Reading Defending the Master Race by Jewish historian Jonathan Spiro--a biography of eugenicist Madison Grant--I'm struck by how odd reality is. The book documents how WASP elites like Grant succeeded in bringing immigration to a halt in the mid-1920s, and how a desire to stop Jewish immigration was at the center of their concerns.
WASP scientists from the most elite institutions were convinced that Jews were dumb, illiterate, culturally backward, unclean, genetically inferior, and unassimilable. Recent scholarship shows that these scientists were zero out of six. They were wrong about so many characteristics, but at the same time, many Jews did join with others to eventually turn the country into a PC basketcase. Jews did help change the country in ways that men like Grant wouldn't have wanted. (Of course, they also contributed positively in many unexpected ways.) So how do we explain that, on the one hand, the restrictionists were so wrong about Jews, but, on the other, there was something to their fears?
My hunch is that people feel something in the gut, and then try to explain it to themselves in a rational way. Madison Grant saw all these guys from Poland dressed in weird clothes, speaking a foreign language, and he sensed in his mammalian brain that something wasn't quite right. Ordinary ethnocentrism and wariness of the stranger is enough to lead a person to biased thinking, but add to it all to a sense of WASP superiority and a respect for science, and you end up with a pseudoscience about the inferiority of the Jew.
I mean, after all, I wouldn't expect a person like Grant to see lowly bearded aliens as people who were as capable as himself. He rationalized his gut feeling of wariness into a fantasy of the inferior, verminous Jew.
It might be argued that elite WASPs knew very well that Jews were a strong, not a weak, group, and knew that many of these folks would some day pass them by. It could be a case of conscious ethnic competition, but I don't see it. (References to the contrary would be appreciated.) These elites really seemed to believe their own propaganda.
I suppose there are a couple of lessons to be learned. First, it is really hard to do objective science. Spiro tells a tale of Old American bias, and I harp all the time on the current leftist bias by mainstream social science. Objectivity is much more the exception than the rule. Second, gut reactions probably tell you something, but the useful message is not so obvious, and it is likely to be self-serving. On the other hand, if you're the dominant group, and you don't want that position to slip, you might want to follow your gut.