Friday, January 9, 2015

Human feeling vs. realpolitik: the case of Israel and Gaza

This posting was begun several weeks ago:

In the last few days, I, and I'm sure many others, have felt revulsion and horror as we read about the human suffering caused by the Israeli attacks on Gaza, and the Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli towns.
Today, the NY Times reported that Israel may be trying to show that it still has "teeth" in the wake of the disastrous Lebanon war of the summer of 2007. The idea is that the image of a "weak" Israel following on that war emboldens Hamas and Hezbollah to believe that they can taunt and attack Israel with impunity. The attack on Gaza may be meant to show that Israel is no paper tiger, that it still has teeth.

I am struck by the disjunction between the sensibility that weeps for each human loss, the parent who has lost a child, the child who has lost a parent, and the strategizing mind-set referred to in the Times article. It seems to me that there is a dissociation built into this strategizing mind-set, an objectification of human life in the service of the attainment, or consolidation, of power. It might be argued that power is sought, in the long run, to preserve human life--that some are sacrificed now to preserve much more human life in the long run. According to this logic, there is, in the end, no real disjunction between realpolitik and human feeling. Powerlessness only leads to a Holocaust; the way to save millions of lives is to be powerful, to maintain superiority in violent capability against those who would seek to eliminate you by violence. The sensibility that weeps for each human loss is potentially dangerous to the extent that it disables regrettable, but necessary, sacrifice for the greater good.

What is left out by the this logic, from my point of view, is:
1. The way vengeance and sadism can creep into actions purportedly dictated by long-term humanitarian concerns.
2. The way violence breeds escalating violence, objectification of human life breeds further objectification, rather than peace based on accommodation to superior force.
3. The difficulty sorting out mixed motives from cynical invocation of high-minded motives to camouflage more purely destructive motives, or the dismissal of humanitarian motives in the service of discrediting one's political or military opponents.

Adversarial relationships breed splitting of benevolent motives from malevolent ones.  This splitting is self-reinforcing, creating the reality that it purports simply to recognize.  Acknowledging that we all  contain some mixture of destructive and constructive feelings and forces would lead to less of the objectification of others that makes killing, exploitation and oppression possible. As things stand, such an eventuality appears, to many of us, to make us, and our people, dangerously vulnerable.

De Blasio, the Police, and Race

The current confrontation between the New York City Police Benevolent Association and Mayor Bill de Blasio is a confrontation between black and white thinking about race, and a more complex racial reality.  On January 7, 2015, Former Police Officer Steve Osborne wrote an op-ed entitled "Why We're So Mad at de Blasio."  He wrote as if he spoke for a "we" that included all police officers.  In the article he wrote: "It did not help to tell the world about instructing his son, Dante, who is biracial, to be wary of the police, or to publicly signal support of anti-police protesters (for instance, by standing alongside the Rev. Al Sharpton, a staunch backer of the protests)." 

Some questions:  Does Steve Osborne identify as white?
Does he think he is speaking for all police officers, black and white and various shades of brown?
Would de Blasio have advised his son to be "wary" of the police if he thought of his son as white, as opposed to "biracial"?
Was de Blasio advising his son to be wary of all police officers, black and white?
Are protests against police brutality inherently "anti-police?"
Could "protest" be reframed as consciousness raising?  If so, whose consciousness?  
Do all white police officers agree with Osborne? If not, where are the dissenting voices?
Where are the voices of black police officers and those who identify as Latino, Asian, and so on?

Bill de Blasio, like Barack Obama, embodies the emerging complex racial reality of the twenty first century.  Di Blasio's father was of German origin, his mother of Italian origin. De Blasio was raised primarily by his mother and her family.  He changed his name from his father's "Wilhelm" to his mother's  "De Blasio" in adulthood.  He married and had children with an African-American woman.  He can speak with many voices, but has yet to do so in a way that can help the people of New York City, the United States, and the world to transcend polarizing prejudice-generating racial categories.