Sometimes Twitter can be the catalyst for serious reflection and consideration. In response to a tweet I made about Purdue Pharma (makers of OxyContin and other potent opioid analgesics) being at least partially responsible for leading the United States into its current hellscape of opioid abuse, a fellow Twitter user “liked” my post, but then made the statement “It’s the Jewish family the Sacklers who engineered this epidemic and profit by it”. This required me to pause. What, I thought, does their religious affiliation have to do with this? My immediate reaction was one of frustration that a conversation about how the pharmaceutical industry manipulates the market was being derailed by antisemitic blustering, but I did not did not allow myself to fall into the trap by accusing the commenter of anything. Instead, I calmly pointed out that whether or not the family controlling the company was Jewish had no relevance to the discussion. The response you can see to the right.
This was the source of my contemplation. If you remove the word “ethnic” from the tweet, then I agree: groups (e.g. nation states, kingdoms, empires) have certainly done all manner of things to secure wealth, power and resources. My issue, however, is with the idea that the commenter is suggesting A) that Jewishness is an ethnicity (it’s not — it is a religion) and that B) being associated with the Jewish faith means one is intrinsically more rapacious or conniving than one of another religious group. I fully support the explicit thesis that patterns are relevant and that groups are vying for power all the time, but I completely dismiss the implied thesis that the Sackler family an/or Purdue Pharma orchestrated these events as a result of religious affiliation.
This is a frequently misused argument. Sometimes it is used intentionally to demonize and sometimes it is simply a mistake in terminology. Let us be clear: there is no Jewish race. There is no Muslim race. These are religious constructs that can be adopted by people of all “ethnic groups”. There is also no monolithic Jewish culture. There are many ways one can “be” Jewish, and I am fairly confident that they don’t universally espouse world domination. Greed is not unique to Jews. Violence is not unique to Muslims. This is why we have to be careful, not simply because it’s politically correct, but because when we misidentify the source of problems we cannot correct the actual problems.