In a conversation some years ago, Richard van Oort made the point that GA is not a religion and would be of no use in the proverbial foxhole. What is a religion supposed to do for you in that foxhole, hearing the shells explode all around you? By praying to God, however you conceive the term, you are admitting your powerlessness to control the violence around you, but expressing your hope that in submitting to a “greater power,” the latter will “have mercy” on you and spare you from harm. This could occur just as easily in a natural disaster, in the midst of a tornado, for example. Meditating on the originary hypothesis would not calm your fears in the same manner.
For GA, however respectful it is of the world’s religions, expecting God to save you from a bombardment or a hurricane is clearly a category error. Religion, to repeat the catchphrase, is good anthropology, but bad cosmology. Even if a disaster is man-made, as terrorism has been described to avoid “Islamophobia,” it has cosmological, or simply physical, manifestations that are not subject to the peace-making abilities of representation and its accompanying deferral. Yet, in its defense, prayer when death threatens is a possibly final acknowledgement of the transcendental source of our consciousness that brings the possibility of human peace. Having faith that God will save you from the bombs or the winds is not the equivalent of thinking that if I say some nice things to God, he will be good to me; it is rather the admission that “he knows best,” that since the human world, despite its own and nature’s violence, has survived and even thrived under the dispensation of human/divine, or divine/human, representation, I have a chance to survive as well. This is the Panglossian grain of truth that sustains us all, from Voltaire to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Given that we have a minimal anthropological hypothesis, we can define religion rather than merely give “family examples” of it. We call religion the ideological and/or institutional complex that we accept (whether voluntarily or as an imposed social norm) as recalling to us humanity’s originary deferral of violence through representation. Hence to designate as “victimary religion” the affirmation of the universal applicability of the originary reciprocal exchange of the sign is to offer as a justification for the SJW’s moral fervor his refusal to accept as more than a stopgap measure any social arrangement that deviates from this reciprocity. We need not dwell on the murderous hypocrisy that allows such “stopgaps” to justify feasts for the nomenklatura in the midst of starvation. The victimary religion itself does not demand this explicitly; its downside is that it is unconcerned with why things always turn out that way.
Creating a definition does not solve the world’s problems, but it shines a bit more light on them than we are used to. As I tried to do in the preceding Chronicle 571, we can diagnose the flaws in the political deductions from such religious principles in originary terms, in this case by reference to the difference between unanimously sharing an ostensive sign of adhesion/renunciation and being obliged to evaluate according to worldly evidence the truth or falsity of a declarative proposition.
The world’s great religions are less vulnerable to such critiques, because they were born and tested in the establishment of modes of social order. Whatever one may think of Sharia, its adherents have on their side at least the argument that at certain times and places it has served, and to an extent still serves, to maintain a reasonably stable social order—something of which the revolutionary ideologies that obey the victimary religion have been incapable, although the Chinese variant, by jettisoning the mantra of the command economy for the disciplinary control of individual citizens, has so far progressed well beyond the Soviet model, let alone the “socialism” practiced in Cuba or Venezuela.
But the illustration that is of specific interest to me both personally and as a crux that offers a lesson to the world is the case of the Jews.
That we persist in calling Jew-hatred antisemitism is already a demonstration of the Jews’ unique status, as well as of their own as well as everyone else’s inability to define the dimensions of, and thereby successfully to name, the unique hostility it arouses. Even calling it “hatred” is not very useful; antisemitism cannot be reduced to an emotion. Resentment would be better, but the fact that there is no term comparable to Jew-resentment is clear enough evidence that the creation of such a term would go against the spirit of neologism. New words come into being and flourish to the extent that they simplify thinking about what they designate. Indeed, even Judeophobia scarcely exists—although it would surely be more justified than the scare-word Islamophobia, a “phobic” hostility to Muslims that has only been detected since Muslim terrorists began slaughtering people. We don’t say Judeophobia because one cannot “fear” the sons of dogs and pigs, and more generally, one cannot explicitly admit that hostility to Jews is in any way pathological. Today antisemitism is a deniable reference to a defunct belief-system. In all the surveys on the subject that detect “levels” of antisemitism in various places, I somehow doubt that the poll-takers ever ask, point-blank, “Are you antisemitic?” Hitler would have said Jawohl, but today the term is pejorative, like racist, leaving no presumably neutral name for this classic hostility.
But the real question is why the subject arises at all. Why is Israel the object of the vast majority of UN condemnations? Why does Putin’s takeover of Crimea and chunks of Georgia and Ukraine evoke yawns, whereas Israel’s “occupation” of territory after repulsing several invasions is unacceptable, not only to the “Palestinians,” who discovered their nationality in response to the establishment of a Jewish state, and not only to their Arab and/or Muslim “brothers,” but to the members of the European Union, and probably the majority of the personnel of the US State Department?
We are so used to this anomaly that it is bad form to mention it, and of course one can always find “reasons,” but whereas the resentment of the descendants of Arab families who once inhabited Israeli land is understandable, what is not is that this resentment has been cultivated by the international community for 70 years, is supported by a unique UN agency that anomalously defines “refugee” as a hereditary status unto the nth generation, and remains the object of a commiseration that is not granted to any comparable group of displaced persons, not because anyone really cares so much about the Palestinians, but because they are the “victims” of the Jews.
As for the little matter of Israel’s contributions to the world economy and to science and technology, in embarrassing contrast to that of the other nations of their region, n’en parlons pas. Clearly whatever the details, and there are always details, the only explanation for all this is that they are Jews.
A couple of years ago, Adam Katz and I published The First Shall Be the Last: Rethinking Antisemitism (Brill, 2015) as an attempt to explain, in admittedly discursive fashion, the phenomenon we still label antisemitism. This book has to our knowledge still not been reviewed, nor has it been more than minimally advertised or promoted by ISGAP (Institute for the Study of Antisemitism and Policy), the association that sponsored its publication. But the one obvious truth is that neither ISGAP nor the rest of what might be called the “antisemitism community” sees our book as either agreeable to their ideology or financially promising. What people want to read about antisemitism is scandalous facts: pogroms, numerus clausus, sales of Mein Kampf and the Protocols; and fanciful accusations: the blood libel, updated with the sale of Palestinian organs, well-poisoning, another recent Abbas accusation, and more generally, the International Jewish Conspiracy. Ah, but once you begin to “explain” these things, in a sense you justify them. Yes, but not explaining them doesn’t make them go away. To quote La Fontaine, Qui veut noyer son chien l’accuse de la rage [He who would drown his dog accuses it of rabies]. But the real question is why this one particular breed is the object of, to use the UN as our touchstone, over 95% of the accusations.
It is useless to try to measure Israel and the Jews generally against other “comparable” entities, because there is nothing comparable. It is the very idea of a Jewish state that offends not only Arabs and Iranians (or at least the mullahs and their supporters) but Europeans and even quite a few Americans—including Jewish Americans. The idea that the PA has steadfastly refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state would be unbelievable in any other case; and were the rest of the Western world not ready to agree at least partially, or shall we say, remain “neutral” between the “two sides,” this would not have remained possible. And then there is the UNRWA…
But one should understand that any discussion that remains on this level is committing a category error. We should listen, but in a “different key,” to the crass absurdity of Abbas and Co. claiming that the Jews have never had a historic relationship with Jerusalem. This is, to coin a phrase, the purest BS. But as Harry Frankfurt pointed out some time ago, BS is unconcerned with truth, which, as I noted (see Chronicle 429), only puts it closer to the originary purpose of language, which is to defer the resentments of its audience. I would supplement this point today by noting that, although declarative or “constative” propositions nominally have a truth value, this value is commonly recruited for what we might call ostensive purposes, as in religious narratives, of which the disconnection of Jews from Jerusalem (founded, as we all know, by Abbas’ “ancestors,” the Canaanites) is a good example.
In other words, whereas politics and international affairs always contain a certain amount of BS/mythology, where the Jews are concerned, we are fully within the domain of the supernatural. If God can create the world in six days, then Jerusalem can have been founded by Canaanites who morphed into desert Arabs in the seventh century. And let us remind ourselves that it isn’t just Middle Easterners who think this way; our so-called allies in Europe are happy to support whatever measures at the UN serve to humiliate and delegitimize the notion of a Jewish state, or “sh…y little country,” as a French ambassador once put it.
Can it be that Trump, so despised by the Europeans, represents the only sane position on this issue? To look on the bright side, one possible way to mitigate antisemitism is to be able to point to examples of Jewish stupidity. I recall a number of American Jews and sympathizers who claimed they were ready to leave for Canada or elsewhere when the “Fascist” Trump was elected—an event that some even had the chutzpah to compare to Kristallnacht. Today some of these people affect to find Trump’s position on the Jerusalem issue a disastrous “obstacle to peace,” as though accepting to support for decades the Palestinians’ refusal to “recognize” a Jewish State were part of a “peace process.” Is it simply a matter of cruel irony that the victims of the Holocaust are described, in the words of such as Erdogan, as “worse than the Nazis” in their “genocide” of Palestinians?
Once more, sarcasm is not the point. What is the point is that the obscene absurdity of such remarks belongs to the same mindset as the less obscene but equally absurd affirmations of victimary thinking, such as the mathematics=Whiteness meme discussed in Chronicle 563. In both cases, what is being attacked is firstness. Except that in one case, one is presumably taking the side of those disadvantaged by “white” society, whereas in the other, the “colonial” oppression exercised by Israeli Jews is supplemented, to use a Derridian term, by a much richer historical complex.
We have been over this before, but I would now insist more strongly on the parallel between the “unspeakable” hostility to Jews and what I call the victimary. We should note that neither this term nor any synonym is in popular usage. PC, unlike antisemitism, is an ironic and, dare I say, almost affectionate term for what is at worst a harmless eccentricity rather than a pernicious hatred. Yet Trump and Haley see the connection, even though it is not considered good form to associate an appeal to sanity, as one might describe dissenting from today’s more extreme victimary idiocies, with something so controversial as Zionism. As the Nazis would have been glad to tell you, Jews are certainly no “whiter” than Arabs, but they are not “people of color” because they are associated (to put it modestly) with Western Civilization, the source of 95% of the well-being (not to speak of 99% of the weaponry) that its modern enemies, internal and external, take for granted.
What is wrong with the victimary religion? In a word, it confuses the conditions for a successful ostensive—unanimous and reciprocal sharing—with those for a declarative proposition, which, in mathematics as in most worldly operations, works better if it is true. It is no coincidence that the basis of Hebrew religion, as I made clear in Science and Faith, is a God who gives his name as a declarative sentence.
Once one realizes that PC idiocy and the noble cause of anti-Zionism/BDS are “the same,” perhaps one can take at least a step toward rejecting the victimary religion that they both embody. In both cases, the scandal is not that some people oppress others, which is no small problem in itself, but that it has always been the case that some people perform feats better than and invent/discover ideas before others, and while this does not justify the tyranny of the first, it justifies even less their persecution by the latter.
Jesus’ inversion of first and last takes place only in God’s kingdom. In the real world, his and Caesar’s realms are not coterminous. Or to quote someone who understood his point rather well, qui veut faire l’ange, fait la bête.