Bigger Picture – Keeping Ruthlessness at Bay

22 Jan

This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series Big Picture (9 parts)

When Pandora’s box was opened, allowing to escape all the ills and evils of the world, the only thing that remained behind was hope.

This is an important image since, while hope itself has very little power against forces of darkness (or, more specifically, the ruthlessness I’ve been talking about the last couple of weeks) hope has the power to rally all of the virtues (compassion, reason, loyalty, courage, etc.) to win out against this common and unending enemy of civilization.

Keep this image in mind as we consider the possibility that the war against the Jews might not be solved next week, or next year, or next century, or ever, a thought that can easily lead to despair.   Although it doesn’t have to – especially if we can get our hands around what we should be hoping for.

Hoping for a “final end to conflict,” for example, implies that the forces of ruthlessness ranged against civilization in general and the Jews in particular can be finally and ultimately vanquished, a “victory” that could only be achieved through a transformation of the species.  But, as we learned last century (in one of those dialectical switcheroos that litter history) attempts to re-create the species to eliminate ruthlessness inevitably lead to supreme rule by the ruthless.

In contrast, hoping to win just this battle, to hold the enemy at bay while we inch civilization forward (or, more specifically, counteract a two inch retreat with a two-and-a-half inch advance), is not just possible but the only way we have ever achieved success (or at least progress) in the aforementioned endless war.

Of all peoples, Jews should have learned this lesson by now.  For every time we have tried to hasten history to a final conclusion (i.e, tried to create heaven on earth through religious or secular Messianism), things have not turned out so well for us.  But when we instead muddled through (particularly with regard to changing what can be changed and accepting what can’t), we have succeeded.

Not just succeeded here and there, but succeeded to such a degree that our example should be providing endless hope to those also battling mankind’s oldest enemy.  For we have remained a people for thousands of years, even as the ruthless kings and emperors and dictators that tormented and enslaved us came and went (along with the kingdoms, empires and nations they ruled).  We have built a new nation out of sand, and by basing this nation on principles of trust and compromise (via choosing the route of democracy, coupled with a willingness to accept half a loaf), our tiny, impossible state has not just survived, but thrived.

In contrast, our enemies who could have built their own thriving societies (especially given the unearned wealth they’ve been blessed with) have instead chosen to side with ruthlessness and everything that comes with that package (rule through force, intolerance of descent, unwillingness to compromise ever), decisions that leave them (ironically) in an endless state of conflict, weakness and decay.

This should give us some encouragement since it demonstrates that ruthlessness is NOT all-powerful, but carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.  For what better describes the degeneration of Arab society over the last century than one group of ruthless actors replacing by another (and violently smashing all societal underpinnings of once-great societies along the way)?  And while ruthlessness itself may never leave us, when it hits a wall of resolve, it’s always a contest to see what will crumble first: civilization’s readiness to defend itself vs. the glue of hatred and fear that holds the ruthless society together.

The continuing incremental advance of civilization is not guaranteed, nor is it in any way cost free.  To cite the most obvious example, the elimination of last century’s ruthless political ideologies (Fascism and Marxism) came at a cost of 100,000,000 lives each.  But in the end, they were defeated – despite being a hundred times more powerful than the ruthless actors we face today.

This points out that hideous things can happen in the battle of civilization against the ruthless (such as the aforementioned 200,000,000 casualties of World Wars II and III).  And the Jews, who have been on the frontlines of all of the major conflicts between these two forces (either as a people or as a nation) understand the cost of incremental victory (such as survival).

So turning back to hope, we can’t let fear of even a major setback (like an Iranian atom bomb or an Israeli defeat on the battlefield) prevent us from maintaining the hope that Israel (like civilization itself) can ultimately hold out against its enemies (at least this time around).  It may come at a cost that can seem too high to bear.  But Jews have paid far higher costs for survival within living memory.  And civilization as a whole has been paying the cost to win such a battle since the beginning of time.

Which means we should not just learn to live with an ongoing conflict, but embrace it – even enjoy putting our armor on and going into battle when we know our cause is just.  For as one of ruthlessness’s champions aptly distilled their strategy last century: “Probe with bayonets.  When you encounter mush, advance.  When you encounter steel, retreat.”

Thus, it is not just our responsibility, but our sacred duty to ensure that steel is the only thing humanity’s oldest foe ever encounters.

Series Navigation<< Bigger Picture – What the Big Ugly Teaches Us

6 Responses to “Bigger Picture – Keeping Ruthlessness at Bay”

  1. Stop BDS Park Slope January 22, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    Jon -

    An excellent, well thought out series.

    So the bottom line is we must not be discouraged and realize this will be an ongoing fight.

    The ruthless will inseminate hatred – in our case Judeophobia, the most frequent form, but not the only one that has or can be used – as means of concentrating power. Forgetfulness and fantasy have something to do with the ability of the ruthless to achieve this.

    What makes someone cross over to the dark side?

    Nycerbarb

    • DivestThis January 23, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

      Thanks Barb – And with regard to your question on what makes someone “cross over,” I think the “Big Ugly” thesis helps divide our opponents into different categories.

      First, you’ve got full-blown ruthless actors who understand that they can leverage opposition to the Jews and their state to achieve their own ends vis-a-vis amassing wealth and/or power. The leaders of the variosu states opposing Israel fall into this camp.

      Then, you’ve got ruthless actors who don’t have access to such power, but would like to. I would put the leadership of most anti-Israel organizations into this camp, even if they have to limit their ruthless behavior to manipulating civic organizatons for their own ends as well as internal power struggles within “the movement” itself.

      Below this, you’ve got borderline cases of people imbued with fantasy ideology that allows them to think that everything they do is in the right. This is what makes them so impervious to appeals that require empathy (which is why our questions regarding their tacit alliance with the world’s greatest human rights violators falls on deaf ears). I call these casees borderline for while they can lead to ruthless behavior (such as manipulating a school, church or city), people in this class are also the easist for the two categories of ruthless actors listed above to manipulate.

      At the bottom of the pecking order are naifs who, when confronted by a dire situation, feel like the must “do something” and thus partake in anti-Israel activites and swallow whole anti-Israel belief systems. In some cases, these people are open to new information (which is why the volunteer ranks of BDS oragnizations are so volitile – since a percentage of them eventually learn what they are truly being asked to do and leave). But, in other cases, people will cling to their beliefs no matter how much they see and hear that should make them question such a world view. Ruth Wisse’s analysis of “blaming the Jews for the war waged against them” coupled with Lee Harris’ notion of forgetfulness (i.e., taking the benefits of the artificial societies we live in for granted to the point of denying the existence of ruthlessness) can explain this level of stubborness.

      While many in this last category eventually leave “the movement,” some cling on either as perpetual dupes or as candidates to enter the world of ruthlessness themselves (if they are very, very unlucky).

  2. Stop BDS Park Slope January 24, 2013 at 6:19 am #

    Now I am beginning to understand:

    “Below this, you’ve got borderline cases of people imbued with fantasy ideology that allows them to think that everything they do is in the right. …At the bottom of the pecking order are naifs who, when confronted by a dire situation, feel like the must “do something” and thus partake in anti-Israel activities and swallow whole anti-Israel belief systems.”

    This latter group is more like a continuum. And there is even a further group, who are sympathetic to the cause because it has “the correct pedigree” even though they don’t agree fully. They are ones who in my food coop would say “We have to give BDS a fair hearing.”

    This continuum from “confirmation bias” to “shear fantasy” is a force that we are all subject to. It’s been shown in psychology experiments that when we learn a piece of information that is counter to our beliefs, we will try to discount it or justify it in some way that allows us to live with the contradiction. And we actually derive pleasure when we are successful in this process. As a completely unrelated example, look at the denial that went on in the Penn State community last year when the Sandusky abuse charges became public.

    We have seen in the comments section of this list how pro-BDSers become in enraged when you call BDS anti-Semitic. If you say the BDS objective is to destroy Israel, they will deny it. Because in their universe, they cannot be on the side of the racists.

    I am speculating, but I think much of the pro-BDS support comes from people in the anti-war camp. This is a blowback of the Gulf War. At least this is what Mondoweiss says brought I/P to his conscience. In their minds, US engagement in the Iraq War was tied to concerns for Israel’s security (or to the more extreme, soley for the benefit of Israel.) This, too, is a type of fantasy justification. How could the US undertake such a disastrous adventure? Only if they were controlled by a diabolical, super-powerful, external force – right?

    Nycerbarb

  3. Mike Lumish January 25, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    Jon,

    I would say that this is a very interesting and thoughtful series, but I do wonder if you are not becoming a bit too abstract in your analyses.

    You are talking about certain tendencies within the human heart and mind that leads to conflict, in particular conflict against the Jewish people. And while I do not necessarily disagree I think that we must name our enemies because, as Jewish people, we do have enemies.

    The primary enemy of the Jewish State of Israel is political Islam. Political Islam (or “radical Islam” or “Islamism”), as you know, is a growing international political movement that wishes to install al-Sharia as the foundation of government either within individual governments or within a larger caliphate.

    Among the many, many aspects of Sharia there are two that should be of specific concern to Jewish people. The first is that Jews are considered second and third class citizens under the system of dhimmitude.

    The second and related aspect is the fact that no land that was ever once a part of the umma can ever be considered anything other than Muslim land, which is the very heart of the long Arab-Muslim war against the Jews in the Middle East.

    In any case, terrific material.

    Thank you for this.

    • DivestThis January 25, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

      Thanks Mike. This is something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time, which is why I finally wanted to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to synthesize a complete argument (understanding that, as you say, I am writing at a more abstract level than might be useful for day-to-day political activism).

      That said, I think it is worth it for all of us to keep the origin of our true enemy in mind, even as we do battle with its current manifestation. As you note, radical Islam is currently our greatest threat (although I’d add to that the radical Left to which it is allied – an analysis I suspect you’d agree with). But we need to remember that these are the two political tendenceis through which the ruthless feel that they can today come to power, exert their will and enact their mayhem. If this were 100 years ago, we’d be talking about Christianity and the political Right as the Jews historic and current tormentors. But today, it is within such groups that we find many of our allies (at least in the US).

      According to the “Big Ugly” thesis I’ve described, however, this does not necessarily mean that Christians or Conservatives have evolved and can now be counted on to be our friends forever. Rather, it points out that – at least for the time being – ruthlessness struggles to find a home within these two movements (which is why it is current infecting a different host). And even if Islam is reborn as a religion shorn of expansionist ideology and the Left comes to its senses (or, more specifically, the responsible Left succeeds in marginalizing the radicals), that just means the fight will move elsewhere as the ever-opportunistic ruthlessness virus seeks out (and ultiamtely finds) a new home.

  4. Brian Goldfarb February 8, 2013 at 12:04 am #

    Late on the case (but we’ve been away),this struck me: ” as we learned last century (in one of those dialectical switcheroos that litter history) attempts to re-create the species to eliminate ruthlessness inevitably lead to supreme rule by the ruthless.” Max Weber, architect of the academic study of bureaucracy, among much else, noted that pushing the rational model of organisation (i.e., bureaucracy in the modern world) leads, inevitably, to irrationality.

    Thus, he would not have been surprised (saddened, dismayed, and probably horrified, but not surprised) at the way that the Nazis and Fascist, to say nothing of the Bolsheviks, used the state and other bureaucracies to create monsters of societies. We have to bear in mind that he witnessed the Bolshevik revolution and presciently [predicted that the “dictatorship of (meaning by) the proletariat” would, in fact, became dictatorship over the proletariat (and everyone else).

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