The Jewish Genius and the Internet

DFrom the perspective of human progress, the significance of the information technology revolution equals the scope of the industrial revolution. It is not a matter of mere “presentism”. The internet giants symbolize the redistribution of economic power in the new times; and accelerate the change of status quo.

Some young entrepreneurs have been founders or co-founders of companies as relevant to our daily lives as Google (Sergey Brin), Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin) or WhatsApp (Jan Koum). What denominator do they share?

First of all, three of them were born abroad: Brin (Russia), Koum (Ukraine) and Saverin (Brazil). A fact that contrasts the hypothesis of the most accepted approach to economic development: the quality of the institutions explains the successes and failures of the countries. These winners symbolize how the American dream is still possible despite so many books that, for thirty years, have prophesied the decline of the superpower. The projects leading to stardom would not have been developed in Russia, Ukraine or Brazil. As a symbolic gesture, the day of the sale to Facebook, the creator of WhatsApp returned to the soup kitchen frequented by the Koum family recently arrived in North America.

Second, all of these geniuses – Zuckerberg included – are Jewish. This case study supports how the inheritance of certain cultural and religious specificity can promote business, scientific and intellectual success. An academic approach initiated by Max Weber by linking Protestant ethics with the capitalist spirit, a common thesis for comparative analysis between Latin America and the United States.

The genesis of Facebook or Google required a combination of creativity, curiosity, science, technology and skills in commerce and business administration, areas in which Jews have excelled so much. A religious tradition of messianism and mysticism also helps to forge visionaries in the internet age, ahead of their time whose promised land is the San Francisco Bay. Zuckerberg yearns for another virtual one: the Metaverse.

Despite its low demographic weight, an overwhelming number of Nobel Prizes have been awarded to members of this community, outstanding in any field: economics, medicine, pure sciences or literature. There is no diaspora more successful. How many obituaries in the newspapers remember well-known international figures of this minority? Its authors have been prolific in signing autobiographical works. And, in Bolivia, the two most emblematic bookstores in the center of Santa Cruz de la Sierra are run by Jewish families.

“The city air will set you free”, says a German proverb. If the ideas are cooked in the big cities, the Jewish community exhibits a very pronounced urban bias. His influence helps to explain the extreme urban character of New York or Buenos Aires, open and tolerant metropolises that offered opportunities to prosper. Miami’s Jewish-Cuban diaspora is small; but it is very present in downtown businesses.

In a special way, after leaving the ghetto, success has accompanied the secular Jews. Some stories of upward social mobility are familiar, from the offspring of a shoemaker who succeeds as a professional, to the grandson of a shopkeeper who becomes a banker or a writer.

The propensity to doubt is a psychological trait that supports the skills of the best researchers, from journalism to physics. However, on a sociological level, this attribute is highlighted by the Jewish culture, where everything is questioned. From a history marked by persecutions, exodus and tragedies, one must doubt: the dangers lie in wait. According to a Jewish proverb, “if life doesn’t change for the better, wait…it will change for the worse”. Well I know.

The inclination to doubt is also explained by an inheritance: the labyrinthine reading of the sacred books of the Torah, where ambiguous paragraphs with possible opposite meanings multiply. The grammatical game between thesis and antithesis, within a proposition, structures the famous phrases that express the wisdom of Einstein or Freud. The obsession with doubt presides over, as a central idea, the contributions of Karl Popper, one of the main philosophers of the 20th century: the possibility of refutation will always remain open for any scientific theory, however highly respected it may be. Doubt also seduces filmmakers. Ernst Lubitsch induces a question among his spectators: what is hidden behind the door?

The contrast between thesis and antithesis articulates Jewish humor in jokes and comedies. Groucho Marx pronounces the following masterful phrase in one of his films: “I arrived in Florida without a penny in my pocket; now I have a penny in my pocket.” An acid comment that destroys the “American dream”. When a smug customer complains about not being served promptly, one of the Rothschild bankers wryly replied, “Take a second seat.”

Economic and business success was already an insurance against pogroms in medieval Europe. If things got bad, having money could save your life. In addition, financial activity was not viewed favorably by Catholicism. Egalitarianism and a sense of community also appear in other prominent minorities in business. Sikhs even share the same last name (Singh), so that no one is more than anyone else. A factor that promotes self-esteem, social capital and individual initiative. For example, an army where sergeants dare to question those orders given by officers that seem wrong to them has been analyzed as a strength of Israel.

The cohesion and the mechanisms of mutual solidarity within the collectivity propel the connection. Argentinian Jews refer to theirs fondly as “la cole”. The old isolation of the ghettos in European cities has as a correlate the separation of Israel from its immediate geographical environment, made up of Arab countries. All of this prioritizes the desire for communication, both with members of the community and with the outside world, especially in such a cosmopolitan diaspora, where families spread over diverse countries proliferate. Around the world, I have met many young Israeli travelers on long-range initiation tours of Latin America or Asia.

For all these reasons, perhaps it is not by chance that, behind Facebook or WhatsApp, Jewish talent appears. Also, users read and write when using these applications. Catholic parishioners passively listened to the Latin Mass until the Second Vatican Council. On the contrary, reading and discussing the Torah with the rabbi were the norm of Judaism. A complete preparation for the social networks of the 21st century.

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The Jewish Genius and the Internet