Thursday, August 17, 2006


Pace Sartre, Which Comes First, Existence or Essence?

Finally the post I've promised; sorry it's shorter than I had intended (btw -- if y'all comment on this post and not, e.g., the post below, I'll figure y'all actually like these sorts of posts and will produce more of this and less of the other varieties ... even bloggers sometimes strive to meet demand ... jus' sayin'):

It has occurred to me that, in this latest conflict, it really was not the case that Israel's existence was threatened. While the attacks on Israel were horrific acts of terror and possibly indicated a threat that could come to threaten Israel's existence, the actual attacks and even the immanent threats threatened something deeper than Israel's existence. Like all attacks that effectively induce terror in Israelis and all who sympathize with them, these attacks threatened the essence of what Israel is supposed to be: a haven for the Jewish people where we can live as any other people, i.e. without a constant fear of extermination. That Israel gets threatened disproportionately to other nations invokes a fear of extermination in us Jews, for whom the threat of extermination has too often been a reality, in the very nation, which is supposed to be a safe haven from said extermination. Thus, it should be of no surprise that Israel responds to attacks the way it does and to not even try to understand Israel's position is rather hateful. Some complain that all criticism of Israel gets shot down as anti-Semitic and some would shoot down all such criticism in that way (which is of no help to Israel: societies can only thrive where constructive criticism is encouraged rather than shot down), but many times the reason why many view "criticism" of Israel as anti-Semitic is that it is clear that such people don't get the degree to which threats which are not nearly existential still might merit a strong response (the strategic value and moral justifiability of said responses is a whole 'nother issue) as they are "essential threats".

We had a similar threat in the U.S. on 9/11, which threatened America's essence as an island nation, divorced from the terrorists threats faced by much of the rest of the world. And look at how we responded (indeed, those areas where the threat was existential have often a very different take on the response than those areas for which the terrorist threat has largely threatened merely the feeling of security and hence where the preferred response to terrorism has not been to try to do whatever, heck even having tea and crumpets with them, if it would stop the threat in the long term, but rather has been one of macho posturing and sending poor kids to die in wars overseas). Most lefties do not have the double standard claimed for us: we either opposed both the U.S. and Israeli responses to respective essential threats or if we supported the U.S. and opposed the Israeli response it was based on bona fide distinctions between the utility of each response, etc. But those who would deny some nations any right to respond with all vigor to essential threats yet accept that others have that right are guilty of a double standard. And one must wonder "why the double standard with respect to Israel?"

Anyway, just as people have a right to defend themselves with lethal force if they are threatened with lethal force, nations have a right to defend themselves proportionally against existential threats. But what is an appropriate response of a nation to an essential threat? Are such threats perhaps even graver than existential threats (as passages of the Torah comparing the threats posed by various groups to the wandering Israelites seem to indicate) or does existence precede essence and threats to either should be ranked in worrisome-ness accordingly?

Speaking of 9/11, though: what is the deal with those who feel we can bomb various countries into submission? Why should other nations respond to a bombing campaign any differently than we would, i.e. by "rallying around the leader" rather than by becoming disenchanted with said leader? The stock answer seems to be "well, we were attacked without provocation on 9/11 whereas the other countries are not innocent". But would the people in other countries feel "we deserve this bombing given what a yutz we have for a leader" when we did not feel the same way? Indeed, there are good reasons why "they" hate us: our support of dictatorships (the neo-cons were right about this: they just are part of the problem not the solution) and a system of neo-liberal free trade that nonetheless only exists because this "free" trade is enforced by goons, etc. So if we whined "why do they hate us?" and rallied around our leader, why wouldn't "they" do the same? How are "they" so different than "us"? Relatedly: we do seem to have a problem over-estimating our bravery and under-estimating the bravery of our opponents: need I mention how strategically dangerous that is?

That Israel gets threatened disproportionately to other nations invokes a fear of extermination in us Jews, for whom the threat of extermination has too often been a reality, in the very nation, which is supposed to be a safe haven from said extermination

It's the kind of thing that dominates someones consciousness when they, their family and the group they are identified with or by is targeted. It can be a great strength but it can become dangerous. The Serbs, targeted by the Ustashi in WWII had a history that the post Tito despots used for their own ends. Ireland has made pretty bad use of its history in the same way.

It's not going to be easy to overcome it. Especially since now you have the same psychology at work among Palestinaians and other groups surrounding Israel. Anyone who wants to grasp power only has to play on that mind set to win a large number of supporters.

Maybe the beginning is for everyone to admit that the other side is there and that they aren't going away no matter what is done. If only that level of reality can take hold then maybe the next step can be taken but everyone's existence has to be admitted first.

Existentialism, boring philosophy, interesting literature. Though it's sort of phenomenology for the lazy, I think. Maybe the best thing to come out of it is Vladimir Ussachevsky's terrifying electronic score for No Exit.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?