Towards a Qualitative View of Pain and Oppression.
The Left has lost some of its debates because of the way in which people have looked at oppression and harm. This may seem a bit vague so I’ll try to get more specific really fast. I believe that a crude quantitative analysis of oppression – Group A suffered more, ergo we should expect A to be further behind in terms of income, advancement and assimilation – as opposed to a more refined, qualitative analysis of oppression – Group A suffered particular affronts which impeded the ability to make money – has undermined the Left. First I will examine this phenomenon in the context of race; then I will explore this process in mental illness. I invite readers to try to find other areas of life in which common quantitative metrics may have harmed the Left.
At the end of the 1960’s, as the Nation’s interest in progressive change seemed to flag and whites grew leery of the continued demands of the civil rights movement, those with a more conservative bent began to compare the travails of blacks with those of Jews, Irish, Italians and other “white ethnics.” They noted that many of these white ethnic groups had suffered poverty and that the Jews and the Irish had suffered intense political persecution as well – the Irish at the hands of the British and the Jews during the Holocaust, and before that in the pogroms and persecutions of Tzarist Russia, and so on.
Conservatives made this argument smugly and aggressively: The Irish made it. The Italians got out of Little Italy, and the Jews are storming through the professions. If the white ethnics can make it, the blacks should be able to make it. And if the blacks can’t make it, then they are not as deserving a minority group, or lack the initiative or intelligence to succeed and compete in a literate, urban world. The comparisons were made most starkly and bitterly with regard to blacks and Jews. (The people who made these facile comparisons between blacks and Jews constituted the first wave of neo-conservatives. The second wave of neo conservatives made their claim to fame by urging us to go to war in Iraq. Interestingly enough, these second wave neo-conservatives were not only the ideological children of the first wave of neo-conservatives; they were also the actual biological children of the first wave of neo-conservatives, and I have often thought that John Podhoretz is published only because his Daddy was Norman Podhoretz. I could discuss the lineage of other mediocre neo-conservatives, but I don’t want this to degenerate into something smacking of gossip.)
In any event, as the energy and elan of the Left began to decline at the close of the Sixties, Jews and Blacks, who had once been strong allies on the Left, were at times at each other’s throats. All too often they seemed to be competing with each other for the title as the most victimized group in history. Both groups had a lot going for them in this very sad contest: Blacks could cite hundreds of years of slavery. Jews could cite the Holocaust. (As a Jew, I always thought that the physical eradication of a people took all comers) And so we fought, and while we were divided, Richard Nixon and the right won.
It is my belief that Jews and Blacks were arguing about the wrong thing. The important question was not quantitative, how much they had suffered, but rather qualitative: What were the ways in which they had suffered and how did different forms of suffering create different behavioral patterns which could either thwart or invigorate one’s will to overcome.
For example, blacks were often ridiculed and taunted with the adjective stupid. Blacks were said to be ape-like, less than fully human, and possessing of meager intellects. Jews, in the course of being hated and castigated, heard something very different: They were told that they were conniving, clever and bright at business and poised to make a mint. One of the strongest defense mechanisms, according to Freud, is our tendency to identify with our oppressor, and to adopt the oppressor’s point of view, e.g., Women will believe that they are inferior when men tell them so. Supposedly, we ease the pain of being oppressed when we make our oppressor’s beliefs our own.
Now apply the dynamic of identification with the aggressor to blacks and Jews. The black hears that he is stupid, he identifies with his aggressor, and when school time rolls around he approaches the material with a sheepish, defeatist air, the confidence knocked-out of him before he has even started. When the Jew hears that he is clever and swift, he will tend to believe what the gentiles have told him and this will buttress his esteem and confidence and may serve as an impetus to commercial and academic gains.
Similarly contrast the ways Jews lived in Tzarist Russia (After Poland had been partitioned by the Prussian, Austrian and Russian Empires, at the close of the Eighteenth century, the bulk of Europe’s Jewry were subjects of the Tzar.) with how blacks lived in the Old South. In Tzarist Russia, discrimination against Jews was clear and explicit and had been this way at least as far back as the 16th Century, when the Domostroi, a book which took upon itself the ambitious task of instructing Russians on the proper way to be good Russians and members of the Orthodox faith, was written. The Domostroi flatly said that one should have little to do with Jews, and be leery of them, for killing Jesus Christ. Jewish children were confiscated from their homes and forced to fight in the Tzar’s armies. And Jews had no political or civil rights to speak of – then again, almost no one had any rights in Tzarist Russia; the serfs were not freed until the 1860’s.
In any event, the Jews, in the course of being hated, were fully segregated from gentiles. They were more segregated than blacks had ever been in the Old South, and, ironically, this had a salubrious effect on Jews.
For example, if two Jews had a dispute, the conflict would be resolved by a Jewish Court. Jews of course had their own system of education, paid for by Jews. When the State was desirous of garnering tax revenues, the task of tax collection was delegated to Jewish officials. (Of course, some of this self-government was often corrupt and even monstrous. For example, in the Nazi era, the Germans established Judenrats, or Jewish Governments, to organize the oppression of the Jewish people and sometimes the leaders of the Judenrats tried to save their own skins by handing over a heavy bounty of Jews to the killers.) But Jewish self- government in Europe was only at times destructive and it did teach the Jews a worthwhile lesson: In the course of organizing their own schools, courts and charities, Jews gained the confidence to manage their own lives.
In this country, there were no such things as black courts or black policemen to handle intra-black quarrels. Blacks went before the Nation’s and States’ criminal and civil courts, unschooled in the proceedings, on their own and very much at sea. None of this buttressed black self-confidence. (Because Jews benefited from total segregation, I have often sympathized with SNCC, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, and other black radical groups which argued for a certain measure of segregation, such as when SNCC, in 1966, ousted its white members. I think it is fair to see this not as an instance of black racism toward whites but rather as a protective measure necessary to prevent the total evisceration of black self-esteem. For example, if a black child has no relatives who are educated, and he comes to school and finds that all his teachers are white, his prospects for academic attainment are, I think, decisively minimized.)
In the Courts, blacks were beaten down and cheated and this facilitated the growing pauperization of black America. I say growing because contrary to the common assertion that life has been getting better for blacks over time, in large stretches of our history the status of blacks declined. For example the acreage owned by blacks steadily dropped from its reconstruction peak to at least the end of the Great Depression. Also, the law did more than oppress blacks; it also rewarded blacks, in very concrete ways, if they lived up to white stereotypes. For example, in many of the states of the old confederacy, and for many years after Lee surrendered, a white person could not assert contributory negligence if a black person sued him for personal injury.
Let me explain. A black pedestrian sues a white car driver for hitting him on the road. The white car driver will want to assert contributory negligence against the Pedestrian. He will want to say that the pedestrian did something stupid to contribute to the negligence which resulted in the accident. For example, a car driver might want to say that the pedestrian ran into the car or wore all black clothing in the middle of the night and was, accordingly, contributorily negligent. However, in much of Dixie this argument could not be made. The Southern Courts held that blacks were too stupid to walk across the streets with any sense and therefore it would be unfair to penalize them, with a finding of contributory negligence, if they walked into a speeding car. This is akin, perhaps, to what Freud called the secondary benefits of a neurosis, i.e., sometimes a patient will not overcome his neurosis because people “cut him some slack” for being disturbed.
Also, the conditions in Eastern Europe never made Jews doubt themselves, and their worth, the way in which conditions in the South knocked down the pride and resilience of blacks. First, Jews had their own religion. Blacks got the religion of their slave-masters and this, in and of itself, can have many psychopathogenic results. If our slave master gave us a religion that we in fact love, then that slave master might, in some ways, know what is good for us and may be a benevolent man because he wants us to be saved. And as soon as black men credited white people with wishing them well and praying for their salvation, they must have been tortured by ambivalent feelings toward the white man. However, if the black man were to succeed, he could not be saddled and confused with these ambiguous sentiments. A certain clarity of outlook must prevail if one is to succeed and I would go so far as to say that one must fully despise the white man’s system if one wants to bring down his slave society; so long as a part of one feels affection for the dominant caste, one’s battles will be ill-fated.
In addition, we must consider the value placed on intelligence. I do not mean to say, as so many people have said, that Jews revered intellectual pursuits. That is known and it’s been said with such frequency that the assertion can prompt an attack of narcolepsy. Jews did more than value intelligence; Jews defined intelligence differently. Whereas in most civilizations going to school is a matter of students passively taking instruction, having their head crammed with facts the importance of which is rarely explained, Jewish education seeks to teach the child to ask questions and to adopt a curious, explorative outlook on life. The Jews were not merely the people of the book; they were the people of lots of books in addition to the Old Testament and many of these books interpreted the Old Testament in a multiplicity of ways. Jewish thought will take a proposition enunciated in a long drawl in five bold, unnuanced sentences and affix myriad interpretations to the words. Judaism is, in a sense, the anti-fundamentalist faith not because we don’t believe in the Bible but because we have so much respect for language and how the most definite-sounding words are incomplete and subject to interpretation. Very simply, Jews had a culture that readied them for academic competition. As I understand it, blacks, by contrast, had a religious training which brooked little dissent and debate and was given to hearty and loud affirmations in the form of resounding Amens. This mental posture may make one pitifully vulnerable in a secular school. (This fundamentalism might also help to explain what I have often perceived as the intellectual torpor of the entire South, white and black, where the only two respected academic majors appear to be football and cheerleading.)
In any event, allow me to summarize: The left has lost a lot of energy and credibility because people have said that since many white people were oppressed as much as blacks, black problems cannot be ascribed to white oppression. However, the relevant question is not how much a person has been hurt but rather if he has suffered the sort of harms that prevent recovery.
In the 1960’s, the most respected doctors, and the doctors who had appeared to have history on their side, posited an environmental etiology, or cause, for mental illness. Freud held that many emotional disorders had their origin in intra-familial conflicts, and after the atrocities of World War Two, we had a healthy skepticism of the notion that behavioral traits were inborn. To hold that behavioral traits are innate is quite congruent with the notion that race is destiny, and World War Two mad us realize just how deadly racism is.
Whereas Freud often found that neurotic conflicts had their origins in the anal and Oedipal stages of development, in the post war era some doctors said that psychosis, as well as neurosis, had an environmental cause and that the cause dated back to the twilight of life, to the oral stage and to pre-verbal stages of development. R D Laing, who was a hero to many schizophrenics, said that schizophrenics were the scapegoats of their families. Laing, in my view, was the avatar of the left wing view of mental illness. He saw the mentally ill as oppressed people and he hit the nail right on the head: Every time a stupid sitcom or other item of our debased popular culture makes fun of the mentally ill – the only group it is still considered appropriate to bash and denigrate – it is saying see how funny it is to see someone who is miserable. And miserable people usually are just very lonely people. And so laughing at someone for being mentally ill is really laughing at someone for being lonely and, when you get right down to it, is akin to laughing at someone for having lost a limb to cancer.
However, in the 1970’s we seemed to tire of the argument that mental illness can be explained by social factors or the familial constellation. First, a multiplicity of scientific discoveries allegedly buttressed the proposition that mental illness was biochemically determined. (We tend to exaggerate the extent to which these discoveries actually proved that certain genetic quirks caused certain mental aberrations. For example, one cannot say that because a certain physical finding correlates with schizophrenia, the physical aberration causes psychosis. It is quite possible that the psychosis caused the physical aberration and that the psychosis came about because of environmental factors. For example, when we see a man with large pectoral muscles we do not ordinarily infer that the man possesses the gene for large pectoral muscles. Rather, we assume that something in his environment – such as lots of bench-pressing coupled with adequate nutrition – gave him large pectorals. So what came first, the chicken or the egg, the mental aberration or the physical deviation which correlates with the mental deviation.)
Second, in the 1970’s, when liberal and avant guarde thought fell out of favor in broad segments of the populace, when Spiro Agnew railed against a left whom he said was composed of “effete, intellectual snobs,” some people clamored for “common sense,” and in the field of mental illness, this meant the application of a crude quantitative analysis.
They argued like this: Mr. A grew up in Darfur, and watched his family be annihilated and Mr. B grew up in a concentration camp, and now they are both successful business man in America. By contrast Mr. D has only suffered from the sort of quotidian conflicts one can sustain in suburban America, but Mr. D is psychotic. Applying their crude metrics, apostles of a biochemical theory of mental illness said that since D suffered so much less, and became so much sicker, this proves that D’s sickness was inborn. If his sickness was inborn, his oppressors, whether they be family members or the surrounding community, can be exculpated of guilt. His sickness is the product of his defective genes. This is akin to blaming the victim and is the right-wing view of mental illness. (Some people might argue that there is no right wing and no left wing view of mental illness and that there should only be science, and I would agree about the importance of science — but I would combine science with compassion. Also, the primacy of science does not exclude politics, which insinuates itself into everything.)
We would do well to apply a more refined, qualitative view of suffering. If one was the victim of horrendous brutality in Darfur or a concentration camp, the experience of course burns and stuns and singes the mind forever. However, it can also give the victim what I call a unifying rage: A furious desire, which summons up and unifies his energies, to get back at his persecutors by being successful and even, on occasion, happy.
And what of Mr. D, the individual who grew up in suburban tranquility and is now psychotic. The crude quantifiers would say that the relative benignity of his background – let us assume that he was never beaten or starved – coupled with his grim diagnosis means he was genetically destined to be mad. But, again, they are missing the point. They would never, ever for an instant realize that in certain situations it is better to be hated, and reviled, in one’s childhood than to be loved. It goes like this:
Suppose one’s parents were extremely pathogenic but at the same time loving and kind. Because his parents loved him it will be harder for that person to expunge the pathological aspects of his background. If his parents loved him, it will be harder for that person to reject all of the unwise and delusional counsel they gave him. If, however, one’s parents were both pathogenic and abusive, it will be easier for the child to “vomit-up” the pathology instilled in childhood. And so in this instance we can clearly see that a quantitative analysis is not the least bit helpful.
And the question isn’t really whether you were hated by the Germans who tortured you, or harmed by your parents who merely chastised you, but rather if you hate yourself. If your injuries made you hate yourself, your injuries, no matter how seemingly slight, will be exceedingly malignant.
Some people, in the course of trying to quantify harm, might bring up the issue of psychotherapy. They might argue that since D (The person who grew up in suburban tranquility and became psychotic), had psychotherapy, the psychotherapy should have negated all of the harmful effects of his bad childhood rearing and that D’s continued maladjustment establishes his genetic inferiority. In doing so, they are accrediting psychotherapy with powers and abilities it has never been shown to have.
For example, a study showed that neurotics (That terms betrays that this was an old study. The current diagnostic manual doesn’t use the word neurotic. The study I am speaking of was executed by Eysenck and its findings were published in 1954) who went to classical psychoanalysis had a 44 percent rate of recovery whereas neurotics who received no therapy at all had a two thirds rate of recovery. This study plainly proved that psychoanalysis serious impairs the possibility of improvement.
The study’s findings are not at all surprising considering the speculative nature of so much of psychoanalytic thought. Whereas in physical ailments there is something palpable and corporeal and thoroughly real that you can get your hands on, whether it be an appendix or a cyst or lymph node, there is something exasperatingly elusive of so much analytic thought. For example, can we really believe that a little boy in Vienna, named Hans, thought his Father wanted to castrate him – when in fact Little Hans never said any such thing and this was simply Freud’s presumptuous interpretation — and that because little Hans harbored this fear every little boy in the whole world has the same fear. And if a system of treatment is an edifice built on foundations like this, why should we be surprised if analysis has such a lousy record of healing.
In any event, I do not mean to abjure the worthwhile goal of trying to assuage emotional pain; I merely aim to stress that psychiatry is still in its infancy and has a long way to go.
In any event, in mental illness, as in disputes about white ethnics and blacks, quantitative means of evaluating pain have proved to be a great disservice, and tiresome, ancient arguments over who suffered the most pain deflect us from the goal of overcoming pain and oppression.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2013
America Suffers From Neurotic Displacement
Our political discourse is afflicted with a disease that generally effects people. The disease has been called neurotic displacement, displaced pain and sometimes just plain displacement. Before I can explain how this country has succumbed to this malady, I think it makes sense to first describe this ailment in individuals. .
The disease is present in both medicine and psychiatry. In bodily disease, this condition manifests itself when Organ A will hurt even though Organ B is really the organ suffering from organic disease. In psychopathology, a patient may complain about his inability to score over 95 in Spanish when in fact he really is plagued by the trauma of a loved one’s recent death. The rationale for this condition seems to be that since it would be too painful for the diseased organ to feel the full brunt of the pain, the pain is shifted or displaced to another organ. Sometimes it is described as something that arises because a person simply could not bear to face the truth of what is bothering him and so establishes fictions to distract him from realities he cannot endure.
Certain cases of appendicitis offer a dramatic example of this process. Although the appendix is in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen, sometimes a patient’s pain is displaced to regions of the abdomen far from the appendix. Tens of thousands of Americans die each year from appendicitis that was mistakenly brushed–off as gastritis. (The moral of the story: When a patient suffers acute abdominal pain, the abdomen must be palpated.) In psychiatry, the condition presents itself in truly remarkable ways. In hysterical blindness (The patient genuinely cannot see but we can detect no defects in the eye or optic nerve), the patient expresses only scant concern for her failure to see and will profess to be very much upset about relatively picayune affairs.
This phenomenon is very much evident in the nation’s political discourse, particularly as it exists on television. The titans of the television news media, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, spend a truly inordinate amount of time talking about things that are, relative to what is really important, infantile drivel. We hear about all sorts of stupid, silly stars getting into stupid silly scrapes over drugs, significant others and the police. This nation decided it would have a national nervous breakdown when a young intern with a loud and brazen beret had oral sex with the President. When a boy named Elian Gonzalez was brought to the country, and his Cuban Father wanted him returned to Cuba, large portions of the country seemed ready to go through the cold war all over again. Very recently, a ferry collided against a pier in Lower Manhattan. No one was killed. I have been told that for the next five hours, New York One (which broadcasts television news in New York City) and CNN spent in excess of ninety percent of their coverage on the ferry accident.
Of course, such inane news programming might make sense if we lived in some Eden-like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood where nasty things are a rare occurrence. But that is not where we live. Sometimes I think a Hades on earth is more like it.
Now there is no mathematical formula that one can devise to guide us in allotting news time to various subjects. This is all terribly subjective, and a host of factors, other than the importance of the story, will dictate what the news will consist of. But the bottom line is undeniable: The most important stories are hardly given more than a passing glance.
I can think of so many sheer and utter scandals, large and small, that are hardly touched upon. The American War in Afghanistan is now in its 12th year, and most of the American people are blithely and happily oblivious to the carnage — it is no wonder when the media is busily attending to such earth-shattering matters as Paris Hilton’s petty, narcissitic heart (I must concede that I know nothing about that woman) In the United States, banks have evicted millions of people from their homes through fraud and chicanery while the media concentrates on the lovely homes inhabited by the mental midgets on Real Housewives from Atlanta.
Medicine is one of my obssesions, and the media’s coverage of medicine is truly horrendous. Consider this story which, to my knowledge, got no attention on the evening news: In America, two of the most promising drugs for non hodgkin’s lymphoma, Zevalon and Bexxar, were not being used because of insufficient demand. (The New York Times, July 14, 2007.) Of course there were plenty of dying people who needed these drugs, but the evils (I don’t think that’s too primitive or strong a word) of the marketplace condemned them to disuse. Why? These drugs were radioactive and could only be administered in hospitals. However, most doctors don’t have their offices in hospitals and so cannot dispense these drugs. However, doctors love to administer drugs in their offices because they are reimbursed at a fantastic rate when their nurses stick a needle in a patient in the doctor’s office (About five hundred dollar for a three-hour infusion.) According to the New York Times, most patients were getting inferior drugs which could be administered in a doctor’s private office to boost a doctor’s earnings – and while the doctors got richer, the patients often died. (Of course, according to the intellectual bimbos on Fox, the only bad thing about medicine is what the government might do to it, and the rapaciousness of some doctors, and the death ensuing from their greed, does not exist.)
So what does the news media talk about when it opts to discuss medicine. First, they concentrate on the immaterial audio-visuals: The TV screen shows film footage of long lines at clinics and babies crying when they get a shot. (ooh, how cute, the stupid Edith Bunkers coo) And then the narrator relates his grave and gripping news story: We are in flu season, and it is rough.
I live in New York City, which imagines that it is the utter apogee of journalistic excellence. In New York, millions of people are spending upwards of half of their income on rent, and are living in rat-infested and dilapidated conditions, and the local television news is telling us about the aforesaid ferry accident which resulted in no deaths, a bake sale at a parochial school, and, if they are in a particularly moronic mood, a lead story will consist of a lot of moaning and groaning because a storm had the temerity to deposit a mere two inches of snow on the ground.
Obviously, this pathological coverage means that important stories are ignored. However there is another way in which we suffer because of the dearth of coverage of important stories. When the television news concentrates on dog shows and other such nonsense, people assume that little is really wrong with society or that if there are problems they are not the result of malfeasance or negligence on the part of big business or government. Surely, if bad things were happening, they would be reported upon, ordinary folk assume. For example I remember an allegedly bright woman (she was an attorney) telling me, in 1988, that AIDS “was no longer a problem.” I asked her what made her come to this conclusion, and she responded, in her inimitably stupid way, by saying, “Well, they talked about it a lot on TV, back in 1985, what with Rock Hudson and all, and I don’t hear that much about it anymore.” Of course, things were much worse in 1988 than they were in 1985. (The infection rate was going up like a parabola on a Cartesian plane. There were 1000 cases in 1982, 10,000 cases in 1984 and by 1988 about 1,000,000 people in this country were infected – and in those days our medicinal arsenal was virtually empty) That woman’s views had nothing to do with reality and were nothing other than the neutered version of reality she had imbibed from her tame and lame television – of course, television, we are told, is better than ever because it is “high definition” television; the caliber and intellectual content of the programming is of no moment.
This problem has always been with us but now it is only getting worse. Yes, in 1964 the government fabricated a crisis in the Gulf of Tonkin to broaden our involvement in Vietnam, and the media was sold on the lie, but the media did not smile too much. Walter Cronkite reported the news in his gravelly voice, did not behave as a mouthpiece for government propaganda, and showed us the villages we torched as part of our Orwellian “pacification” program. But today the media behaves like fawning fools of the government, and when Bush declared — all dressed up in military drag — in 2004 that his mission In Iraq was accomplished, the television announcers ran their brushes through their blow-dried hair and smiled wide and told us that the President was a very virile man. And so we have our bread and circuses, our Lay’s potato chips to give us type two diabetes and our network and cable news to lead us inexorably towards senile dementia.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2013
Five Reasons Why Jews Tend to Gravitate to the Left
This document started-out as a letter to my Uncle which aimed to explain why many Jews identify with the Left. As I started to write it, it dawned on me that I had a few penetrating concepts that, perhaps, should be heard by more than my uncle’s ears and that these ideas should be promulgated to the world at large. (Yes, I know I sound nauseatingly full of myself. But read-on and you shall be edified.)
The other day you said to me that you wondered why so many Jews were situated on the left end of the political spectrum. I think I’ve heard you speculate along those lines before. (Sometimes, I think that when you mention the alleged misdeeds of Leftist Jews, you are, in a roundabout way, taking a snipe at me.) In any event, you are not alone. Lots of people have been annoyed by their perception that many Jews are radicals or socialists. Many people have found Jewish sympathy for the left illogical and stupid. They reason that since much of the left can been seen as anti-Semitic (latter day communists who were anti-Zionist, anti-colonialist Arabists, and advocates of affirmative action, a program that can only harm Jewish representation in higher education and the upper echelons of life since Jews tend to “outscore” all groups on standardized tests save, perhaps, Asians), Jews should not have much to do with the left. Also, although Jewish income levels in the United States approximate those of Anglicans, Jews, it has been said, tend to vote like Roman Catholic Puerto Ricans. And so people wonder: Why are so many Jews so ardently left-of-center. In this note, I will try to tell you why:
1) We are idol smashers.
To a large extent, this has to do with what it means to be a Jew. Being a Jew means being an idol-smasher. The first Jew was Abraham. His father’s profession was that of idol-maker. Abraham looked at the assortment of idols that suffused his primitive world, and he ridiculed the BS. He realized that inanimate heaps of wood and stone cannot govern the universe. Abraham, very simply, asked questions, doubted and disparaged blind acceptance of tradition and authority. Accordingly, the sort of person who is very Jewish is the sort of person who will shun reflexive deference toward conventional wisdom and will constantly venture-out, on his own, to find that which is really true.
Because Jews tend to ask questions and to doubt, they will ask questions of authority. The Jewish proclivity for questioning those in power tends to make Jews more receptive to left of center thought.
Ironically enough, the most Jewish of the Jews will often find themselves alienated from their fellow Jews. Because they decry herd-like acceptance of hoary customs and laws, they will continually find themselves at odds with their faith.
Consider the issue concretely, in the development of a Jew’s mind: In good Jewish schools, a teacher will tell a group of five year olds, on the first day of class, a story of some sort. Then he will ask his students to find the “Kasha,” or inconsistency, in this story. This inculcates the development of a challenging, probing intellect. And the legacy of this sort of education is the very radicalism that you despise.
The most Jewish of the Jews have always chafed at the boundaries of existent knowledge and belief, have always deviated from most Jews and from most other humans, have always been on the outskirts of what was deemed permissible or legal or prudent, and the most Jewish of the Jews have been traitors to their people and leaders of the world: Jesus, Freud, Marx, Spinoza.
2) The Multi-Thousand Year Dialectical Conflict Between Judaism’s Legal and Prophetic Traditions
I can just imagine your response to my use of the word Dialectical. I can veritably visualize Diarrhea’s (My uncle’s wife is named Rhea; I find it pleasing to call her Diarrhea) eyes glaring with Queenly disdain: David is using a Five Dollar Word because he is a pretentious, pseudo-intellectual asshole (Of course, in certain precincts anyone who dares to think who isn’t worth more than a million dollars is automatically tagged with the term pseudo intellectual). I use the word dialectical because a dialectic, as Hegal described it, is exactly what we have here. A dialectic is this: A phenomenon has within it the seeds of its own antithesis. Example: A) We feel love, B) We get really sick of loving that selfish bastard who hasn’t given squat in return and C) we finally feel hate towards that person whom we had loved. In other words, love created its opposite, hate. (Marx of course applied Hegelian dialectics toward material matters: Rich people create their opposite, poor people, i.e., they become rich by making other people poor.) Hegel also said that after the thesis, or original point of view, had created its opposite, or antithetical point of view, a synthesis would emerge.
In Judaism, long before the destruction of the second temple, there had been a civil war between the legal tradition and the prophetic tradition. More specifically, the exacting, almost intellectually sadistic and punitive legal tradition had given birth to its antithesis: The full-throated prophetic tradition calling-out for justice and helping the poor. Occasionally, Jacobean strains in the prophetic tradition (Abbie Hoffman) incite a revitalized and furious right: Think of Norman Podhoretz, writing the same thing for thirty years: “I used to be a radical, and people like Norman Mailer and Lillian Hellman were once my friends, but I have finally become a grown-up Jewish burgher with respectably dreary and bourgeois points of view.” Then, after having endured the sneering, smugness of the neo conservative years when Jews thought Bernie Madoff was G-d because he was rich (Hell, those rich bastards DESERVED to lose their money), many Jews voted for Obama (And he was a grand mistake, but we probably disagree as to why he was a mistake). In any event, this is how the dialectic played itself out in Judaism between the legal and prophetic traditions.
A big part of Judaism is the Law.
(People often say that the Jewish contribution to civilization has been the law, but, being a lawyer, I don’t understand why the world should love us for having given it the law. To me the Law is a means of using obfuscation, mental machinations and tricky language to shroud the truth and further injustice. I could give you so many examples of the law being used to further injustice that I wouldn’t really know where to begin. Just for the hell of it, I’ll tell you about the negative pregnant, a rule of law in Anglo-American jurisprudence that has, over the centuries, probably thrust millions of people into servitude and poverty. This is an example of the negative pregnant:
A alleges: B owes me one hundred dollars
B answers: I don’t owe A one hundred dollars
Result: B must pay A 99 dollars and 99 cents.
Reasoning: The allegation, by B, that he did not owe 100 dollars was “Pregnant” with the admission that he owed all lessor sums of money.
The negative pregnant is, to my knowledge, no longer in force in any jurisdictions of the United States; the last hold-out for this ancient tenet was the deep South. It is, incidentally, one of the reasons why lawyers often write documents with an obsessive-compulsive streak, forever wary and forever verbose.)
The law is, largely, all about the governance of commercial relations. By contrast, Christianity sometimes is infused with a longing to transcend petty commercial squabbles and rise to a more spiritual plane.
(Of course, I am not saying that Christians are more honest than Jews. After all, no one can beat the Vatican when it comes to playing the capitalist game. In the era immediately preceding the Reformation, suckers all over Europe gave the Church oodles of gold because the Church had a racket known as the sale of indulgences. Very simply, for X amount of Gold the priest could assure you entry to heaven, for 2X amount of money he could give you a package deal and get you, your wife, your mistress and your first born into heaven. Shortly before the Reformation, one very rich Bishop gave a dinner party in which the silverware and plates were all composed of gold and silver. At the end of the party, the Bishop, to broadcast his wealth, threw all the gold and silver cutlery and dishes into the sea to make it known that he had plenty more of that stuff)
Judaism is suffused with all things commercial. The Talmud, I have been told, seems at times like nothing but an arid treatise on contract law, replete with detailed and comprehensive analyses of every facet and permutation of a case in which a cow, costing x amount of money, fails to deliver milk. Judaism, therefore, in many ways has little to do with the things that we normally think of when we think of religion. It is, supposedly, not much interested in the metaphysical; it is deeply pragmatic and seeks to govern and define all of our day to day affairs, many of which are commercial.
Some of us get a little ill when religious study seems just like Law school. Actually, I first started to think about this and related issues when I heard a man, on line at a bank, say that Law school is liar school.
(This reminds me of my reaction formation theory of the professions. A reaction formation is a state of affairs in which one tries to conceal one’s socially unacceptable tendencies by purporting to believe in, or aspire to, the reverse of that tendency, e.g., one tries to conceal one’s desire to be a drag queen by purporting to be like John Wayne. In the professions, reaction formations play out as follows: a) If you want to make people feel stupid, you conceal this unsavory desire by purporting to want to educate people, and you become a teacher, where the high point of your day is screaming at a student and telling him he is stupid, b) if you want to drive people crazy, you become a psychiatrist (Results from the Eyesenck study: Two-thirds of neurotics who don’t go to therapy get better over time, but only 44 percent of those neurotics who go to analysts get better), c) if you want to hurt people physically, you become a doctor: e.g., i. the first class of anti-neoplastic drugs were derived from the mustard gas of World War One; ii) Electro Convulsive Shock Treatment was introduced to Bellevue straight from Mussolini’s Italy; iii, 100,000 Americans die every year from infections contracted in the hospital; iv) a doctor from the Mayo Clinic Warns that this country will have 25,000 additional cancer deaths per year because of CT scans, which emit 400 to 500 times as much radiation as a chest x ray. Finally, if you want to lie and deceive, you become a lawyer and the best lawyers are those who lie with greatest ease and avidity, e.g., the OJ Simpson defense team.)
Some of us think that not only the Law, but also that which it tries to protect and manage, namely commercial activity, is also all about lying. After all, what is the essence of the capitalistic act: Taking a piece of dreck worth 10 dollars and convincing a poor shnook that it is really worth 50 dollars.
In any event, the legal tradition of Judaism inspired the prophetic tradition: Damn your legal equivocations and distortions. Take from the rich and give to the poor. The Jewish drive to the left is inspired by the Prophetic strain of Jewish life. Judaism, I have often thought, has some of the biggest and most successful capitalists, and this has birthed our tendency to have the biggest communists, e.g.,Leon Trotsky.
3) The Legacy of Pesach (Passover)
One of our cardinal holidays is Pesach, when we commemorate our freedom from slavery. Is it really that very hard to understand why Judaism sparks an identification with, or at the very least sympathy for, people who are persecuted. Perhaps this is hard to understand for those whose Judaism is what Kahane called “mere gastro intestinal Judaism” (a Judaism that revolves around Eastern European cooking);
[Incidentally, from what I have read, I sense that gastrointestinal Judaism might help explain why Jewish women are so often so adept at dominating Jewish men. Before the enlightenment, many, many Jewish people were extremely pious, and truly believed in G-d, and worshipped with real authenticity. Science could not do that much (There was no electricity, no cars, no penicillin) There were no implements to help us determine that the earth was billions of years old. There was only the beastly Tzar, and our sustaining faith.
Judaism was also something that was largely dominated by men. Only men could become Rabbis, only men prayed – women cooked instead of going to shul. When Jews came to America, many very quickly chucked their Judaism because through assimilation and deracination they could make a mint. Almost overnight, our religion declined in importance. Since our religion was a male thing, the decline of the faith prompted the decline of men’s self-esteem. Consider Passover Sedars: In the past, the Sedar meal was enjoyed, but it was accompanied by something more important than the ingestion of brisket: The recitation of the Haggadah, or story of our bondage and liberation from Egypt. There were roles for both sexes: Women cooked a sumptuous meal, and men told the Passover story. After Jews became Americanized, and lost their faith, the prayers were forgotten, although most families still had a child ask the Four Questions. But the Father who answered the four questions was now mute. In this modern and vacuous appreciation of Pesach, men were sort of useless and had no role, while the mothers and Grandmothers were lauded for the simple feat of wadding food with a whole lot of cholesterol and calories.]
In any event, Passover induces sympathy for the oppressed, downtrodden and poor. When I hear some people say that Jewish leftism makes no sense, I tend to think that these people, even if they are observant Jews, have serious deficits of Jewish knowledge.
4) From the French Revolution until the 1950’s, an era once satirized by the phrase, “Allen Dulles, Henry Luce, GOP hypotenuse”
From the time of the French Revolution until, perhaps, the Sinai crisis of 1956, when the Soviet Union assumed an unequivocally hostile stance toward aggression against Egypt, the left and the Jews were on the same side in almost all European conflicts.
The Church was of course anti-Semitic and the Church was the prime defender of the ancien regime. Through doctrines like the divine right of kings, which held that the King is the King because that is what G-d wants, Christianity buttressed autocracy and repression. Those who sought to demolish aristocratic privilege tended to despise Christianity because it aided the aristocracy and this engendered a natural sympathy, for the Jews, among revolutionary factions. Consider Marx’s ode to the Paris Commune: “Compare these Parisians, storming Heaven, with the slaves to Heaven of the German, Prussian, Holy Roman Empire, with their posthumous masquerades, reeking of the Church, of the barracks, of cabbage Junkerdom, and above all, the philistine.” The revolution will not wait for Heaven; the revolution seeks justice now whereas reactionary German Christians will bow down to their masters and believe that their salvation will be had in some heaven that none of us have ever glimpsed.
This alignment between the Left and Jewry continued during the early days of the Bolshevik revolution: An inordinate proportion of Communist agitators were Jews, most of Hungary’s leading Bolsheviks (Bella Kuhn and company) during the post WWI communist insurrection were Jews, Germany’s post WW1 Bolshevik revolution was run by the Jewish Pole Rosa Luxembourg and in the 1930s and 1940’s the Jewish affinity for the left made all the sense in the world because the Left was at war with Fascism and Nazism. For example, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, there were two Polish undergrounds – one for communists and one which was backed by London. The Polish Home Guard, which took London’s lead, for the most part handed Jews, in hiding, over to the Nazis and did nothing to help the Jews during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. By contrast, the Polish Peoples Guard, which was associated with Moscow, sent radiograms to Moscow regarding the uprising and the Red Army bombarded German Positions which were harassing the Ghetto.(I don’t know how this was done because during April of 1943 no Soviet troops were anywhere near Warsaw.)
[Incidentally, some people who say that Jews should not be on the left allege that Soviet armies were inert while the Nazis destroyed the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto. This is LIBEL. The Jewish Ghetto was destroyed in 1943, and the Soviets rendered some aid. In 1944, the Soviet army idled on the East bank of the Vistula River while Christian Warsaw (essentially reactionary Catholics who hated the Soviets and the Jews), which had done nothing to help the Jews of the Ghetto, was destroyed by the Nazis.]
After world war two, London was opposed to the creation of the Jewish state and actively aided the Jordanian and Egyptian armies in attempting to strangle the nascent Jewish state in the cradle. America gave no aid, whatsoever, to the Jews. Russia, however, supplied Israel with oil and the communist block, particularly Prague, was for the most part Israel’s only source of weaponry. Until 1967, the membership of the Soviet Academy of Science was two-thirds Jewish.
The Jews, very simply, had an alignment with the left that lasted for almost two-hundred years. Such old friendships do not die overnight.
5) Alfred Kazin’s unmerited happiness
Many people in your generation looked at the supposed savagery of the Jewish Radicalism of the 60’s, which is still with us although to a markedly muted degree, and concluded that younger Jews had an almost animalistic, primitive radicalism. You guys felt revulsion towards the social as well as the political radicalism of the hippies and the yippies, the drugs, the long hair, and the student strikes that started in Berkeley and sooner or later spread to every good university in the nation.
Many of these young leftist Jews may have seemed anti-Semitic because their exultation of youth was like a kick in the shins to our elders, who were of course Jewish. And some conservative Jews were horrified, noting that such anti-semitism was especially grotesque so soon after the holocaust. However, the holocaust is precisely what made younger Jews so radical in the sixties.
We looked at our American elders and all we could think of was one thing: What did they do to try to stop the Holocaust. We found that in most cases, they – with the exception of Jewish men who fought as soldiers — did absolutely nothing. They were far too busy trying to make it in America, trying to conform to White Protestant norms, trying to kiss the asses of the goyishe teachers in school, trying to get good grades, trying to become part of what William James called the American National Obsession, worshipping at the altar of the bitch goddess success, to care about anyone but themselves. And this was conservatism and this was capitalism, caring about no one but yourself, and it was conducive to the Holocaust because if Jews had devoted less time to their financial interests, and more time toward their European brethren, more Jews would have been saved. And we hated our conservative elders because they seemed so self-satisfied with things that were immaterial, they would eat kugel and look at younger Jews and plead for inactivity and passivity and we had contempt for their passivity, which, we reasoned, is why six million died.
I remember when I was very young I, like many other little children, showed in inordinate interest in the oddities and differences in strangers. At times, I spoke about what I saw. My Grandmother used to respond to me by saying, MYOB, mind your own business. But I thought that minding one’s own business was the primary problem with life. That was why my Father had died (He reputedly was choking on his food in a restaurant for several minutes while no one intervened) and that was why six million had died. And so I wanted to shun and shuck all the conformist and conservative behaviors that one might associate with the MYOB mode of behavior.
But I by no means saw this lack of sympathy only in my relatives. This was reflected, for example, in Philip Roth’s novel “My Life as A Man,” which revolves around, in its opening scenes, a Jewish hotel in the Catskills in the 1940’s. The author shows us a bunch of Jews having a fun-filled time in the Summer. And I wonder: What the fuck is so funny if it is 1943 and millions of Jews are facing extermination. And why do the Jews of the novel have such a tolerant view of the Jewish guy who allegedly got out of army duty for fraudulent reasons when it seemed clear that every Jew should have done his duty toward Judaism, and the United States, by willing to fight for Uncle Sam. And I find this lack of care evident in Alfred Kazin’s autobiographical book ‘New York Jew.” This book, in large measure, is one prosaic Ode to the intellect of Alfred Kazin. At the beginning of the book, Kazin recounts his ecstatic happiness in the early 1940s: A great work of his is published and received great criticism, he moves from parochial Brooklyn to cosmopolitan Manhattan, and he is invited to all the really right cocktail and dinner parties where the pampered and erudite guests ferociously argue about Communism and Fascism all hours of the night. And upon reading this, I want to stab Kazin: What was left to be argued about after the Wehrmacht. There was only one think to do, join the marines, or the royal air force or the red army. The extreme radicalism of young, leftist Jews can be traced to an overwhelming revulsion for complacency and passivity in the face of evil.
And so I always wondered what you guys were doing in 1942. And this is why I became contemptuous of you and this is why I became radical.
 I have a weird idea: I have often thought that a staple of Pesach, Kenadelah, or matzho ball soup, violates Pesach dietary laws. During Pesach, we are not supposed to eat leavened products, or products that have risen (e.g., bread) in the process of cooking because when our ancestors fled from Egypt they had no time to bake bread, which of course rises. However, Matzoh balls grow, or in other words rise, in the process of cooking. They double in diameter after being cooked in boiling water. Actually, I think they may contain baking soda and baking powder, the classic leavening agents of cakes. Matzoh balls are thus a leavened product and should not be deemed Kosher for Pesach. I have been told I am wrong. I would like to know why.
The following was written years ago. I am posting it, even though it betrays a febrile and whacky mind which, I regret to state, is sometimes susceptible to anti-Jewish outbursts (I am a Jew, through and through, but have very ambivalent feelings about my religion. To my fellow Jews, who may be annoyed by my spasms of anti-Jewish sentiment and ideation, perhaps this will be some consolation: I find our faith less objectionable than any other faith I have encountered)
This is being posted, despite the above deficits, because I think the ideas are very relevant, very timely and the writing is as hot as a witch’s cauldron.
LOX AND BAGELS AND SADAAM
The New York Times recently noted that the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was filled to capacity with American Jewish “solidarity” groups which hoped to express their support for Israel in the Persian Gulf Crisis. The article tersely noted that the groups intended to fly back to America on January 14, 1991, one-day before the due date for death in the Persian Gulf. These bourgeois American Jews have a rather cute way of getting involved in politics. (Footnote 1 — at end of essay)
Cute and vulgar. In the United States, Mr. Solarz gave a blessing of liberal respectability to Mr. Bush’s war aims by giving him a carte blanche for war in the Gulf. Mr. Solarz, throughout his political career, had a record of unqualified liberalism, and everyone knows why Solarz shifted gears on the Persian Gulf: Israel.
Incidentally, one wonders why these American Jews think that American military action against Iraq is in Israel’s interest. If America went to war, Iraq would have only one choice: Attack Israel. In such a situation, the American-Arab alliance could dissolve, Syria and Egypt could very well reverse their positions over night, Mubarak could suffer assassination or a coup de tat, assorted Arab states, tribes and factions could attack Israel, and our European allies would doubt the merits of our involvement and quickly exit the region.
In the event that we crushed Iraq, the resulting power vacuum would be filled by Syria and Iran, and an ascendant and surging Syria, which unlike Iraq shares a boundary with Israel, arguably poses a much greater threat to Israel than Iraq, separated from Israel by Jordan and for the most part consumed by its ancient and enduring Babylonian antipathy toward Persia. And Persia, now Iran, would ineluctably gain from the demise of Iraqi power. Israel, weird as it may seem, has been blessed by having both Iraq and Iran as enemies. Those two states have always been at loggerheads and to the extent that they are heaping abuse on one another they have less time and energy to bash Israel. When one of those state’s goes, the remaining state will enjoy a huge augmentation of power and prestige. Also, Iran and Syria have tended to be simpatico – provided that nations can genuinely lean together (De Gaulle used to say that states never have friends; they only have interests). In any event, the demise of Iraqi power will lead to the ascendance of a powerful Damascus-Tehran axis of power that could effect devastating harm on Israel.
However, even if these American Jews are right, what gives them the right to assert that American foreign policy should be molded to fit Israel’s desires. Does Solarz sit in the Knnesset or does he sit in Congress. Apparently, he considers this question irrelevant or the necessity of answering it obviated by the fact that his heavily Jewish District in Brooklyn supports a staunchly pro-Israeli policy.
The fact that Mr. Solarz’s district supports Israel is not enough. One wonders how many of the young Jews in his District serve in the armed forces. The evidence which I have seen suggests that Jewish participation in American military life is rather limited. American Jews seem much more intent in luxuriating in the possibilities for advancement and financial reward that American life can confer than in doing a working man’s — or what they may call a Shvatza’s — sort of job: fighting in a war.
Of course, American Jews not only have no quarrel with the notion that the poor white trash and their black brothers should do their fighting in the Gulf; they also appear quite satisfied with an ugly economic and, to an extent, racist relationship that they have with Israeli Jews which goes like this: We white rich American Jews will give generous contributions to Israel — more often than not, in the most public way possible, in palatial synagogues in splendid suburbs — and you Israeli Jews, poorer, more religious, and, very often, darker in complexion — can do the fighting.
It appears odd that American Jewry, by and large a very sophisticated and well-educated body politic, seems oblivious to these issues and, to the extent that it ever addresses these issues, reaches conclusions which are nothing short of delusional. For example, American Jews do address their relationship to Israeli Jews — they think about it all the time. For the most part, their thinking is romantic, misguided, poetic and utterly fallacious. American Jews dream an endless dream of glorious union with Israeli Jews, of unqualified solidarity, of love, of blood, of boundless Jewish love for Jews. Obviously, it is infinitely more satisfying to dream sweet dreams at smoked salmon political luncheons in New York than to get hit by Arab bullets in the teeming Gaza strip and so our bourgeois American Jews see no reason to stop dreaming.
But someone must wake them from their impudent slumber.
In a loud clear voice they should be told to express their love for Israel by making aliyah, (by moving to Israel) and by joining the Israeli Defense forces. This sort of conduct would not only be much more morally sound than the present policy of asking poorer Jews and goyim to do the sacrificing, but would also preserve Jewish pride: The early Zionists — whose thinking for the most part has been obscured and distorted in the past couple of decades by conservative Jews who are embarrassed by Zionism’s association with socialism and ardent disapproval of most features of diaspora Jewry — wanted to create a New Jew which would be the antithesis of the helpless, effete, sedentary, brainy but brawnless, de-physicalized, cowardly mandarin Jews (In short, “heterosexual faggots.” This term aptly categorizes Diaspora Jews. I say heterosexual because most Jews, like most people, are heterosexual. However, outside of the bedroom, they are — in their narcissism, their infantilism, their dependence on their mommies, and their bitchy, bloomingdales, 14 karot gold sensibility — virtually indistinguishable from a pack of furiously fashion-minded New York Queens.) whose Shabbos goyim snickered at them as they lit the anointed Sabbath candles. Zionism envisioned Jews who would fight for themselves. Indeed, to the extent that Israel stands and fights alone, it remains pure and untainted by the disease of dependency.
Of course, the Solarz contingent does not understand this and urges an increased American role in the Gulf. Obviously, Israel is very much in need of American guns, but Israel must not have the benefit of any blond or black Christian soldiers — such dependency would be disastrously reminiscent of Israel’s relationship with Rome, and would further taint Israel with the guilt of Imperial America –and all of its misdeeds from Vietnam to El Salvador to Chile to Attica — and curse Israel in much the same way that Ceaser cursed the The Temple in Jerusalem.
Somehow one doubts that our bourgeois Jews will in any significant numbers make aliya and fight in the IDF. Of course, they could, arguably, buttress Israel, albeit indirectly, by serving in the United States Armed Forces. But, somehow, I do not foresee any significant movement of persons from the pampered houses of Great Neck and Scarsdale to FortDix and any appreciable diversion from smoked salmon and lobster tails (Footnote two) to the grits and burgers of the United States Army. No, our bourgeois American Jews will sit through the war reading and listening to their Norman Podhoretz and their Jean Kirkpactrick and will get cozy in their couches to watch the death and dying on the TV screen. They will not — heaven forbid such a thing — give up their lucrative (un)law(full) firms, medical (insurance business) practices, and let their eyes stray from the ticker tape to make any sacrifices for the larger good. What would Sophie Portnoy think of her baby boy in the Army.
[Quite frankly I will never overcome the nausea I experienced in reading the opening segments of Alfred Kazin’s “New York Jew” in which he expressed his sheer delight and happiness in being alive at the end of 1942. Kazin explains that, at that time, he made it in literary circles, got an apartment in New York, and first started going to all the right cocktail parties in New York while the great ideological geniuses of his day never so much as got into a fistfight — let alone serve in uniform — while debating communism, fascism, capitalism and all the other isms. I could think of only one thing: How dare he be so happy — making money and getting what my cousin used to call nauchus (def: happiness) points (you got 1000 nachus points for breaking 1400 on the SATS, you got 5000 points for getting into Medical school, etc.) — while his brethren are being murdered in Europe.]
Perhaps, selfishness does not fully explain the American Jewish failure to do anything real, like fighting, in the United States Army or to make aliya and fight in the Israeli Army. Indeed, American Jews have, on numerous occasions, exhibited a highly unusual measure of selflessness. American Jews participated in the Civil Rights movement in overwhelming numbers — although Jews make-up only about three percent of the American population, about forty percent of non-African freedom riders in the South were Jewish.
One cannot resist the hypothesis that the failure of Jews to make any real contribution — monetary contributions cannot be considered real from people who are flush with cash — toward Jewish life and survival stems from the fact that Jews really don’t believe any of it, i.e., they do not believe in religion, in god, and certainly do not believe whatever it is the prophets are supposed to have said to us over the years.
There is something childlike about religion. Although infantilism is more pronounced in Christianity — which provides a quaint and poignant human interest story replete with a mommy and a daddy and a terribly adorable little baby who gets killed by all those mean Jews and then saves the world — Judaism, by virtue of being a religion — which means believing in things which cannot be proven — is quite childlike. Very simply, adult-thinking does not consist of believing in things that cannot be proven, like messiahs, or burning bushes, or special covenants with prime movers who made the world in six days.
Accordingly, as people become more advanced — become acquainted with theories of evolution, atomic science and the like — they become too smart for fanciful theistic conceptions. I will concede that as of late there has been a revival of religious sentiment among many parts of humanity, from fundamentalists in the mid-East, to Jewish professionals on the Upper West Side, to bucolic types in this Country who want some sort of rustic, back to nature, back home religious feeling with the aroma of maple syrup, but there is nothing genuine about this upsurge in religious thought: it is nothing but a reaction to modernity and all of its harsh realities [This historical regression was engendered by the exceptional turbulence of the middle and latter part of the twentieth century — WWII, the “sexual revolution,” etc. — but as we become acclimated to the wreckage (good and bad) the world will resume its normal, gradual — and healthful — march toward atheism] in much the same way that those clean cut Waltons were a reaction to the neon and napalm of the sixties, and in the long run it will lose the race with science and reason, which will, bit by bit, gene by gene, atom by atom, prove that there is no great and good Father with a gray beard, up in the clouds, watching over us.
Jews, it appears, are very advanced. They are, perhaps, the most advanced, sophisticated people in the world, and when they sit in Synagogues on the high holy days — resplendent in linen and in velvet and in the glittering, radiant, irradiating rage of thousands of precious stones, each jewel screaming “see how rich I am” — the Jewish lawyers, doctors, nuclear physicists, and psychiatrists (a tribe so smug in its reason that it has dared to create its own universe and kingdom of delusion and unreason) snicker among themselves at the references to primitive Biblical events — probably with the sort of condescension that erudite Germans had toward the Nazis before the Fascist spark became an inferno — and tell themselves that in a little while the services will be over and they will be free to stuff themselves with refreshments at the “Kiddish.”
Jews, also, have far too tortured a history to really believe in God. Given all of the persecutions — the Babylonian exile, the Romans, the inquisitions, the crusades, the poisoned wells, the bloody matzohs of the mad Tzarist mind, the imaginary meetings in a Prague Cemetery to take over the world, the holocaust and, last, but not least, the denial that the holocaust took place — a patently sick notion which is becoming widespread throughout united Deutschland as Neo-Nazis sprout up like funguses from the Rhineland to Prussia. (As many Soviet hardliners state, we may regret the permissiveness that let the Berlin wall come down and Germany become reborn — or, perhaps, that creates the wrong image; the revival of Germany, it appears, is much more like the rising of a Vampire in the Night than anything as welcome as a birth.)
Most American Jews, accordingly, do not believe in god. They are too smart for the nonsense fables of religion, and the history of Judaism is far too dismal to allow them to entertain the thought that there is a God which is omnipotent and benevolent. Of course, there could be other sorts of gods — very different from the sort we conceive of when we think God — running the show. They would, given the treachery of the world, have to be either malevolent or, if benevolent, impotent. Freud put it better than anyone: If I ever saw god on his majestic throne, I would present him with a child’s cancerous bone and say how do you justify this.
Judaism, accordingly, is, for the most part, not a religion; it is a tribal feeling, a nationalism, a thing kept alive only by anti-semitism. Synagogues rarely address the philosophical questions and, more often than not, their primary function appears to be fundraising for Israel and nothing else.
One may attempt to counter the preceding by asserting that Christian Americans are not a bunch of intent students of philosophy, but one would be missing the point entirely: Christians, in their churches in America, do talk about right and wrong, the meaning of life, salvation, death and all that shit.
Perhaps they come-up with the wrong answers. But given the sort of issues they address — the meaning of life, death, right, wrong, what’s it all for — I think Christians are entitled to call Christianity a religion.
I suppose the Jews will say that my comments stem from a lack of familiarity with Judaism. Of course, I probably know more about Judaism than a large proportion of, if not more than half of, the Jewish population, whose knowledge of Judaism, for the most part, consists of the Yiddish term for black, and other unreligious things. I had a Jewish education, and I learned a thousand rules about a thousand subjects of daily living, but there was no unifying theme, no cohesion to bring the boring prohibitions together, let alone to life. Face it. Toynbee was right. It’s just a lot of arid legalisms.
Of course, Jews don’t go to, and never did go to, synagogues to get spirituality. They went other places — on the fringes of religion and often downright outside of it — to get a soulful feeling. Most Jews probably don’t want to remember what they did in Eastern Europe — and even as late and as close by as the Lower East Side (See Michael Gold’s Jews Without Money in which a family consult’s an old, tattered Jewish woman of deep but perhaps incoherent faith to tend to their son’s phobia of horses – the remedy, which consisted, as a I recall, of wearing a rag drenched in all sorts of soul smelling substances, seemed more effective and expeditious that Freud’s treatment of Little Hans who also had a phobia of horses) — to get their dose of opium. They had a marked proclivity toward the occult, magic, witchcraft, and strange superstitions. Nowadays, they go to analysis, which is more expensive.
Some Jews would probably state that I would come-up with a different answer if I had studied Talmud. Without a doubt, these secular Jews would not have made such an assertion if they knew anything about the Talmud. It is, essentially, the equivalent a law school casebook: It is a seemingly endless discussion of concrete, mundane conflicts concerning harms suffered and monies lost — the law of contracts and personal injury law — and commentaries regarding the appropriate Jewish answer to each of these conflicts.
I have no doubt that such a thing is of value — Rabbinical views pertaining to contracts and personal injury may serve as a guide to our present legal system [However, I would abhor any such thing: For example, Rabbinical Law regarding Torts — personal injury law, etc. — is extremely conservative (its an insurance company’s dream) and contract Law is just as rigid and forbidding.], but it’s not a philosophical, or deep, or emotionally enriching, or soul-saving work.
Of course, religious Jews know better and do not cite the Talmud as evidence of Judaism’s concern with deep fundamental issues. Its been my experience that religious Jews get very scared whenever one starts talking about “deep,” philosophical issues: They know that Judaism is, relative to Christianity, somewhat wanting when it comes to addressing these issues, and they do not relish letting their ignorant, secular Jewish coreligionists in on — to paraphrase Police Commissioner Benjamim Ward — our dirty little secret.
And so the non-observant Jews claim that Judaism is a religion because they do not know anything about Judaism, and the religious Jews try not to think about it: By spending all of their time complying with the seemingly infinite number of Jewish rules and regulations governing almost all aspects of Jewish life — an extraordinarily complex dietary code, morning, afternoon and evening prayers, etc. etc. — religious Jews become diverted from the more troubling question: What’s the reason for all their rules and regulations? [The diversion from big issues to the trivia of meat and milk (Most Jewish traditions command one to refrain from dairy until six hours after the consumption of meat; in Germany, it was often three hours; and in Denmark, with veritably bizarre anal precision, some Jews hit on 72 minutes — this is what they told me in Hebrew school. If this is not the case, the teacher was joking, but it seemed just as whacky as all the other rules I found it believable) is something akin to what physicians call displacement or referred pain — The transference of pain from the organ which is the center of the infirmity to some other organ (perhaps, because if all the pain were coming from the spot which was really sick, it would be too much to bear). For example, in some cases a patient with appendicitis will not feel pain in the appendix; it will be displaced to the abdomen (thousands die every year because some physicians, in these cases, fail to palpate the appendix and tell the soon to be a goner than he has gastritis). Displacement is also pronounced in many areas of psychopathology and should, therefore, not be unexpected in religion, or mass psychopathology operating under color of god, whatever that, or it, or him, or her is.]
One could say: What the fuck do I care, I like lox and bagels. Nevertheless, it has nothing but the most momentous political implications. If Judaism is not a religion, then Zionism is nothing but an intense nationalism bordering on racism. To the extent that Zionism posits that the Jewish state should belong to Jews simply because they are Jews, and that the Jewishness of these Jews has nothing to do with what they believe in or their conception of God, or whether or not they have any conception of God at all, and asserts that these Jews, who do not attach any particular importance to a belief in god, can relegate non-Jews to second-class citizenry or, as some have proposed, eject these non-Jews from the Jewish state, Zionism is very much like the sort of rabid, anti-alienist nationalisms of pre-War Europe.
And so, all things considered, those who call themselves progressive must, odd as it may seem, have a very strong measure of respect for the ultra-religious factions in Israel today. Because, whether we believe in the Jewish religion or not, only a belief in Judaism can make Zionism something special. Or, to be blunt about it, something other than racism.
1 After I wrote this, the war broke-out, and some American Jews were going to Israel — and the New York media, taking care to keep their Jewish audience happy, waxed sentimental and ridiculous with talk of courage and valor. However, most of it amounts to nothing of real significance. One group, called Torah Shield, traveled to Israel to offer “moral support” and acts of kindness. This wimpy way of fighting a war calls to mind the Parisian matrons who brought floral bouquets to the Maginot line in the autumn of 1939. (And we all know what happened to the Maginot line.) Of course, the Jewish response in the present situation is even wimpier: In the case of France, middle-aged women went to the front to offer floral bouquets. Torah shield, however, is not composed of middle-aged women; it is a group of late teenage and young adult male Yeshiva students who have explicitly said that they will not fight and will not do anything of military or industrial significance — they will not get their pretty hands dirty. When I asked a bourgeois Jewish friend of mine why they could not fight, he said, “because they can’t.” Why? Because they are American nationals? If they gave a damn they wouldn’t worry about the legal consequences of serving in another nation’s armed forces, or would serve in the American Armed forces, which, of course, they are completely free to volunteer for.
2. Lobster, of course, is not kosher. But, as succeeding portions of this essay will demonstrate, Jewishness in America has nothing to do with Judaism.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 1991
.Testosterone Displacement and Variations in Male Sexuality
I am a gay man, and, as one might suspect, I have seen many men in states of undress and sexual excitation. What I have seen leads me believe that many differences in sexual behavior, penile size, physique and body hair are the consequence of varying uses of testosterone by the body.
I have seen quite a few men with a huge amount of body hair who have markedly small penises. I once encountered a man who had a veritable carpet of hair on his body whose penis was so small that he felt compelled to sit down when he urinated. What is going on here. I humbly submit (I am not a doctor but given the abundance of cerebral shrimps I have seen in medicine perhaps I should have gone into the “healing profession”) that too much testosterone is going into the production of hair and not enough testosterone is devoted toward the elongation of the penis.
Also, I have known quite a few drag queens and markedly effeminate men with enormous penises and profoundly, almost gravely and austerely, masculine features. I know one drag queen, for example, who has a chiseled angularity about him that would have made him ideal for playing very macho roles in film and theatre – his stern and severe face makes John Wayne look like the quintessential sissy. (By the way: I am not referring to myself. I have a stern face, but I am short; he is over six feet tall, and I have never found drag appealing – I think it’s all terribly boring and decidedly unattractive.) What is going on here: Again, I humbly submit that the matter is one of testosterone displacement or application. I think that so much testosterone is directed toward penile growth and the development of angular, macho features that there is only a scant amount of testosterone left over to masculinize the mind.
Yes, this is a short essay. But I always placed great stock in Nietzsche’s dictum about writing: Say in ten sentences what other people fail to say in a book. That said, adios amigos.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2012
At what age do most boys first start to experience erections. I have a hunch that many gay men experienced their first erections at a very early age, often at ages 5 through 7. I think this may be the case because I have distinct memories of strong erections at ages 5 and 6; indeed, I used to plan sexual play times when I would lock myself in my room, surround myself with the objects which incited penile pleasure, and masturbate myself. Also, quite a few gay men whom I have known recount a very precocious onset of sexual feeling, and by sexual feeling I mean feeling in the genitals; I am not using the term in the expansive sense that Freud used in which all sorts of pulls or affections between people were deemed in some way or another to be libidinous. Of course, it might seem a bit presumptuous to extrapolate from myself and a few friends to homosexuals in general, but then again Freud, after deciding that Little Hans suffered from castration fear from his Father, extrapolated to all little boys all over the world and said that they too feared that their Fathers would destroy their manhood.
My conversations with my straight friends lead me to believe that very few of them had conscious sexual feelings, and erections, toward females, prior to the age of eight.
If I am correct, and if gay men tend to experience their first erections at an earlier age, this might teach us to reconsider some of the ascendant or at least contemporary notions regarding the etiology of male homosexuality, i.e., the notion that the phenomenon is inborn. If it is inborn, we might infer that the biological or genetic difference, if there is such a thing, between gay men and straight men cannot be ascribed to the belief that gay men have an inborn deficit of masculinity since they are getting hard-ons before straight men. The ability to get hard-ons is inextricably linked to manhood and if gay men are getting hardons before straight men than they are more manly than straight men.
In any event, I think that some homosexuals might be gay because they first found stimulation at a very early age. At tender ages, such as 5 and 6, a boy is in no way a man, or a forceful, virile figure, and as such it is dubious that he will think of himself in such a way. At that age, the experience of having his anus wiped, after he has defecated, is still fresh in his mind. And so if a 5 or 6 year old were to experience erections, it is dubious that he will associate it with commanding fantasies congruent with mounting and penetrating a woman; such ideation would be preposterous. Instead, he is more apt to think of receiving pleasure in a manner in which he is coddled, cossetted and babied. This in and of itself has nothing to do with effeminacy, or is at least qualitatively different from effeminacy, and is all about the yearning to be passive and unpressured.
Ironically, gay men may be gay because they are, at the very beginning, more virile, at least in a biological sense, than straight men.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2012