Thursday, August 31, 2006

What is This Thing Called Love?

Keywords: Love; lust; sexual desire; limerence; falling into love; biochemicals; worldly love; transcendent love; world-denying love; Axial Age religions; Buddha; Jesus; St. Francis of Assisi; Max Weber; erotic love; social bonds; brotherliness.

We find it hard to talk sensibly about — primarily, I think, because the same word is used to refer to four different phenomena. I want to distinguish among them here. Our problems are certain contradictions and dilemmas that arise whenever we try to translate one type of love into another, or try to specify how some of these types should relate to each other.

Let’s suppose love is a single big circle. I’ll try to slice it into four segments, one by one.

LUST: This phenomenon — and/or activity — is the easiest to distinguish from the other types of love. Although ideally we want sexual interactions to be affectionate, this hope is not always fulfilled. Sometimes it takes place between strangers or enemies. Indeed, probably sex should not be called “love” at all, though it is usually involved in other types of love.

LIMERENCE: Dorothy Tennov has wisely coined a new term, “limerence,” to refer to the kind of love that one “falls into.” Distinguishing it from other types of love will help avoid confusion. is an apparently entirely involuntary . Some people never fall in love during their whole lives, but those who do so are usually glad that has happened to them. On the other hand, limerence can be excruciating — at least when it is .

ORDINARY, WORLDLY LOVE: This is an emotion that, like the aforementioned two types, has physiological correlates: Certain biochemicals are released in the body whenever it is experienced. It is a beautiful feeling, though not ecstatic, and it may be combined with other emotions to form complex, ambivalent emotional experiences. We all want to love and to be loved, but we are choosy about such relationships. We live in an emotional economy of scarcity, so our desire for loving encounters with specific others provides the currency for an infinitely wide variety of social interactions. The social exchange of , involving as it does mutual commitments of time, energy, and material resources, is a primary topic of sociological research.

TRANSCENDENT LOVE: As (see photo) pointed out in his comparisons of the , the great spiritual traditions all enjoined their adherents to love, not just a few specific individuals, but everyone — including equally all friends, strangers, and enemies. Not many individuals ever attain this universal love, which Weber called, according to ’s translation, “.” (I prefer the term “.”) Weber identifies the Buddha, Jesus, and Francis of Assisi as paramount virtuosi in the art of transcendent love. They “denied the world” in the sense that they regarded existence as mortal bodies within a physical world as only a part of reality — indeed, an unimportant part. Transcendence is a concern with realms beyond time, energy, and space. By encouraging transcendent love, these religious leaders relegated worldly love to a lesser status, along with the social bonds that affirm such everyday love. Thus they became homeless wanderers, abandoning their own families, jobs, and social bonds, and urging their followers also to renounce or transcend the world.

Though he did not label the four categories as I have, Weber did explore the contradictions between these types of love. For example, he insisted that marriage (based on worldly love) differs ineluctably from erotic love (limerence+lust), and that neither category can truly be subsumed into the other.

Weber’s main interest lay in exploring the inherent tensions between transcendent (world-denying) love and the everyday human relationships that involve ordinary, worldly love. As the Axial religions became institutionalized, compromises were attempted to enable the faithful to manage normal human affairs while approximating, as fully as possible, the elevated state of universal, transcendent love. These compromises were never truly satisfactory. For example, the new spiritual ideal of (which required the devout to treat every human being as a kinsman) jeopardized the well-established social and financial obligations of actual kinship.

This conundrum deeply troubled Weber. My own proposed solution to it rests on recognizing as unbridgeable the distinction between the ordinary, worldly realm of affairs, where we are physical bodies, subject to the first law of thermodynamics – the conservation of energy – and the transcendent realm, where nothing is conserved. Any attempt to translate transcendent love into worldly love is reductive and can only lead to disappointment. Transcendent awareness itself is required if one is to smile at such metaphysical mistakes.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Who Fought Israel Last Month?

Keywords: John O'Sullivan; Israel; Hezbollah; David and Goliath; Syria; Iran; Sunni; Shia; Hamas; Lebanon; ceasefire resolution; Joschka Fischer; Gwynne Dyer, Nasrallah; Olmert, Netanyahu.

John O’Sullivan displayed a candor today that made me sit up in surprise, much as if I’d bitten into a hot chili pepper. I can’t ignore him after reading today’s Globe and Mail op ed page, though I can’t buy into his conclusions.

There’s no surprise in his claim that Israel was actually defeated in its latest war against . I guess most people would acknowledge that. Israel was supposedly Goliath and Hezbollah was David, and we all know how
that fight turned out too. But O’Sullivan boldly states that the war was really between Israel and Iran, for the latter country led a coalition of Syria, Hezbollah, , and Islamic Jihad. Iran used Hezbollah as its agent and Syria as its transit camp, and supplied
weapons, training, and even some volunteer soldiers to the war.

Is this true? It’s a flat-footed factual assertion that not everyone would accept, but O’Sullivan claims that it is implicitly recognized by Europe and even the Sunni Arabs. In fact, he claims that the countries even wanted Israel to win this struggle, though they wouldn’t quite say so. Well, the situation appears a little clearer if we accept that analysis. The European countries blamed Hezbollah’s (see photo) as the instigator of the war, even while Israeli jets were bombing the bejabbers out of southern . According to O’Sullivan, the Sunni states just hoped that Israel would weaken Iran and destroy Hezbollah on their behalf, so they hardly said a word the whole time.

Well, maybe. I never heard anyone attribute those sentiments to the Arab states before, but surely someone must have done so while I wasn’t paying attention. Anyhow, I can’t contradict O’Sullivan’s assertion.

His next shocking claim is that Israel used a “dovish” military strategy out of a desire to protect Lebanon. Indeed, they bombed buildings instead of shelling the country with artillery because they wanted to keep from killing Lebanese. Actually, they damaged the country’s infrastructure terribly, but they killed fewer Lebanese and fewer Israelis that way. O’Sullivan compares the situation to the famous aphorism during the Vietnamese War that the US “had to destroy villages in order to save them.” He doesn’t even dismiss this as an absurd notion, though he admits that it didn't work. Evidently the Israelis really did want to strengthen the democratic government of Lebanon. But of course it did not work, for the Lebanese hardly celebrated the good intentions behind these bombings. Instead, they wound up supporting Hezbollah even more fervently than before.

So, after receiving the support of the United States, Europe, and even other Middle Eastern governments throughout this war, Israel nevertheless failed. The US halted the bloodshed by supporting a UN Security Council calling for a ceasefire, earlier than it had expected. Everyone can see that Hezbollah is stronger and more popular now.

O’Sullivan quote the former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, who
had explained Syria’s objectives in this war:

“First, to ease pressure on Hamas from within the Palestinian community to
recognize Israel; second, to undermine democratization in Lebanon, which
was marginalizing Syria; and third, to lift attention from the emerging
dispute over the Iranian nuclear program and demonstrate in the West the
‘tools’ at its disposal in the case of a conflict.”

All three of these objectives were achieved, says O’Sullivan, and the effects are now becoming apparent. For example, France is already backing away from the terms of the ceasefire, recognizing that Hezbollah will not be , nor will any embargo be enforced to prevent the flow of weapons from Syria and Iran to Hezbollah.

What will Israel’s response be? According to O’Sullivan, they must win the next war. This will happen soon because “dovish left-wing government of Ehud Olmert” will be replaced by a tougher one in which Benjamin Netanyahu will play a major role.

So O’Sullivan’s inference is that Israel must fight again, and that the Shia coalition will surely provide easy pretexts allowing Israel to launch its next war.

What a conclusion! Everything he said up to that point makes sense. I don’t know whether it is absolutely correct, but it’s plausible and, to my mind, it clarifies a lot that was obscure. But that does not prove that the Israelis need another round of fighting. What they need instead, is to resolve the grievances that have led to such battles, year after year, decade after decade.

It’s time for Israelis to learn instead, as another fine journalist, Gwynne Dyer, has proposed, that the simply won’t work. It has not worked yet and it’s not going to work. The only way forward is to resolve the conflict at the basic level.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

United Church Avoids the D Word

Keywords: United Church; divestment; Palestinians; Occupied Territories; ethical investment; boycott; corporations; CUPE, Seymour Hersch; Karin Brothers; nonviolence.

There is no mention of “divestment” in the resolution adopted by the United Church of Canada at the climax of its week-long yesterday. Nevertheless, the motion that was adopted has to be considered radical — and it was greatly toned-down from the intentions of the participants.

Karin Brothers phoned me in an elated mood today. She cautioned me not to believe the modestly positive accounts being reported by the Canadian Jewish Congress, for the real event was far more dramatic. Karen is a church member who identifies strongly with the Palestinian cause, follows its news closely, and visits the as often as possible. She is more radical than I am, but also more knowledgeable on the subject. By her account, the leaders of the church were embarrassed because about three-quarters of the 400 participants voted to endorse a policy of . The chairpersons evidently refrained from calling on the best-informed members who wanted to speak, and after the pro-divestment vote was taken, recessed in order to allow the pro-Israeli-government faction to find ways of reversing the move toward divestment. This tactic evidently succeeded in part, for the word “divestment” was not mentioned in the final document, though its basic intent remained unchanged.

The church body was confronted at its Thunder Bay conference with the recommendations of a Toronto-based initiative, The Task Group for Ethical Investment in the Middle East. This committee had already decided to support a strongly worded resolution adopted at the end of June by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (). The Task Group explicitly recognized “the right of Israel to exist in peace and security within internationally-recognized borders and the right of the Palestinians to exist in peace and freedom in an internationally-recognized homeland and state.” At the same time, it called for an ending of the occupation and the withdrawal of Israeli settlements. It also called on the church to “divest and boycott goods and corporations related to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.” In Toronto, the United Church had already endorsed this CUPE policy and now had taken it to the national church to expand the economic pressure.

This initiative had support from other influential groups that also commended CUPE for its bold resolution: the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians, the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation, the Canadian Arab Federation, the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, and the Canadian Islamic Congress. Nevertheless, it was far too radical to gain support from the mainstream such as the Canadian Jewish Congress. And, in the end, the United Church leaders watered it down, introducing alternatives to divestment.

Still, the final resolution was a great victory for those who had wanted a policy of divestment. It urges the promotion of peace by encouraging investment in companies that denounce violence and help build a “secure and economically viable Palestinian state alongside a secure and economically viable state of Israel.”

The final resolution calls for investment only in “companies and corporations that support peace and justice in the Middle East.” The Council said that "non-peaceful pursuits" would include Canadian and international corporations and companies that:

• provide products, services, or financial support to groups that engage in violence against Palestinian or Israeli persons
• provide products, services, or technology to any government or organization that refuses to recognize the legitimate rights of the State of Israel including the right to exist as a Jewish State
• provide products, services, or technology that sustain, support, or maintain the occupation
• have established facilities or operations on occupied land
• provide products, services, or financial support for the establishment, expansion, and/or maintenance of settlements on occupied land or settlement-related infrastructure
• provide finances or assist in the construction and/or maintenance of the separation barrier within occupied territories

The dilution of the initial proposal was sufficient to mollify the Canadian Jewish Congress, which was represented by a worried delegation. Yet in the past, the has taken similar positions calling for divestment in other countries, including Guatemala, Nigeria, South Africa, and Sudan. In fact, the Church itself has no investments in any companies that would be affected. The resolution constitutes a moral call of mainly importance — though symbolism can be as powerful as any other force in this world.

Why should anyone be shocked by this kind of action? Compared to bombing raids on a country’s enemies, or even compared to acts that deprive inhabitants of an occupied territory of food and water (actions that the Israeli government has been carrying out without apparent compunction), such nonviolent actions as and divestment decisions are moderate indeed. It surprises me that supporters of the Israeli government act as if the “D word” were tantamount to the advocacy of warfare against their country.

I will always support actions in defence of human rights, but I will never support violent attacks for a similar cause. As has revealed recently, the Israeli government had been planning its recent attack on far in advance. It was not merely acting in response to the capture of a few Israeli soldiers. And certainly its cruel actions against the in , which are continuing even now, are deliberate and unnecessary. Compared to such crimes against humanity, the policy of economic divestment is a gentle reproach — one that can be accepted by anyone who wishes to promote peace with justice.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sock Puppets and Medical Ghostwriters

Keywords: sock puppet; pharmaceutical industry; Marcia Angell; Nancy Olivieri; The Observer; ghostwriting; pen names; academic corruption; medical journal; corporations.

I just learned a new term. A “sock puppet” is a pseudonym that people can use on their e-mail so their correspondents cannot discover their true identities. Of course, lots of people make up funny names. I belong to an e-mail list that discusses the 1990s TV series Northern Exposure. One of the members calls herself “Moose Chick,” in fond memory of the baby moose that used to open each episode of the show. Another member calls herself “Nikita Fleischman” and pretends to be the wife of the show’s adorable fictional protagonist, Dr. Joel Fleischman.

That’s harmless fun, and there are lots of other understandable reasons why a person might want to adopt a pseudonym. But what I’ve discovered is a reason for using a “” that is ethically unacceptable.

A lot of medical research is actually carried on by pharmaceutical companies that are trying to develop new proprietary drugs and products that they will market for physicians to prescribe. Naturally, they want the research to show that their new medicine will work wonders in healing patients. In some cases, they have been known to pressure researchers to distort their own findings. Dr. Marcia Angell, for example, has published scathing research on the ethically dubious practices of big drug companies. I am personally acquainted with another , the hematologist Dr. Nancy Olivieri, who was punished by her institution for reporting risky effects of a drug that she was trying out on children. She defended herself in court — and won.

But here’s a new angle — or at least one that’s new to me. Clearly, any research that is published in a carries more credibility if its author is not identifiable as the employee of a pharmaceutical company, but rather as a bona fide practitioner or a scientist in an academic institution.

Apparently some drug companies actually hire ghost writers to produce papers that are then published in the name of other researchers who seem to be independent. Indeed, The Observer has suggested that “almost half of all articles published in journals are by ghostwriters.” If this is true — or even an exaggeration by tenfold — it is shocking. Clearly, any such papers must be viewed as far less credible than if taken at face value. Distorting the truth in any medical research is plainly despicable, for it can cause suffering and death to patients who have to trust physicians. It should be illegal and the law should be enforced by some kind of monitoring system.

I doubt that there is any need to set up any new monitoring system for scholarly misbehavior in the humanities and social sciences, but I am not so sanguine about the corruption of medical research. I think that kind of scandalous behavior should be made illegal, and that some kind of institutional innovation may be required to clean up the profession.

Possibly other fields of science and engineering are also contaminated as well – those in which corporations with vested interests have a close funding relationship with scientists. The clean-up ought to start with medicine. If that turns out to be as bad as The Observer suggests, then the hunt for malfeasance should be expanded to other fields of research besides medicine.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

This Year’s Sociology Convention

Keywords: American Sociological Association; environment; Seymour Martin Lipset; Andre Gunder Frank; World System Theory; globalization; Leslie Howard; Orlando Patterson; Mildred Schwartz; Theda Skocpol; Craig Calhoun; Samuel Clark; Nathan Glazer; Thomas D. Hall; Cynthia Hewitt; Sing C. Chew; Christopher Chase-Dunn; upward sweep; J. M. Jasper; Thelma McCormack; Montreal; Society for the Study of Social Problems; David Segal; globalization; World System Theory.

I’m on the train to Toronto, after spending three days in Montreal at the American Sociological Association meetings, preceded by the Society for the Study of Social Problems, where I gave a paper. (Yes, it went okay, except that it was on an environmental panel where the other papers were about the mercury content of fish and the disposal of nuclear waste in Alaska. I guess they put me there because I was talking about the cultural environment.)

A high point was a three hour visit with Les Howard. We talked about the Iraq War, naturally, and about the politics of religion. And we agreed on this point: that the meetings made us feel especially old. The big shot sociologists we used to see weren’t there anymore. Lots of the famous ones have died, and the rest aren’t coming anymore and certainly aren’t occupying high offices or giving talks in plenaries. We don’t even recognize the young hotshots who are presumably replacing them. I did see several faces who looked familiar, but I couldn’t place them because they were twenty years older now than when I had known them, so usually I didn’t even nod. They wouldn’t have remembered me either.

I did attend two memorial sessions today – one for Seymour Martin Lipset and the other for Andre Gunder Frank (see photos). The one for Marty was full of eulogies – by Orlando Patterson, Mildred Schwartz, Craig Calhoun, Theda Skocpol, and Samuel Clark (S.D.’s son). It was videotaped to send to Marty, and a book was circulated for us all to write notes to him in it. He is still alive (though in extremely poor health) and I hope he’ll be able to absorb it. Because I arrived a little late, I didn’t hear how much the audience was told about the state of his health. The audience had a chance to chime in, so I went last, taking the opportunity to talk about his politics, which everyone agreed had been obscure during the last several decades. He was a liberal, Patterson said. I guess that’s the best term for it. He wrote speeches for Hubert Humphrey, I recalled, and worked for peace in Israel/Palestine, taking a position that Elsie, his wife, told me she disagreed with. He was more ready to accommodate than many others in the Jewish community. He served, and still is on the masthead as a director of, the U.S. Institute for Peace.

Calhoun acknowledged that he hadn’t known Marty well in person. I think he actually got some facts wrong. I’ll have to check to make sure. He said that Lipset came to Berkeley before Blumer, who is credited with having built up the department. I don’t think that Marty arrived there first. And he recounted a story about Marty and Nathan Glazer being on top of a police car during the Free Speech movement, surrounded by protesting students. I don’t remember that at all, and I think I would. The famous police car incident was about a group of students who surrounded a police car, sitting on the pavement. I watched that for a while but then had to go home to fix supper for Jonathan. I didn’t see Marty or Glazer there or even hear about such an outcome.

The session honoring Gunder was different. Although every speaker reminisced wittily about him, especially by imitating his German accent and his favorite slogans, “I don’t know nuttin about nuttin” and Pogo’s “We have met the enemy and he is us,” they all gave substantial papers as well. Oddly, nobody even mentioned . It was all about Gunder’s historical work in World System theory. I liked right away, when he talked about Gunder's emphasis on the importance of and about . There was also a gloomy paper by Sing C. Chew that tried to supply a corrective to Gunder’s tendency to see history as unbroken and seamless. Chew himself identifies a few periods when the general expansive trends were broken by “” after the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Because he explains these periods of collapse in ecological terms, he manages to find some bright aspects in the darkness – not for human society but rather for nature, which has a long period in which to recover from the resource depletions that empires have caused. He foresees a new and total Dark Age that must be almost upon us now.

The most interesting speaker was Cynthia M Hewitt, a brilliant black woman on the faculty of Morehouse College, who offered remarkably penetrating comments about the development of the world’s systems. I want to find out more about her work. And finally portrayed Gunder’s personal quirks to us in a wonderfully authentic way. I had never met Lauderdale before and was surprised to learn that he is very much a male.

Clearly is the dominant model in sociology today. That and , which of course are clearly related. There were several sessions on globalization, which generally could have equally well been titled World Systems. I attended one yesterday where the most interesting paper was presented by , who apparently works with Thomas Hall, one of the presenters in today’s session on Gunder.

Chase-Dunn’s paper was on what he calls the “upward sweep” of civilizations. He says that empires ordinarily rise and fall, and often rise and fall several times. But occasionally you get a rise that is extreme and lasting, moving the society to a significantly higher level of development. Drawing the trajectory on the screen, he shows the course of history as a series of upward stair-steps, each tread of which has some wiggly ups and downs on its surface before the next big upward step occurs. And each empire is more extensive than the preceding one, with a capital city larger than any previous one. Today our cities are up to twenty million in population, but none is larger than that. The first such city was , then Babylon, then Rome, then London – I think with a couple in the series that I am forgetting. I do need to read some of that research.

Yesterday and today I went to sessions of the War and Peace section. I chatted with David Segal, who says that the membership has expanded above 300 and they are thinking about how to reach 400 now. When I was on the executive, there was a problem reaching 200, the minimum number required to retain status as a section of the association. I suppose that having a war going on makes all the difference.

One other session that particularly interested me was on emotions. There was an independent scholar named , who gave a fine paper on character, by which he was referring to drama. I found it so resonant to my own work that I gave him a copy of my book and said I’d read more of his work. I had brought the book along intending to give it to Thelma McCormack, but she didn’t show up yesterday. We had spent the whole day together on Wednesday. Over dinner we discussed television. Her most essential conclusion, after years of studying media, is that it does not do much of anything to viewers. Since my view is that it’s the most powerful tool we have, obviously we did not see eye to eye. But she was nowhere to be seen yesterday or today.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

“Democratic Peace” Theory and the Middle East

Keywords: democratic peace; war in Lebanon; Israel; right wing militarists; liberal; democratization; Timothy Garton Ash; Kissinger; Jacques Chirac; nonviolent democratic opposition movements; military aggression with democratization; Michael Ignatieff; Bush administration.

The “theory of democratic peace” is not just a theory, but also an empirical fact: Democratic countries do not go to war against other democratic countries. This is as strong an empirical fact as you’ll find in any of the social sciences. However, the present war in Lebanon is surely making a dent in that fact. Israel is making war against Hezbollah. And Hezbollah is well represented within the newly re-democratized state of Lebanon. Is Israel making war against Lebanon? If so, that’s a remarkable case against the “theory.”

One can certainly argue that point. True, both Israel and its highly supportive ally, the United States, claim that they are trying to help the Lebanese government gain control over a substantial chunk of territory in the southern region. But this is not the kind of “help” that Lebanon wants, so it’s at least dubious whether it constitutes help at all. When you’re bombing innocent citizens of a country, you’re not necessarily helping the state assert its authority.

Yet, oddly, it is the militaristic, right wing “realist” Israelis and Americans who most fervently support the imposition of democracy throughout the Middle East. This is, after all, the rationale behind the current Bush administration’s agenda in the Middle East and elsewhere – to spread democracy, on the theory that truly democratic societies will inevitably be allies of other free countries.

And I wouldn’t argue against that conclusion – though I am apparently a deviant person within the left side of the political spectrum these days. It has become embarrassingly apparent that the program of democratization is now a right-wing ideal, no longer held as the centerpiece of liberalism. I don’t want friends of this reactionary, militaristic kind. I want my genuine allies back. I want liberals to believe in democracy again. Please, pretty please.

That is why I am such an enthusiastic admirer of Timothy Garton Ash (see photo). In a Globe and Mail op ed piece on August 4, he argued this seemingly contradictory point: “A little democracy is a dangerous thing — so let’s have more of it.” Brilliant, Garton.

In making this point, he is running against the policies now being established in Europe by the likes of Jacques Chirac. It is also contrary to the older realist doctrines that prevailed in the Bush Sr. administration, as influenced especially by Henry Kissinger. Henry favored the promotion of America’s economic interests and the formation of alliances wherever, without regard to the dictatorial nature of those alliances. Bush Jr. is a different kettle of fish – and not one that I feel comfortable stewing in.

I’m with Garton Ash when he insists,
“In the long run, the growth of liberal democracies is the best hope for the wider Middle East. It’s the best hope of modernization, which the Arab world desperately needs; of addressing the root causes of Islamist terrorism, at least inasmuch as they lie in those countries rather than among Muslims living in the West; and of enabling Arabs, Israelis, Iranians, Kurds, and Turks to live side by side without war. But it will be a long march.”

Democracy leads initially through some serious dangers. You need to establish the state inside well-defined borders, with a rule of law, independent media, and strong civil liberties. Those elements sometimes need to precede competitive, multi-party elections, for otherwise you get the kind of crises that have emerged in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq. Ash adds:
“Full, liberal democracy contributes to peace; partial, half-baked democratization can increase the danger of war.”
He does not, in this paper at least, attempt to explain why liberals have been giving up on the ideal of democratization. I think the answer is that they simply don’t like violence. Not only does early democratization precipitate domestic conflict within a state, but also for the past several years it has been assumed that the only way it can be established at all is by military imposition from outside. A democratic foreign state helps overthrow a dictatorship and — voila! — you have a new democracy.

But this is the worst way to accomplish that goal. The association of military aggression with democratization is exactly the logic that must be broken. And the only way to challenge that equation is to suggest alternative ways of helping establish democracy: through assisting indigenous nonviolent democratic opposition movements to bring down dictators themselves. That has been the most effective method lately, but one that political observers seem to ignore. Michael Ignatieff, for example, represents this kind of thinking: a theorist who recognizes the importance of democratization and the protection of human rights, but without recognizing the genuine potential for accomplishing those goals nonviolently.

Even Garton Ash himself, who observed the history of Eastern Europe’s 1989 democratization process more closely than anyone else, has not mentioned nonviolent democracy movements in his article. We need to make the case for that approach if we are to succeed in breaking the power of the militarists in the Bush administration.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Empathy for One's Own, and for One's Disowned

Keywords: loyalty; Israeli-Hezbollah War; Heather Reisman; Gerry Schwartz; attachment; peptides; empathy; blame; Dead Man Walking; Sister Helen Prejean.

My thoughts today are full of contradictions: love and hate; attachment and rejection; blame and empathy; truth and fiction; retribution and forgiveness.

What brings this to mind is that I have to recognize how little attention I am devoting to the Middle East conflicts. I haven’t been writing here about the . At times my friend Richard Handler is deliberately provocative about the Middle East, mentioning his own loyalty to Israel to bait me and challenge my own commitment to peace. He is keen to discuss it, but I am not. I just let his comments pass without reply, much as I skim the newspaper reports every day without mentally concocting a retort. As an editor of a peace magazine, I should have organized some facts and arguments, but I haven’t. I no longer believe in rational argument about such matters. Debate never changes anyone’s mind. (Think hard: When did you ever see a person change a fundamental position as a result of debate?)

Yesterday I read in the paper that the Canadian magnates Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz have switched parties and expressed gratitude to the Harper government for taking an overtly pro-Israeli position. This did not surprise me, nor did I blame them. I simply thought: Poor dears. They cannot help it. It’s not a matter of whether they are right or wrong. They have bonded with Israel. It’s in the heart, the gut, the liver, or someplace else. It’s fixed. It’s social, not in the DNA, yet it’s almost as permanent as if it were hereditary. The amazing thing is that anyone ever puts aside his group . How can a person ever do that?

Attachment is a mystery that happens to everyone. Statistically and psychologically, it is normal. It is also immutable, like falling in love. You cannot deliberately fall in love, nor can you prevent it when it does happen. It’s the same with group attachments. You feel that you’re Jewish or Lebanese or Tamil or Canadian — as if this were not a matter of choice but an inborn trait, like the color of your eyes. Likewise, there’s no point in telling a person that the jerk with whom she is in love really is a jerk. Even if she does not dispute the evidence, it is irrelevant to the strength of her attachment. A particular peptide has clicked into certain brain cells, creating a bond. It can’t be helped.

Love may wear off in time. The intense phase of being in love lasts an average of two years, but there are usually lasting attitudes that persist for many years thereafter. Group identity lasts longer. I still feel offended when Canadians express anti-American stereotypes, though I feel as much Canadian as American — as indeed in the legal sense I am. It’s not a matter of rational agreement with US policies or habits (I am as anti-Bush administration as anyone) but rather a sentiment of attachment to the society that gave me life and culture. Perhaps others say to themselves: Poor Metta. She cannot help it. And that’s true.

Sentiments and feelings are not affected by reason; indeed, they are more powerful than reason. They are where we get our . Reason never motivated anyone. Love and hate always do. The reasons we adduce for our loyalties are always filtered through our motivations. They are never pure, as mathematical theorems are.

When it comes to war, all belligerent parties can prove that their side is not to ; their adversary started the trouble and must be taught a lesson by retaliation, tit for tat. But when has anyone ever learned such a lesson? Each new retaliation simply serves as a justification for yet another response. The cycle can go on for centuries, millennia, with each side blaming the other. It is useless to point out that there is no starting point that can be defined “objectively” as the egregious, inexcusable origin of the conflict, the initial action for which ultimate blame should be assigned. Everyone knows this, yet everyone continues to organize evidence as required for the next debate.

What is absent? The capacity for . After attachment has taken hold, one cannot put oneself into the shoes of the adversary. Yes, a Tamil may be able to imagine how a Jew or a Congolese or a Kosovar feels and thinks — but not a Sinhalese, for the Sinhalese are adversaries, the out-group counterpart to his Tamil in-group. It is pointless to present rational arguments, for he cannot assimilate them. He cannot empathize, the poor dear. He can’t help it.

With the absence of empathy goes blame, and blaming cannot be helped either. It’s a compulsion. Sunday Anton Wagner read aloud in church a letter from a Chinese person who objects to the observation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Day every year. The letter asked: Why should the Japanese victims be remembered, but not the Chinese whom the Japanese slaughtered in the “rape of Nanking”?

In a sense, this is a reasonable question. Apart from a few highly developed souls, empathy is always selective. Rationality might be invoked to justify any particular apportionment of it on grounds of fairness by comparing the victimhood and deservingness of the potential objects of empathy. Nevertheless, that line of reasoning leads nowhere. Whether to blame or to empathize is not a rational decision, but instead reflects the state of one’s attachments or rejections — an affective issue, not a judicial one. The Chinese letter-writer, protesting against our pity for Japanese victims rather than Chinese ones, makes a fair point, but a useless one. His resentment cannot be assuaged. Resentment has a life of its own, a dynamic of its own. When one feels hatred, that is more a personal, spiritual problem than a social problem for the rest of us to help solve.

To be sure, blaming is a social problem, for it justifies every act of retaliation against presumed wrongdoers, leading to cycles of retaliation that harm everyone. But the most serious harm is to the blamer himself – the plaintiff, if you will. Complaining is not a pleasant psychological experience. It needs to be resolved by forgiveness or mercy — the restoration of empathy. And to do so is a rare spiritual accomplishment.

Not everyone has to confront such a challenge in a personal relationship — thank goodness. To do so must be hell. Take, for example, the family of a mass murderer or rapist. Today’s paper contains a story about a group of drunken American soldiers who raped an Iraqi girl and killed her and her whole family, then amiably grilled some chicken wings. The paper does not mention anything about the families of these young men, but they are much on my mind. Everone discusses the obvious intellectual puzzle: the psychological processes by which normal individuals turn into monsters. Much has been written about it, but it’s not such a remarkable mystery. We all understand more or less how it can happen, for we all have done things that we regret deeply, with shame.

What is more rare and more interesting to me is the plight of the moral people who find themselves emotionally attached to a monster – or, for that matter, to anyone whose behavior cannot be excused. Right versus wrong is an easy choice. What is far more interesting is the contradiction between two moral imperatives: right versus right. It is right to bond unreservedly with a few other individuals in this lifetime. It is right to empathize with them fully, loving them and empathizing with their moral and emotional struggles as intimately as possible. The capacity for such love is the highest human achievement.

Yet it is also right to recognize the truth and to uphold moral principles. Love must not excuse the inexcusable. Love must sometimes confront and challenge. Nevertheless, these two moral imperatives constitute an “antinomy” – an irreconcilable contradiction. The most common response to this challenge is simply to break empathy with the person who has gone seriously wrong.

But breaking empathy is inherently painful, even when it is possible – which it may never really be, in the deepest sense. There must remain some traces of the bond, even when they are suppressed as fully as possible. And to break empathy, even for the sake or protecting oneself psychologically, is always to some extent a spiritual failure. Every bond is God-given, not chosen rationally. The question is, what must one do to properly fulfill the calling that the bond imposes? Sometimes the fulfillment may appear callous — “tough love,” it is called — but even tough love is a terrible experience, not least of all for the one who loves.

Joy Kogawa has written about this kind of experience in her novel The Rain Ascends. The protagonist is an ordinary woman — no, actually an extraordinary one — who finally confronts a terrible truth about her beloved father: that he is a lifelong pedophile who has abused hundreds of young boys. The initial phase of her challenge was to acknowledge the truth, which she managed to deny throughout most of her adult years. But, having finally acknowledged it, the greatest challenge was to manage both to sustain her empathy for this killer and also fulfill the legitimate demands of society for sanctions against him. In the novel, this is cast in terms of a spiritual challenge to a committed Christian — how to love someone who has behaved despicably?

There are other stories about such spiritual challenges. One is “Dead Man Walking, ” (see photo) about a nun, Sister Helen Prejean, who counsels and befriends a condemned murderer out of a sense of religious obligation. In this instance, her empathy arises less as a spontaneous bond than as a conscious fulfillment of the Christian duty to love those who are not lovable. She empathizes with this unredeemable man and also with the family of his victim.

I myself never attempt such feats of charity. The closest that I can come to experiencing this antinomy is to follow vicariously the stories about persons who are stronger than I am — characters who manage their attachments with a certain grace that I can admire but almost never emulate. I am grateful for the fiction-writers who let me experience such a spiritual challenge in an attenuated way, without having to address it in full force in real life.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Stanley Hoffman's Foreign Policy

Keywords: Stanley Hoffman; foreign policy; Iran-Iraq War; Francis Fukuyama; John Brady Kiesling; Democrats; Hamas.

Stanley Hoffman just keeps chugging along. I was on nodding terms with him 37 years ago at Harvard’s and he already was a well-established then. Born in 1928, Hoffman (see photo) has been professing at Harvard since 1955, latterly as the Buttenwieser University Professor, with insights of continuing acuity.

Just now I am admiring his fine piece in the August 10 New York Review of Books, “The Foreign Policy We Need.” Recently I noted here that many writers are searching for magic tricks that will rescue the from its self-inflicted debilitation. Hoffman does not belong to that crowd of political commentators. On the rare occasions when he mentions American political parties, he does not systematically elevate the past mistakes of the Democrats above those of the Republicans or seek ways of saving their skins. Though he is looking for a foreign policy that will save America, he does not address the pragmatic challenge of translating his suggestions into a winning combination of votes. Were he to do so, that challenge is so daunting that he might never get past it to address the policy issues them.

Yet Hoffman certainly heaps hotter coals on the younger President Bush than on any of his recent predecessors, and he has been doing so all along, just as he had also criticized the older President Bush’s own in its time. In a 1992 New York Review of Books article, “Bush Abroad,” he blamed that war (though it was far more successful and defensible than the that the currently presiding Bush would later start) on a long series of bipartisan American foreign policy mistakes that made it all but inevitable. Hoffman wrote:

“Just as much as World War II, the Gulf War was, to use 's words, an unnecessary war, which only became "necessary" because of the very mistakes made by those who, having tolerated and even encouraged the growth of a monster, had to fight him in order not to be further damaged by their creation. The record of American policy toward Iraq between the end of the in 1988—a war in which the US at times supported both sides, and later fully tilted toward Iraq out of an understandable fear of Iran, while remaining willfully blind to Saddam Hussein's crimes, methods, and goals—and August 2, 1990, is beginning to be known.”

Elsewhere Hoffman has summed up his pervasive, sweeping concerns:

"The on the rise throughout the world . . . is, more often than not, a resentment of double standards and double talk, of crass ignorance and arrogance, of wrong assumptions and dubious policies."

His new article is about Dubya’s foreign policy failures — a topic that has commanded all of Hoffman’s attention lately. Ostensibly, as all articles in the magazine, it is a combined book review, but those books simply provide a jumping-off point for his summary of his own momentarily forthcoming book, Chaos and Violence: What Globalization, Failed States, and Terrorism Mean for US Foreign Policy.

Hoffman’s review of Francis Fukuyama’s book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, focuses on that author’s abandonment of , which is defined here as having four components: (a) “a belief that the internal character of regimes matters and that foreign policy must reflect the deepest values of liberal democratic societies,” (b) a belief that American power “has been and could be used for moral purposes,” (c) “a distrust of ambitious social engineering projects,” and (d) “a skepticism about the legitimacy and effectiveness of international law and institutions to achieve either security or justice.”

Probably none of us would intuitively balk at the first two of these postulates; it is only the third and fourth that would raise any eyebrows. And apparently Fukuyama himself became distressed mainly by the inconsistency of US policies and their violation of American principles, as evidenced by the support given to dictatorship and the failure to aid the people in Darfur or the African AIDS victims. Such contradictions have turned Fukuyama against neoconservatism and have made him embrace “multi-multilateralism” — the engagement of the US with the needs of the global economy. Of course, he still wants to promote abroad, but now while avoiding the excessive use of American force abroad. Instead, he prefers such approaches as the European Union has adopted: the stipulation that new members will be admitted only if they satisfy democratic requirements.

While welcoming Fukuyama’s newly enlightened views, Hoffman asks an obvious question: “Why did Fukuyama, in view of his emphasis on multilateral institutions, ever sympathize with neoconservatism in the first place?”

Stephen M. Walt’s traditional realist book, Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy, analyzes the attempt in other countries to limit American supremacy, as for example by refusing to back the war in Iraq. Walt has recently violated a taboo by exposing the power of the Israel lobby, and he builds on that observation by insisting that the United States should pursue a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians; if the Israelis refuse that resolution, the US should stop providing military and economic support to them. Hoffman accepts these recommendations. In fact, to judge from his tone, I inferred that he may even consider them too moderate. Certainly he joins Walt in deploring American militarism, especially as regards nuclear weapons. He writes, “The US should also deemphasize its programs so as to decrease ‘other states’ incentives to get nuclear weapons of their own.’”

Finally, Hoffman reviews John Brady Kiesling’s book, Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower. That author resigned publicly from his career as a Foreign Service officer in the Near East and Greece when he foresaw the US invasion of Iraq and watched the US alienate its friends. Kiesling deplores the habitual sacrificing of innocent victims in bombing attacks and the resort to torture by a country claiming to promote a rule of law. As Hoffman writes, “Kiesling argues that US insistence on expanding its own nuclear arsenal destroys any effective nonproliferation strategy.” And the war on terrorism “has turned the most powerful nation into the most frightened one.”

So what does Hoffman make of these three critical books? He builds on them by proposing a decent, effective American foreign policy, beginning with the improvement of American’s own economic and moral condition.

“This would mean a return to the rule of law and the protection of civil liberties, and an end to efforts to escape from the obligations of international law in the fight against terrorism. The US should accept, despite its flaws, the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and try to improve it; and it should sign the International Criminal Court treaty.”

Hoffman also urges a break with the foreign policies of both Republicans and Democrats, which have assumed that the world benefits from having the US as the world’s only superpower. That view is unrealistic, for our world is increasingly multipolar and marked by different types of capitalism.

“Military power, in short, can serve as a deterrent, but America should avoid using it to destroy cities, people, and regimes. For the most part, only soft power, and the power of state-building and of promoting economic development, can have beneficial results.”

In the Middle East, Hoffman sees the occupation as the root of the trouble. “Cutting off aid to the Palestinians because they voted for was exactly the wrong thing to do: it was punishment for exercising democratic choice.” Instead, the US should work hard for a two-state solution similar to the one almost reached at Taba in 2001.

American demilitarization would enable the country to address many problems at home and abroad, Hoffman argues.

“A reduction of 50 percent in military expenditures would allow the US to take better care of its poor, to establish a decent health care system, to improve education, and to invest in conversion to more efficient fuels. It would also liberate funds for urgently needed nation-building, health care, and development in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.”