Just a shout-out to anyone in the north Jersey area interested in attending this event, #OpenGaza: Trauma and Hope, First Hand, taking place this Tuesday, October 27, 8-10 pm at the Palestinian American Community Center of Clifton, New Jersey, 388 Lakeview Ave., Clifton, New Jersey 07011. Speakers include Dr. Yasser Abu-Jamei, Executive Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, and Ran Goldstein, Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights, Israel. The event is free. I’ll be there, and easy enough to pick out of the crowd–the fiftyish woman with stylish glasses, suave, oddly masculine looks, and black nail polish. (ht: Mondoweiss)
By coincidence, last month I spent a weekend “conferencing” with Izzeldine Abouelaish, founder of Daughters for Life and author of I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey. Izzeldine, whose daughters and niece were killed in 2009 by Israeli rocket fire in Gaza, is one of those supposedly mythical Palestinians committed to peace despite having endured trauma at Israeli hands. More on Izzeldine’s book once I finish it; for now, I just couldn’t resist mentioning the coincidence of “two-doctors-from-Gaza-with-messages-of-hope-amidst-trauma.”
Mention Gaza to the average American news junkie, and the immediate association is “Hamas” and “Islamist fanaticism.” Not that those things don’t exist, but there are more things in Palestine than are dreamt up by such stereotypes, and I’d like to think that events like the PACC talk and like Izzeldine’s book and foundation will eventually break the reflexive associations of “Palestinian” with “wild-eyed religious psychopath” and replace them with something more respectful of reality. The audacity of hope, to borrow a phrase.
have a look at this:
Like virtually all Objectivist writing on Israel and Palestine, Journo’s piece is moronic and dishonest. If you resolutely evade the fact that the Palestinians are the victims of a systematically rights-violating, sectarian state, well yes: their violence looks incomprehensible. But once you factor that obtrusive fact into the equation, it’s really not that hard to figure out. I visited Palestine once in 2013, and once again this summer. Even in 2013, it was obvious what was coming. I told my (then) wife: “Give it a year, and you’ll see an apocalypse.” I even predicted that it would center on Al Aqsa. Well, whether it was one year or two, I was right. I don’t claim any great powers of prediction. It was obvious to anyone in Jerusalem with eyes to see that this was coming. But trust me–most American tourists in Jerusalem lack the vision to see much of anything. The same might be said of Israelis a la Journo.
Leonard Peikoff famously threw a fit when the Library of Congress forcibly reclaimed two pages of the manuscript of The Fountainhead that he’d gifted them (he gifted them the manuscript minus two pages he kept). Oh, the tears! Oh, the bravado! Oh, poor Leonard’s hurt pride, his violated privacy, his lost, treasured property! The truth is that Peikoff deserved every bit of that fiasco: he brought it on himself, as his own recounting of it makes clear. But compared to what Palestinians have to put up with in the country that Peikoff and his compatriots valorize–compared to what my friend Izzeldine had to suffer–Peikoff’s “ordeal” doesn’t even rise to the occasion of a bad joke. What people like Journo, Peikoff, and Brook lack is a fundamental capacity for discerning the humanity of people that they regard as alien to them. They’ve managed to invert Terence’s famous saying–just about everything human is alien to them. And that’s on top of their famously revisionary way with facts. That’s a large part of the explanation for their view on Israel/Palestine.
If you really want to plumb the deep philosophical reason why Objectivists do not understand the Israel/Palestine dispute, however, let me make an outre suggestion. Forget history and politics for a moment and consider something deeper. Consider what Rand has to say about the nature of tragedy.
In that spirit, go back and read Rand on Shakespeare in The Romantic Manifesto and The Art of Fiction. What is her estimate of Shakespeare? She devotes a short paragraph to him in RM and the same in AF.
She doesn’t discuss a play beyond Othello. She gives no textual evidence at all. That flat assertion is supposed to be her summary not just of Shakespeare but of the tragic dramatic tradition from the ancient Greeks to Shakespeare and Byron (of which Shakespeare is the paradigm). She mentions Byron; she doesn’t even bother to mention Sophocles.
Now go back and read or watch another Venetian play more relevant to our topic, The Merchant of Venice. Is Shylock’s character inexplicable? Or isn’t it obvious that Shylock’s character is partly deformed by a society that treats him like shit? What makes Shylock a tragic figure is his inability to keep himself together in the face of injustice. That’s a flaw, but it’s not incomprehensible, and it certainly doesn’t deserve the armchair derision of someone who has no idea what it’s like to be Shylock.
Now go back and read Sophocles’s Electra–a story of life under occupation. Electra is a madwoman. The whole play depicts an irrational cycle of violence. But what makes it comprehensible is precisely that it’s taking place under a military occupation! Only a complete moron would watch the play and ask, “How come Electra doesn’t act more like a suburban gal from north Jersey?” How about this answer: because north Jersey hasn’t been under 48 years of military occupation! Here’s a newsflash: people act very badly when you treat them very badly, and the Israeli occupation excels at treating people like shit.
The Merchant of Venice and Electra, to me, capture the meaning of the Israel/Palestine dispute better than any works of art that I know. But they are precisely the works of literature that Objectivists lack the resources to discuss or understand, at least qua Objectivists.
The infernal irony is that it is Objectivists who describe Palestinians on the basis of deterministic essences–which is how, in desperation, they describe anything they can’t readily understand. Lacking any actual contact with the people in question, Journo has nothing to go on but polls and anedotes strung together by stereotypes and dogmas: Palestinians are Islamists, Hamas is Islamist, so Palestinians are Hamas-niks; Hamas is in favor of terror, so Palestinians are in favor of terror; terror is anti-life so Palestinians are anti-life; Palestinians are opposed to Israelis, so Israel is pro-life. Any idiot can free associate his way to this sort of enlightenment–and at ARI, every idiot does.
I haven’t really had the chance to write about my Palestine experiences on the blog, but what struck me on this last trip was the monstrous detachment from reality of so much American discourse on Israel/Palestine. ARI is like the ne plus ultra of that detachment–a detachment so complete as really, honestly to tread the borderline between neurosis and psychosis. The picture we are getting here of what is happening there is fundamentally unreal, systematically out of sync with what is really happening on the ground. Just bits and pieces of mindless Palestinian violence, depicted as initiatory, with no sense of what it is responding to. I doubt that the people loudest in judgment on Palestinian violence could handle what it’s responding to. I had trouble handling it. But oddly, I can’t wait to go back.
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it seems that objectivism seems to attract assholes. I also think this sheds some negative lights on essentialism
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That Objectivism attracts assholes is a relatively simple and undeniable truth. Essentialism, by contrast, is a complicated topic. But there are bad forms of it.
We need more nuanced thinkers like yourself in the media…. Making philosophy a large part of the curriculum for aspiring journalists might do the trick…
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Thanks! I do think that journalists need philosophy. It might help if philosophy had a little more respect for journalism, which it mostly doesn’t.
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Neither side finds peace on the other’s terms acceptable.
it seems that quite a no. of objectivists lack either imagination or empathy or both.
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Irfan, I want to leave this comment here. It’s a reply to one of your comments in the open post on the Arab/Israeli war. I’m very curious as to yor response.
(1) The Israeli government in power in 1967 was astounded by its military success. There was no plan for what to do next, because no one had contemplated conquering the West Bank. There were numerous influential voices at that time that shouted that there had to be an immediate resolution, but inertia and expediency conquered. (The Israeli political system encourages inertia. It has been 67 years since independence, but there is still no written constitution, despite the fact that every opinion poll has showed a desire for one.)
(2) As the years and then the decades past, the Palestinians became weary of military occupation with no end in sight. Some of them tried violent resistance, some of them tried to take over Jordan, everything of this nature just made the Israeli opposition to Palestinian independence stronger. More violent resistance has led to more repression and a determination not to allow a Palestinian state, which has led to more resistance.
(3) Parallel to these factors was a general trend in Israeli politics – the Labor Left was loosing and the Militarist Right was winning, more and more. Part of this has to do with the history of Zionism. Part of this has to do with the fact that socialism never results in prosperity, but, unfortunately, extreme militarism and economic liberalism (Jabotinsky Revisionism) were tied together in the history of Zionism. Mixed into this was Rab Kook’s messianic nationalism, which, like Jabotinsky’s Revisionism, was given a huge ideological boost by the 1967 victory.
(4) It is Kook’s ideological “theology” plus more expediency that has led to the the settlement problem. On the one hand, the Haredim, who had before 1967 opposed the State of Israel, now demanded that it be expanded to the historical limits of the state of Solomon. The State had become a vehicle by which G-d was working his will to restore the final state of the Messiah. On the other hand, Israel is expensive, because it is still mostly corrupt bureaucratic semi-socialism. It is much cheaper to live in the settlements.
I guess I’d mostly agree, except for elements of (1) and (4). I’m not sure that the Israeli government lacked a plan for what to do after the 1967 war, and I would dispute the claim that Kook’s theology was the only ideological factor driving the settlement/occupation enterprise. Israel’s Declaration of Independence explicitly invokes “the whole of Eretz Israel” as something that belongs to Israel by right. What I find remarkable is that the document equates “Eretz Israel” with the British Mandate (in capital letters, no less), which seems slyly to imply that the Balfour Declaration handed all of Mandate Palestine over to Israel as the Jewish National Home. Despite Israel’s nominal acceptance of the UN Partition Plan of 1947, the Declaration of Independence is written so as to be compatible with what happened in 1967. I don’t regard that as an accident.
Further, right from its inception, Israel refused to define the limits of its eastern border. Everyone knew, well before 1967, that the West Bank contained (among other things) the Cave of the Patriarchs, along with the erstwhile site of Jewish Hebron, Rachel’s Tomb, Joseph’s Tomb, and the aquifer that now furnishes much of Israel’s water supply. (To say nothing of Old Jerusalem.) The first four things were culturally or religiously valuable to Jews, and the fifth was strategically valuable (even crucial) to the State.
So I don’t think that “no one had contemplated conquering the West Bank.” Inertia and expediency trumped the desire to withdraw from the West Bank because there was pressure within Zionist ideology for holding onto and settling the West Bank. Now that Israel controls H2, along with Areas B and C (along with East Jerusalem, E1, and the annexed land west of the wall and east of the Green Line), the combination of ideological and expedient reasons for the occupation/settlement enterprise trump the moral reasons for rolling it back. But I regard that dynamic as something intrinsic to Zionism, not a later happenstance outcome of the 1967 war.
To me, there are two fundamental, infathomable mysteries of the universe. First, how could God, who transcends the universe of space and time and particularity and materiality, create that universe of space and time and particularity and materiality? Second, how could someone like Irfan Khawaja think that Objectivism deserved even his disdain? To be honest, I think the first question is easier to understand, because I can adopt certain ideas from negative theology whereby I can understand without understanding how a being who transcends being could create being. But how to understand how someone so intelligent and articulate and sensitive and human as Irfan Khawaja continues to regard Objectivism as something that deserves his response? That’s hard. How did Christ walk on water? There must have been a suspension of the normal natural laws of the universe. How does Irfan continue to regard Objectivists as worth responding to? It must be a suspension of the normal natural laws of the universe. Hence I take Irfan’s continued willingness to treat Objectivism as a worthwhile partner in discussion as evidence of the existence of God.
The God question is not all that hard to answer. How could God create…? Well, he’s omnipotent, that’s how. Why is that an unsatisfying answer? Well, we’re not omniscient, that’s how.
(1) Re Objectivism, we need to distinguish Objectivism as a movement and Objectivism as idealized version of the philosophy Ayn Rand et al have sketched out. Start with the first.
First thing to say is that the question is not whether Objectivism deserves respect, but whether it’s worth commenting on. I’d say it is, for two reasons.
(a) It’s more influential than most people realize. This happens when a phenomenon is dramatically stupid but still attractive to lots of people, e.g., Donald Trump, Ben Carson, the Republican Party.
(b) The movement also deserves attention because it serves to enact features of the philosophy that would otherwise escape notice, in just the way that watching a performance of, say, a symphony or dramatic work enacts features of the music or play that would escape notice if you simply read the score, heard it on your stereo, or read the play in textual form. It’s very easy to regard the most reactionary parts of Rand’s views as anomalous or accidental to her writing as a whole until you realize how many people are attracted to Rand precisely for the accidental, reactionary features. Then you realize that “accidental” doesn’t mean “non-existent” or “unimportant.” Also: when you collect a series of “anomalies,” they cease to be anomalies. At a certain point, you come to realize that there are so many “anomalies” in Rand that being-a-problematically-anomalous feature of her writing isn’t anomalous; it’s endemic.
Second thing to say is that I probably spend too much time taking the Objectivist movement too seriously, and should probably stop doing so.
(2) On Objectivism as (idealized) philosophy: I think it’s worth taking Objectivism seriously for the same reason that it’s worth taking Freudian psychoanalysis and Sartrean existentialisma seriously. Despite all that’s wrong with them, all three lock onto something distinctive, important, and even profound that’s missing elsewhere.
In my view, any discerning reader ought to have a two-fold reaction to Freudianism, Sartreanism,and Objectivism.
One reaction should be moral-intellectual disgust at the brazen subversion of intellectual virtues displayed by adherents of all three philosophies, starting with their founders. Open any page of Freud, Sartre, or Rand, and you’ll find unclarity masquerading as moral passion, fallacy-mongering masquerading as rigor, and lunatic, hyperbolic rhetoric masquerading as political wisdom. Open many pages of Freud’s, Sartre’s, and Rand’s adherents and epigones, and you’ll find them outdoing the founder in intellectual vice. I won’t adduce Randian examples (too easy, too obvious), but just read Freud’s Three Essays on Sexuality or Sartre’s writings on colonialism. Cringe-makingly bad stuff.
That said, I think a discerning reader ought also to be able to see past the rubbish in Freud, Sartre, and Rand, and see that something else is going on in these texts, something distinctive and original, and above all, something more imaginative than anything you will find in the hallowed works of twentieth century Anglo-American analytic philosophy. Maybe the twenty-first century will be different than the twentieth, but that’s because we now have come to grasp that there is no longer anything definitory of “Anglo-American analytic philosophy.” But the bottom line is, the watchword in analytic philosophy–the value that’s prized above all others–is rigor. Imaginativeness counts for comparatively little, unless you regard the devising of increasingly crazy thought experiments as an exercise of the imagination, which I don’t.
Compare Freud, Sartre, and Rand with, say, Moore, Prichard, Ross, Stevenson, Hare, Rawls, Nozick,* and say, David Brink (or David Schmidtz, David Sosa, David Chalmers). No one would (or legitimately could) dispute that the latter group displays intellectual virtues that the first lacks. What I would insist on is that the first group has a depth, imagination, and profundity that the latter group lacks. Freud-Sartre-Rand are more imaginative, more provocative, more original, more unconventional than the thinkers of the latter group.
Ideally, a well-nourished mind needs both sorts of elements in its diet–analytic and non-analytic–but put it this way: if you had to spend two years in solitary confinement and were allowed to take only one book with you, and it had to be one written by one of the writers on the preceding list, I think you should choose one of Freud-Sartre-Rand over Moore-Prichard-Ross (et al). In other words: Being and Nothingness over Anarchy, State, and Utopia; Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand over Principia Ethica; any one volume work from the Standard Edition of Freud over The Right and the Good. Etc.
That’s why I regard reactions like this as close to pointless, even when they’re right (as this one mostly is). That sort of response to Rand like is like giving a literal-minded reading to the dumbest things Sartre said about Algeria and concluding triumphantly (and decades after the fact) that “it’s bullshit,” or reading The Psychopathology of Everyday Life and concluding that Freud should be dismissed as a psychologist because, well, while he makes all these armchair claims in the book about psychopathology, he doesn’t cite any bona fide double blind peer reviewed social science research in support of them, so his claims are “bullshit.”
I’m not even saying that such reactions are false. I’m saying they’re myopic: you’re missing something if you think that that’s all there is to say about Freud, Sartre, or Rand. There is (no doubt) a lot of rubbish in Freud, Sartre, and Rand (a lot), but if you look past the rubbish, there are insights that no one in analytic philosophy ever managed to make. An example common to all three: Freud on repression and the reality principle, Sartre on bad faith, Rand on the primacy of existence/focus/evasion. You can make your way through Moore, Prichard, Ross, Audi, and Huemer and never encounter an insight like that one. I take that to prove that a mind can’t be adequately nourished on philosophy done in the workmanlike-mode of Anglo-American analytic philosophy. It’s myopic to think that if philosophy is not workmanlike and “analytically rigorous,” it’s worthless. That’s why, to my mind, the best analytic philosophy is analytic philosophy hitched to something else: analytic Thomism, analytic Aristotelianism, analytic Marxism, etc.
I can’t resist recounting this anecdote: it took me 17 long years to earn my PhD. After my defense (on my second, successful dissertation), I walked over to chat with my original dissertation adviser, Alasdair MacIntyre, who had moved from Notre Dame to Duke (and back) in the middle of my first (unsuccessful, abandoned-in-midstride) dissertation, and had now moved back to ND in time to cross paths with me. So I walked over to his office after the defense and told him that the committee had approved the dissertation, and that I was at last going to get the PhD. (Yaaaay!) He was characteristically low key about it. He congratulated me and then said, “So how do you reconcile this fact with your atheism? Surely, this is a miracle if anything is?” He then suggested that theists add one more argument to their repertoire of arguments for the existence of God: in addition to all the others, there was now The Argument from Khawaja, the most convincing argument of all.
So now we have two versions of the Argument from Khawaja, yours and MacIntyre’s.
As for how Christ walked on water, the Gospel doesn’t say a word about what season it was when he did. What if it was the dead of winter, and the Sea of Galilee was frozen? So Christ walked on ice. Big deal. I mean, I can do that. Signs and wonders: With Khawaja, all things are possible.
*In the original version of this post, I had “Williams,” on the list but on second thought I deleted him; he’s a bad example to cite for the point I’m trying to make. The Nozick of Philosophical Explanations also cuts against some of what I say in the post, but I would argue that the Nozick of that book cribbed lots of stuff from Rand and existentialism (e.g., on free will).
What should Chalmers be deeper and profounder about? Should he make sweeping claims that individuals don’t exist? Should he develop a whole universal psychology around extended minds? Should he build a general political model from it?
Thank goodness he doesn’t.
Well, I wasn’t criticizing Chalmers or prescribing to him. But he describes his own work as a case of coming at philosophy of mind in a more rigorous way than his predecessors so as to clarify the mind-body problem. He doesn’t claim to have produced a positive theory of consciousness. That would be deeper and more profound than what he has produced (not that I’m complaining about his output). By contrast, Freud lacked rigor (to put it mildly) but he produced a deep and original depth psychology–a positive theory of the nature of mind that is still important to psychology 100+ years after the fact. Chalmers is a great philosopher, but I don’t know that anyone will still be reading him in the year 2115.
I will add MacIntyre’s version of the argument from Khawaja to the many thin strands of my rope of theistic argument. I’m pretty skeptical of miracles, though, so it’ll have to be pretty thin.
I agree with you that “the best analytic philosophy is analytic philosophy hitched to something else,” but I’m taking any of the analytic books you mentioned with me into solitary confinement over any of the others. Ideally, though, I could just take MacIntyre. Or, you know, Aristotle.
How about solitary confinement without books, but with a JSTOR subscription? Almost makes me wanna commit a crime or two.
I mean a JSTOR subscription and a working computer. And a printer. With paper and ink cartridge. And electricity.
Irfan, on the subject of the settlement enterprise, which neighboring countries are not guilty of land expropriation, or worse?
They’re all guilty of something or another. But “they’re all guilty” is perfectly consistent with Israeli guilt.
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