Multidisciplinary anti-shaming; Thoughts on “Exposing Systems of Anti-Jewishness” by Earon S. Davis
The book’s subtitle: How Bigotry Spread Through Christianity, Islam, Marxism, and Fascist Europe
You may be suspicious, like I am, when someone claims their approach is multidisciplinary. You may also think to yourself with dismay: not another book about the (history of) anti-Semitism. For these reasons, you may approach “Exposing Systems of Anti-Jewishness” by Earon S. Davis with prejudice, like I did. Don’t! I strongly urge you to give it a fair chance: I was pleasantly surprised when I read the book, and while doing so, my prejudice quickly dissolved.
The two issues I identified as red flags for my reading turned out to be the two finest aspects of the book, out of three. When I read in the preface (on page 5) that the author studied “law, public health, sociology, psychology, political science, anthropology, health science, history, philosophy, economics, information systems, communications, and world religions,” I thought that it was either empty boasting or at best had superficial knowledge of some of these areas. I have BAs in three of these disciplines and an MA in the fourth, so I consider myself somewhat acquainted with those sciences. Based on that, I can tell you that Davis is not just familiar with these subjects but has a wide enough knowledge to create an integrative overview. His arguments seemingly jump from one field to another, but when you reach the end of a line of thought, you realize how they are combined into one coherent idea. There are not a lot of Renaissance humans nowadays as the sciences went through multiple explosions of knowledge, but Davis pulls the threads from disparate sources and weaves them into a seamless fabric. I rather enjoyed the mental challenge reading his book sometimes required so I could follow him.
Another aspect of the book I appreciated was the careful wording it utilized. It went to extremes not to blame whole groups of people. When discussing such a sensitive topic, the author paid special attention to consider others’ sensitivity. A casual reader may find the frequent repetition of caveats monotonous, but I found that it proved a high level of attentiveness. The author’s laser-sharp analysis delineated the offending attitudes and behaviors from the groups, always ensuring that the reader knows that not “Muslims,” “Germans,” “Blacks,” “Arabs,” “Christians,” or others are the issue, just those individuals who show signs of anti-Jewishness. Instead of focusing on the people, the author focused on the historical/social/financial background of the offending attitudes, taking the discourse to a much higher level. On a related side note: I really admired that the author was brave enough to allocate significant space in his book to acknowledge other anti-something sentiments, with special attention devoted to racism in the US. I fully concur with him that one cannot talk about anti-Jewishness without talking about what African-Americans face and have been facing in this society.
How is this book different from all the other books (on Anti-Jewishness)? Even if a year from now I won’t remember some of the logic and conclusions, two key lessons will stay with me for a long time. That is what made it special for me, beyond what I wrote above. I was vaguely aware of these two concepts, but now I recognized their importance and further internalized them. If it made me a slightly better person it was already worth reading the book. These are the futility of “Oppression Olympics” and the fact that shaming doesn’t work for long term behavioral change. Let me use three-three quotes from the book to shed light on the meaning of these expressions.
- There need be no competition for which groups’ oppression is more important or more in need of remediation or public funds. (page 172)
- Oppression is not a competition. (258)
- If it is important in today’s climate to have the identity as being the most victimized group, then the victimization of others could seem to be a threat to one’s claim of virtue and for the centering of all attention. (385)
- Shaming is the mainstay corrective for unwanted behavior in traditional moral models, but there is no evidence that it works on bigotry. (44)
- To be sure, there is absolutely no scientific data to indicate in any way that shaming is helpful in the process of social change, other than totalitarianism. (145)
- The fight against bigotry is about recognizing our common humanity and our common frailties. Bigotry cannot be shamed or beaten out of existence. It takes compassion and love (page 449)
All of the above would mean nothing if Davis would not have anything substantial, educational and new to say. But he does and makes it clear in his thesis at the beginning of the book:
Anti-Jewishness persists because it is a simple, off-the shelf, solution to so many possible grievances, embedded and normalized by history across many cultures [… ] It is also a highly infectious social disorder to which humans have no known antidote or long-term immunity. (page 5)
Treating anti-Jewishness as a public health issue makes it not just easier to understand but also enables strategies to combat it that other approaches do not. As I was reading the book I realized that he was sharing my own opinion, had I thought it over to the extent he did and had I used such a systematic organization of disparate principles to do so. With Davis as our guide, we traverse the realms of history, culture, and human nature, emerging with a profound understanding of the challenges we face. Engaging, informative, and thought-provoking, this book is a must-read for anyone committed to combating prejudice and fostering a more inclusive world.
P.s. The 40 pages of annotated bibliography is valuable not just for novices in the topic, but everyone no matter what level of knowledge one has in the topic’s history. Plus if you get the ebook, like I did, the additional resources include rather useful clickable links.
The book’s page on the author’s website
Disclaimer: I have received a digital copy of this book and a small amount from the author which did not affect my review in any way.
Year first published: 2022