Professor Froward's Slough of Despond

Proud purveyor of flawed generalizations and vacuous tautologies.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

I'm too sexy for this rhetoric

Harry's Place notes what looks a bit like a lurch towards the intellectual abyss on the part of some left-leaning folks in the UK.

The left have gotten into the habit of playing one-up with each other in their rhetoric about Israel (and about the US as well, naturally). Groups of teenage boys often behave the same way, daring each other to do increasingly stupid things until somebody breaks a window. The more extreme their rhetoric gets, the braver they feel; once they get used to a certain extreme and all their friends are talking that way too, they feel brave enough to go just a little farther. And they get attention by being the first on the block with a new rhetorical trope, as long as it's not too far ahead of the pack. It feeds on itself. It's the same with women's clothing: Remember back in the 1980s when bell-bottoms ("flares" to the UK) were a bizarre, atavistic aberration? Bell-bottoms were unthinkable! Then somebody tried them, just a little bit, and people thought it was a nice novelty. So the next season, the flares flared a little more, and so on, and here we are. They look normal now.

Let's face it, hating "the Other" is natural for the human race. It feels good, at least when we do it in groups. Since the 1950s, most of us in the West have put an ungodly amount of work into teaching ourselves not to feel good about hating gays or black people or women, but still... doesn't it feel good just to let go and wallow in it once in a while?

So at the moment, most of the left blindly hates Israelis, but they don't hate Jews in principle: They only hate those Jews who live in Israel, or those Jews who speak in defense of the Jews who live in Israel, or who critique any particular expression of left-wing hostility to Israel. But if you have to keep ratcheting the rhetoric up a notch every season to stay on the cutting edge of left-wing rhetorical fashion, sooner or later you'll have no place left to go but simple, explicit, old-fashioned anti-Semitism: Hating Jews because they are Jews, full stop. And by the time you get there, it won't seem like a very big step at all.

If you think that the Left (or anybody, including you and me) is magically, supernaturally immune to ethnic hatred, you're kidding yourself. You're also silencing that very important part of your intellect which ought to ask, from time to time, "am I thinking like a bigot here? Am I, in fact, full of shit?" To put it another way: Criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic; that's obvious. But when you start believing that anybody who dislikes Israel is necessarily not anti-Semitic, then you are, in fact, full of shit.