You Did Not Learn All You Needed to Know in Kindergarten
In 1988 a fluffy lightweight book by Robert Fulghum , a Unitarian Universalist Minister, hit the best seller lists. Its thesis was that everything you really need to know you learned in kindergarten. The top three items were "Share everything; Play fair; and Don't hit people."
These precepts might be fine for kindergarten pupils in Washington State where he resides, but as a template for grownups living 2011, it falls laughably short of practical. We can be charitable without sharing equally; we should play fair (for example, foregoing intensive interrogations of prisoners captured in battle) only when those who want us dead play fair, and we should hit back at people who are trying to kill us.
Fulghum might be a pleasant man and an amusing seat mate on a long distance flight, but he'd be a preposterous ally in a life and death battle and not the sort of person whose redistributionist views make for sensible budgeting or social planning. In many ways this infantile view of the world has been adopted by the willingly blind who parade about in giant papier mache heads waving banners which say nonsensical stuff like "Ground drones, End Wars," or who fly first class to UN conferences where they tell the West it is responsible for sharing what its citizens -- by dint of their labors, thrift and adherence to rational social organizations -- have accrued with the rest of the world, including spendthrifts, mountebanks and layabouts. The notion being , I suppose, that in impoverishing ourselves the West will provide more wealth for the world's dispossessed.
In fact, we know that excess capital provides the best means of financing the creation of new technologies that enrich the world and improve life and the environment for all. Simply dividing the wealth pie further will impoverish us all, and, in fact, generally just ends up in the hands of corruptocrats building up Swiss bank accounts or adding on to villas in Cannes. Picture the Oil for Food Scandal under UN aegis on an even grander scale.
The rules in kindergarten will not serve you well in this world. At least not if you follow these rules and not, say, those of kindergartens in Israel where the lessons have to include the knowledge that the world includes enemies who wish you dead:" Don't pick up toys in the road because they often are disguised explosives." And not if you take seriously this week's fatwa by an Iranian cleric that it's a religiously appropriate thing to murder Jewish children.
So why have such silly notions about the nature of the world we live in and how we should behave in it survive after countless acts of terrorism (we are being beset by people who are not "play[ing] fair") and overwhelming proof of the intractable hatred so many Moslems around the world have for the Israel, the U.S. and the West in general? And why have so many American Jews entered into this mass delusion about what is happening and what must be our reaction if it is not "hit [ting back] at people"?
Why do so many cling to preposterously sinister notions about Israel's conduct and persist in the therapy notion/blather that perhaps what the West and Islamists lack is enough "communication," that talking more will resolve intractable conflicts?
Writing in the Volokh Conspiracy (a website you really ought to bookmark for its many fine contributions, especially on the law) David Bernstein answered this question to my satisfaction.
I've been thinking for some time about blogging about the concept of "enemies", and how modern universalist liberalism has trouble dealing with the possibility that in some conflicts there is no mutually acceptable solution (at least not from the subjective perspective of the participants in the conflict), and thus one really has a conflict among enemies, not simply a misunderstanding that can be resolved through negotiations and compromises. To take an extreme example, if an Islamist extremist insists that violence against the West is necessary until Islam dominates Europe and North America, that extremist is an enemy, regardless of what the West does or doesn't do. The West can either fight or submit.
Bernstein went further, linking to Rabbi Daniel Gordis in Commentary who wrote of the inexplicable hostility of some rabbinical students to Israel to explain other aspects of the phenomenon.:
If you asked a Jew at any other time in the history of our people whether or not he had enemies, the notion that he should consider the possibility he did not have enemies would have occasioned a blast of the mordant humor that has helped keep our tribe alive through the millennia. Today, however, the discomfort with the idea of "the enemy" and the intolerability of being in a drawn-out conflict has led these students to the conviction that Israel must solve the conflict. The Palestinian position is not going to shift; that much they intuit. But having enemies, and being in interminable conflict, is unbearably painful for them. So Israel must change. And if it will not, or cannot, then it is Israel that is at fault. In which case, it makes perfectly good sense for these future Jewish leaders to refuse to purchase prayer shawls manufactured in Israel and to insist on demonstratively remaining seated as the prayer for Israeli soldiers is recited in their rabbinical-school communities. They will do virtually anything in order to avoid confronting the fact that the Jewish people has intractable enemies. Their universalist worldview does not have a place for enemies. [snip]
What too many of these students do not understand is that the Jewish tradition makes a bold claim -- the claim that we learn caring, and we learn love, from that which is closest to us. To love all of humanity equally is ultimately to love no one. To care about one's enemies as much as one cares about oneself is to be no one. There needs to be priority and specificity in devotion and loyalty. Without them, we can stand for nothing. And without instinctive loyalty to the Jewish people, Jewry itself cannot survive.
What appears to be, at first blush, an issue of weakening Zionist loyalties is thus actually something far more worrisome. The real issue is a traditional Jewish lexicon, which includes notions such as "us" and "them," which bespeaks concentric circles of loyalty and devotion, which does not deny the indisputable fact that the Jews and their state have real enemies, which understands that not everyone can be loved into submission or peace.
I shared the Bernstein piece with my friend and fellow American Thinker author Terry Heinrichs and he had some additional thoughts worth sharing, about how the concept of moral superiority and alienation from one's own people plays into this widespread craziness:
It is an attitude that is also useful; It permits those who possess it to combine willful blindness with feelings of moral superiority. The one allows us to put our heads in the sand and pretend away a danger we'd rather not confront; the other allows us to commend ourselves for being so wonderfully tolerant and accepting. "It's just those intolerant boobs among us that rant about Islamic enemies. We know and are better than that. We don't recognize enemies so we don't have them. We're Kantians." We'll also be dead if we don't change our behavior. [snip]
The "it's not them; it's us" view is accurate only to the extent one disengages oneself from the "us." And this is what is done, isn't it? The willfully blind morally superior being detaches himself from the group even as he admits a kind of distant association with it. It's not me and mine; it's the "them" within the "us" that create all the problems.
"We're good over here."
Indeed, what was all that "Not in My Name" stuff about except an effort to disengage from the struggle we face while patting oneself on the back for being so morally superior to those who sacrificed to take the war to our enemies?
We all have some things to learn after we leave kindergarten.