Monday, August 21, 2017

How do we deal with destructive ideas?

Notes of my Discussion, Shabbat Aug 19, in the aftermath of the Charlottesville Nazi-KKK Mayhem

How do we deal with destructive ideas?

1.      How do we Jews deal with destructive ideas?
Moses- in our Torah portion- Reeh- If a prophet comes to preach that which is wrong-even if he creates miracles to prove himself- he is not to be believed and is to be put to death. Very simple, straightforward  solution. If a city betrays Judaism, it is to be uprooted.  Again,  very simple.
Yet we know that it disturbed our sages, to the extent, that they said, of such a city, “ Lo Haya v Lo Nivra”- It never was,it never was created. This is only a hypothetical case.
Later, also, a  different approach developes- - referred to , in of all places, Christian scriptures, and attributed to Rabban Gamliel, the chief Rabbi of his day, discussing the persecution of the early followers of Jesus: “So in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone. Let them go! For if their purpose or endeavor is of human origin, it will fail.… But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God.”
In any event, in later Jewish history, we dealt with dangerous ideas more by shunning, Cherem, ( Spinoza or D’ Acosta)  than by execution ( Socrates ).
In a modern society, dominated by 24/7 news cycles, and endless social media, bloviation, talking head. Twitter- what route should we take?

2.Who are these Nazis?Alt-right? Alt-white? KKK? Are they growing? Are their ranks suddenly swelling? The numbers of groups is growing but are the number of people with these views growing?
I read some one’s post on the internet: We Jews have always been in danger in America. The writer wanted to create an equivalence of Jews with African Americans and Native Americans, but is that the right case to make? Is there such an equivalency?
We are here in the largest concentration of Jews in history, bested, only recently by Israel. Can that be  because this was a dangerous  place for Jews?
Are we in the midst of a wave of anti-Semitism and racism?

In the late 1970’s, I officiated at the funeral of one of the oldest members of the synagogue in Newport News Virginia, Harry Reyner. . In 1930, he ran for mayor, and was heavily opposed by the Ku Klux Klan. Recall that the Klan was at its peak in those years and Newport News Virginia was very much in the heart of the south. 15 % of all eligible white men were affiliated, 4-5 million. Nevertheless he served as Mayor and continued on the City Council for three decades.

The ADL published a report in 2016 that concluded: "Despite a persistent ability to attract media attention, organized Ku Klux Klan groups are actually continuing a long-term trend of decline. They remain a collection of mostly small, disjointed groups that continually change in name and leadership.” Est 5000 nationwide.
The German American Bund-at its peak- 1930;s-5000-10,000
Radio talk show- Father McCoughlin, who started as a backer of FDR, began blaming Jews behind the powerful bankers. 30 million listeners. The alt-right of his day. Finally, the Catholic church hierarchy moved to get him shut down.

Does this look like the conditions that led to the end of the Weimar Republic?.

Take politicians words with a grain of salt :Politicians say strange things when they believe it pays off.

Sen Corrie Booker said in February 2016 that he felt "blessed and honored to have partnered with Sen. Sessions in being the Senate sponsors" of the Congressional Gold Medal, which they awarded to those who in 1965 marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to promote civil rights for African Americans.

But this one takes the cake: from an AP release, Jul 5, 1973,
Praising Gov. George Wallace and calling President Nixon the nation’s “real radical”. Sen.Edward Kennedy has appealed to Southerners to help breathe new life into the “flickering torch of freedom”, The article goes to discuss speculation of a Kennedy-Wallace ticket. This was the same” segregation now-segregation always” fellow.

Demographics- white nationalist- concentrated in deep south and in Wyoming and Montana. Generally, lower income, lower education. Also, high rate opioid epidemic, high suicide rate. Broken families. Higher unemployment- all symptoms we associate with slums.Is that the population that will take over America?

(If you follow discussions among thinkers within the Democratic party, there is the belated recognition that the party has missed its core demographic, displaced working-class people, many of whom happen to be white, not just of other ethnic origins.)

We have a president that suffers from foot in mouth disease. Intentionally, unintentionally? Is he a flame thrower by nature? Unable to weigh his words?
Are his Jewish staffers, and family, “ shtadlanim”, or worse, as is implied, complicit in his racism and anti-semitism, a kind of Judenrat?  Certainly, some make that claim, like the writer, Michael Chabon, or are those , too, flame-throwers, adding to the fire, increasing the flames from the other side?

Notice that CEOs are backing away. Did they suddenly become righteous? If the alt-right is a rising force, why would they distance themselves from it? If alt-right is a rising force, why are GOP leaders so eager to distance selves from it? Are they righteous, or do they see- that demographics is not there- that American public certainly wants to be seen as liberal and open minded.

Our danger is not alt-right per se.

 It is the perceptible animosity between so many of us, magnified and multiplied by the internet and social media.

Simple example- a popular blogger on the benefits of strict veganism, posted that she had medical complications as a result of following her own diet. She suggested modifcations. What she received was a round of malicious social attacks, denouncing her, one saying “ she deserved to die.” Not race- not Jews-not immmigrants- but vegetables!

We have an echo –chamber that is destroying our ability to converse.

[LA Times, Sunday, 8/20/2017- after I wrote the original notes-lead story- calendar section- Lorraine Ali, Television Critic On all channels- “Wall to wall coverage of the Turmp White House”… “ All Trump-tak, all the time, is a ratings bonanza.. double –digit ratings growth.”

“ Absent from broadcasts: Actual reportage on real news. . .. Lots of sound and fury to be sure, but not much significance.”]

Now, we add to the mix, the activists, of those who believe they are just- and only they alone.

Had the riot and killing not taken place in Charlotsville, last week, the topic would have been this article, by Peter Beinart a left liberal editor of Atlantic, a respected left liberal journal.

( Excerpt-The Rise of the Violent Left- Antifa’s activists say they’re battling burgeoning authoritarianism on the American right. Are they fueling it instead?       PETER BEINART  SEPTEMBER 2017 ISSUE   Altalntic Magazine.

In reference to a Portland Oregon march scheduled this spring:]
Next, the parade’s organizers received an anonymous email warning that if “Trump supporters” and others who promote “hateful rhetoric” marched, “we will have two hundred or more people rush into the parade … and drag and push those people out.” When Portland police said they lacked the resources to provide adequate security, the organizers canceled the parade. It was a sign of things to come”
[My SIDE NOTE: ACLU- made the riot possible, when it defended the marchers’ right to march with weapons. The police compounded it when they knew there were antifa people there, street brawlers, and did not separate the crowds to begin with.]
.Antifa traces its roots to the 1920s and ’30s, when militant leftists battled fascists in the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain. . . .
Those responses sometimes spill blood. Since antifa is heavily composed of anarchists, its activists place little faith in the state, which they consider complicit in fascism and racism. They prefer direct action: They pressure venues to deny white supremacists space to meet . . .Such tactics have elicited substantial support from the mainstream left. 
. . . Revulsion, fear, and rage are understandable. But one thing is clear. The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.

What is the danger- Go back to pre- WWII. To the rise of utopian political movements- all bearing some claim to speaking for the worker or socialism in their label-  Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei- National Socialist German Worker’s Party.
How about- Russian Social Democratic Labour Party- Bolshevik wing –Majority wing.

Older concept- that both sides understood-  "propaganda of the deed", par la fait, attentat.  Acts of terror speak volumes.

In post-WWI Gernany, the streets were filled with street brawlers. SA Brown shirts, who would intentionally march into neighborhoods with high socialist & communist affiliation, knowing that would draw them into a fight.

It was that disorder and disruption that undid the Weimar republic .

People are most afraid of anarchy. How did Napoleon become the hero of the French revolutionary crowd? He put down a riot- by canon fire into the crowd. Man on the strong horse. Hitler was appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg- not because he was an anti-semite-but because leadership of Germany hoped he would bring order to a disordered country.

Now, it is in this gladiatorial combat of two anti-theses to our society, that we in the middle, the great majority, find our selves.