Sunday, September 26, 2004

Chomskyites vs. Bermanites

Democratic socialist Paul Berman attacks the Chomskyite romanticization of murder, oppression and totalitarianism personified in the death cult of leftist assassin/terrorist Che Guevara.
The present-day cult of Che—the T-shirts, the bars, the posters—has succeeded inobscuring this dreadful reality [of communist Cuba and Che's ideology]. And Walter Salles' movie The Motorcycle Diaries will now take its place at the heart of this cult. It has already received a standing ovation at Robert Redford's Sundance film festival (Redford is the executive producer of The Motorcycle Diaries) and glowing admiration in the press. Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom. He helped establish an unjust social system in Cuba and has been erected into a symbol of social justice. He stood for the ancient rigidities of Latin-American thought, in a Marxist-Leninist version, and he has been celebrated as a free-thinker and a rebel. And thus it is in Salles' Motorcycle Diaries.
I highly recommend Berman's book Terror and Liberalism, which is probably the finest document I have yet read in support of the War on Terror and the clearest elucidation of the nature and danger of radical Islam (and also contains an excellent critique of Chomsky's views on the War on Terror, although Berman still suffers from a touch of the dread deference to which so many otherwise intelligent leftists are prone when Chomsky is involved). Berman's thesis, greatly simplified, is that radical Islamic is, in fact, a manifestation of European totalitarianism. Not the whole story, perhaps, I think imperial tendencies indigenous to Islam (which, I might add, exist in all large and powerful faiths, not only Islam) are also a major factor here; but Berman's thesis is, in my view, correct in its essentials. I must say, that while I have heard almost nothing constructive on the War on Terror from John Kerry-style mainstream liberals, some of its most articulate supporters have come from Berman's brand of democratic socialism. They are the hope of a decent, democratic, involved left; which is probably why the Chomskyites hate them with such a passion. And no wonder, truth and clarity are always a threat to a catechism of lies. Indeed, to read Berman and Chomsky side by side only thows into the sharpest relief the base nature of Chomsky's work. Whereas Chomsky aggrandizes authoritarianism - under a skein of Orwellian hypocrisy - and specializes in what Vidal-Naquet called a "double discourse" so glaring that he saw fit to bestow upon Chomsky the title "Chomsky the Janus-faced", Berman's language is straightforward and his revulsion in the face of tyranny utterly genuine. Berman is what the Left might have been had Chomskyite fanatacism not proved such an irresistible temptation. More and more it seems that the Left is divided between those who embrace the worldview articulated by Chomsky and those who side with Berman's analysis. Unfortunately, on the radical Left at least, the Bermanites are very much outnumbered. A shame, and a tragedy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

On the Front Page

David Horowitz's website, FrontPageMag, has very kindly posted my Road to Damascus article. Quite a thrill, I must say. My thanks to them.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Chomsky and the Sanctification of Rage

Oliver Kamm posted this recent deconstruction of a recent Chomsky attempt to slander Nixon, Kissinger, and, of course, the United States itself:
On May 27, the New York Times published one of the most incredible sentences I’ve ever seen. They ran an article about the Nixon-Kissinger interchanges. Kissinger fought very hard through the courts to try to prevent it, but the courts permitted it. You read through it, and you see the following statement embedded in it. Nixon at one point informs Kissinger, his right-hand Eichmann, that he wanted bombing of Cambodia. And Kissinger loyally transmits the order to the Pentagon to carry out "a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves." That is the most explicit call for what we call genocide when other people do it that I’ve ever seen in the historical record.

Right at this moment there is a prosecution of Milosevic going on in the international tribunal, and the prosecutors are kind of hampered because they can’t find direct orders, or a direct connection even, linking Milosevic to any atrocities on the ground. Suppose they found a statement like this. Suppose a document came out from Milosevic saying, "Reduce Kosovo to rubble. Anything that flies on anything that moves." They would be overjoyed. The trial would be over. He would be sent away for multiple life sentences–if it was a U.S. trial, immediately the electric chair. But they can’t find any such document. In fact, nobody has even found a document like that connecting Hitler to the Holocaust. Scholars have been working on it for years. I can’t remember an example of such a direct order to carry out what amounted to a huge massacre, way beyond the level of anything we call genocide when other people do it.
Of course, as we all know, the only genocide which occured in Cambodia was the one committed by the communist Khmer Rouge and energetically denied by Chomsky himself. (Armchair psychologists may commence their theorizing.) Needless to say, Kamm deals rather summarily with all this nonsense.
The "anything that flies on anything that moves" remark, in context, is not a literal instruction; it is an ironic rendition by his national security adviser of a Presidential outburst that invites, deserves and receives derision. In the circumstances, Chomsky's horrified description of it as "one of the most incredible sentences I’ve ever seen" is, well, one of the most incredible sentences I've ever seen.

It would be tempting to attribute the use Chomsky makes of this material to intellectual idleness and incompetence, but I fear this is too generous a judgement. There's a pattern and a method here. Chomsky's rhetorical attacks on the western democracies, and especially the United States, increasingly outdo anything else to be found in the adversary culture of far-Left politics. Charging President Bush and Tony Blair with war crimes for excising Baathist tyranny from Iraq, and even depicting the Bush administration as (in John Pilger's phrase) "the new Third Reich", may be absurd and offensive, but Chomsky takes hysteria beyond these by now commonplace tropes to a new plane altogether. His effect - and I have to assume his purpose too, for he must be aware he's doing it - is to depict the US as even worse than Nazi Germany.

Look carefully at Chomsky's use of language. His description of Kissinger as Nixon's "Eichmann" - frivolous, repugnant and a gross affront to the victims of the Holocaust as it is - is a mere softener for the assertion that "nobody has even found a document like that connecting Hitler to the Holocaust. Scholars have been working on it for years." That remark is disgraceful. Nobody has found a signed document in which Hitler explicitly orders the destruction of the Jews, but of course scholars have found harrowing documents incontrovertibly "connecting Hitler to the Holocaust"...

Chomsky is an intelligent man who knows how to use language. In this case he is using language to depict the United States as incomparably evil; in order to do that he must distort not only the US record in foreign policy, but also the historical record of the regime in recent history that really was incomparably evil. And that is what Chomsky does...

To describe such notions as those of a crank is to understate their toxicity. To take them seriously requires something more sinister than mere monomania. It's hardly surprising that those who do are to be found among the very worst elements in politics, namely those who believe Nazi Germany has been unfairly condemned by history. Here, for example, is the web site of what used to be known as the Union Movement, and before that - in the 1930s - the British Union of Fascists (BUF). The site reproduces certain disgustingly self-serving remarks made in 1947 by the movement's leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, about what the site coyly describes as "the whole moral issue regarding wartime atrocities, which are committed by all sides" - in other words, exculpation of Nazi atrocities by denying their uniqueness. To introduce this argument - if one can dignify it with that term - these latter-day Mosleyites have found an appropriate dictum, and here it is:

"If the Nuremberg laws were applied today, then every Post-War American president would have to be hanged." - Noam Chomsky
This underlines one of the most important results of the influence Chomsky has had on today's Left: the ascension of an absolute faith in the capacity of rhetorical violence and agression. Here we have Chomsky lying outright and distorting the historical record with an astonishing alacrity - a fact of which he is certainly aware - and yet he still manages to work himself up into a self-righteous lather that ends with him giving the United States the short end of the stick in a comparison with Nazi Germany. It seems clear that what we're dealing with here is not rational but emotional. What is important to Chomsky is not the facts, nor any fealty to moral principles, but his own ferocious rage and desperate belief - and need to believe - in his own moral righteousness. Like all fanatics, it is his faith in his own rectitude and his own purity that not only gives him license to violate basic tenants of truth and logic, but also justifies the extraordinary leaps of moral bankruptcy in which we see him here, and not for the first or last time, indulging. This, unfortunately, has been his foremost gift to his fellow ideologues.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A Good Year : שנה טובה

One of the nice things about living in Israel is that Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year celebration for non-members of the tribe - actually feels like the beginning of a new year; so I want to take a moment to thank all of you who take the time to read this blog. Discovering this audience has been one of the thrills of my life and I deeply appreciate every one of you who bothers with my little rantings. When I began this blog, I never expected the size and passion of the response, not to mention the various job offers I've recieved. (Incidentally, the Jerusalem Post article I wrote all those eons ago is still waiting to be published due to the management shakeup they've been having. Hopefully it wont be much longer.) Through some strange confluence of events, and in no small part thanks to you, I have become a writer.

I especially want to express (yet again) my deep appreciation to all of you who expressed their sympathy and support to me in the weeks since the terrorist atrocity took place here. You were a very welcome and valued source of comfort and support in a very difficult moment. Thank you.

I will likely not be posting again until the coming Sunday, due to the holiday, so I want to wish all a very happy and safe new year, wherever you are.

שתהיה לכם שנה טובה ומתוקה
May you have a good and sweet new year

Monday, September 13, 2004

A Brief Cinematic Digression

Caught one of my favorite movies, Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid on TV last night. I posted a piece on it at the other blog a little while ago. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Reflections on a Day of Infamy

I wrote this post last year, on the anniversary of 9/11, at a point when the War in Iraq was still on the front page and anti-Americanism was at something of a historic peak. Looking at it now, I would probably tone down the rhetoric a notch, and perhaps exchange the term "the West" for "liberal democracy" or "liberal civilization", which is somewhat closer to what I was intending; but I have decided to let it stand as is, and allow the emotions I felt so intensely at the time do their work unhindered. Enjoy.

Who are we now, two years since our lives were touched by fire? What has America become since she was thrust into a conflict that had been brewing, silently but relentlessly, for over a decade before it tore a hole through New York City and the Pentagon? Are we better or worse? Stronger or weaker? These are the questions that plague me as I write today, in a foreign country, on the edge of the Negev Desert, at the border between two warring civilizations.

I don't care to waste my time recalling moments of horror and rage from the hours in which a lost generation saw its cheerful complacency consumed in shards of flame and glass. Such recollections will be thick on the ground in the coming days, and my meager memories cannot compete with those thousands who witnessed the atrocities themselves, or who suffered unfathomable losses both personal and psychological. I wish only to comment on the state of affairs as I see them now.

Initially, I was heartened and encouraged by the response of both my fellow Americans and the American government. President Bush seemed to instantly grasp the significance of the attacks and the necessity of a total realignment of priorities and interests in order to combat the phenomenon they represented. That phenomenon which has commonly been described as a "clash of civilizations", but is better seen as the rise to dominance within the civilization of Islam of fundamentalist, violent, and expressly imperialist forces. The president understood the fact that the attacks represented an existential challenge to liberal democracy and the umbrella civilization, secular, political and scientific, which is often grouped under the heading, however imperfect, of "the West".

On the part of many others, however, the response was more ambivalent and disturbing. There existed in the moment, and exists today, a not insubstantial percentage of the population (I would say somewhere between 25-35%) which reacted to the president's resolve and to the resolve of the majority of their fellow citizens with a mixture of dismay, perplexity, and, finally, anger. There seems to be a general assumption among this group that the West, such as it is, is simply not worth preserving, and the assault from without is merely symptomatic of the sickness within, as if Osama Bin Laden were a phenomenon of theoretical physics, bouncing back with equal and opposite force to every movement of Western power.

Even more horrifying, however, has been the reaction of America's artistic and intellectual elite, particularly centered in the universities and certain segments of the mass media. In this case, the collective consensus of this class was nothing less than treasonous. They grasped at Bin Laden as the catalytic factor that might at last bring about the revolution so long deferred. The brazenness with which they celebrated the slaughter of their fellow citizens, prayed for their country's defeat, and the ease with which they then slipped back into obscurity with nary a consequence was a sight which disturbed far too few Americans in the days immediately following the atrocity.

Worse still was the scene on the European continent, in which dark forces seemed to be unleashed, the likes of which have not been seen since the days of Weimer Germany. An eruption of anti-Semitism unprecedented since World War II presaged what can only be described as a confused, violent, riotous explosion of outer-directed self-loathing, concentrated most of all on the United States. Watching the Europeans excoriating America for the distinctly European sin of imperialism was like watching a pathetic auto-da-fe, the flagellents hell-bent on exorcising their demons in a petulant, spiteful act of collective suicide, and all accomplished in the name of the highest values of Western civilization.

Their extremist, one might even say fundamentalist, brand of humanism is a recent phenomenon, and it has been challenged as it has never been before by the assault of radical Islam, and, at every turn, it has failed to meet the challenge.

The clearest result of this failure has been the near total collapse of civic courage across the Western world. Belief in the axiomatic rectitude of one's civilization, which is the greatest strength of any civilization, has collapsed in the West, most particularly in elitist circles. One can see the constant, violent backstabbing that has come to be expected from the European nations and from domestic critics. They have made quite explicitly clear, in their violent hostility towards any defensive act on the part of the United States and their violent excoriation of any and all intellectual support for Western civilization against the assault of radical Islam, that they do not object to self-defense in details but in principle. They seem gripped by the belief that the West must consent to its own slaughter, as though it were the verdict of a heavenly tribunal. Their entire worldview, is, quite simply, powerless in the face of violent challenge, as indeed it was powerless 50 years ago against the hydra of Communism and Nazism.

The difference between then and now is that this fundamentalist brand of humanism has become the dominant ideology of the West. Unlike the national, religious, or historical values that once powered Western civilization, this new umbrella ideology lacks any discriminating power between faiths, factions, or ideas. All are considered equally valid and dignified, thus leaving judgment the only sin left on earth. And what the West needs now more than ever before is the capacity for judgment. Without judgment, there is no courage, and without courage there is no victory.

The argument can be made that this phenomenon is merely one of the elite, that the broad population of America (not to mention its president) have risen fully to the challenge despite the nagging of fringe groups and alienated elitists. I am not comforted by this assertion. Those advising surrender may be small in numbers, but they are firmly established in the universities and in many positions of power in government and media. They have great influence on the framing of debate and defining of terms that are so essential to political victory. The rise to political prominence of Howard Dean, a man who seems to lack any capacity for understanding, let alone facing, the threat of radical Islam or asserting the values of the West, speaks to the extraordinary coercive power of these small constituencies.

The truth, I fear, is that, at the moment at least, the West lacks something higher to fight for. A unifying force around which to coalesce. Something larger than merely the right to live in a society which considers all ideologies, however murderous, to be equally valid. The West needs a faith for which to do battle. Like Whittaker Chambers, I fear that the challenge of a fanatical, believing enemy may be too much for a civilization which has rejected belief as the domain of fanatics and madmen. I hope and pray that, like him, I am wrong.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Chomsky Kicks a Dead Man

Another high point of Chomsky's blog, insulting the late Ronald Reagan shortly after his death:
I believe this is the first such extravaganza in the US...

There was something similar after the JFK assassination, but of course the assassination of a living president is quite different. I don't recall anything else remotely similar, perhaps since FDR, in the midst of a war, and of course he really was a significant figure, whatever one's judgment of him. Reagan is another story: mostly a PR creation in the first place, and massively so in recent years.

During his years in office, Reagan was not particularly popular. Gallup just published poll figures comparing him during office with other presidents. His average ratings during his years in office were below Kennedy, Johnson, Bush I, and Clinton; above Nixon, Ford, Carter. This is averages during their terms in office. By 1992 he was ranked just next to Nixon as the most unpopular living ex-president. Since then there has been an immense PR campaign to convert him into a revered and historic figure, if not semi-divine, and it's doubtless had an effect, radically shifting the rankings. Not on the basis of facts: rather, extremely effective marketing. The current performance is reminiscent of the death of Hirohito and Soviet leaders. One of the more depraved moments of US media. The lying is quite impressive, even by people who surely know better.
I will not bother to respond to Chomsky's ludicrous suggestion that Reagan was unpopular, except to note that unpopular presidents do not win two landslide elections, or his asinine (though typical) assertion that the "US media" (specificity apparently unnecessary) conspired to make Reagan a "semi-divine" figure, when, in fact, the mainstream media despised Reagan and did everything possible to denigrate his achievements in office and his qualities as a human being. Indeed, in the days following Reagan's death, I lost count of the number of times Reagan was described as blundering into the end of the Cold War, as though his policies had been irrelevent to the Soviet Union's collapse; or described as lacking compassion for the poor. I have no doubt that the eulogies of the "Free Press" will be far more generous towards Chomsky when he departs the world than they were towards the "semi-divine" Reagan. While it is a waste of time to analyze such obvious and desperate lies, I think it is worth commenting on the strangely personal animosity Chomsky obviously feels towards Reagan.

It seems to me that this otherwise inexplicable hostility stems directly from Chomsky's authoritarian socialist ideology. Despite his occasional claims to libertarianism (intended, I believe, for the benefit of American audiences who are culturally hostile to collectivist ideologies) Chomsky is, issue by issue, an absolute and uncompromising statist. Reagan, as the man who led the - successful - ideological/political assault on the statist economic model in favor of greater individual freedom and liberty and greater diffusion of power in the political and economic spheres, is therefore nothing less than the man responsible for the Fall from Chomsky's authoritarian Eden, the man who captured the commanding heights from Chomsky's ideological ilk and relegated their catechism to the ash heap of history.

Unwilling to admit, however, to the simple truism that failure and defeat are always due as much to the shortcomings of the defeated as the skills of the victorious, it behooves Chomsky to blame the collapse of statism on the machinations of a single, evil figure, created by "PR" and encapsulated into legend by the all-powerful media (ignoring, of course, the fact that most of the mainstream media is highly sympathetic to Chomsky's ideology). This is undeniably preferable to the horrifying - and, in Chomsky's mind, impossible - prospect that Reagan was right, Chomsky was wrong, and the American people for whom Chomsky claims to be advocating freely embraced Reagan and his ideology and considered him to be the great president which, viewed in purely objective terms of his success in office and influence on history, he unquestionably was.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Something Completely Different

Over at my other blog, Gefen, I occasionally post on non-Chomsky related topics. This is a review of Bernardo Bertolucci's latest film, The Dreamers. You may find it interesting, if only in the revelation that I have a life beyond anti-Chomskyism. Enjoy.

Monday, September 06, 2004


To Roger L. Simon (who seems to be on something of a Road to Damascus himself) for the link and the immensely flattering recommendation.

After the Cataclysm

Two very beautiful makeshift memorials have gone up at the sites of the bombings. People have spontaneously been bringing candles and flowers and surrounded them by circles of stacked stones (it is a Jewish tradition to place stones on gravesites). Signs have gone up expressing defiance. One of them states "Jewish blood is not cheap." There is a quiet, stoic determination at work in this city that I find very moving to witness. People here are simply bracing themselves and moving forward in a silently extraordinary way.

I would like again to express my deep appreciation to everyone who has expressed their concern, sympathy, or support to me over the past week. I have been deeply moved by the empathy of so many of you towards me, my community, and the country I live in. Its good to know that we are not alone. Thank you.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

My Road to Damascus

This post at Kesher Talk got me thinking about my own political migration; which has been, I have to admit, a fairly radical one. Enjoy:

Almost everyone who cares about politics has a Road to Damascus tale to tell. The convert is always the most dedicated adherent, after all, to any set of convictions; and it is usually safe to say that those who hold most passionately to an ideology have rarely come to it by birthright. For myself, I am most certainly not an exception to the rule. It is unfair to say that I was at one point a radical leftist; it is more accurate to say I was born into it. My family and the Boston suburb in which I grew up were ferociously liberal, and the public schools I attended subscribed to the rubric of what might be termed the politically correct, and did so, moreover, in a manner which rendered it more catechism than ideology. Liberalism in its post-Vietnam form, a kind of quasi-pacifist libertarian socialism shot through with a ferocious strain of racialism, was in every way our state religion. Quite naturally, I adhered strenuously to the most radical tenants of this religion; it is difficult for me to see how I could have done otherwise. Though it pains me, I feel that I must be honest here about how I felt regarding my country, and indeed, the very idea of a free society at the time; for the memory of my youthful fanaticism informs my own concerns about the implications of leftist thought and ideology on an elemental level. I think it is not an exagerration to say that it may be the single most important factor at work.

My ideas at the time, like those of all young people, were vague and unformed, but were raw in their emotion and clear in their essential worldview. In thinking of it, I recall Albert Camus's remark that no one has ever become a communist because of reading Marx, "first they convert," he said, "then they read the scriptures." In keeping with this truism, mine was less a systemic pattern of thought than a series of accepted axioms: I believed, first and foremost, that the United States was an irrepairably corrupt and wicked society, founded on racism, consolidated through genocide, perpetuated through oppression at home and tyrannical imperialism abroad, and fueled by a psychotic machine capitalism which was, through its environmental destruction and cultural hegemony, destroying the world itself.

In describing these tenets, I have neither exagerrated nor engaged in unduly hyperbolic rhetoric. Nor should they be taken as shallow or amorphous resentments. I believed in them quite literally, and not only that, I took them as a catalytic force, as indisputable proof that major, perhaps revolutionary changes would be necessary to redeem the United States from the depths to which it had fallen, if indeed the redemption of a nation so historically cursed and so perversely manifested in the present could, in fact, be redeemed. I believed myself enjoined to do something, to engage in the struggle to bring about these great and inevitable changes. There is no question, however, that while these catechisms enobled my sense of myself, they also made me ferociously intolerant of the opinions and even the humanity of other people. Even after the passage of almost a decade, I have a very clear memory of I and my friends stalking the halls of our high school tearing down pro-life posters with which the Young Republicans (an organization which numbered less than a half dozen members at any given time, and thus were hardly a threat, political or otherwise, to anyone) had adorned the walls. Posters accusing Israel of war crimes and claiming Bill Clinton was a tool of corporate interests were, as far as I remember, never molested, by us or anyone else. These sureties were monolithic. Our unspoken orthodoxies were questioned only on the rarest of occasions. I remember distinctly a friend of mine whispering to me, in tones which one uses only to convey secret conspiracies, that one of the administrators, a black woman, didn't like white people. I must confess that this was so contrary to my conception of the workings of the world that I reacted with nothing more than stunned silence; although, looking back on it, he was almost certainly correct.

It is hugely important to note that, in the basic tenets of our political rage, our teachers could hardly have been more supportive. Looking back on what I have just written, the manner in which my education gave force and substance to what were, at first, inarticulate and vaguely felt resentments appears quite clearly, far more clearly then it ever did at the time. My belief in America's corruption was undoubtedly reinforced by the massive swaths of time dedicated by my teachers to subjects like the slave trade, the Dred Scott decision, John Brown's execution, the Sacco and Vanzetti case and the Rosenberg trial (about which we were unceremoniously assured that the defendents were wholly innocent and the hapless victims of grave and fundamental injustices ingrained into the fabric of American society) and McCarthyism. Racism was a subject about which everyone involved, teachers and administrators, seemed to feel conjoined to discuss constantly, as though the number of times the word was mentioned had direct correlation to our quality as human beings. The idea that America was fundamentally racist, and, indeed, that we were fundamentally racist, and that we ought, if we were decent people, to hate ourselves and our country for it, was simply an article of faith which no one, for very good reason, ever had the will, reason, or courage to question. Of course, as with any dogma, there was an original sin, and that sin was genocide; more precisely, the treatment of the Indians by the American governments of the 19th century, which our teachers called genocide. I distinctly remember a large poster which adorned the wall of one of my history classes, it showed a behatted conquistador standing astride a hill of bodies surrounded by a pool of blood; above this horrifying scene, this vision out of Auschwitz, were the words: "Columbus: Lies Written in Native Blood!" The United States, it was made very clear to us, was built on sin. That sin was not merely of the past, however, and we soon learned to speak words like Chile, Iran, Nicaraugua, and most of all Vietnam, so we might know the truth of the imperialist slaughterhouse which our country had made of the latter half of the 20th century.

I do not wish to give the impression of a conspiracy of educators at work here. There was none. There was merely the fact of a pervasive and all consuming political culture. It is no exaggeration whatsoever to say that everyone involved in our education, teachers, administrators, and the like, were overwhelmingly leftist in outlook; and, moreover, saw their charge and duty as educators to mold the young so they might serve to bring about that better, more perfect society which they were convinced was possible if only the poisons which ran in the veins of their society could be purged. They undertook this molding--I am tempted to use a more forceful term--out of the best of intentions; for they were fervent ideologists who were simply too blinded by their fanaticism to believe that they were doing anything other than teaching their students the obvious, objective, accepted truth.

What is most fascinating to me now, from my current vantage point, is how intensely conformist I, and my friends who thought as I did, actually were; and how extraordinarily ironic this was considering our own opinion of ourselves. We were absolutely convinced of our identity as innocents in holy revolt, indeed, we fancied ourselves nothing less than morally ascendant dissidents in a corrupted society, a society which, of course, from our point of view, consisted mainly of our teachers and school administrators, for we knew no other establishment. Of course, none of us had the perspective to look and see that, far from rebelling or offending, we were, in fact, the very fullfillment of that establishment's dreams. They came from a generation which had aggrandized rebellion and alienation -- combined with a ferocious moral arrogance -- as the highest form of human expression and the highest expression of human values. I realize now, with a certain measure of rueful irony, how much of that surety was simply manipulation -- unconscious perhaps, but manipulation nonetheless -- in service of that establishment's highly selfish and material interests. When I and many others walked out of class to support our teachers's demands for higher pay, my highly trained eye for institutional hypocrisy somehow failed me. I have no doubt that those teachers who encouraged and embraced our walkout, a minor attempt, and somewhat pathetic, attempt to emulate those protests about which they had taught us so hagiographically, had convinced themselves that it was part of their job and for our own good, but there is also no doubt in my mind that the opposite was, in fact, the case.

It must be said at this point that I do not, in fact, believe in the Road to Damascus. Or, at least, I believe that road is far longer than the name implies. There is no such thing as a sudden conversion, and mine was no exception. It was, rather, a long process of slow changes which led to an unexpected culmination. I don't specifically remember its starting point. I do remember reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and finding the thing so transparently and offensively dishonest that after three chapters I threw it across the room; an act which shocked me at the time and reassures me now. I also remember feeling a visceral reaction to certain anti-Israel statements made by my friends at the time, though that reaction was, at the time, not nearly strong enough to shake any of my convictions. The straw that broke the camel's back, however, was without doubt Ralph Nader's campaign for president in 2000, which I initially embraced wholeheartedly, but which I ultimately concluded represented an incipient political movement which was not merely contrary to my personal beliefs, but a danger to all the values to which I had believed myself dedicated.

I did not attend Nader's campaign rally at the Fleet Center in Boston, but I was given eyewitness accounts by several friends, all equally shocked and disillusioned, and read the press coverage. There can be no doubt that it was a horrifying event, more Nuremburg Rally than Chautauqua tent. I was told, in stunned tones, that Winona LaDuke, Nader's running mate, extolled from the platform that the assembled were going to "stop the slaughter in Palestine", and while I was by no means a rightwinger at that point, it seemed none the less clear to me that one of the major groups being slaughtered in that part of the world were Israeli Jews taking the bus to work; and that, moreover, whatever one's opinons about the conflict in the Middle East, few things were more certain than the fact that the area in which it was taking place was not named Palestine, and that the use of the term bore with it certain connotations which I could only concieve of as sinister in nature. Namely, that there was something unseemly about the use of the name "Israel", which, it seemed to me, was to state in no uncertain terms that there was something unseemly about the existence of a Jewish State. Nader himself, I was told, had denounced Al Gore for not declaring Israel "solely responsible" for the second intifada; a statement which I considered, with the best will in the world, grotesquely unfair and recklessly hysterical. I was not at the time nearly as well versed in the history of the conflict as I am now, but it seemed clear to me that Ehud Barak had made a sincere and generous effort to end the conflict, and that the other side had considered that offer unsatisfactory and embarked on war instead. One could argue details, it seemed to me, but to assign Israel sole responsibility was simply willfully unjust. But there were darker waters still, for among the rank and file of Nader's supporters the rhetoric was unhinged, uninhibited, and much, much uglier. It was here that I began to hear echoed again again the equation of Israel and Nazi Germany, a formulation I considered nothing less than forthrightly racist and deliberately calculated to inflict maximum pain upon its Jewish recipients; a statement which I had previously managed to dismiss or ignore, but whose sheer volume and obvious acceptability among circles I had previously considered my political brethren now rendered it the precipitant of a serious internal crisis.

It was at that point, I think, that I began to think seriously for the first time about anti-semitism. My generation, I realized, was ill-equipped for such a task. Having led lives mercifully free of anti-semitism, how were we to be expected to recognize it, let alone resist it? How were we to sort out these thousand cuts and give them a discernible shape and form? Even if we could recognize the phenomenon at work, how were we to face this disease which our elders had already declared, prematurely, it now appeared, largely eradicated?

In truth, all of these questions were merely iterations of the only question worth answering: What was anti-semitism anyways, after all? We had been taught that anti-semitism was racism against Jews; specifically, the Nazi variety, in which the Jews were seen as sub-human vermin, and the Christian variety, which saw the Jews as killers of Jesus and eternal theological enemies. But this formulation seemed to me woefully inadequate. These two variants were so vastly complex and differentiated as to demand a broader definition, and neither, as far as I could see, could be fully reconciled with the stinging rhetorical violence I was beginning to witness on an almost daily basis. It seemed to me that the only common link between all these anti-semitisms I was encountering was dehumanization: the dehumanization of the Jewish people. The anti-semite might concieve of the Jew as sub- or super-human, but he had to see him as something fundamentally un-human; an other in the most total and absolute sense of the word.

This, I felt, was what had stung so bitterly in the eyes of my friends who had attended Nader's rally. The casual, breezy denial of Jewish humanity: Jews were being murdered, and for it Jews--the very dead themselves--were being blamed. We were, it seemed to me, being condemned for our own murder, and thus, by extension, being asked to consent to our own murder; and this, it seemed clear to me, was to declare that we were sub-human by condemning our failure to be super-human. It was, by any definition, an act of dehumanization, a dehumanization of us as Jews, and thus, by definition, anti-semitism.

Barely a few weeks after the Nader rally, these thoughts were crystallized by an argument I had with a black liberal minister at Boston University. In the course of his Sunday sermon, broadcast on the local NPR affiliate, he had notated a list of the world's evils: poverty, no health care, etc., in which he gave pride of place to Israel's targeted assassination policy, which, he informed me in stentorian tones, as if intoning divine truths, was "barbaric". Nowhere and at no point did he mention suicide bombings, or his opinion as to their barbarism. I must confess, the thing came to me with a shocking clarity, all the more so for its horrendous implications; here was this good liberal preacher, who no doubt considered himself congenitally immune to all the ills of the human soul he condemned in those he saw as his moral inferiors, and yet Jewish lives simply did not matter to him. Or, to put it even more precisely, the lives of other human beings did not matter to him, because they were Jews. I simply had no other name for such an attitude than anti-semitism.

And, quite suddenly, I thought back on the reams of pages I had been forced to read, for my sins and ours, pages that I had, I must admit, eagerly embraced and exalted. I thought of Malcolm X's dictum of seizing one's right to be a human being, by any means necessary, and how my hands had shaken with impassioned outrage as I read his words, which seemed to resonate with every piety I had ever been taught about the injustice of white against black. I thought of the Native American revolutionaries who demanded justice and dignity for their people, greeted with bullets and armored vehicles at Wounded Knee, and who had been so celebrated by my milieu for their troubles. I thought of the Ches and the Fidels and the Allendes who had fought the good fight for human justice, and were so brutally persecuted, so I had been assured, by my own countrymen as punishment. And I saw, quite clearly for the first time, that this was to be denied to my own people. Jews who stood up were not celebrated. Jews who rebelled as Jews were not idolized, not embraced, not exalted. Quite the opposite. Our revolution, our assault upon the ramparts of dignity, was to bedemonized, negated, rejected, condemned. It was something which an alcoholic would likely call a moment of clarity. For it seemed to me to be glaringly, astoundingly clear that I was being presented with a choice: I could be a Jew or I could be a leftist, but I could not be both. I could be loyal to my people or loyal to the revolution, but not both, because for my people there was to be no revolution, it simply was not permitted. Our uprising, as ourselves, was denied. It was all that simple, and all that inexorably complex.

At first I thought this a foreign element, the introduction, by injection or osmosis, of classic anti-semitism into what was still, fundamentally, a seperate ideology. But the more I saw and the more I read, the more I became convinced that this anti-semitism sprang instead from the very essence of liberalism itself; and its essential negation of one of Judaism's most elementary qualities: its national particularism, that very thing which had saved it from becoming the imperial faith that Islam and Christianity had become, but which constituted a rejection of liberalism and its universalist creed. And, of course, to the universalist, whose ideology is inherently totalist in its dimensions, any rejection is also, by definition, a threat. The distinctiveness of Judaism, its very sense of itself, was offensive to the ideology to which I had paid piper for so long, and thus the turn into anti-semitism was an inevitability of liberal philosophy. Most dangerously of all, liberalism's adherents felt themselves incapable of such thinking, for they believed their ideology to be a prophylactic against anti-semitism, when, in fact, anti-semitism was the result of that very ideology itself.

It was in this conception of liberalism's negation of Judaism that I began to sense the origins of my own sense of myself; for I realized suddenly that I hated Judaism: hated the synagogue in which I had been forced to sit for endless hours in an uncomfortable suit and tie, hated the language I had been forced to spend my Tuesdays and Thursdays learning as a child, hated the prayers intoned in transliteration by halting American accents which could not comprehend the words, hated the weight of its history and hated its imposition upon me; and I began also to wonder why. I felt, and felt quite abruptly, as though a piece of myself had been stolen, and not merely through my own machinations; felt that my right, the most fundamental of all, to be proud of that which I was had been stolen from me by those determined to chain me to their ideology of self-loathing. As a result, I had rejected what was perhaps the best part of myself as little more than a congenital weakness and an arcane irrelevancy. I began to see that so many of my own fascinations; with Irish nationalism, with Third World revolutionary movements, with Black Power; indeed, my once devout wish that I had been born a black man; with the persecuted anarchist and communist intellectuals of the previous century, with Che and Fidel and Hiss and Vanzetti and Sacco and Mumia and Peltier and Huey; were merely the desperate assignations of my own alienation from myself. An alienation engineered by that all-encompassing creed which I had imbibed since my earliest chldhood; and as I began to return to Judaism, or perhaps, in truth, to discover it for the first time, I began to resent that of which I had been robbed, for it was nothing less than my right to myself.

So I began too to see deeper flaws in those sureties I had so long accepted. I began to sense, or perhaps at last to admit to, inherent contradictions at work in the machine in which I had once placed so much faith. The leftist catechism denounced the United States government as inherently corrupted and beyond repair, and the solution had been to hand massive swaths of the American society and economy over to the control and regulation of the state; in other words, the United States government. It extolled civil liberties but proposed a collectivist creed which fundamentally negated the individual. It claimed to oppose concentrated, monopoly power but proposed to concentrate it to a degree unprecedented in American history. There seemed no connection whatever between these ambitions, and I began to suspect that the entire formulation was ultimately nothing more than an expression of the will to power; that the first had been concocted merely to enable the second.

But more than anything else, I began to question words. I began to question the word "change". I had demanded, wanted, believed in change, a massive change in fact; but I had, in truth, no idea whatsoever what it might constitute. The word change, and the fact that we needed it, seemed to have been voiced so many times that people had stopped thinking about it. How many times had I been told that "we need to make a change"? How many times had I been extolled to "change the world", "change society", "bring about social change"? It had been a constant mantra throughout my youth, and one which I had never questioned. Yet the more I read and the more I listened, the more it seemed to me that revolutions were as much the product of raw rage and violence, or the machinations of proto-tyrants and would-be despots, than genuine expressions of coherent grievances and the desire to change the world for the better. And I could not help but become aware, painfully aware, of the cost incurred by such upheavels: the disappeared, the executed, the show trials, the concentration camps, the boat people, the artificial famines; and most of all, the numbers, numbers so massive as to be simply beyond the human capacity to comprehend. Six million, twelve million, forty million, a hundred million... To these incontrovertible witnesses, this ominous parade of the sentinal dead; I had no answer. In the prospect of radical change, I began to see the gulag, and not utopia.

I began also to question the word "progress". I had called myself a "progressive" on those numerous occasions when I decided it would be unseemly to call myself otherwise, but the whole idea of progress now seemed to me transparently empty. As surely as a monk who has suddenly found the arguments of atheism incontrovertible, and with an equal sense of cataclysm, it had become unalterably clear to me that, on a very fundamental level, there was no such thing as progress. In fact, it seemed to me, the most striking thing about history was how utterly uniform were the motivations and passions that drove war, politics, culture, trade, and all the other manifestations of humanity in action. How unchanging were the forces at play in history. Line maps might change, technology and mores might change, but mankind did not. The very idea of progress as a sacred principle struck me as a dialectical fantasy born of the need of human beings to discern shapes and forms even where none exist. To see history as the tale of a humanity in constant forward movement, as a "progression", was to belabor under what essentially amounted to madness; for it was to percieve reality as governed by unalterable active factors which, in fact, did not exist. It was thus that, for me at least, the God of liberalism met his end.

Ultimately it was the idea of universalism, of totalism; the idea which Judaism so rightfully, I now realized, rejected; that disturbed me the most. The demand for an absolute uniformity of thought and opinion; which I had experianced firsthand in the liberal surroundings in which I grew up and to which I had, at one point, wholeheartedly consented; struck me then, as it strikes me now, as little more than petty tyranny at best, and the wholesale annihilation of the human soul at worst.

I do not wish to create the impression that it was solely the conditions of my upbringing and education that had given birth to my ideology; my own psyche had influenced my politics profoundly. My family life was deeply troubled, I was unhappy, I had blamed society. It was as simple and as cliched as all that. I had believed in politics as a means to happiness, whereas in fact my unhappiness had nothing to do with politics and politics could do nothing in aid of it. How many of us, I wondered, had been working under the same presumptions? How many of us were avoiding that inevitable confrontation with ourselves or with those close to ourselves who had disappointed, neglected, perhaps even wounded us, by setting ourselves in permanent confrontation with our own societies? How many of us had assaulted society's dysfunctions as a means of avoiding our own; or believed in the omnipotence of politics as a means of denying our own helplessness before personal forces over which we had no real control? It is not mere armchair pseychology to see radical politics, in fact all politics which sees the world as inherently flawed and in need of overturning, as, in truth, the cry of unhappy and angry people; people for whom politics has become a desperate attempt to satiate a pain which is, in fact, deeply personal and fundamentally non-political; an attempt at indirect expresson of an alienation which was, in fact, not from society but from the people closest to them, and perhaps even from themselves.

This journey has left me, perhaps not unfortunately, without convenient labels. When asked to define my politics, I often jokingly refer to myself as an anarcho-Zionist, but this is, let's face it, obfuscation through humor. I suppose, in my mistrust of change for its own sake, my skepticism of revolution, and my aggrandizement of the sanctity of the individual over the collective, one would have to term me a conservative; but I do not feel so, and not merely because my two biggest influences, Orwell and Camus, were both leftists, albeit of a unique sort. What is clear to me, however, is that I have become far less sanguine about how much damage radical politics can cause and is willing to cause. I know its corners, its dark places, and the dreams darker still that it can conjure up in the minds of its adherents; and I have come to see in the liberal catechism a denial of both the limits of power and the truth of human reality. I am resigned, therefore, to merely telling the truth as best as I can see it; and I hope that, at the moment, is enough.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

My Thanks

To all who expressed their concern and good wishes to me. I deeply appreciate it. Except for being too wired to sleep, I am fine and so are all my friends, thank God. I have always loved the quiet of Beersheva, a quiet which is now, unfortunately, more than a little bit shattered. Your kind thoughts have helped a great deal on a difficult day. Thank you all.