June 15, 2012

Jews less sociable, even in secular settings

At Starbucks there's another regular who I realtalk with, and it's a lot more enjoyable and productive than writing and reading about the same non-PC topics over the internet. Oral communication is more conducive to getting into the flow of a conversation and tossing out ideas, whereas literate culture tends to be more conscious, deliberate, and edited (and less humble). We're just not adapted to it, so it takes more conscious effort. It's a reminder of how valuable it is to seek out people in real life to talk about stuff, even if you could find more of them on the internet.

Anyway, we were shooting the bull about Jews yesterday, and we got onto the issue of how much they participate in community life -- specifically the kind of regular, face-to-face gatherings that bond a community together, as opposed to infrequent, mediated communication at a distance, which is more for cohering an ideological group of fellow-travelers around their abstract common beliefs.

It made me think how, all the time I've lived around Jews, they not only didn't seem to participate as much in overall community life, but didn't even hold similar gatherings for their own ethnic-religious group. The data below answer only the first part, about how involved they are in overall community life.

But it's striking how there's very little Jewish-only communal life either, as though they were merely keeping to themselves but showing the same level of communal behavior. Most of their organizations are for abstract principles, don't meet perhaps at all or only infrequently, and relate adherents to each other only at a distance -- writing letters, donating money, etc., rather than sitting near each other and talking, holding dances, and so on. Not only can't Jews stand to interact personally with Gentiles, they can't even stand one another. It has to be abstract, impersonal, and mediated.

The only exceptions are the very thriving organizations aimed at Jewish youths. They go to Hebrew school, have a bar or bat mitzvah, go to a Jewish summer camp, travel to meet other Jewish teenagers through the B'Nai B'rith Youth Organization, attend Hillel functions at college, maybe even fly to Israel to connect with their roots while their minds are still impressionable. It looks mostly like ethnic indoctrination -- isn't that what you'd call it if it were German-Americans instead of Jewish Americans? Once they're grown-ups, however, they don't really associate with one another very much in real life, it seems.

Now for some data on overall community involvement. The General Social Survey asked four questions about how often you spend an evening socializing with different groups of people -- by going to a bar, being with a friend, a neighbor, or a relative. To focus on the ties that bind, I only counted responses that were "almost daily" or "several times per week." I restricted respondents to white liberals with an IQ of at least 120. This controls for some of the major demographic differences between Jews and non-Jews. Also, because we're looking at frequently meeting other people, population size of the respondent's area was restricted to anywhere up through 100,000.

Here are graphs showing the percent of each group that frequently interacts face-to-face in the four settings. "None" doesn't necessarily mean atheist, but no religious preference or identification.

Overall, Christians interact personally more than Jews, although the none-religionists are a bit above Christians. Not surprising, given that these are secular settings (I'll add in church below). To do a factor analysis, I had to lump the two Christian groups together, but again they seem similar enough anyway. There's a single factor underlying all four measures of sociability, meaning if you tend to relate to people in one setting, you tend to relate to people in the others as well. On this general factor (in standard deviations), Christians score 0.4, Jews -1.1, and None 0.8. That's a 1.5 s.d. difference between Christians and Jews, as though Jews were on average 4.5 inches "shorter" than Christians, if we treated sociability as a kind of "height".

Now we'll throw in church attendance, since people don't only meet in secular settings. I only counted responses that were "every week" or "more than once per week" to keep it in line with the secular questions. Now the factor analysis can maintain the original four religious groups. A single factor still underlies the pattern, although going to a bar doesn't load on it. Thus, sociability is more about being with friends, neighbors, relatives, and church members, and not so much about going to a bar.

On this general factor, Protestants score 0.5, Catholics 0.7, Jews -1.5, and None 0.3. This is more or less what we saw above, only now the None group is a bit less sociable than the two Christian groups. Jews are still remarkably anti-communal compared to Christians, as though they were 6 inches "shorter" than Protestants and 6 1/2 inches "shorter" than Catholics. Those gaps are astounding, more like chasms.

Unlike some of the other studies I've done comparing Jews to other groups, here they're not part-way between the Christians and the None group (i.e. Jews as a mostly non-religious people). Here even the group that professes no religion still relates a lot more to people in real life than Jews do, standing nearly 5 inches "taller" than Jews. You know this from your own experience -- the people who say "None" will still hold a cook-out, throw a party, go camping, sit around and get stoned, or find other ways to hang out with each other regularly. However, being drop-outs from the religious culture, they don't also meet in a sacred setting.

Jews are in a class by themselves when it comes to walling themselves off from people, though. They just can't stand them. As detailed earlier, it has to be mediated communication, and about something abstract rather than palpable. They do have a reputation everywhere for being extraverted, pushy, and talkative, but that must be mostly from their penchant for striking bargains and sealing deals, an adaptation to the managerial niche that the Ashkenazim have occupied for most of their history in Europe.

Their extraversion then is more opportunistic -- what's in it for me, let's find a mutually beneficial arrangement, etc. Gentile extraversion is instead more communal and egalitarian -- let's all have some fun and help each other out, without worrying about exact terms and counting who may be enjoying the interaction more than who else.

As Gentile societies become more managerial, we can only expect to wind up more like the Jews through convergent evolution. That should be one of the strongest warnings that we don't really need to go any farther in that direction. Look what happened to the experimental group that really went with managerialism -- they may be smart and inventive in math, technology, and hard science, but we're smart and inventive enough ourselves. Plus they're quasi-autistic, and hate interacting with other people in real life, not just from the out-group but even their own kind.

Even putting aside the very real dangers of what a brainy, managerial group can create that would wipe us out or send us back to the stone age, and only looking at what good could come of it -- putting 1% fewer man-hours into production, or paying 1% less for our basket of goods, is not worth trading in man's defining sociability.

GSS variables used: relig, socbar, socfrend, socommun, socrel, attend, race, wordsum, polviews, size


  1. "At Starbucks there's another regular who I realtalk with, and it's a lot more enjoyable and productive than writing and reading about the same non-PC topics over the internet."

    Yeah, I'm sorry about some of my rants on assortative mating. It is difficult to find people in real life to talk to, though.

  2. No I don't mean that, just that people can't do stream-of-consciousness more in a literate vs. an oral mode. So talking is better for coming up with ideas (even when I come up with them myself, I'm imagining myself talking to others, or talking out loud imaginarily to others).

    Media is for honing the ideas, making them more presentable, organizing them, etc.

    The internet is good for that, but people have to talk a lot more than they do these days. And not just about which farmer's market has a sale on organic poodle spit smoothies.

  3. Yuri Slezkine talked about broader society adopting more "Jewish" traits in his book. They seem to be the most successful ethnic group, so doesn't sound bad. I'm much more disturbed by the thought of Idiocracy. Even the Idiots know it's better to leave their dysfunctional societies for the competent & organized ones.

  4. The notion of Jewish asociality runs counter to my experience and observation -- in a big way. You have provided some GSS data, but my reflexive skepticism makes me wonder about the raw number of Jews in the comparative samples?

    Maybe Appalachian Jews are just different.

  5. "Yuri Slezkine talked about broader society adopting more "Jewish" traits in his book. They seem to be the most successful ethnic group, so doesn't sound bad. I'm much more disturbed by the thought of Idiocracy. Even the Idiots know it's better to leave their dysfunctional societies for the competent & organized ones."

    Many of those so-called "organized" societies are repressive.

    Agnostic seems to be making the point that a managerial elite are "organizing" society for their own benefit. People don't need to be organized by a self-appointed priest class.

  6. I was speculating about the masses themselves taking on the traits of a managerial elite.


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