Saturday, February 21, 2009

On projection

And interesting post at Jewschool on criticizing Israel.
We do this out of our own love, our own unique pride in Jews, Jewish culture, Judaism and Israel. We are our brothers’ keepers. These racists, they are ours. These murderers, they are ours. These zealots, they are ours. But also, these activists, they are ours. These changemakers, they are ours. These reincarnations of the Nevi’im, they are ours too. To draw upon Bavli, Shabbat 54b, this is our family, this is our community, this is our world.

For better or worse, they are all ours.
Because when we cast people out, it is emotionally satisfying. But it is also selfish. I've always had problems with the notion of being responsible for the broader community, but this is that notion in the best possible light.

There's a Muslim woman in my sangha. At a dharma talk once, around the '06 war in Lebanon, she said she ended a friendship over something horrible someone had said to her. The Zen Master responded that she had given up her chance to teach her friend.

Recently, the ZM told of how he was mugged years back. As he told it, he was guilty for helping this mugger make the bad karma of stealing. I was, and still am, a little uncomfortable with that idea, honestly. But there's also something important there, a feeling of obligation to everyone. That obligation is without exception because we are all connected. All of us, intimately.

I've always considered that sense of an all-encompassing humanity essential to being a Leftist. When we cast people out of our circle of compassion, we violate that idea. It is a selfish act that relieves us of the responsibility to help our friends overcome their base prejudices.

Thich Nhat Hahn went back and forth between all sides in the Vietnam War. Each side hated him for talking to the other. But as he went back and forth, he refused to hate. I think we can say he made judgements about skillful means (anger can be a skillful means), he refused to reject anyone.

As Norm Geras wrote once:
A second variant of the argument says that our real business is to concentrate on political sins and omissions close to home - where (the implication often is) we are more capable of making a difference for the better. Apart from the fact that the one focus doesn't rule out the other since you can object to injustices in your own society while giving what support you can to movements against injustice elsewhere, this argument is usually one of mere convenience anyway. Most of its sponsors don't genuinely believe that, for example, the work of the anti-Apartheid movement internationally was misguided, or that people in Britain should ignore the appeals of Amnesty International concerning prisoners of conscience in far-off places. They're just wanting to discomfit some political interlocutor over a criticism he or she has made, the force of which they'd prefer not to have to acknowledge.
He referred to this old post recently:
Once those people have asked that question, these people often reply, 'We have a greater responsibility for righting wrongs closer to home, and are better able to do so as well; our voices are more likely to be effective here than there, in influencing our own government than other people's, distant movements, different cultures...' and so forth. I have said before that this is merely an argument of convenience meant to embarrass political opponents, and that most people who use it don't really believe it: when it suits them to do so, they agitate and they act from afar, so to speak, as well as from nearby.
Geras is right, so far as that goes. But I think there's something he doesn't address, one way (of, perhaps, several) in which the principle of criticizing closer to home holds. To criticize close by is to refrain from casting out those far away. It is, or can be, the refusal to draw a line between us and them, the attempt to draw our circles of compassion as all-encompassing. On the other hand, it can be an attempt to simply redraw the lines between us and them. I think this is common enough today that Geras's criticism is appropriate and not merely 'right, so far as that goes.' Certainly, many people who make the close-to-home argument have succeeded in making Jews feel like they aren't welcom close to the arguers' homes.

I think this projection onto others of our own desire to create us and them. For we do have that impulse within us: to relieve ourselves of our responsibilities for "our community... our world... For better or worse, they are all ours." This projection must be challenged at it's source. The principle of close to home must be carried to its absolute extreme: Self-criticism begins with the self. To those who criticize Israel or Jewish Diaspora communities because they are close to home, I ask that they first/also criticize the way they criticize Israel. Is your criticism skillful or just selfish projection?

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