Hey there. Been a while. Actually I just got back from Taiwan (I’m saying this in a “we do a lot of travelling” middle-class-person-showing-off-voice, by the way…this is the one where you pretend it’s no big deal to you while at the same time trying to emphasize it; I’ve worked pretty hard on this voice so I’m kind of proud of it).
As you know, I often project the image of a raving anti-Semite. But actually I hate people who are intolerant of other ethnicities. And the Basques.
Why is there a “q”? Why do they get the “special” language? Why is there Basque Freemason writing on the back of the American $5 bill?
Made you look!…Haha…too much Internet for you!
I’d like to Basque in the glory of this topic the whole day, but we have a book review to do, so let’s get started. The book is The Way of Brain Success: 猶太人の頭の中. The author is one Andrew J. Sutter. The Japanese translation is by his wife, 中村起子/NAKAMURA Kiko.
- Title: ユダヤ人の頭のなか / ユダヤジンノアタマノナカ
- Format: Non-fiction, Paperback
- Author: Andrew J. Sutter
- Furigana: Negatory.
- Genre: Personal development.
- Veracity: Non-Fiction
- Color: Black and white
- Illustrations: Essentially, none.
Structurally, this book is quite interesting…it was written in English by the author (who’s Jewish, so…we have a good chance that he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to “Jewish stuff”), but always with the intention of publication in Japanese; AFAIK, there is no English version bar Sutter’s original manuscript. TWOBS was intended from the start to be a Japanese book, and the translation was so good that it led one Japanese customer on Amazon.JP to comment that “it’s like it’s not even a translation”…if he knew the path to its publication, he would understand why he felt that way. So, in terms of style and audience, this is a purely Japanese book.
While the government of Japan refused to partake in the anti-Semitism that was terribly en vogue in let’s just say certain parts of Europe in the 1940s (and, well, frankly…even today on certain European island nations beginning with B and ending in ritain — at least at my high school), Protocols of the Elders of Zion-style judaeophobic books do exist here, unfortunately. Before everyone goes freaking out, there are also more level-headed books, like 加瀬 英明/KASE Hideaki’s ユダヤの力/YUDAYA NO CHIKARA. But the crappy books needed to be answered and Sutter was just the chap to do it.
But first, let’s get into:
Why Khatzumoto was even interested in a topic as ripe for grief, libel, slander, misunderstanding, simple crudeness, scapegoatery, scapesheepery and appalling violence, as Jewish science, I mean, success?
For the answer to that question, you need look no further than my undergraduate experiences.
Experience number one. It was a computer science class in the computer science building with the best computer science professor in the world (Iowa, represent!). Outside, summer. Inside, dark. Room, dimly lit. Whiteboard, white but hard to see. Professor, really interesting as always. And he, that man, my sensei, said something that is probably common knowledge for everyone else, but hit me like lightning. He said that the source of the worldly success enjoyed by the Jews of Europe in the past 250 or so years, lies in the fact that the Jewish men of Europe could all do something that almost all the gentiles could not: read. Indeed, another name for the Jews is “the people of the book”. Also, “the people of the Nobel prize”.
Experience number two. When I was a kid, I used to read and watch TV simultaneously. Often, I’d be reading two or sometimes even three books and watching the ‘levision. It felt entirely natural to me but a lot of people got on my case about it (Them: “Pick one!”, Me: “No!”). Then, in 2004 I’m at a college friend’s family house and her dad is in the kitchen with magazine on the table a novel in hand and a documentary on the telly and it was like everything was warm and fuzzy because finally someone understood me and it turns out he’s Jewish which tangentially connects it to this post.
Indeed, these college experiences helped set the stage for my literacy “revelation”, which I very verbosely shared with you here. I got interested in how the Jews as a people — with exceptions, of course — had risen, literally from the ghetto, to success in so many fields. How they dealt with every ridiculous obstacle that was placed in their way. Can’t own land? Learn a trade. Trade guilds won’t let you in? Deal with money. No access to reliable customers? Provide consumer financial services for high-risk clients. WASP law firms won’t let you in or make you partner? Make your own and win crappy cases until the whole legal world knows you’re the best. Your country kicks you out because they say your science is different? Go and be Einstein somewhere else. Columbia University won’t allow you to attend because they have a “Jewish quota” (WTF?). Go to MIT and become Richard Feynman anyway (smooth move, Columbia).
I bet the same idiots who whine about affirmative action now (can of worms! can of worms!) would have whined about “Jews winning all the university places” back when the Ivy League was busy rejecting Richard Feynman and anyone else who looked too smart and had a German-sounding name. Mediocre members of a majority ethnic group loooooove flapping lip about how some minority is ruining it for them; it happens in the US with ethnic minorities; it happens in Kenya with Desis; it happens in Malaysia with ethnic Chinese (my Malay friends are going to beat me up over this). Funnily enough, though, the smart kids of all ethnicities never whine: when you’re the best, you’re the freaking best.
As Sutter explains, culture is everything (not genetics: Sutter says the evidence just isn’t there). The Jews built a religious culture founded on literacy and encouraging of learning: learning itself was considered worship. Sutter describes a traditional ceremony in which children were given honey as a reward in conjunction with some activity involving reading or memorizing parts of a certain religious text; the aim of the ceremony was literally to teach them that learning is sweet (reminds me of how I used to eat Jelly Bellies after each Chinese SRS rep); in terms of behaviorism, this is so many types of right it’s not even funny. So, when the Haskalah came and restrictions on secular activity were loosened, it was a matter of shifting the focus of that prodigious intellectual activity from the finer details of religious jurisprudence to whatever presented itself in the world outside. Not to mention the fact that the ever-present danger of being “asked to leave” led the Jews as a group to seek a portable, long-lasting, borderless asset — more valuable than land, cattle or bling and quite impossible to steal: knowledge.
Sutter and Kase both recount various interesting fables passed down in the Jewish community, illustrating the value of brain over brawn in even the direst of situations. There’s one about a Jew who is brought to a magistrate in some European country in medieval times, accused of murdering a gentile’s child. The magistrate is a raving anti-Semite, but is also a gentleman, and so likes to give the appearance of fairness; he announces to the Jewish guy: “Look here, Greenbaum; I’m a fair man. Since there were no eyewitnesses and DNA forensic evidence tests haven’t been invented yet, let that God of yours decide your fate. In this hat are two pieces of paper, one says ‘guilty’ and the other ‘not guilty’. You pick. The paper shall be your fate”. Greenbaum knows that the magistrate reads too many shady conspiracy parchments, and is a thoroughgoing Jew-hater, and realizes that both pieces of paper say “guilty”; but there’s no way he could slander the town magistrate and live. Seemingly resigned to his fate, he mutters a prayer, reaches into the hat…pulls out a piece of paper…and eats it. Everyone goes into shock; his family is all screaming: “What are you Jewing?! Jew CRAYzay!”. And then he tells the magistrate: “the paper I didn’t pick is still there; you can check against it”. Greenbaum lives. Intellectual muscle saves the day. The end.
Another Jewish fable for children (this time from Kase) tells of a ship, again in dayes of olde. On it were two merchants and a scholar. The two merchants sell i-Parchments, designer clothes, bling and all manner of other luxury merchandise. They’ve been on the ship a few days, and the topic of conversation comes to the scholar and what he sells. The scholar tells the merchants he sells the most valuable merchandise in all the world, better than bling, designer clothes and i-Parchments. The other merchants are curious but puzzled. Bored, they ask around the ship, looking for the scholar’s merchandise. Eventually they realize that the scholar has no merchandise, and they’re like: “that Greenbaum kid is an egit”. Days later a storm hits, the ship sinks and almost everyone dies. The merchants and the scholar float ashore, stranded in a strange new land. With no insurance and all their merchandise gone, the merchants become beggars. The scholar goes into town and becomes a consultant for the king, makes a lot of gold and eventually uses his wealth to help his former fellow passengers back on their feet. Once again, the day is saved thanks to intellectual muscle.
Contrast this attitude to knowledge and its acquisition, with how many other cultures treat geeks and geekery. Think how most gaijin act towards Japanese-learning fellow gaijin. They call them names (“geeks”, “weebos”). They tell them to “stop pretending to read”. Tell them “they can do that at home”. They tell them to “stop acting Japanese”. Jock culture and sports heroes are lionized — and perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, it’s just that too many people forget that most sportspeople are in fact interchangeable pawns (always one injury away from being thrown away like so many used Kleenex) in a wider game played and run by the aforementioned geeks. Everybody wanting to be a gladiator when it would be safer and easier and far more profitable to be a stable owner instead…
Fortunately for me, my mother listened to TONS of Barbara Streisand when I was a child. What does that have to do with anything? Nothing whatsoever. But she was always going on and on and on about the value of knowledge this and Barbara Streisand that and no one can take knowledge away from you and are you even listening and put down the Game Boy and this is my favorite Barbara song.
My Japanese journey (and, even the Chinese one) had its fair share of opposition, but the early microculture of my nuclear family, the fact that our home was reader-friendly — this set a good example. Growing up it all seemed quite normal. But as an adult, I have met a few people who treat me like a freak who “reads all the time”; interestingly enough, their social station somewhat reflects this attitude to “booklurnin!”. It’s not like I’m an intellecual juggernaut (I want to be :D)…and it’s not like economics is everything — knowledge is valuable in and of itself. But, let’s be coldly realistic for a second: most manual labor is as unremunerative as it is taxing; while it is very valuable to society, quite frankly it is not valued by society at all. At all. On the other hand, intellectual labor is almost the total opposite — thinking up ways to do less (“laziness”, of a sort) wins extra credit. At least it seems like that to me.
Currently, all intellectual life depends on literacy. Not, I think, because straight text is a superior medium (quite the opposite), but because it’s been around longer, boasts the highest quality and quantity of content, and has been chosen as the primary medium of intellectual discourse in the society we live in (of course, oral-centric intellectual cultures have existed — Celtic civilization and Ancient Greece are good examples). Today, a good-sized bookstore or library (link to pictures of 誠品/Chengpin, a really nice bookstore in Taipei…I spent a whole night reading at their 24-hour branch 😀 …) simply has more and better information in it than the most premo premium cable. Thus, to cut yourself off from literacy is to cut yourself off from text is to cut yourself off from the bulk of intellectual activity and from the highest-quality information in the world. As a foreigner in a bibliocentric country like Japan, this means you are restricted to one of three roles: (1) sheltered expat, (2) cultural ambassador, (3) exploited manual labor. There is no middle ground.
The moral of the story is: don’t be a schlemiel; learn to read and keep reading — it’s fun and there’s a future in it. And get this book for the full story, because anything I say must be tainted and watered down quite a bit. Anyway, the massive worldwide Basque blogging conspiracy won’t let me make this post any longer, so…goodbye for now.