Why do so many people hate Jews? - II

by <george.salzman@umb.edu>  2010-05-24
this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/t/2010-05-24.htm

Oaxaca, Mexico, Monday 24 May 2010

      In my last note I looked at the religious underpinnings of much of the hatred humanity is experiencing.[1] Today I'd like to tackle the relationship between — to put it crudely at first — Jews and money. There were of course historical reasons why a “special relationship” developed, initially between Jews and money, which I'll turn to momentarily. But it's obvious without further consideration that a


result of that “special relationship” that was harmful to Jewish people was the stereotype “Jew” as represented in the above ugly, hateful drawing with its emphasis on anti-social qualities. Logically I would have trouble establishing that the drawing is supposed to represent a Jewish man. Only the well-established stereotype identifies the repulsive person as a Jew. But let's not quibble over whether the drawing was, like Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, supposed to represent “Jewish qualities”. The stereotype was so firmly established that it's meaning could not be in doubt.

      I think it is a great mistake for anyone, Jewish or Gentile, to maintain that s/he is a person with high ethical values while seeking to gain income from so-called “investments”, that is, using money, whether saved or earned, to gain interest. I know this sounds bizarre to our “modern” ears. After all, it's argued, correctly, that borrowing is just a way of sharing — of helping one another. We do it all the time to fill a temporary need. If you borrowed a tool, a pair of pliers or a shovel say, and returned it in the same condition, undamaged, in which it was loaned to you, neither you nor your neighbor would think you should pay for the use of the tool. If someone has a temporary need for some money, why is that different?

The meaning of money, its insidious role

      There's no mystery about the meaning of the familiar phrase, “honest labor”. Peeling vegetables to prepare a meal, repairing a broken chair, gathering fuel for cooking, as the woman I saw on Cerro Fortin in Oaxaca was doing — these are a few of the almost numberless humble tasks that largely occupy the lives of most of us — more precisely, of the ordinary (unprivileged) people.

      Privileged people, like me, who have the luxury of doing enjoyable things most of the time (I sit at my expensive computer with a high-speed broad-band internet connection much of my “working day”) can try to rationalize the importance of our work to our heart's content, but we ought not fool ourselves. I remember seeing the Twin Towers collapsing on 9/11 (on TV in Cambridge, Massachusetts) and thinking that in all that destruction, not a single cabbage was lost, a cabbage being something of real value (not quite true of course). The idea was that the people there were busy pushing money around, not cultivating food. Not engaged in “honest labor”. Roughly accurate.

Woman collecting firewood on Cerro Fortin, 18 May 2010  

      So how do I rationalize my existence? Basically the same way every privileged intellectual tries to do. It's a familiar litany — the same any privileged person who is conscious of a “need to rationalize” his/her way of living — employs, by saying it was earned by hard work, if not by his/her own work then by that of a parent or other relative from whom the wealth was inherited. An intellectual often claims it was his/her own intellectual work that gained the privilege. But that is quite often only patly true, particularly if the family was economically privileged, in which case the child's education was usually heavily subsidized by the family.

      For a bit of diversion I borrowed Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time: From the big bang to black holes – from my friends at the Oaxaca Municipal Observatory at the summit of Cerro Fortin. Hawking is a famous scientist whose accomplishments mark him as a most remarkable and creative theoretical physicist. His success came despite his affliction with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), “Lou Gehrig's Disease”.[2]

      Hawking is surely one of the world's people who has thrived to an extent that would have been utterly impossible without the extremely generous support he received from many individuals and institutions. How wonderful that he benefitted from all the assistance! Still, it immediately comes to mind to ask, If British and American people did not control a disproportionate part of the world's wealth, would Hawking have received help of equal value? And if the answer is that it would have been far less, which I believe is almost certainly true, would that be, for the world as a whole, better or worse?

      That may be an uncomfortable question to answer, particularly if you are a relatively privileged American or Britisher. But the answer is key to your real feelings — because in fact the world's wealth is limited and if your honest response is that you prefer to keep your privileges, that means you favor (this is harsh) keeping other human beings in relatively poor conditions. To me it seems quite clear that the world, i.e. humanity as a whole, would be in better condition if there were no significant disparities in wealth. But if that had been the prevailing situation, Hawking would no doubt have been unable to achieve his striking human potential. How can one respond to this troublesome observation?

      I grant that Stephen Hawking's life would have been far less stellar. However, it's incontestable that with the large majority of the worlds' people forced to live in impoverished circumstances, there are vast numbers of individuals who could, with only a fraction of the support Hawking received, achieve rich fulfilling and in many cases brilliant lives. It's fair to say that they have been deprived of such possibilities because of the great inequalities in the distribution of wealth. And quite aside from considerations of possible brilliancy, just as a matter of decency and humane consideration of others, it seems to me desirable that people not live under the duress and fear that now is so common. Why, we should ask, ought anyone desire to live in a highly competitive social environment in which ones' self-esteem rests on demonstrating that his/her intellectual brilliance is totally beyond the reach of anyone other than a few “closest conpetitors”? To read Hawking's book is to experience a man who seems quite open, in love with life, attentive to his family, but at the same time believing the award of a Nobel Prize is extremely important. He mentions every Laureate in Physics he knows personally — a goodly number — as well as legendary figures such as Galileo, Newton and Einstein, practically every one a man. That listing itself demonstrates social sexism. Of course he, as everyone, is inescapably a product of the culture he lives in.

Back to Jews and Money, the “special relationship”
interest, usury, morality — What a can of worms!

      Returning from the speculations of elite physicists on the structure of the universe to the grubby realities of everyday life as most people experience it, I tried to learn a little about money. Google seemed a likely source of information. When I google
1. ‘history of interest’ the result is about a quarter of a billion sites (251,000,000);
2. ‘Rothschild’ yields almost eight and a half million sites (8,450,000); and
3. ‘history of usury’ gives just under three quarters of a million sites (742,000).

      That's 338 websites on ‘interest’ for each site on ‘usury’. And almost eleven and a half ‘Rothschild’ sites for each ‘usury’ site. Immorality, which is what usury deals with, isn't such a "big deal" as making a buck. In contemporary culture, the idea that income gained by interest is legitimate, i.e. ‘earned’ income is widely accepted. Some of us "cranks" hold that such income is at the very least somewhat tainted, and if the rate is 'high', it's tantamount to theft. In any case, Google is like an impenetrable swamp on this subject. I also looked in the vintage 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.[3]

      Although titled "Why do so many people hate Jews?", my real intention is to ask the more basic question, "Why do so many people hate rich people?" Before you exclaim "That's not true", and argue, "Quite to the contrary. What they want is to be rich themselves", think about situations when the “normal social controls” that you usually take for granted are not in place and "The mob runs rampant."[4] There must be numerous historical examples showing that people who live with consciousness that they do not have access to the goods and services available to others, whether close or distant neighbors, become envious and, if they see no possibility of overcoming the disparity, are eventually filled with hatred. It seems to me this is a normal response, of which the thoughtful, well-to-do members of a “democratic” society are quite aware, and therefore eager to maintain the hopes of poor people that they too can ascend the economic ladder. The mass media are full of accounts of individuals who, though a statistically negligible part of the population, have “made it” by their own initiatives. As long as the “rags to riches” hope is alive, the individual is unlikely to “join an unruly mob”. Another would-be Horatio Alger. Clearly propaganda can play a vital role in maintaining both the status quo and a state of relative tranquility even where there is a substantial division between rich and poor.

      As for the “special relationship” between Jews and money, my understanding is that it began in 380 when the Emperor Constantine declared Roman Catholicism the state religion of the Empire. Laws were promulgated that forbade Jews from pursuing their livelihoods in ordinary crafts and trades, and forbade Catholics from engaging in money lending for profit. I will leave it to those who are knowledgeable about this to offer corrections, which I'll welcome and post with this essay.

A historical cusp — the age of information
explodes — birth of a new era

      Never before has there been almost instantaneous global awareness of major social-political events. We are living in an age absolutely without precedent. Two events serve as markers for this abrupt change. For the first time in human history, and twice within six years, almost the total world population with access to news stood instantly united in its abhorrence at the actions of a nation-state —
1. First, at the U.S. attack on Iraq (March 20, 2003). Massive protest demonstrations, extending to every continent, were held, involving of the order of 12 million people.
2. Second, at the U.S.-backed Israeli attack on Gaza (27 Dec 2008), involving several million protestors.
      Those instant global revulsions at the actions of mass murderers (who still hold an armory of lethal weaponry) marks the start of the true ‘information age’, and with it the birth of growing global consciousness that the dominant system is unspeakably, brutally destructive and that we, the billions of ordinary people, in order to gain control of our own lives, will have to totally change the way societies are structured. The birth of this ‘information age’ became possible because of the explosion of information technology, and the very human desire to understand reality. Thus, in spite of the undeniably tragic times through which humanity is living, I believe the emergence of the true ‘information age’ is the counterdevelopment that will make it possible not only for our species to survive but to finally evolve into a truly civilized society. That is my hope and the source of my optimism for the future.[5]

Sincerely, G.S.


[1] Religion as a primary underpinning of ethnic hatreds. That paper, "Why do so many people hate Jews?" - I, is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/t/2010-05-16.htm .

[2] ALS, "Lou Gehrig's Disease," is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It is also termed Motor Neurone Disease (MND). Some of Stephen Hawking's illuminating comments about his life, composed with obvious candor, are excerpted at http://www.chninternational.com/stephen_hawking_and_als.htm . They show him to be a richly warm human being in spite of having been nurtured in one of the most elite, competitive groups of people imaginable, a life peopled with Nobel Laureates in physics, as is he.

[3] Interest and usury. An article in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica on the Rothschild family tells of Mayer Anselm [Rothschild] (1743-1812), the founder of the famous banking family receiving from a wealthy German landgrave, a count of Hesse, silver and other bulky tresures for safekeeping before fleeing the victorious French. Rothschild reportedly buried them in his garden, and dug them up when he could dispose of them, which he did, eventually returning their value plus 5% to the count. The article's author considered that 5% as showing the skill of Rothschild in handling the transactions.

[4] In The Road to Mobocracy: Popular Disorder in New York City, 1763-1834 historian Paul A. Gilje emphasizes the class nature of mass mob actions in a particular place and historical period.

[5] Changing History, 1 — A more general discussion than given here is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/t/2009-09-05.htm

George Salzman is a former American Jew living in Oaxaca, Mexico, an Emeritus Prof of Physics, Univ of Massachusetts-Boston.
All comments and criticisms are welcome.    george.salzman@umb.edu

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Initial posting of this page: 24 May 2010.
Last update: 24 May 2010