I don’t often link primarily to just say, “I’ll have what he’s having, bartender”, but this short essay by David Atkins on Gaza is a good reason to break that habit.
As Atkins says, it’s pointless and thankless in several respects to even try to talk about Gaza right now. I’ll add to his list a reprint of a point that I made on Facebook:
“One of the interesting undertones in the current moment in Gaza is the extent to which all but a very few of people involved–leaders, civilians, victims, observers–narrate themselves as helpless, as passive components of a structure, a machinery, a territoriality, a history. Not only does almost everyone speak as if there are no choices, almost no one speaks as if the events, the actions, the things being done, have any hope to do anything but eventually lead to more things that will be done. The only thing that animates people is a fury at any other group or faction’s expression of passivity or helplessness. Everyone imagines themselves without agency and all other groups as fully agentive. Everyone is all reaction to some other action.
Everyone might well be right.”
In your quote, “One of the interesting undertones…” you make, I think, a distinction between groups and factions. If you do, what is it?
This is extremely hypocritical of you and all other “progressives” who support Israeli apartheid even if only tacitly. If it was wrong in South Africa it is also wrong in Palestine. If divestment was right in the case of South Africa then it is correct in the case of Israel. I know that “progressives” think there is a difference between Jewish oppression of Palestinians and Afrikaner oppression of Blacks that makes the first one okay. But, there is not. The ANC and other resistance organizations like the Palestinian ones were also labelled as terrorists. Most notably South Africans who opposed apartheid like Desmond Tutu clearly see the fact that Israel practices apartheid.
Not so much a distinction as I want to cover both very broad groups (say, committed Zionists or anticolonial activists) and much more specific factions (say, followers of a particular splinter party on any side). Pretty much anyone who has a dedicated opinion or “side” in the conflict tends to react as Atkins describes: with white-hot intensity against any opposing group.
I think I see. Your distinction makes no judgment on the goals of the various groups or factions. Madison, in Federalist 10, defined a faction as a group of citizens “who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”
I take his words to mean that a faction always works against the common good, and, if that is so, then some other group, some anti-faction, works for the common good. I don’t know what to call this anti-faction.
But I have observed that most other people who talk about factions seem to be have in mind a quarrelsome subset of a political party, sometimes irritating, other times worrisome, but rarely dangerous. That form of faction is like a wart on the back of one’s hand. But Madison’s form of faction is a cancerous tumor growing in one’s body that, if left unchecked, will kill its host. I would like to be very clear in my use of faction, and I would like to know what name I should use for the anti-faction, the group of citizens that works for the common good.
You might be interested in the following response to Atkins’ post by Chris Floyd.
Basically, his response is that to shy away from a topic due to likely backlash is cowardly; to avoid the topic because you can’t find any “good guys” is childish (“How about rooting for the innocent people being slaughtered?”); and to claim that the whole endeavor is “pointless” is odd considering that the “point” is among other things to register your complaint and possibly put pressure on our government, just as with any other political blog post.
Considering that Israel is likely to maintain this offensive until there is too much international outcry, the “point” of speaking out seems pretty clear to me, assuming you agree that minimizing the bloodshed is a worthy goal.
I’m glad to accept the label of coward in the specific sense of Atkins’ point–that in online discourse there is no more fruitless a discussion than the Israel-Palestine conflict, because it brings legions of anonymous commentators with brutally unpleasant and bullying comments to the table, drowning out anything that might resemble an actual conversation. I think here is an example where blog posting is largely immaterial and to put to much weight on it (and therefore claim, as Dulles once did about the Cold War, that there are no neutral parties) is to commit something of the same error that the “keyboard warriors” who were advocates of the Iraq War did–to arrogantly assume that one’s own blog posts are a significant part of the decision-making process about the conflict. Sometimes the blogosphere or the larger public culture exerts weight, sometimes it doesn’t. In this case it doesn’t and can’t. Israel will do whatever it’s going to do whether or not a million blogs cry out, and for that matter so will Hamas; so will Israelis and Palestinians; so will the Obama Administration and the US government; so will Americans who have very strong prior feelings about the conflict and its history.
There is almost no one who approaches this conflict as a thing to understand or know about, or to have discussions about. What do you do about a history this tainted and painful? What do you do, actually, about people who shoot rockets at your territory from sites around civilians? What do you do, actually, about people who keep your people in a sociopolitical arrangement that has strong resemblance to apartheid? I don’t have the faintest idea. I only know that I’m not interested in trying to talk about it with people who have far too many ideas, far too much certainty, and a total inability to actually talk about it. Because that’s what blogs are specialized to do: talk. They’re not about marching on Washington or sending support to combatants: do that if that’s what you think will produce an outcome that you find to be an improvement.
I think you are being hyperbolic when you state “There is almost no one who approaches this conflict as a thing to understand or know about, or to have discussions about.” Am I really that unusual? I agree that there is a shocking amount of emotion and certitude around this issue, and indeed this is one thing that makes it so hard for me to sort out.
You posed very interesting and important questions in your comment, and then said you have no interest “in trying to talk about it with people… who have a total inability to talk about it.” I find it quite distressing that you are willing to let those people stifle the conversation that needs to be happening among the rest of us. It is through such conversations that someone like me might be able to decide whether marching on Washington would be worthwhile. Perhaps this is fine with you because you think the answer is “no” or you simply don’t care. I don’t know. Meanwhile, you and Atkins are ceding to others any intellectual influence you could have on someone like me.
More fundamentally, I am dismayed that the strategy of shouting down people like you and Atkins is actually working to stifle discussion.
And yet here you’ve linked to Floyd, who basically joins in with the Dulles strategy, saying, “If you don’t have an opinion to loudly declaim to the heavens, you DO have an opinion, and it is the wrong one.” Which is evidence, I think, that this is the Love Canal of modern geopolitics, a toxic swamp where all who reside will perish–quickly or slowly. Politics is about recognizing where the conjunctures lie. I mention the helplessness and passivity of the people firing rockets and bombs and mobilizing troops, and the helplessness and passivity of people who endorse the firing of bombs and rockets and the helplessness of people who respond to every photo of a dead baby with a mention of a dead or injured victim on their side for good reason. Because human beings have built a horrible machine there that will kill and kill again and to enter into the machine’s workings with an opinion about whose bombings are worse and who failed to sign what peace agreement and whose history is least poisoned and who who who who who is to just take your turn at the gears, pumping all the while to keep the machine killing. Anybody who thinks this comes down to something stupidly concrete like a speech, a gesture, a policy, a five-point cease-fire signed by a convocation of people who lie at every stroke of the pen about what they’re signing is just taking their turn pulling the oars in the slave boat.
There are many things that can change when people of good faith stir themselves to talk about them. This, right now, is not one of them. It can all be left to the people who think their bombs or rockets are righteous, or their dead babies sanctified.
Thanks, I appreciate your willingness to comment this much, at least!
I am, of course, with the men of Rohan; opposed both to the Dunlendings and their allies among the Internet’s orcs.
That aside: there are interesting questions of genre and site–whether a public blog can be a locus for conversation, and the pursuit of truth, rather than for persuasion, and the pursuit of victory. It is to some extent a quixotic (albeit longstanding) hope to think that a conversation can be both public and untainted by eloquence. This may be more evident on this particular topic, but I think it is a generic problem.
But on the particular topic: it’s also that most everything has been said–it’s not as if there is an interesting solution lying around that hasn’t been considered. The decision of the conflict is of very great interest; but as an intellectual topic, it is repetitive and dull. And hence it is perfectly understandable that you would devote your salon to different subjects.
Tell me, what news is there of the cholera in Odessa?
Again I am going to ask you. If there is nothing to be done then why did you bother to lobby for divestment from South Africa? It seems to me you have made an arbitrary decision that some forms of racism and apartheid are worth fighting against and others are not. Easy cases like South Africa where there is no Afrikaner lobby and no Jewish associates will call you an anti-semite are to you worth fighting for. Hard cases like Palestine where you will not get 100% support of the university community are too scary to touch. You are truly a coward just like every other “progressive”.
I like the way you’ve arranged this conversation, by refusing to play a losing game. I imagine this is how Henry IV felt while issuing the Edict of Nantes. He was assassinated over it and it took a couple hundred more years, but look how obvious it all seems now.
Otto, why are you such a prick? I presume you have been busy mobilizing a wide-ranging movement of Ghanaians for Palestine? if not, why not?
i have to agree with Keith. I’ve seen great conversations and dialogues on the internet and terrible troll laden ones. I lived in Gaza for 3 months in 2001. That experience has stayed with me, and probably will for the rest of my life. I’m an American who has lived in China for over a decade. Despite the internet and social media everything can seem remote and pointless. I could “get away” with not saying anything, with doing what everyone else here is doing–shopping for Black Friday deals, figuring out where to go on vacay. I don’t bother with trolls when they come around. That’s par for the course. I just try to influence my friends and whoever is listening to me on Twitter or whatever. Maybe one day I will join the fight more directly. But it’s important to at least stand up and be counted. I think that’s what I do when I link to things, like this post, on my Facebook and Twitter. I’d like to think that I’m doing a bit of service here, however little, and I hope that even if I can’t do much to ameliorate or otherwise affect the I/P situation that at least before I die people know that I tried to bear witness to the issues of my time. And I think that’s why a lot of us go on there. That spirit, I hope, has a in-built humility to it–the kind of humility that true believers and trolls don’t have. And if that is indeed something good, then why keep it to yourself?