Friday, August 10, 2012

Two Books I have just read

I have just finished two books (at any point in time I am always reading three or four books – I can’t stand the tedium of one book unless it is unusually exceptional – which they rarely are).

Jewcentricity by Adam Garfinkle is a worthwhile read as it attempts to answer the question – Why does it appear as those the Jews (for better or for worse) are at the centre of everything? Or to put it another way: Why is the world so obsessed with Jews? He looks at both the antisemitic and philosemitic trends throughout history and provides some useful insight especially into the latter (using a historical chronology that I am always partial to). I found the first part of the book refreshing but the second portion dealing with Jewish centric issues in the US and the Islamic World has been better handled by others. Dennis Prager, Alan Dershowitz and George Jonas to name but three.

Garfinkle is too forgiving of the anti-Judaism of George Soros and says virtually nothing about the way Jewcentricity in the most negative sense has infiltrated the campus dialogue. He also downplays the role of the Jewish gift of ethical monotheism (arguably one of the most critical developments in philosophy) and its tremendous impact on Western Civilization while virtually sidelining the vast Jewish role in the sciences (and academics as a whole) to a cynical and childish swipe at those Jews who too often bring this up. His arrogance (as an armchair intellectual) is both unnecessary and uncalled for.

Jews have a right to be proud of their achievements as they have batted way above average on many fronts – science, education, philosophy and ethics - and we as Jews should not have to apologize for it nor should we forget it. The world is a far better place because of Judaism and the Jewish contribution to the historical narrative. Jews have every right to feel proud of such a success. Garfinkle's tragedy is that he has allowed his internationalism to forget that. One cannot help but notice that his argument (which I don't believe was his intention) is closely linked to the same relativistic cods wobble (and post-modern nihilism) that Obama and co. follow when conveniently dissing American exceptionalism. Garfinkle should have explored in depth the interrelationship between Jewish philosophy and achievement before commenting on this issue. He did not, and clearly leaves the reader disappointed and devoid of a more thoughtful discussion.

While Garfinkle’s conclusion that both Jews and non-Jews need to ‘relax’ and lessen their focus on Jewish importance in the global sphere is appealing it also sparks of a simplicity and indeed a luxury that belies the safe and secure position that Garfinkle enjoys as a very fortunate American Jew. In short Garfinkle fails to emerge from his localized milieu and his book reflects this. While I would urge a read there are clearly far better works on the subject.
Ranking: 6.5/10

Thinking with your Soul by Richard Wolman deals with the fascinating topic of spiritual intelligence (something that has been on radar very much as of late). Wolman has created a test to identify seven aspects of spirituality (Psychomatrix Spirituality Inventory - PSI). The aspects are described below on his website:

· Mindfulness - attention to bodily processes such as conscious eating, regular meditation, and exercises such as Yoga or Tai Chi.

· Intellectuality - a commitment to reading and discussing spiritual material and sacred texts.

· Divinity - a sense of divine source of energy, Higher Being or awesome wonder of natural phenomena.

· Childhood Spirituality - explores the spiritual experiences of youth, including attendance at religious services or being read to by parents from sacred texts.

· Extra Sensory Phenomenon - experiences that pertain to "sixth sense" or the paranormal.

· Community - social activities including PTO or work of a charitable nature.

· Trauma - crisis oriented stimulus to spirituality such as illness in self or others or the death of a loved one.


I personally scored well above average on six of these seven psychometrics (which I expected as spirituality is central to my life however on mindfulness I was only much for more scientific scepticism). Wolman’s breakdown has much promise. I am particularly interested in the nexus around Divinity, Childhood Spirituality and Intellectuality but his follow through when further analyzing how each of these attributes can be more rigorously quantified lacks real rigour. Wolman is full of apologies and seems to realize this truism but does not provide a plan as to how he will attempt to deal with this shortfall. Part of his problem is that Wolman is too wedded to the appealing but empirically poor model of multi-intelligence that  Howard Gardiner advocates (the model is more an exercise in feel good psychology than anything else). He needs to step up and become his own man, unafraid of the niceties of political correctness and solid in his own defence as his ideas are to valuable to be compromised by the wishy-washy anything goes mantra that his book quickly devolves into.
Ranking: 6/10

Post a Comment