Hysteria

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.

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A Better Way

I understand the feeling of being jilted, rejected, criticized and black-listed.  I understand being dissed, spurned and harassed.  One response, and it is a natural one, is to want to strike back, returning hurt for hurt, harm for harm.  But, I believe that there is a better way for us Reform rabbis to respond to indignities we have recently been subjected to. It is to promulgate constructive projects and cultivate attitudes which demonstrate that we are above what our adversaries are attempting to do to us.  This is to say that we would rather relish in winning than to slosh around in pits of derision and proverbial mud.

Rather than detaching ourselves from Israeli politicians, we ought to engage them, making clear what our issues are and advocating for these both verbally and monetarily. Rather than railing against those who have reneged and insulted us, we ought to be selectively supporting those who understand our cause: a more religiously tolerant and inclusive Israeli society, and holding them to their promises.  Rather than pitching for us to do less, thereby possibly widening the gulf that apparently has opened between North American Jewry and Israel, we ought to be challenging ourselves to do more to bridge that gap.

This road we have been traveling is, indeed, arduous and too often bitterly disappointing.  Certainly the victories that Anat Hoffman and IRAC have been achieving through the Israeli legal system haven’t come with alacrity or without intense and deeply dedicated efforts.  A decade or two ago, such successes were wholly unimaginable and unheard of.  But Anat has found ways.  Hers is a positive pathway that is and should be a lesson for us all.

This isn’t a time for recriminations and retributions.  It is a time when our mettle is being challenged.  We need to rise to that challenge in a better way.

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The Land of Point

Many years ago, a singing-acting group came forward with a play called The Land of Point.  In it, one of the characters made this profound statement: “You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear.”  This is to say that people tend to interpret according to their own views only discerning what they have already pre-determined to be the case.

When Morgan Liddick stated that “this nation was founded to protect human freedom, not to provide health care, food or shelter paid for by others,” one could agree with that remark from a superficial perspective.  However, it would take only a slight bit of interpretation to deduce from this that the United States government wasn’t dedicated to create laws that involved the greatest good for the greatest number. This principle of utilitarianism was formulated by John Stuart Mill and was promulgated by political philosophers, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau.  What Liddick repeatedly professes in his articles is a form of Social Darwinism that supports the notion that we aren’t responsible for what happens to the least of us but that we should celebrate, in an Ayn Rand fashion, the supremacy of the rugged individualist who has succeeded over and above everyone else.

It is clearly a Conservative idea to have the smallest government possible, although, given the exigencies and demands of our times, such a scaled back federal system is difficult to achieve unless one is willing to create an “each against all,” Hobbesian world.

Again, when Liddick rails against politicians who currently people our government, it is hard not to extrapolate as to what he ultimately might be recommending.  But taken to a logical conclusion and understanding human nature, any appeal to politicians to either reconnect with American ideals or to get out of the job, leaves one wondering just how this appeal might be enforced.

There is, indeed, such a thing as creating straw-men just so one can knock them down.  It is something else entirely to use deduction to arrive at just what someone might be saying or pointing toward.  After all, we too often, these days, hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see.  Therein, I stand by what I wrote.

 

 

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The Sickos on the Internet

“Impeach him!” “This is treason!”  “He’s colluded!”  “He’s guilty of…”

People have written these accusations on their Facebook pages.  Many of them aren’t people with whom I have a direct connection.  They are commentators on posts from people with whom I do have a direct connection.  I chose those folks.  Their “hangers-on,” I haven’t.  I am now often offended by these accusations, not because I don’t sympathize with the animus from which they have sprung, but because they are so wildly inaccurate and/or based on little to no knowledge of the terms that they are throwing around.

To call someone out for committing treason may feel good in the heat of the moment; but, to my knowledge, treason is an offense punishable by death.  If wanting one’s adversary dead is one’s desire and goal, it is little wonder that we have come to where we have in American politics, shootings on ball fields and total gridlock over life preserving, life threatening legislation.

Social Media is only helpful if it is approached with some level of responsibility.  One may spew horrible things and get away with it, but people who post such trashy, spurious, and unfounded claims ought to understand that, in some cases, they can and will be held responsible for the damage they do.  Some ‘perps’ have rightfully found themselves prosecuted for bullying when, in some cases, they have caused their victims to commit suicide.  Others surely have been sued for slander and/or libel.  This is as it should be.

The best I can do, at the moment, is to either ignore or challenge such wildly unwarranted pronouncements.  It’s either that, or I could cancel my Facebook account and save myself a lot of time and aggravation.  Whatever I decide to do, I repeatedly remind myself not to put credence or become too overwhelming by the constancy of the flow of insidious, corrosive crap I encounter daily on the web. There is a reality out there that is far from the Lemon-Lyman instigators who represent the ‘sickos’ of our society.

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Weary…oh, so weary

Apparently, chaos theory reigns on the web and, to a certain extent, with the media; for, if someone of the party you oppose sneezes, this becomes fair game for your “take.”  You may then proceed to bash them with your unbridled criticism and truly well honed insights.  You may even develop your own conspiracy theory based on your “take.”

Donald Trump, for all his antics, absurd tweets, and damage that he is inflicting on the American image and governmental operations, hit upon something with his generalized claims of “fake facts.”  It isn’t so much that the media so often gets things wrong as that many of us are so tired of being swamped with what turns out to be hyped trivia made to seem important or even supposedly critical to our existence.  Bore down on the news stories of any given day, wait a week, and you will see that what was so incredibly important then hasn’t a scintilla of significance now.  It was a flash across the sky made to appear as an atomic explosion.

This is not to deny that there aren’t truly important stories and issues.  The trick is to discern which is which.  That can become an exhausting task.  When sifting through what I am being presented, I too often find myself mumbling to myself, this is crap and turning off the radio or changing the channel.  So much of the news upon which we depend in order to be informed citizens is anything but.

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The Challenge to Preserve and Protect

Some years ago I wrote a letter to the editor of the Summit Daily News to report severe and saddening damage to a mountain’s grassy terrain that my wife and I had come upon, the result of some selfish and uncaring ATVers whose vehicles had left a scar across the face of that terrain that wouldn’t heal for many years to come.  This kind of wanton destruction, the taggings and the blatant disregard for the natural formations and beauty that comprise our national parks threatens the future of these resources for us all.

Given the cut backs in personnel and resources, there is no way that the National Park Service personnel can keep up with the torrent of visitors, some of whom are hell bent on leaving some mark on what they see, ruining the experience for those who would follow them.  Carving names on trees, etching into rock formations, creating destructive and erosive run offs by bush whacking, even chucking paper wrappers and plastic bags, with or without their dog’s feces, all lead the ultimate devastation of our parks and forests.  The money isn’t available to educate the public to “leave no trace, to make no mark, and to try to leave things better than we found them.”  We need to self educate and practice some common sense.  No one ever needs to know that we were there except ourselves through our photos and memories.

This isn’t difficult legislation we need to pass.  It doesn’t involve our spending more than our attention.  It isn’t some unachievable goal.  It is, however, proverbially, up to each of us to behave responsibly toward nature and to insure that others do so as well.  This may take some admonishing of others on our parts.  Yes, we may need to stick our necks out and say something when we see others acting out destructively.

God bless and keep the many, many volunteers who help to build our trails and engage in other projects.  It is through them and the harried Park and Forestry Service personnel that we have a fighting chance of having our national park system intact for the generations to come.  But it will take a concerted effort by all of us to make this happen.  It is a joke to say that the professionals must now do more with less.  The time has come when that trite phrase becomes witness to break down and weary capitulation.  If we are to preserve and protect, we need to be involved and vigilant.  There is some hope that we may succeed.

 

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WAIT, WHAT?

I love to debate Conservatives.  That is, when they aren’t running away from the results of their (failed) policies and from the wars they’ve either gotten us into or expanded once they’ve gotten into power.  It’s been the neo-Cons which have recently sent so many into battle with ill conceived goals and no plan for how hostilities will end.  I think that we Americans would all be happier, wealthier and safer were more thought put into the armed conflicts into which we pour our children’s blood and our treasure than simply in drawing up battle plans and yelling Geranimo!

I am always amazed how, when they run for office, Conservatives all talk about shrinking government, as if a shrunken, central government can walk away from Social Security or our Vets, of which I am one.  Yes, the Federal government could leave things like food safety and the interstate highway system, the national electricity grid and defense up to each individual state.  But, that would leave smaller states in the lurch and would bankrupt most large states.  Aside from the economics involved, it would create chaos.  More than this, it would be impractical. There are certain services that simply are better handled through a central, federal system.  Point is that there is a limit to which our federal government can be shrunk without cracks of devastating proportions beginning to appear.  Add to this one other phenomenon.  Conservatives talk about those “tax and spend Liberals, but look who has ballooned national debt each time they come to power.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you can cut taxes, especially on the richest segment in America, and you can repeatedly tell the gullible that “Trickle Down Economics” work and that, by growing the labor force and the economy, they’ll grow tax revenues which will make up for the losses.  However, aside from enriching the already rich, there, inevitably, are no upsides to these cuts except that the national debt swells, and the poor get drier.

I love to talk about the Social Weal with Conservatives, especially the ones who claim to be compassionate.  Recognizing that there certainly are limits to the benefits of any “welfare program,”  still, let’s not make cuts to Meals on Wheels, and school lunch programs.  Let’s build more schools and fewer jails, because the obverse of this is true: fewer, poorer schools usually lead to bigger, better jails…uh, which cost the public a fortune to maintain and the nation critical human potential.

I love to talk with Conservatives, but so often all they’re interested in is hearing themselves talk.  There is little if any room for dialogue and “compromise” is a word their vocabularies seem to lack.  Mostly, when I engage with the Conservatives I know, I can’t hear them because they’re shouting so loudly.

 

 

 

 

 

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