Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 8, No. 2, 2009
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
Diane Gordon
David Solway
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
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  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
David Solway
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward





Blessed are the peace-makers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Matthew 5:9

We don’t perceive circumstances objectively.
We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good
because they confirm our prejudices
David Brooks

Since most Israelis and the world’s Jews support Israel’s recent get-tough response to the thousands of Gazan-guided missiles landing in its back yard, and most of the world’s Arabs back the retaliatory strategy adopted by the democratically elected Palestinian leadership (Hamas), we must conclude that tribal loyalties trump the reason and logic each side provides to justify its stance. This same tribal loyalty predicts that as a Canadian, I’ll root for my national hockey team when it plays Russia. That our players might be reprobate degenerates compared to the Russians is immaterial; my partiality is to all intents and purposes predetermined. That same partiality explains why a mother will love to kingdom come her death-row child who has raped and murdered.

So if we know in advance as it concerns national, ethnic or religious conflict our positions are more or less decided by biology and deep-seated cultural biases, why are we obsessed with cultivating the good argument, and beyond that, why do we vainly attempt to persuade others as tribally obdurate as ourselves to adopt our point of view? Could it be that since we are the children of Voltaire (the Enlightenment), die-hard advocates for the rule of intelligence over gut-feeling, we are attracted to what in ourselves best answers to reason and logic as opposed to instinct? If yes, how do we resolve the inner conflict between our tribal loyalties and reason, or how do we get the former to finesse the latter?

Thanks to a species-specific, eelishly pliable mindset and pandemic propensity for self-delusion, we are uniquely able to 'arbitrarily' insert ourselves into a given chain of cause and effect that becomes ground zero for arguments purposefully gathered to satisfy our tribal loyalty. So in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the supporter of the former will designate the death of her neighbour’s child from a Hamas rocket as justification for Israel’s defensive offensive. A Hamas supporter will look to the blockade that left a child short of medicine from which he or she died as justification for its rocket protest against Israel’s said occupation. From the top down, the Israeli Head of State will cite as casus belli the Hamas Charter that calls for the destruction of Israel while the Palestinian leadership will pronounce the state of siege, apartheid, or the open air prison that characterizes Gaza as its casus belli. From the inside looking out, the historian will make a case for one side or the other by meticulously citing hundreds of examples taken from the chain of cause and effect that may span decades and centuries. But in each and every case, the insertion into the chain is arbitrary in that it could have been otherwise if it weren’t anteriorly decided by tribal loyalty.

Therefore, if our tribally informed view is fated to be unaffected by arguments reason deems correct (it’s universally agreed reasonable Germans should not have supported Hitler), where the tribal argument will always choose the path of infinite regression rather than cede to reason, we are forced to conclude that reason itself is complicit in ‘the big lie’ it tells itself, which tells an even bigger truth about the not so secret ingredients we use in the baking of our opinions. Which is to say, beyond its confession which is its impotence, reason has virtually no say in the positions we take.

Concerning those who are neither politically, ethnically or religiously bound to a given conflict but who have come to an opinion as a consequence of growing up in an opinionated culture and family environment, they, too, will unconsciously insert themselves into any conflict’s given chain of cause and effect so that it corresponds to their uncritically received viewpoint.

What should give us pause is that we all have opinions on almost everything, and we all seek to win others to our own, but when it comes to physically committing ourselves to positions informed by our tribal loyalties, we find more excuses than good arguments to keep within the confines of the language front and away from the very real lethal front. For all the emotion-letting that took place in especially universities and over the airways during the just concluded Israel-Gaza conflict, where either tribal loyalty or received opinion determined one’s point of view, there was no rush from either side to sign up for military duty, which would have been the true indicator of how much (or how little) one cares about a particular conflict. Words are easy, deeds the measure of us all.

So why have an opinion if on a better day we know in advance that it’s not likely to change someone else’s and that there is only a remote chance that we’re likely to act on it? Because being opinionated isn’t a choice; it’s an imperative that operates through us and defines us as a hierarchal species ready to pounce on any ways and means to establish and assert our superiority in whatever controversy that happens to engage us. The safest area of conflict takes place in the wordy arena of public opinion where there are no real consequences. As with contact sports, whose real purpose, for both participants and spectators, is to sublimate our biologically generated aggression, having a point of view and having it opposed sublimates, that is satisfies, our proclivity for conflict.

Many, many years ago, in the land of Canaan, a region today claimed by both the Palestinians and Israelis, there dwelled a Semitic people who lived in tribes and small communities. Living among these tribes was a Semite named Abraham. Like most men, he desired power, but didn’t want to take it or impose it on others; he wanted it conferred on him. So he thought long and hard on how this might be best accomplished, until it came to him in a flash that if he were able to convince his fellow Semites of the existence of a single God that concentrated powers otherwise dispersed in the many gods of the time, this new omnipotent deity would represent a power his tribespeople would not be able to refuse, and he, Abraham, would be accorded the awe and respect due to the person responsible for revealing this new God. Sure enough, Abraham’s original idea of a single, all powerful deity (monotheism) quickly took hold. And soon after, so as to be differentiated from pagan Semites, Abraham designated as Jews those who believed in the single God concept. In time, these Jews, as they referred to themselves and were as such identified, discovered that in a small enclave in the land of Canaan their numbers constituted a majority, and . . .

Well, the rest is history, the discipline that, in a perfect world, dedicates itself to the disinterested revelation of the world’s myriad chains of cause and effect.



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