My mother used to rail against anti-intellectualism. By this I think she meant arguers and their arguments that had no basis in fact. Or, perhaps, she was pointing to knee jerk reactions that brought little but emotion to any dispute. Somewhere behind her stance were Shakespeare, Goethe, Mahler, Freud, Einstein, and other great thinkers whose writings and biographies were a part of any Liberal Arts college’s curriculum.
Today we are once again witnessing the rise of what so irritated and alienated my mother. We see it in off-the-wall claims of voter fraud and fake news. We see it in climate change denial and the efforts to drop funding for Planned Parenthood. In Jerusalem, we see it in the Muslim charges that the Waqf has lost control of the Temple Mount on the heels of the murders of two Israeli policemen at the hands of three Israeli Arab terrorists from Umm Al Fahm in the Galilee. These allegations and any that pertain to Israel’s alleged attempts to destroy the Al Aqsa mosque are meant to fire up the Palestinian and Arab populations throughout the Middle East and the world. They cause hysteria in much the same way that blood libel charges against the Jewish people have for centuries. They are based on pure fantasy; but, too often they have led to bloodshed and misery.
Hysterical and unbridled stupidities and absurdities are not limited to those in any one community. Recently, my wife and I traveled to India where, at that autumn season in the Punjab, farmers were burning the stumble left over from their rice harvest. When confronted with the fact that the smoke from these fires was adding measurably to the poisonous and noxious air pollution, they categorically denied it, claiming that such allegations were part of a conspiracy that was being promulgated to turn the rest of the population against them. Their hysterical response only led to more trouble and misery for everyone.
We Jews are not inured from such hysterical assertions and declarations. Perhaps the most heinous of these came from Ovadya Yosef, the Sephardic Chief rabbi, who blamed the Nazi Holocaust on the Jews of Europe (sic!), claiming that because they had committed sins, God punished them and used the Nazis to accomplish this. Yosef’s charge has continued to resonate among the ignorant and superstitious. That anyone would put credence in such statements is both beyond common sense and is a cause of great concern for Truth to reign in the minds of human beings.
My father used to say that nothing is so absurd that some philosopher hasn’t said it. But, the examples I am bringing of hysterical ideas, theories and falsehoods are far more pernicious than the musings and notions of philosophers who, in their own way, are attempting to make sense of our world. Hysterical claims and statements are not to be taken as comical in any sense. As off base as they are, they serve the purpose of creating a false universe, an alternative reality, in which people may say most anything and have dire impacts on others. It is Joseph Goebbel’s dream world where one may lay out the biggest lie and, by maintaining and repeating it, convince others of its certitude.