Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why Good People Believe Bad Things

Unconscious Anti-Semitism, Anti-Westernism and the Mainstream Media

How do people who are not anti-Semitic come to behave, think and speak in anti-Semitic ways? Why do well intentioned people who enjoy all the advantages of living in free and prosperous countries come to question and even revile the protectors of their good fortune? It has a lot to do with the way the media presents the world to us.

As individuals, we experience the world around us through our five senses. On a cultural level, the media are our eyes and ears, the lens through which we experience the world beyond our immediate experience. We depend on the media to bring us an undistorted representation of that larger world so that we can understand and adapt to it.

Many people of many political persuasions complain about the media lens’ distortions, which, they all feel is biased against them. The news media often point to this widespread disapproval as a good sign. “After all,” they say, “If no one is happy with us then that must mean that we are doing a good job, that we are fair.”

But the very concept of fairness may be the problem. Fairness and its often silent partner “evenhandedness” are the fulcrum by which the media’s good intentions are flipped into the upside-down world of moral relativism and political correctness. The media’s job is not to find the mid-point of competing political agendas, but to report the news regardless of how that plays out for or against any particular group’s interests. In the name of “fairness” our media too often aim for a sort of "average" position between opposing groups. Whether those opposing groups are political parties, cultures that are competing for survival or warring armies, the "mid point" between them is seldom anything but a barren no man’s land. The sort of fairness that we find routinely in the media is, at best a morally blind position based on reporting both sides equally credibly and credulously. The reason that no one seems to be satisfied that we are not getting fair and honest representations of events is, simply, that we are not.

This tautology of universal offense is one of the hand-maidens to the most dangerous public delusion in Western Civilization: moral relativism, which holds that no set of values or opinion or culture is superior to any other. This radical variant of multiculturalism, which refuses to judge other cultures by our own (or any) standards, dominates much of the media and academia.

It seems safe to say that in all of human history there has never been a conflict in which both parties were exactly as right (or good - or nice) as the other. In truth, the morally neutral approach actively undermines the side with the most moral clarity and confers an unfair advantage on any side that is less democratic, ethical and open. So why is the media intent on making believe that all causes are equal?

Leaving aside the reporters and outlets who are anti-Semitic and virulently pro-Arab, there is still a very strong anti-Israel bias to the mainstream media (and academia) that is directly traceable to this pernicious moral relativity. How does a measure whose avowed purpose is the elimination of bias become the source of bias and distortion? It is in the very nature of moral relativism- It Is a willful denial of real differences and denial can only ever deepen any crisis. Without trustworthy media, the more tolerant and open the culture, the more paralyzed and defenseless it is. Honesty in reporting requires, not blank indifference to cultural and moral values, but a firm grasp on the consequences of ideas and actions. Truly fair reporting does not present the average between two sides in a dispute; it finds the real center of gravity, based on the best estimate of the moral values of each side and presents the relationship as accurately as possible.

Nowhere is this problem of moral relativism more acute than in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Arabs have no compunction against making wild accusations. They make claims of humiliation, land theft, collective punishment, apartheid and massacres that never happened against Israel. Even though they have been exposed In many notorious fakes (al Durah, Jenin, Gaza Beach Kfar Qana…) they persist becausee the tactic succeeds. It succeeds because when the media tries to find the "evenhanded" center point between those wild inaccuracies and the honest, reasoned, compassionate apologetic approach of the Israelis, they invariably throw up their hands and say, “Who are we to judge?” or “One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” and find some way of reporting the events that put them half way between the wild lies and the halting attempt at truth. The Palestinians and their supporters are enraged because their outrageous accusations are softened a little and the Israelis are exasperated because they have once again been reported to be war criminals when they are nothing of the kind. The “fair" version is skewed far out of the real center point that Israel's integrity and earnest search for evidence is rewarded with labels like– apartheid, pariah and even Nazi. She winds up being tried and convicted in the kangaroo court of the "evenhanded" media of disproportionate response, massacres of civilians and collective punishment. All too often Israel and her supporters neglect to appeal this injustice and through their inaction the accusations stick.

Of course, this tendency to settle for the morally blind “geographical” measure of the center-point of a dispute, while pointedly ignoring the moral and cultural dimensions of it, is not just a media disease. In the culture at-large the uninformed, the morally weak, the self-loathing, and the politically immature flock to organizations and ideas that feed from this same trough. Sabeel, International Solidarity Movement and the various Israel divestment proposals (Academic, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian) all lean on this central distortion of reality to support their activities. While it is true that some of these are motivated, at least partially by good intentions, many are moved by insensate Jew-hatred dressed up in genteel clothing. almost all have some mixture of the two.

Under normal circumstances, Israel's lack of self defense and the rest of the world's general disinterest in correcting the media is a mere disorder in judgment that might pass for generosity of spirit – Israel and the Western democracies are strong and can afford to be self-critical; Arab and Muslim countries have great difficulty dealing with modernity and need a break. But under current conditions of waxing global Jihad, the current media (and academic) approach is backfiring – disguising Jihadi aggression through (polite) under-reporting, encouraging that same aggression by a disproportionate self-criticism that registers as weakness, failing to hold the Arab world and their western abettors (journalists and their dupes) to any standards, undermining genuine moderates who really do want to live up to modern standards, and paralyzing Western capacities to resist Jihadi aggressions. The moral inversion whereby Israelis and Americans are spoken of as “state-sponsored” terrorists resisting Palestinian or Iraqi “freedom fighters” has catastrophic consequences for the Western world and any human being interested in Liberty.

The situation could be improved dramatically if the media would just be honest and accurate. Instead of contorting themselves, obfuscating their stories and persecuting their readers/listeners/viewers with evasive and inexact politically correct jargon, they should forget about balancing their spin on the news to keep everybody equally dissatisfied and concentrate on the facts and the realities. That will make those who most deserve to be unhappy the unhappiest.

Kate at Small Dead Animals (welcome SDA readers!) linked here with this quote added:

"In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit. In that transfusion of blood which drains the good to feed the evil, the compromiser is the transmitting rubber tube." - Ayn Rand

My thanks to Kate- this is a great quote!


Anonymous said...

I think what you say is spot on.

I'd like to add another observation: I think part of this has to do with teaching history, and reporting news, from the standpoint of the personal narrative.

This is an effective way of "humanizing" events, and it can indeed affect us deeply: we suffer alongside the suffering, empathize with the oppressed - media can be a great tool for diminishing the barriers between us, for foreshortening time and distance.

But - the problem with seeing either current events and/or history through a million personal lenses, is that the overarching historical and political significance of "what happened" tends to get lost - or in fact, we wind up with a cubistic, deconstructed vision in which each little piece of the picture is equally significant or - even as or more significant than the whole. It thus becomes impossible to understand events in context - one never sees their entire shape. Think for example of the photos of little girls in Gaza, holding candles - that photo in and of itself is a picture of angelic innocence - with subliminal Christian overtones; similarly, tales and photos of searing personal loss are deeply affective but don't take into context the fact that the grieving people may be the parents of a homicide/suicide bomber who's just blown up a bus. Their grief and loss and real but a photo or newsreel doesn't in and of itself place it into a wider context; thus we react in automatic sympathy.

This of course is part of the "fairness" element you mentioned - but it has the increased impact of being extremely personal and emotional. That factor of identity - of identification and empathy - makes it even more difficult to "see" and understand events.

Even more importantly, though, these fragmented "narratives" make it difficult to understand history at all. At some point all those narratives still add up to certain facts, yet unless a whole picture can be created from these dazzling, mirror-like fragments it's impossible to see what's really going on. And in fact, we've reached a point in the Arab/Israeli conflict where history itself seems to have no meaning. How do you counteract, for example, personal viewpoints (or national/religious narratives) that are outright ahistorical? Even the destruction of Joseph's Tomb is seen as part of the flower of Palestinian nationalism, and therefore acceptable and "true".

Traditionally, time - history - historical accounts - have given us that clarity but the constant revisionism we're seeing now - again, giving equal importance to all these "narratives" - is making it difficult to read, let alone teach or understand, history - or even simple facts. Yet without that personalization we lose the human significance - the impact of war for example - and that too would be a shame.

Somehow we need to balance our vision and create a way of seeing the whole picture more clearly. Ultimately it may come down to "making value judgements," and that in and of itself has become extremely unfashionable.

Anonymous said...

You will find the answer to your questions when you get to know a born-again Christian. You will see why he has so many friends, and you have so few. My Jewish business partner, now deceased would often lament,"Why are there no born-again Jews?"

Blazingcatfur said...

Great post Yaacov. Every day sees more and more of our foundation chipped away by those who would destroy us from within.

Yaacov Ben Moshe said...

Say there anonymous,
Thanks for the comment- BUT:
That's a little presumptuous don’t you think? I’ve got some very good friends and quite a few of them are good Christians (whether or not they are born again hasn’t come up). If you think having had (or alleging that you had) a Jewish Business Partner who had a funny saying about Jews qualifies you to pass judgment on me and other Jews, I would ask you to think again. What you say in this comment is the equivalent of me quoting my good Christian friend when he said, “I’m not born again- the first time was enough for me!” Whatever meaning that joke has for him, it had nothing whatever to do with your state of faith and I respect that. I suggest that you would do well to respect the state of faith of others. We are both beneficiaries of the Judeo-Christian Civilization and part of that, at least in this great North American, English speaking outpost of it, is that we are all entitled to our religious and spiritual feelings as long as they do not infringe on the liberty of others. As long as we can work together on that basis, I’m fine with you- Are you OK with me?

truepeers said...

Well, if I might jump in, the comment by the born again anonymous points to a fundamental cause of Judeophobia, of which the desire to be fair and balanced is perhaps a symptom. I refer to the resentment of Jewish firstness (in covenant with the one God, and all the insights into humanity and high culture that have gone with it).

Those who resent Jewish firstness tend to display an inability or unwillingness to make moral distinctions between relatively advanced and ethically primitive cultures, a fear that to make any such distinctions is to victimize (in a misreading of the revelation of the Cross). To accept the truth of a revelation is to accept that someone goes first in developing the revelation and gaining the (dis)advantages that go with it, creating some kind of inequality or asymmetry. Those devoted to the fear of inequality are inclined to seek a universalization of status, such as some might dream is possible if we just all allow ourselves to be born again, starting over with wisdom and love.

But such a Utopian dream, if half realized in a rigorously maintained equality, could only be a road to human stagnation and grinding conflict without resolution, unless, that is, the born again appreciate that with rebirth comes a need for (national or personal) leadership, and social differentiation, and an ongoing series of new revelations and differentiations, as is made explicit in every real human self-discovery, including not least the Mosaic revelation.

Anonymous said...

I believe the original question by our host was,"How do people who are not anti-Semitic come to behave, think and speak in anti-Semitic ways?" The answer lies in friendship - or the lack thereof. A quote from a reform Jewish writer illustrates:

"Orthodoxy views non-Jews as inferiors. In an ideal world, according to Orthodoxy, Jews would have no contact with non-Jews at all. Non-Jews would be completely shunned.

"As it stands, this is not feasible, largely because non-Jews, experiencing this shunning, might react with hatred and, as long as they are the majority and greatly outnumber us, this hatred could lead to violence and Jewish deaths."

Clearly, educated Jews understand where anti-Jewish feelings come from. It doesn't help to pretend that hostile feelings come from nothing. That was the message of the rabbi Jesus, regardless if it still makes many Jews uncomfortable. It's not a mystery.

Anonymous said...


I think it's safe to say your reform Jewish writer doesn't know the first thing about Orthodox Judaism, since not a single word of the first paragraph of the quote you included is correct, and therefore his conclusion - and yours - is based on an entirely false premise.

Anonymous said...

I understand how you feel about this delicate subject, but your readers don't live in a vacuum. In the interest of discovering the truth, please allow me some delicate probing of the topic. I, just like anyone else in the world, am free to browse through Jewish ideas on the internet. What am I to make of the following statement on the hasidicnews.com website:
"In general, the Hasidic attitude towards non-Jews is one of contempt and disinterest"?

Tell me: without leaping to any uncalled for conclusions, if I am a non-Jew reading that, what am I going to conclude?

Yaacov Ben Moshe said...

I am not sure what you mean by unfair conclusions. I certainly do not infer anything about the overall state of Christian thinking from the ravings of fringe Christian groups. I do not take it personally when I hear that many Christians believe that if I do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as my personal savior, I am not saved and will be condemned to hell when I die. They believe in that and I respect their belief without believing it myself.

For myself, I believe in keeping Jewish commandments and observance as God has given me the light and vision to see them. As long as we can all agree to live in a civil society, by the same civil rules and with mutual respect and tolerance the system works. This is in the long line of Judeo-Christian civilization as expressed in the grand and dignified tradition of English law. I am convinced that it is no accident that the English-speaking former colonies of Britain- The United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have remained the brightest beacons and most enduring outposts of western civilization. America is constituted within that tradition and, as far as I know, it is the best system of its kind in the history of mankind. True, that might not be saying all that much, but that is a product of the frailties of humankind and I am very proud (and relieved) to be an American.

If you wish to make an insurmountable issue over something you read on hasidic.com, I am sure that, with a very little digging, I could find quite a lot of Jew-hatred under various renegade Christian banners on the web- if I care to look. I think, though, that they are pretty regressive and irrelevant. By the same token, I speak with complete confidence when I say that you may, in fact, read somewhere that there are some number of Hasidic Jews who do not consider me properly Jewish and view me with even more disdain than they do you. On the other hand, I also know many orthodox Jews who have no such attitudes toward either me or you.

The tradition of Judaism to which I belong (I would call it mainstream Conservative Judaism) make no judgments on non-Jews- or on other flavors of Judaism. We don’t so much believe that there even is an afterlife as we believe that being a good person in this world is its own reward- because that is the way to a better, more complete relationship with God.

So, to answer your question- When you read the statement to which you refered, the conclusion that I would recommend to you is that this is America, where we are all free to speak what is on our minds and that, as long as we do not seek to deprive each other of liberty on that score, the system is working.

We do not know each other well. If you are the sort of born-again Christian who believes that I am damned, I take that at face value. You are entitled to your opinion. If not, all the better. Either way, I will respond to you with the same respect you accord me and I will not assume that because you are Christian, you had anything to do with any of the Jew-murder and Jew-hatred of the past- or of the lunatic fringe present. That’s all. Let people say what they want, as long as we make a commitment to free speech and intelligent discrimination between right and wrong, we’ll be fine and we’ll be able to defend our great Country (or Countries- if you are one of my many Canadian, Australian or Kiwi readers)from the real danger of the Caliphate.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, Muslims show not only contempt, but outright hostility towards Christians and Jews alike. So what you say about Jewish contempt for non-Jews does not explain why the Palestinians get a free pass by progressives.

Anonymous said...

nash, with all due respect, you are quite right, but that was not the original question. The original question was puzzling over how antisemitism arises in general. It had nothing to do with Palestinian hostility.