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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Elliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.
Cultural Criticism and Antisemitism
A Brief Response to Corbett
I believe there are far-reaching negative consequences from this kind of essay.
Reading Joe Corbett's essay "Integral Cultural Criticism: A Genealogy of Anti-Semitism"  stirred up a hornet's nest of anxiety in me and it obviously has something to do with the fact that I am Jewish. I can understand intellectually where Corbett is coming from, as in his comments dialogue with Mark Foreman he defended his essay by saying that all groups should be open to cultural criticism . But I believe there are far-reaching negative consequences from this kind of essay; i.e., it is not just an intellectual exercise in self-reflection of one's cultural identity. An essay like that of Corbett is fraught with all kinds of insidious dangers, and I am willing to give Corbett the benefit of the doubt and make the assumption that this is not what he intended. But as Mark Foreman impactfully pointed out in his comment response to Corbett's essay , it is not “integral” to ignore 2,000 years of discrimination, hatred, and genocide when writing an essay about “cultural criticism.”
Now I understand that Corbett made mention of the fact that the Jews have always been discriminated against, but the way he described this is very concerning to me. In Corbett's words :
It is easy to see why Jewish culture might have this drive of ambition and the pathologies that accompany itthey were an enslaved people almost from their origins, and they were discriminated against particularly by Christians for many centuries, meaning that the Jewish people have struggled to survive by any means necessary for nearly their entire existence, and sometimes as a condition of their very survival. They were only allowed to study and to trade when they weren't enslaved, and they excelled at these practices. However all of this came at a price, and that price was an overly ambitious culture for worldly success that now haunts the lobbies of corporate banks, big media studios, and government institutions, leading the world to the brink of “any means necessary,” or at least “any means you can get away with without getting caught,” which Nietzsche called slave morality.
What I get from this is that Corbett is explaining why the Jews were fighting for their survival, but then he argues that the result of the Jews fighting for their survival has been devastating for non-Jews. And although I am not a student of history per se, this does sound a lot to me like the basis for Hitler's genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
So I am not taking issue with Corbett's request for Jewish people to self-reflect about their cultural identity. There is certainly much that I disagree with in regard to Jewish policy in Israel, for example. But at the same time, it is very concerning to me that an essay like that of Corbett can easily be utilized to escalate the rise of antisemitism, especially with the emergence of white supremacy in governments all over the world. I believe that the kind of cultural criticism that Corbett is advocating for needs to be handled very delicately, in these times especially. I recall from some of Corbett's previous essays that he is an avowed socialist, and I can well understand how the statistics he conveyed about Jews being at the forefront of the capitalistic system is abhorrent to him. Personally I have much agreement with Corbett about the evils of capitalism, but I myself have virtually nothing in common with the kind of Jewish capitalistic business achievements that Corbett describes. I have always been artistically and philosophically bent, and I have made my modest living as a math professor through most of my career and currently as a semi-retired psychology mentor, and I have always just barely managed to stay in the middle class. So the fact that I am now associated with the capitalistic business leaders that Corbett describes as the dominant trait of being Jewish, feels like I am being labeled by my ethnic identity to be someone very different than who I am. And this to me is the essence of the problem with Corbett's essay.
It is a fine line between being labeled based upon what is derided as a group's threat to others via their dominant characteristics, and acts of discrimination and violence towards the group. We have seen this in disgust through the Trump years and Asian American xenophobia, for example . And Black Americans have seen this in too many horrendous acts of violence and murder to even start to enumerate. So as much as I agree with Corbett about cultural self-reflection, I think that it needs to be handled very carefully, as otherwise it just adds fuel to the fire of hatred and discrimination, and in the case of Corbett's essay, to the escalation of antisemitism, as Foreman described in his comment to Corbett's essay . In my own comment to Corbett's essay , I criticized Frank Visser for posting Corbett's essay on Integral World, given the antisemitic repercussions that I think this can lead to. But perhaps I was mistaken about my criticism of Visser for posting Corbett's essay, because I have no doubt that Frank will also post my response essay, and thus we now have a dialogue of essays on this topic. And after all, this is Integral World, an intellectual think tank site, and I would like to believe that readers on this site are not going to mindlessly become antisemitic just from reading Corbett's essay. At any rate, I will close with this thought and invite others to join the dialogue.
Notes and References
1) Joe Corbett (2022), Integral Cultural Criticism: A Genealogy of Anti-Semitism, www.integralworld.net
2) Elliot Benjamin (2021), Trump, the Coronavirus Pandemic, Asian American Xenophobia, and Humanistic Psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 61(2), 244-259; this article is also publicly available on Research Gate.