29 August 2014

Now that I have Finished my Journey

Here I go again, stepping on a wasp's nest this time, perhaps.

In a recent Facebook post I questioned democracy as a way of creating justice.  It is a good thing, I said, not because of what it does because of what it prevents, to wit, tyranny. By slowing, complicating, and otherwise impeding actions that would be faster and clearer, it makes tyranny harder to accomplish.  But democracy does this by impeding all decisions not just bad ones.  So when we decry the gridlock and the compromise and the watering down by Congress we should not see this as anti-democratic but utterly democratic.  This may be what Churchill meant by calling democracy the worst of all political systems, except compared to others.  As bad a democracy is for getting things done, it does a fairly good job of preventing great tyranny by being so cumbersome, messy and venal.

This time - and this is very different - I am pondering a pattern of reasoning that assumes the innocence of the oppressed from deserving their oppression indicates an overall innocence. (A corollary would be that those guilty of oppressing others are guilty in some overall way as well.)

I see this in a variety of locations in time and place, but perhaps most notably in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.  Here's how:

The Israeli government is doing oppressive things to the Palestinian people around them - in Gaza and the West Bank and in their own midst. Our natural sympathies for those who are suffering has, for some, made the Palestinian people and their cause noble.  Because the one is wrong, the other must be right.  And for some the wrong of the one means they are wrong in general and the innocence of the other renders them innocent in every respect. Therefor any defensive action by Israel will be seen as wrong by some, and any provocative action by Palestinians will seen as just.

Logically, this is a form of the error called 'post hoc ergo propter hoc,' that because this is wrong that is right.  It may in fact be true, but not logically. But most people are not analyzing the situation logically. We see disproportionate violence and other acts which strike us as excessive. But that does not mean those who are harmed by those acts are innocent of anything except not deserving that.

The problem as I see it is reducing the dynamic of oppression to a binary moral zero sum game.  One one side is bad, the other side is good. When that happens, categorical thinking tends to rise - one side is ALL bad and the other side is ALL good.  In this instance, Israel's policies are bad, so Israel is bad, and Jews who believe in Israel are bad. (Those who read my post linking to the NYTimes article about anti-semitism should take time to read the comments which is where I began to think about this matter.  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/02/world/europe/anger-in-europe-over-the-israeli-gaza-conflict-reverberates-as-anti-semitism.html?

It is hard to believe both in the necessity of Israel - which I do - and in justice for Palestinians - which I also do. But as one poet once told a younger one "everything serious is difficult" and it would be hard to find something more serious than this.

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