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Am I In League With Pure Evil?
Over the years I've been cursed and insulted in all kinds of ways. Someone once declared that I am an "evil ugly heretic," much to my dismay. ("Ugly"???) But last week I received an insult that caught me completely by surprise. I was denounced with the very worst insult that exists in major parts of society in Israel. I was slammed as being a "Leftist."
Make no mistake, this was intended as a very serious charge. After all, the Likud and co. explicitly declared that supporting the "Left" in any way is worse than protecting rapists from prosecution, worse than harming the career prospects of IDF soldiers, even worse than harming national security.
But aside from the gravity of the accusation, it was the absurdity of it that horrified and intrigued me. After all, I have only ever supported right-wing parties. I have always been firmly against territorial concessions - which puts me way to the right of Bibi! So how on earth am I a "Leftist"?!
What was the alleged basis for this accusation? That I criticized Ben Gvir. Never mind that most of the right-wing in Israel for the last seventy-four years would have had nothing to do with the likes of Ben Gvir, the political heir of Meir Kahane. Never mind that none other than Menachem Begin denounced Kahane as a "crazy man" and Yitzchak Shamir would walk out when he spoke. Today, if you criticize Ben Gvir, you're a "Leftist"!
Another similar incident happened last week. A prominent and distinguished right-wing activist posted a video clip which showed the aftermath of an Arab woman in the Old City hurling a glass bottle at a religious Jew from Hebron. He declared that this was an unprovoked attack on a Jew who was doing nothing other than picking up garbage.
Now, of course unprovoked attacks by Arabs on Jews happen all the time. But this particular video seemed a little suspicious. There was clearly a lot that had happened before the clip started. And the Jewish guy was arrested by the police! To be sure, there are wrongful arrests. But I'd certainly like to give the official, professional security forces of the State of Israel the benefit of the doubt (and I don't agree with the right-wing group quoted in Arutz Sheva who described the police as "antisemitic"). It's not as though right-wing Jews never engage in unprovoked attacks on Arabs - perhaps that was why he was arrested.
Well, you'd think that I had denied the Holocaust. I wasn't just mistaken - I was a traitor. This distinguished person was so enraged at what I wrote that he declared that he will never visit the Biblical Museum of Natural History! My comments were so evil that everything associated with me becomes treif!
(Meanwhile, for those who do maintain that there is never unjustified violence by right-wing Jews, I'd like to see how they justify right-wing Jewish young men attacking a 70-year-old Israeli left-wing female activist with a stick.)
Then just now I saw a friend - a smart, normal guy - declare that the Jerusalem Post has "shifted to the far Left." His reason? That they harshly criticize Ben Gvir!
I was struggling to make sense of all this, but then providentially happened to be re-reading a book today which provided the explanation.
The book is called "The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom." It's one of the most valuable books I have ever read, and it's by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who also authored one of the most important books I have ever read, "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion." On p. 74 he discusses the work of another social psychologist, Roy Baumeister, whose studies revealed that people have a deep psychological need to understand violence through what he calls "the myth of pure evil":
"Of this myth's many parts, the most important are that evildoers are pure in their evil motives (they have no motives for their actions beyond sadism and greed); victims are pure in their victimhood (they did nothing to bring about their victimization); and evil comes from outside and is associated with a group or force that attacks our group. Furthermore, anyone who questions the application of the myth, who dares muddy the waters of moral certainty, is in league with evil." (emphasis added)
There you have it! Anyone who dares point out that there are serious problems with Ben Gvir, or that right-wing Jews sometimes engage in unjustified violence, is challenging the myth of pure evil - and thus must be in cahoots with it.
Later in the book, on p. 152, Haidt returns to this topic, in discussing the research on wisdom by Robert Sternberg:
"Wisdom, says Sternberg, is the tacit knowledge that lets a person balance two sets of things. First, wise people are able to balance their own needs, the needs of others, and the needs of people or things beyond the immediate interaction (e.g. institutions, the environment, or people who may be adversely affected later on). Ignorant people see everything in black and white - they rely heavily on the myth of pure evil - and they are strongly influenced by their own self-interest. The wise are able to see things from others' point of view, appreciate shades of gray, and then choose or advise a course of action that works out best for everyone in the long run. Second, wise people are able to balance three responses to situations - adaptation (changing the self to fit the environment), shaping (changing the environment) and selection (choosing to move to a new environment)."
Ignorant people see everything in black and white, in the short term rather than the long term, and do not think about other factors and aspects of a situation. The actual Left (now mostly extinct) used to make the mistake of believing that if the situation of holding on to the West Bank was bad, then the alternative would be better. The far Right makes the mistake of thinking that if there is terrorism, then electing a firebrand will make things better. Maybe they don't care that not only is he a hothead who could set the country on fire but also that he never served in the IDF, has a criminal record, and will ruin crucial international support for Israel. But those who do care about those things are certainly not Leftists!