Ambigamy

Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

I'm Not a Self-Hating Jew, I'm a Tribe-Unexceptionalist Jew

Time to cool the tribal exceptionalism--all of us

I was born Jewish and like most folks I love myself and my tribe. I especially like our flavor of self-effacing irony, much as I love the self-effacing irony of other tribes, Mexicans, Black Americans. I suspect we come by through various seasons of being oppressed minorities, though I think most tribes were at one time or another the oppressed and oppressors.

I love my tribe, but tribe’s religion?  Not so much. We came up with one of the first formulas for Institutionalized Tribal Exceptionalism (ITE). Someone was bound to eventually, but it happened to be us. In a world of pantheists, tribes that believed in many gods, usually with a patron god (much as Catholic towns have patron saints) the Jews said “No there’s only one God and he cares about us most, and you can’t join us except by marriage.”

I don’t blame the Jews for coming up with this little bit of arrogance. Like I say, someone would have, but it’s not been good for the Jews or the world.

There have been other innovations in ITE. According to religious historian Elaine Pagel, the Essene Jews attacked other Jews with a new ITE formula: Those who aren’t with us are the devil’s spawn and so it is our duty on behalf of God to fight and kill them. But the Christians really went to town with that one, especially through the Gospel of Luke. 

And then the Apostle Paul developed another ITE: There’s only one god, he cares about us most and you CAN join us, which helps explain why there are 2.4 billion Christians, and only 16 million Jews.

Islam too accumulated more ITE bells and whistles, a litany of them accumulated in direct quotes from the Koran in this book, which I read and appreciated though I later discovered was written by a Jew-Exonerating Jew. Still mountains of direct quotes, even in translation rarely lie. Islam seems to add lots of ITE features, further ways to insist that its a virtue to kill the infidel.

I’m an evolutionary theorist, and know that it too became a source of ITE, the idea that Natural Selection picks preferable traits (which isn’t actually what Darwin meant, and isn’t actually true either) proved fodder to at least four new exceptionalisms:

Social Darwinism:  Natural selection favors the rich business owners

Socialism:  Natural selection favors the working class

Nationalism:  Natural selection favors the superior races (e.g. Germans)

New Age:  Natural selection favors the New Age spiritual

I like the opening of the movie Idiocracy for revealing how natural selection might actually favor slobs. 

But I notice the urge that all human tribes seem to have in common, the urge to find reasons why they are the exception: God grant me one reason why me and my posse deserve more.

Unlike many Jews, I don’t believe that the Palestinians are to blame for all the strife in Israel. I’m disappointed at how politically conservatives Jews seem incapable of applying our wonderful self-effacing irony to their strident vilification of Palestinians. They don’t seem to notice that they’re edging mighty close to the storm-trooper tactics that they reviled when imposed on them. Which is not to say that the Palestinians are blameless, just that the Israeli's aren’t either. By a long shot.

I’m not a supporter of AIPAC, the strongest Jewish lobby, which to me seems to have a stranglehold on our government’s decision making as powerful and lopsided as the NRA’s (See this article in this week’s New Yorker for evidence). AIPAC’s members and other Self-Exceptionalizing Jews label my kind self-hating Jews.  

I’m also not a Jew-hating Jew an accusation based it seems on a claim that my self is exclusively Jewish. It’s not. I’m a human first and foremost, a member of that encompassing tribe. I’m an embodiment and exemplar of human nature.

Like I say, I really don’t hate myself nor Jews. But I hate the excesses of tribal exceptionalism in all of its incarnations. I’m a recovering exceptionalist, a card carrying member of Exceptionalists Anonymous. So what am I? A Tribe-Unexceptionalizing Jew. 

 

Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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