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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Stephen Hawking and the Academic Fallacy

Stephen Hawking represents the fallacy that Class consciousness brings to any rational discussion. Altruism is a rare thing in society perhaps because even what we see as self-sacrifice is far too often determined by ego.  We cynically assume self-interest to be the guiding impulse behind the actions of most people.  We adduce mutual respect from the disadvantaged to whom we shower our compassion and our generosity and believe the excuses that we are given when they fail the test of tolerance; because we want to see in everyone the values we ourselves practice.  And we bestow innocence upon our academic masters that few of them deserve.  We remember with fondness our early teachers (perhaps even our first crush) and with respect endow our later instructors with the gift of honesty, integrity and selflessness that few are ever able to attain.  Their depth of knowledge is assumed to be encyclopedic in spite of evidence to the contrary – we trust them with our unthinking and benevolent faith in education.

This is where the education system has betrayed us all.  By attributing the properties of a polymath to all our academics we cushion them from criticism because of the assumption that they not only know it all, but also that they are actually capable of joining all the dots into a coherent pattern.  People like Professor Stephen Hawking are awarded added gravitas because at least in his case, he has overcome (with Israeli help) his significant disabilities.  But we therefore forget, until rudely reminded, that an inconvenient truth exists: the disabled are just like us, with the same character flaws and prejudices.

Racists, religious bigots and political fascists (my favourite demons), are nevertheless provided with a cover when they teach our young. We assume a purity of vision that is without justification.  Worse, we give them respect, a salary and after a few years, tenure! This, we do, regardless of their competence or academic allegiance to the truth.   The central issue is that it is not possible to dilute the spread of venom throughout the body politic when the poisoners are in charge of quality control. Unprejudiced peer review does not, nor can it, exist, within a single institution.

There has been much written about S Hawking's boycott of Israel. Most of it either examines the man from his academic pedestal or is distracted by the initial confusion over his actions (did he boycott or didn’t he? He did).

My first point is this: To show up this hypocrite for his use of Israeli technology is absurd. We live in a networked world and very little of what we produce, anywhere, is uniquely ours. Even the Israeli software through which Hawking communicates with the outside world is simply a part of the technological legacy of our modern human endeavour.  To ascribe a unique Israeli characteristic to it is simply wrong.

In Britain (and not just in Britain - it is a disease of European Society), if a person of known Jewish faith performs a service that is worthy of commendation; the action may be reported, but never in terms of their attachment to Judaism.  If a person known to be Jewish commits an act of shame or worse, a criminal act for which they are caught, it will be inevitably highlighted by the national and in fact the international press. It is sometimes difficult to recall past cases of journalistic ignominy and the British press is good at dismissing allegations of antisemitism.  But it is also highly proficient at providing sound bites that intermittently pierce the flesh of the Jewish community.  Britain’s libel laws are designed so that only individuals who are personally affected may complain to the police, even when the activity of journalists sullies the reputation of the community.  And it rarely exposes other faith communities to the degree that it permits the Jewish community to be attacked.

We therefore fight the wrong fight when we argue that Hawking should not utilise all means at his disposal (irrespective of their point of origin) to survive and teach his craft.  It makes us sound ungrateful (for what you may ask?) even mean spirited!  This is not a winnable argument.

To accuse him of being a hypocrite is also foolish. How many of us can honestly not admit to this flaw in our character? It is the accusation of a child who has discovered his or her idol is not the perfect human being they assumed them to be. It is a revelation for the child and perhaps it is even a hurtful barb that nicks the parental ego, but it is not a crime.  Few people are ever able to reconcile wholly their beliefs with their everyday behaviour. And if we tried to justify our personal inconsistencies the attempt would likely destroy us.

So let us start again.

A statement published with Hawking’s approval (by BICUP, a British committee that actively supports the destruction of the Jewish State) said that “his independent decision to respect the boycott (was) based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”

Mr Hawking is a fool. I.e. He is a silly person who lacks judgement or sense.  We cannot be good at everything.  Even the greatest minds can be flawed if they practice sloppy and uninformed thinking.  Groupthink, over-simplification and mental laziness are all that is required to blind people and nations to their own deteriorating morality.  Academic myopia is the new dogma for the faithful followers of universal rights to which they nail but a select few causes to their banner.

So a few facts for Professor Hawking: The ‘Palestinian issue’ is the creation of the United Nations without which we could dream, the world would focus its attention on some of the real criminal regimes like Somalia and Sudan, Iran, Syria and Egypt.  There are plenty of fratricidal, misogynistic and illegitimate regimes that terrorise not only their own populations but also contaminate other nations through their contacts abroad.  Israel is not one of them but it is the only Jewish State so the disproportionate attention it receives is an everyday reminder of western, universal values of art and culture, ethics and science that people like the professor would like to see discredited. By buying into misinformed propaganda we accept the whole package without needing to consider the consequences.  It is the antithesis of the intellectual endeavour.

The Palestinian Problem is one of the few genuine international conspiracies of the Twentieth Century.  And the Arab people have been its primary beneficiaries through the catechism they created, prescribing the way every interaction with Israel or Jews is conducted; behaviour that has been enthusiastically embraced by the left and their liberal allies.

Far worse humanitarian crises exist in Mr Hawking’s world but he chooses to focus on the State of Israel.  To my knowledge Stephen has never commented on the genocide in Darfur, the slave trade in Mali (and throughout the Arab world) or the sweat-shop nations like China and Pakistan without which we would all of us be considerably less comfortable but ethically more virtuous.  He has perhaps uttered a word or two of distress about the suffering of homosexuals and Baha’i in Iran; well actually no, but he has visited Iran as he has China, which persecutes its captive Tibetan population.  Tibet has an ancient history which includes an empire.  They have been repeatedly invaded and persecuted by their Chinese neighbour.  Tibet has been under Chinese occupation for 62 years.

Palestinian Arabs have persecuted their Jewish brothers and sisters and have repeatedly collaborated in the attempted extermination of their Jewish neighbours; they have refused to recognise the equality or even the humanity of their Jewish rivals.  And BDS leaders (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) have consistently admitted they are neither in favour of reconciliation nor do they support peace with Israel, unless that is, peace is no more than a short stage on the road to dismemberment of the State.

The situation is therefore more nuanced than Hawking and his ilk are prepared to sanction.  Ignorance or intellectual cowardice is never a good quality to discover in those who pretend to make a living from exercising their minds for humanities benefit.

Do not expect Mr Hawking to apologise to Israel. There are 1,500 million Muslims and 1,350 million Chinese (including Tibet).  Even if a small percentage only, provides patronage to Britain, it greases the palms of academia who in their turn will always forgive their sins. If there is a failure, it is that we continue to believe that a long term relationship with these universities is in our best interests. It is not. Worse than putting all your eggs in one basket is to pretend that a society which has always celebrated its class divisions will not give in to its traditional prejudices.

To quote one article “In Palestinian Arab society, the most famous disabled person was Hamas founder and arch murderer Ahmed Yassin. In Iraq, terrorists use disabled women for suicide attacks.” Omar Barghouti, a founder of the BDS movement (and one of its most vocal, high profile leaders) studied for his PHD at the Jewish, Zionist University of Tel Aviv, Israel.   Why would the ignorant professor Hawking listen to those whose political and religious hatred empowers them to support the destruction of the only free Western country in the Near East and the only country where Arabs can literally realize anything they wish to achieve?

We have struggled over the centuries to develop an ethical system that is appropriate for us. Why are we now showing such obsequiousness to those who are intent on its destruction?

Mr Hawking is an intelligent idiot who listened to one side only and then made his decision based on his prejudices. Reject him and the institution that nurtures his noxious ignorance.  Ignore him.  And yes, a bit of intelligence in how we initiate damage control would be a welcome change in our behaviour.

We’ve got a problem, and the time to fight back is now.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hatred and 'Context'

In a Jewish Chronicle article of 5th April 2013 I was stunned by a title (“Hatred that needs no ‘context’”) because by including a single word (‘that’) in the title, it created an ethical minefield which I am certain, was not the intent of the author, Geoffrey Alderman.

Hatred is an emotional response, not logical; it is based on feelings and fears, on negative experiences and learned behaviors.  We can hate poverty and pollution but even that is a learned response to external stimuli.  When applied to human beings or illogically, to nations, it runs counter to our Judeo-Christian ethical base-line of how we should react to others.    Nazi Germany felt it necessary to create a Nazi Church because in theological terms there was a basic incompatibility between Nazism and Christianity.  In the old Soviet empire communism simple banned the teaching of Judaism as it discouraged the teaching of other faiths.

Surely in the 21st Century we should all understand that hatred is no more than an excuse for intemperance by the weak, the damaged, or the simple-minded and that while we are all of us born ‘empty vessels’ we are all given choices of what we may place in those vessels.

As a Jewish child, growing up in the generation following the Shoah I naively believed that one who had suffered must be pure of heart and that by extension, all of us who grew up in the shadow of the Second World War should be similarly touched by virtue.  It was a bit of a shock to be woken from my reverie.

To expect someone else's ideal of virtue to be lived by those who have experienced pain or by those who live in existential dread is to have no understanding of human relationships, no empathy at all. It is simply racism concealed as faux concern. Suffering is fear.  We rarely fight back but given the opportunity (and of greater importance) the means to resist, we should fight back.

I only understood this when someone with whom I became acquainted expressed hatred against another group.  I was repelled by her.  I did not understand how she could feel, let alone express such terrible emotions.

She had been gang raped.

I could not hate as she did, but it humanized her. She was a Jewish bigot. I still find that juxtaposition of two words uncomfortable to express.  But hatred can have roots, whether imagined or real, mythological or by a concerted act of creation, determined by a sick mind.

My history should make me bitter and hateful but my religion makes me uneasy and even outraged by prejudice. But being human I cannot deny the fact that it is a very human fault. As emotional entities we are all subject to its battering of our fragile psyches.

It is why the medium of electronic communication has become the battleground in the Israeli-Arab, Muslim-Jewish conflict over Israel-Palestine.

Prejudice serves to preclude debate by making the crime of simply being, so egregious as to refute the opportunity for discussion. It is why the walk-out by British Member of Parliament, George Galloway was so hateful. It demonstrated that the founding member of Britain’s “Respect” Party was a fascist, no more than a propagandist for antisemitism.  It is rumored that he is also a Muslim. If this is true it shamed his identity on all levels: as a coward, as a fascist politician and as a religious bigot.

I do not say that the State of Israel can do no wrong. But any crimes it has committed in its pursuit of survival in the Arab ocean are no more than its imperfect quest for national independence while in the presence of a cornucopia of hate drenched Islamist opposition.  Its failure is in its inability to confront this maelstrom of hatred. Israel remains in the toddler stage of its independence. The Arab and Muslim world still refuses to accept its legitimacy and this is inevitable.  The former created Islam as a vehicle for conquest, their failure to decisively overcome any opposition denies the authenticity of their endeavor.  And the internal conflict within Israel is the essence of a democratic society and is intrinsic to the creation of an identity its enemies are desperate to obliterate.

Nations are like people.   If we are hurt, how long does it take to forgive the crimes against us? How long before we can trust our adversary or our enemy? We, as a people have been persecuted by Islam for 1,400 years and that is a long time to suffer, at the very least ridicule, occasionally torture and worse, death, in the name of Muhammad or his god, Allah. It is without an iota of relevance that the transgressions we have endured as proof of Muslim superiority are a violation of Muslim behavior.  How many generations must pass before the Islamic world is even capable of accepting our theoretical equality? 

“It is easier to run against a threat than it is to articulate a vision of where we should be headed and how to get there” David Rothkopf (Foreign Policy May/June 2012)

Oppositional defiance dressed up in the Geo-political / quasi scientific psycho-babble of ‘misunderstood signals’ and ‘failed opportunities’ cannot equate to an acceptable excuse in the 21st Century. Fourteen hundred years of Jew bating (and everyone else bating) by a monolithic Muslim people may have created an (almost) genetic if not instinctual antipathy towards the rights of the ‘other’ but it explains intolerance, bigotry and racial hatred, it does not excuse it.

The crescendo of conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic pronouncements excreted from the bowels of the Liberal-Left and Muslim world do not and cannot contribute toward peace or co-existence and those people who think that it is always darkest, moments before the light are deluded in their assumption of benevolent tyranny.  Hate is a drug and cannot be cured by giving way to it.

A culture of hate and incitement has always been part of Arab – Muslim society; it has been a central feature of the European churches as well.

When Britain’s own minister for the Middle East, Mr Alistair Burt contextualized hatred in February this year, he was committing a crime against humanity.

According to Professor Alderman, Alistair Burt, the British government minister “urged his audience several times (seven by my reckoning) to be mindful of ‘the context’ in which such hate-speech was aired.”  Mr Burt also stated that “to place it all in terms of the rhetoric and not to understand the wider context will not help us to get to where we need to be.”

So according to this genius, we Jews should have the right to revenge ourselves on the Muslim world for its crimes against us over the centuries, and, likewise, for Britain’s crimes against us.  It sounds like someone should ask the honorable parliamentarian how, in the context of ongoing Muslim incitement; the world should react to Muslim cries of innocence?

To contextualize Judeophobic hatred or for that matter anti-Black or any other form of hatred, is always unacceptable. To understand it does not provide it with a stamp of respectability.  And those that try to say it does?

They are at best ‘mistaken’ but more likely, they are spiritually tainted, corrupt or simply evil. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Death By a Thousand Cuts

There has been some discussion in the newspapers about ‘contextualizing hatred’. It was Britain’s own minister for the Middle East, Mr Alistair Burt who said this. We must never accuse our politicians of ethical thinking. ‘Context’ is a nice way to say that we can justify bigotry and even, joy of joys, sympathize with racial prejudice.  There is nothing as comforting as familiarity. I grew up in Australia and my winters were ‘cold’ but the flora was green and the skies grey. Our suburban flora changed very little between the two seasons of summer and winter. I immigrated to an even colder, temperate climate and discovered the reality of experiencing two more seasons. Spring and autumn were spectacularly beautiful but winter was filled with deciduous death and decay. It was visually depressing. To many people born into this cycle, winter induces a recognized psychological illness called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). My point is that we are as accustomed to celebrating our fears and our prejudices as we are, our seasons of hibernation and renewal.

The problem is that in times of disruption and change in our life we cling to the familiarity of our past experiences and learned behaviors because the familiar, even the negative, is a kind of comfort. Racism and religious bigotry does not need logic to flourish, just a means of dispersal and a justification (or ‘Context’).

The pampered years that followed the 1970’s nurtured us towards an understanding that anything was possible and that instant gratification was desirable, because if you did not get there first someone else would. It was fun while it lasted but it also taught us that we did not need to respect those with whom we disagree because having the self-confidence to achieve an aim is not dependent on that aim being correct or desirable, only achievable.

When the bubble burst it dashed the hopes of the many that missed out!  And it led us into the worst economic crisis since the Depression of 1929.  It also led us into a democratic crisis of confidence that continues to unfold across the globe.   The British media corruptly obtained information through subterfuge and dishonesty but everyone did it and only the (foreign) Murdoch Empire was punished for it. The judicial public inquiry (The Leveson Inquiry) that examined the overall industries failures and made a series of recommendations was a waste of time because no-one in the industry accepted their culpability – except of course Murdoch. It was a classic snow job.

Frustration and anger requires an outlet.  Traditionally, we human beings have engaged in warfare to satisfy the urge for revenge. It remains a ‘necessary’ release that protects the ruling classes from the inability of the ruled to accept that they are powerless to attain justice when they are wronged. It is why Western law accepts that justice must not only be done but must also be SEEN to be done. The cynic would modify the aphorism to: Justice does not need to be done; it only needs to BE seen to be done.

This is where we weave warfare into the social tapestry. With its royal tentacles spread throughout Europe (the Russian, German and British Royal Families were all related through Queen Victoria’s offspring) World War One was seen as an exciting adventure by its most upper of classes, an adventure that ultimately led to the violent deaths of over fifty million people.

In order to foment conflict, humanity bathes itself in a comforting pool of self-righteous superiority and self-assured contentment. When we are all wrapped up in multiple layers of a familiar and consoling prejudice it is easier to accept a bleak future knowing that deep down it is all someone elses' fault.

And so we return to ‘contextualizing hatred’.  It is reason enough to fight every insult or imputed slander.   In an era where identities are confused or in transition we should be wary of any slight. It is not oversensitivity but awareness that the cumulative effect of the accusation or lie is more important than the single barb. It is not necessarily a single cut that kills. Methodical slicing incapacitates the victim until the delivery of the coup de grace.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Descent into Darkness

My Rabbi wrote in our local synagogue magazine that as a youngster she was never “allowed to say ‘I am hungry’ in front of adults” – It was in deference to those who had experienced the Hunger Winter of 1944-45 when many Dutch scrambled to survive starvation by eating grass.  I worked alongside of Russian factory workers who remembered the Great Patriotic War (of 1941-1945).  They still carried a hunk of bread in their trouser-pockets.  It was a habit for those who never knew from where or even when the next meal would be.

Compare that to the ‘me - obsessed’ generations that have followed on from the 1970’s and we could be excused for feeling smug in our so-called moral superiority. It is not that we are by necessity, more ethical in our behaviour but our saving grace is our perception of consciousness.  We may not follow our consciences but we are at least aware of our actions.

The resurrection of the Left, in particular the hard Left, is only possible because it harnesses the frustration felt by many of us within the post-Communist consumer driven wasteland.  These comfortable followers of liberal politics experience a deep dissatisfaction which unlike previous generations of fascisms’ foot soldiers has not prevented them from fighting their battles from the safety of their homes.

One alternate justification is that we are all too easily led and a substitute for the spiritual wilderness of our current age leads many young men and women to the seductive embrace of a rigidly prescriptive faith such as that of the casual bigotry of Islam or the hard left.

In any case, extremists are only able to manipulate dissatisfaction because of the paucity of competing philosophies, and once ensnared, the gullible are susceptible to ethical corruption.  Because of this it would be arrogant to believe that a barren spiritual life is any more desirous in our secular age than a life of spiritual seclusion or material deprivation. But the opposite also applies here. It is only through knowledge that we can choose.

During the Roman era, two thousand years ago, allegiance to competing gods and goddesses was as common a fashion statement as this year’s fashion labels are to us.   If we no longer bend our knee to Zeus (Jupiter) it is because we prefer football teams, pop icons and fashion labels.  In relative terms our following of modern idols is probably no less time consuming or expensive than the latest sculptural offering of Dionysus (Bacchus) or Aphrodite (Venus) was.  We still talk about fate, we fear the tempests and it does not matter whether they were created by nature or the gods; we have not much more control now than we did then (when at least we could beg for the intervention of our favourite deities).  We have bad luck or good fortune and ascribe both to something that is beyond our control.

Perhaps the reason that our idols are now a mindless but glittering theatre of the arcane is that they are an alternative ritual to religion while politics is become a passionate expression of belief.  They do not require much of our input apart from what we take out from our pocket.   The competition for souls may have had its basis in ignorance of our physical world but ‘knowledge’ was clarity in ancient times.  How are we better off today? Are we any different now that our heads are filled with constantly changing truths presented to us as fact? We may not be as susceptible to peripatetic allegiances but our clarity dips into and out of focus leaving most of us alienated from our spiritual sources, confused, frightened and insecure for the future.  It is much easier to worship celebrity, fashions change. A life without spiritual depth still requires an emotional anchor and it may as well be Versace or Manchester United as God or Brahma.

And hence the dilemma for our society.  The shallowness of contemporary society robs us of the opportunity to confront the issues that divide us by providing us with a world of benign distractions and credit card funded comforts on one side and on the other side, selected biases defined by cant and comfortable prejudice.  Those people that do choose to engage with society do so from the safety of familiarity and too often it is the extremists that define the direction because only they care enough to scream and shout. It is society that encourages them because it empowers them in order to render them less threatening to the majority. Their tactics of intimidation work.  With no organised opposition to confront them their path to power is assured and like sheep we and our descendants are skipping backwards into darkness mostly oblivious to the gathering storm.