self-organized arrangements, rules that apply to crystals or to political groups. Finally, the Jews had millennia of self-arranged, close interaction with each other, an interaction that protected many of their traits from outsiders.
Families and tribes formed a virtual egg that nourished and insulated them from interlopers and deserters as well as from disease, armies, and alien gods. It is possible that the merchants, teachers, clerics, and fathers who were verbally persuasive, persistent, and socially adept moved into pivotal roles that led to a greater choice of female partners. The surprise is the extent to which tradition served the interests of not only men but also of their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, interests served by how they chose mates even when the choice was negotiated by men who heard women’s demands before breakfast, in the fields, market, or synagogue, at the dinner table, and in bed.

On the one hand, the Old Testament testifies to male achievements because males boast about their own accomplishments in feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproductive behavior! (Miller, 2000; Wright, 2009) On the other hand, female audiences listened to and graded them. Hrdy’s notion of “female choice” could have had its influences without the males recognizing it.
The trick is to understand that the factors that make a people “smart” can also tend to make them “girly” and our popular jokes about “Jewish mothers” and “Jewish princesses” belittle their real influence. In this subtle, millennial war between the sexes, the ladies persistently win with methods that Sarah Hrdy would understand.

A Womb with Sometimes a Liberal View
“…to an extraordinary degree, the predilections of the investing sex—females—potentially determine the direction in which the species will evolve. For it is the female who is the ultimate arbiter of when she mates and how often and with whom.” (Hrdy, 1981, 18)

“Jewish tradition is committed to the Great Society and to Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, especially Freedom from Want.” (Podhoretz, 2009, 276)

There is little surprise that political beliefs have contributions from genetics (Wilson, 2009; Alford, Funk, and Gibbing, 2005); the surprise is that political bias may be influenced by the regulatory options for every set of structural DNA, options influenced by in utero events (Haig, 1993, 2002; Burt and Trivers, 2006).

1) The imposed influence of parents on a child’s behavior is greatest for the first two years of his or her life. Traits that are 40% heritable at age 4years are often 80% heritable at age 60 years. Buying him books and reading to him will boost his IQ for a short time and by a small amount. Every eight-year-old, however, chooses friends, books, memories, and now websites consistent with his personality (Plomin, 1994). Obviously, parents and children train each other but from the instant of conception the carrot and stick are usually in the mind and hands, smiles and frowns of the child. (This arrangement allowed adults and children to rear each other for seven million years without child psychologists or special education teachers!)

2) “Female” and “male” habits occur to different degrees in each of us regardless of the appendages and tunnels above our thighs.

“Female” is associated with a greater degree of cooperative behavior and an awareness of the feelings and opinions of mostly other females. Further, women and girls of several primate species shape males, men, and boys into conformity with rules (Suomi, 2006) and—reinforced in humans by clerics, pediatricians, and psychologists—do so with help from schools, best friends, courtship rules, marriage counselors, parenting classes, and divorce, assisted at times by high-verbal lawyers and judges.

Males are generally stronger, more impulsive, less rule-bound, and more skilled with “discovery and analysis,” tasks that are usually managed by the right frontal cortex. Females are generally weaker, smaller, and blessed with a more diffuse but larger cerebral cortex but one without an expanded right frontal area (Cahill, 2006; Toga & Thompson, 2003; Goldberg, 2001; Goldberg and Costa, 1981; Goldberg, Podell, and Lovell, 1994; Goldberg, Harner, Lovell, Podell, and Riggio, 1994).

That is, the right cerebral cortex turns novelty into routines that, once established, follow a baton from the left until death. Such routines are externalized, stabilized, and protected by the elders, parents, lawyers, educators, clerics, and other folks with high verbal scores. In crises, older people tend to amplify their adherence to old routines while the youth experiment with new ones, not merely to annoy oldsters but because experimentation comes more easily to youth…especially to young males.
With school, marriage, and aging, most of us become less aggressive and more bound up in rules and routines.

3) “Genomic imprinting” in mice describes the opposite effects that occur when the same gene is inherited from the father or from the mother (Haig, 1993; Burt and Trivers, 2006). Maternal victories lead to a smaller fetus, smaller placenta, and better regulation by a mother of her own blood pressure and blood sugar. Maternal imprinting is also associated with a larger neocortex but smaller muscles and less dental enamel. (Katie Couric and Janet Reno would be good examples if they were mice! Mrs. Palin would not!)

Paternal victories in utero are associated with larger subcortical areas but a smaller neocortex, stronger dental enamel, sometimes larger deposits of brown fat, and greater organization in the brain systems that handle motor responses. Males tend to “use it up now because you can find more later” while the average female monitors when her next meal will appear. (I am basically happy with a nickel in my jeans; my former wife cried when I quit my state job after a heart attack but relaxed when—in private practice— I nearly tripled my former salary! And my productivity and happiness may have depended on my leaving the collectivism of a state institution and gaining the freedom to work according to rules that I made.)

In mice, nest-building, nursing, and retrieving errant offspring are done by females but are amplified by paternal genetic contributions! Thus, it may be no coincidence that human cheerleaders traditionally are buxom, shaped with a 0.8 ratio of their waist-to-hips, and advertize swimsuits, sports, beer, or fast cars. For example, Legislator Michele Bachmann, a political conservative, attended Oral Roberts University and has five children of her own and 23 foster ones. Governor Sarah Palin shoots moose, catches salmon, and cares for her five children, and both Bachmann and Palin annoy liberals. I wonder if the elites would love these women if they were infertile, flat-chested, lesbian graduates of Vassar!

Bottom lines: Prenatal environments influence the expression of genetic operating instructions that any one of us receives and our mix builds synchrony with the environments that we choose, change, or construct anew. Collectivism and individualism can be influenced by environmental stability or turbulence, including maternal health and the prenatal negotiations between mother and fetus. As populations vary in their concentrations of individualists and collectivists, cultures oscillate from one bias to another. The essential switches and levers are activated during gestation and vary the number of children and their size, impulsiveness, and timidity and in ways that tune the lives of the adults who emerge. It may be that the Jewish people have given us an extraordinary record of those events.

Chaos to Elections

“In Genesis, the same word, "va'yitzer," is used to describe the creation of both man and the animals: "va'yitzer Hashem Elokim et ha'adam afar min ha'adamah," "And the Lord G-d formed man of the dust of the ground." (2:7)’

“… the drama of life is like a puppet show in which stage, scenery, actors and all are made of the same stuff. The players, indeed, ‘have their exits and their entrances,’ but the exit is by way of translation into the substance of the stage; and each entrance is a transformation scene. So stage and players are bound together in the close partnership of an intimate comedy; and if we would catch the spirit of the piece, our attention must not all be absorbed in the characters alone, but must be extended also to the scene, of which they are born, or on which they play their part, and with which, in a little while, they merge again.” (Lotka, 1925/1956, 183–184)

"The right-left axis aligns an astonishing collection of beliefs that at first glance seem to have nothing in common. If you learn that someone is in favor of a strong military, for example, it is a good bet that the person is also in favor of judicial restraint rather than judicial activism. If someone believes in the importance of religion, chances are she will be tough on crime and in favor of lower taxes. Proponents of a laissez-faire economic policy tend to value patriotism and the family, and they are more likely to be old than young, pragmatic rather than idealist, censorious than permissive, meritocratic than egalitarian, gradualist than revolutionary, and in a business rather than a university or government agency. The opposing positions cluster just as reliably: if someone is sympathetic to rehabilitating offenders, or to affirmative action, or to generous welfare programs, or to a tolerance of homosexuality, chances are good that he will also be a pacifist, an environmentalist, an activist, an egalitarian, a secularist, and a professor or student." (Pinker, 2004, 286)

Genomic imprinting perhaps underlies Pinker’s observation. Genomic imprinting can make partnerships more or less probable and can be viewed as one more way to assemble, stabilize, or disassemble aggregates. They will be found near and far and both within and outside of fetuses. Statistical physics, caricatured here, is a likely foundation.

1) Stuart Kauffman (1995), a theoretician, philosopher, and biophysicist, described “chaos” and “order” and the “phase transitions” between them. Relationships—as described by Sowell (2002) or by Pinker (2004—between the participants in a gas or a mob follow those described by Kauffman.

2) Philip Ball (2002a, 2002b, 2004) discussed the fact—one that’s not so odd once you get used to it—that groups of people act like groups of particles. Thus, you find mobs and loners and people who sometimes are one and sometimes the other. And the rules may not differ much from those described by Craig Reynolds for ‘Boids: move slightly faster than those around you, move toward the middle, and don’t collide with another player (Reynolds, 1987).

3) Albert Barabási (2002) and his partners (Barabási and Albert, 1999) identified phases in emergent (self-organizing) networks that could describe partnerships in Facebook. The first arrival in a setting becomes both the recruiter and the environment for the second arrival. Selection is not random and a different set of rules describes the cobwebbed connections between the players.

Emergent networks are described by power distributions, a step up from bell curves. Power distributions have greater numbers of large and small scores and describe earthquakes, neighborhood density, street size, I.Q. scores, and even neural networks. Two human populations can have the same average political bias but contain more individualists or collectivists than would be expected if chance operated and bell curves were accurate.

4) MacArthur and Wilson (1967/2001) described systematic changes (“K-selection and r-selection) in reproductive and social strategies as a function of environmental stability. Similar results are now described but with a different set of ideas. That is, self-assembled networks go through organizational phases: The “rich-get-richer” describes the first stage but as resources become scarce, the organization becomes winner-take-all in which one or two players control eighty percent of the transactions. Additional stress collapses the network into smaller components that are scavenged or resurrected. Nature, as if she had read Spengler or Toynbee, oscillates over time and in ways that explore choices!

5) New members are not randomly taken in. And a key factor in such recruiting is the similarity of interests between the participants. According to Strogatz (2003) Christiaan Huygens in about 1650 noticed “coupled oscillation”—that the pendulums on his clocks ticked at the same instant. Three hundred years later, Yoshiki Kuramoto (1975, 1984/2002) gave us math that explained why. That is, oscillators of any number—pendulums, engines, pacemakers, or husbands and wives, owners and their homes—come into synchrony as if a beating heart ties our universe together. All that is required is mutual influence and similarity between the oscillators (Strogatz, 2003). (Mackay, 1841/1980, described mass movements such as “tulipomania,” South Sea Bonds, mesmerism, and a dozen other fads. He didn’t connect these events with clock pendulums. Bryan Daniels, 2005, has a magnificent demonstration of this effect. And perhaps to encourage mass communication and agreement, he put it on YouTube!) It is even likely that abstract and traditional art are attractive because they have power distributions that match those in the human mind (Brody, 2008).

The profound surprise that unfolds even now is that organizations of humans oscillate through stages (Barabási & Albert, 1999; Barábasi, 2002; Sowell, 2002, 2009; Pinker, 2002; Csermely, 2006) and do so in ways reflected in the politics of individualism and collectivism (Alford, Funk, and Hibbings, 2005; Giles, 2008). Furthermore, synchrony—even in political choices—magnifies similarities and suppresses variations. Spengler and Toynbee would have been impressed!

With time, stability, and scarcity, rules increase, education takes longer, and decisions are more tentative and more apt to be enforced by committees of elders, clerics, teachers, lawyers, mothers, and hives of soldiers, cops, and other government workers.

Back to the Jews

“Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of rules and laws and transnational negotiation and cooperation…The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable…” Robert Kagan (2002)

“European remorse for the sins of imperialism, fascism, and racism has gripped the continent to the point of stifling its creativity, destroying its self-confidence, and depleting its optimism.” Daniel Pipes, 2010, 1.

“Neville Chamberlain (1939) opposed the futility of war and ‘senseless competition’ in rearmament. He asserted that the peoples of all countries are ‘human beings like ourselves and desirous of peace.’ Further, it is important to see adversaries’s viewpoints and psychological problems—enmities, fears, suspicious, and misunderstandings—create a danger of war so that a relaxation of international tensions is crucial and for this, ‘personal contacts’ between heads of state are vital.” (Thomas Sowell, 2009, 245)

Sowell elsewhere argues that a similar view captured American society after WW2, during the Vietnam conflict, and lingers today in our debates about Iraq and Afghanistan. It also confuses our tactics for managing illegal immigration. George Will (2010) is probably correct:
“Once Americans are satisfied that the borders are secure, the immigration policies they will favor will reflect their -- and the law enforcement profession's -- healthy aversion to the measures that would be necessary to remove from the nation the nearly 11 million illegal immigrants, 60 percent of whom have been here for more than five years. It would take 200,000 buses in a bumper-to-bumper convoy 1,700 miles long to carry them back to the border. Americans are not going to seek and would not tolerate the police methods that would be needed to round up and deport the equivalent of the population of Ohio.”


The Jews are a crystal that draws looks and fingertips. They are stubbornly but proudly odd and choose conformity with each other rather than with the next American, Brit, Pole, Russian, or German.

According to Podhoretz, Orthodox Jews—the individualists described by Hayek, Pinker, or Sowell—are more socially conservative, embracing traditional marriage and opposing abortion. Reformed Jews are more apt to approve of abortion, support public education, disapprove of school prayer, and approve of extra-marital sex. The Orthodox attend religious services and decorate synagogues, the Reformed would perhaps rather skip services and decorate a government building.

The Reformed group should also be more talkative about “feelings,” protective of feminized males (e.g., academics, media specialists, and homosexuals), experience more anxiety, guilt, and depression, spend more time fretting about “fairness,” and, on the average, tend to be less athletic but more interested in clubs and cultural fictions. Military interventions are disapproved unless the state has no self interest in the outcomes: armies are for humanitarian purposes. The ACLU will probably draw members primarily from the Reformed!

The Reformed might also be less interested in the Old Testament (or in religion or insights from intuition) but more apt to lie and to deny lying, to pass as non-Jewish, to move into trades and professions that are dominated by rules and established procedures, and to be more attentive to gossip about reputations. Finally, they should be more apt to believe in the beneficence of government and to accept government’s rules and costs as “fair.” (In health care, transportation, family organization, education, and charity, the state should provide and good citizens should reciprocate. Irony: these biases duplicate those seen in the Third Reich, Soviet Russia, and in today’s secularized Europe where birthrates have collapsed and mosques sprout as if mushrooms after a spring rain!)

Liberalism in the Jews appears to be a function of the same biology and environments that lead to liberalism in the rest of us. And millennia of stability in the Jews is a function of their having— since they created the first five books of the Old Testament—rules and groups that reinforced spending lots of time with each other.

Bottom Lines

“Jews are liberal to disprove the notion that they have high IQs.” Michael Medved, 3/23/2010.

Civilization can be seen as a series of oscillations and an underlying war between the sexes but for reasons having nothing to do with Freud. And the trick in this case is to understand that being “smart” also collectivizes their social inclinations.

1) On average, heritability increases—surprise!—for many personal traits while we get older. The contribution of experience weakens because individuals choose their experiences (Plomin, 1994). Remember, every creature living both shapes and is shaped by his or her environment (Popper, 1984/1992; Turner, 2000) and the arrangements in our home are a self-portrait. Thus, “feminist” and “masculine” biases, set by intra-uterine pressures, should be magnified, cemented, and protected by the environments that each of us constructs both pre- and post-birth.

Isaac Babel, for example, stood in lines of other Jewish children in Odessa and took violin lessons. Young Babel, however, kept books and read them on his music stand. He was later praised by Maxim Gorky, became internationally famous, and at age 45, on orders from Beria and Stalin, collected a Bolshevik bullet. A high-verbal male, he left behind one daughter who later rescued him from obscurity. The other Jewish children in Odessa became conductors and concert performers and moved with their parents to New York.

(Along similar lines, Podhoretz told of the Jew who read Nazi newspapers in 1938 because the Nazi news was better: “Jews control the banks” in contrast to the Jewish papers that told of pogroms, kidnappings, beatings, and burned Jewish neighborhoods!)

Sowell (2009) describes the same phenomenon in Europeans and Americans and the mismatch in the ‘60s and ‘70s between battle statistics from Viet Nam and television scripts. Newspapers, magazines, television shows tend to repeat each other: Read Drudge every morning and you know half of what Rush Limbaugh will say! Even on conservative talk radio, staff dress the dress and talk the talk for a particular audience and stay up late to watch their ratings. And, of course, the high-verbals tend to be collectivists and move into academia, the media, and government jobs.

2) Female freedom—defended by nearly all of us—could also be a signal of cultural relativism, moral uncertainty, and an invitation to invaders. Madonna’s scampering can act as a lighthouse to Islam’s men and women; western women who battle Islamofascism by “asking strong questions” merely play into the enemy’s strategy.

3) Roger Sperry once remarked that a war goes on between the rule-bound left side of our minds and the defiant, inventive right. As individuals age, the left side gains dominance, the right frontal goes to sleep (Goldberg, 2001; Goldberg & Costa, 1981; Goldberg, Podell, & Lovell, 1994; Goldberg, Harner, Lovell, Podell, & Riggio, 1994) The age of a culture and of its inhabitants may well predict the lines and hooks that anchor it between tradition and extinction. It may be more the age of minds more than the age of bones and biceps that predicts collapse.

4) Professionals in the news and entertainment may agree with each other and with political liberals because of affinities seeded by prenatal tuning...everyone is intensely aware of who knows whom and what to say to each of them. Risk-taking and differences between sources vanish because “the value of an intellectual” is determined by the opinions of other intellectuals (Sowell, 2009). The hidden cause: “Mommy made me do it!”

5) Faith, intuition, mathematics, and spatial abilities are vital to our culture, as vital as logic, remembering and following directions, rote memorization, and telling acceptable stories in church, law school, or college. Fortunately, young (and a few older) males monitor their fingertips and respond to short-term, immediate consequences rather than to lectures, nagging, and scolding. And political organizations might be healthier with fewer lawyers who have no erasers but invent rules and more engineers and surveyors who ignore or erase the rules that already exist. (Washington and Lincoln were both surveyors!)

6) Nature’s disasters—floods, earthquakes, and glaciers—make reproductive “bottlenecks” that divide living creatures into separate communities. Highways and wars can also make a barrier where none existed before. It is conceivable that the millions of soldiers killed in WW1, WW2, and Korea were self-selected heroes whose least fearful did more fighting but also died first. The French army was clearly different just before WW2 from that same army before and during WW1 and so were the people from which it was organized (Sowell, 2009). The German army, never convinced that it was beaten in WW1, still retained its idealists, adventurers, and gamblers (Rees, 1998).

It is also likely that Jews who migrated to New York or lined up for trains to Belzec or for Babi Yar were different from those who dug under the fence in Warsaw or escaped to the forests in Belaruss and later migrated to Israel. The differences we see between Israeli courage and New York pacifism could well be products from several kinds of self-sorted ancestors.

Podhoretz’s question carries danger for anyone who addresses it outside the usual frame of culture. For example, the greater degrees of liberalism found in Ph. D.s is sometimes attributed to the influence of lectures from liberal professors. It is, however, just as possible that students with leftist tendencies identify themselves by eye-contact and questions and—by elicitation, imitation, reinforcement, and mutual selection—stay in school long past their baccalaureates. And there is little or no evidence that sending an individualist child to a collectivist school weakens his individualism!

While it is possible that harsh environments “made the Jews feel excluded,” it is also likely that their sense of being special but cheated and abandoned and competing in their despondency by kvetch and counterkvetch (Wex, 2005), increased their chances, in fact, to be excluded. Again, living beings make and retain environments and do so with muscle, word, and costume. And the Talmud may be a “liberal” document because at the time of its writing, liberalism was already part of the Jewish nature.

Fortunately, I am at a phase of life when I can take chances such as this essay. And like Podhoretz, I look for important questions. In this case, the cyclic progression of cultural habits and beliefs lines up with some ideas from network physics and gives an order to our history. The people of a culture choose their beliefs and—as Toynbee noticed—secularism, a loss of assets, and enforced conformity not only underlie sharing but also may be preludes to the collapse of a society.

Podhoretz may be correct when he describes liberalism as a new Torah, one in which social rules duplicate nature’s rules and the glories of socialism replace those of God. (I. J. Singer noticed the same thing!) Neither Podhoretz nor I, however, can preach our scheme as if it were the Law or gospel. My love and respect for “maybe” are too powerful.

I admire Norman Podhortez as I admire all honest men who ask good questions. I wish him well.


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Unread May 5th, 2010, 12:07 PM
Jasper Jasper is offline
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Default Re: G-d and Lotka: Why Most Jews Are Liberals

Thanks, very interesting
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Unread May 6th, 2010, 09:59 AM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Cool Re: G-d and Lotka: Why Most Jews Are Liberals

A warning to readers!

I spent three months writing this.

Commentary needed two days to reject it...

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