To This “Rationalist” Economist, Rabbis Are the Most Reasonable People Around

In a wide-ranging conversation, the distinguished economist Tyler Cowen addresses, among many other topics, religion and his own connections to an intellectual community of “rationalists.” A professed agnostic, Cowen is also a strong believer in the importance of religion and religious values in shaping human behavior, and believes that many of the virtues that have defined American society have religious roots. He has some thoughts about Judaism as well. (Interview by Lydia Laurenson.)

I once sat down as an exercise and tried to ask myself, “Of all the different classes of people I know, who are the most rational?” I think my answer was rabbis. Now, I’m not Jewish. I don’t intend [that answer] as religious commentary. Rabbis have people come to them all the time with their problems, and they have to give advice or help people solve those problems. That makes them very rational. You could say, “Well, rabbis, by a rational standard, have all kinds of beliefs that wouldn’t pass muster.” Maybe that’s true. I don’t even believe in God myself, but at the same time, isn’t it odd that rabbis are perhaps the most rational people as a class?

That kind of point, it seems to me, has not sunk in enough with the rationalist community. They think they are the most rational people, and somehow I doubt that. I’d love to see a study measuring the decisions people who identify as rationalist make in their romantic [and] personal lives, for example—how rational those decisions are, compared to other individuals. I suspect they’d come out slightly below average.

It seems to me there’s something about common-sense morality, and an understanding of the imperfections in real-world institutions, that should be refined in [religious] communities. In that sense, I’m more influenced by Adam Smith and David Hume. Tradition has embedded wisdom, even though you can’t always defend or justify it.

Read more at New Modality

More about: Economics, Judaism, Rabbis, Rationalism, Tradition

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University