Today’s Wall Street Journal notes the fifth wave of anti-Semitic bomb threats against Jewish community centers, all over the country, since the first of the year. The total of threats for the two months is 90. That is more than one per day. That is, on average, 540 for a whole year. With one Canadian exception, all of this within the borders of the United States. This follows the defacing of dozens of tombstones in a Jewish cemetery just the other day.
Today’s New York Times ran an article about the attack on Enlightenment values, noting that, in the past, truly enlightened people have risen up and defended principles-based social compacts against reactive forces who believe that group identity, perceived personally by your particular group (be it a country or a religion), is the best basis of governance, headed by a strong person who can lead the folk who are destined to prevail.
Seventy or so years ago, I grew up in New York City, and if there ever was a combination of melting pot plus prejudice against the other, it was New York right after the War that was fought against one country that killed Jews and another country that supplied the population for our American concentration camps.
I grew up with Kikes and Sheenies. Also Niggers and Coons. Throw in a few Spics and Wops. Spice with a few Krauts and Nips and Chinks. Are you fish, Hebe or raghead? At the same time that intellectually I could not understand why someone would hate me and curse at me and make me fearful, I feared and reviled every other group, because everyone I knew feared and reviled them. Something deep in human nature was at work then, and it is at work today, and I am sure it will always be at work. People are fiercely imperfect; perhaps evil. What mix of genetic material brought our group of killers to the top of the heap I do not know – but I can imagine what the “right stuff” looked like a few hundred thousand years ago. Frightening.
Over time, nurtured in the gentility of the East and the Ivy League, believing (almost) that a new age had dawned, I slowly lost my edge on these matters. I stopped comparing my experience in the United States to the experience of Jews in Germany between the wars. I was comforted by politicians who, for the most part, said the right thing about people of color, and about people who were born into the religion that was a magnet of death at the hands of religions whose savior preached life and love. Logical anomalies were just that; transient anomalies, we would outgrow them.
Tides always turn and, today, we are seeing the turning of our political tide. I am compelled to teach my son, cursed with the dual defects of a half-Jewish heritage and a sweet and trusting temperament, what I had hoped to leave behind in the vain believe that sometimes the tide just keeps going out. I am girding myself, and want to gird my son, against those who are certain that “it can’t happen here” and who (not to my face) mention that I am becoming a touch unhinged; “guess age catches up to all of us, he just doesn’t get it….” I hope to find my son an education that exposes him to all the darkness, curses and prejudices of the world so he is better prepared to cope personally and defend himself robustly; not one of those places that cancels appearances by those who speak evil, as if not understanding evil is the best way to defeat it.
To my mind intelligence is to recognize the painful truth which everyone runs away from. Intelligence is to look at the politics of the country and to see red. Oh my—they are here. There are so many of them; and we were told, sure, there are a few, the unenlightened, the deplorable, they will never disappear but they will never be empowered in a systemic way so as to challenge the enlightened truth. Intelligence is taking a realistic look at the world and assessing painful risk. It is uncomfortable for yourself, and others around you, to define as intelligence so dark a conclusion, so seriously disruptive a world view. It is so – uncool – to emotionally “prove” your point by referencing millions who died before most of the current world was born, or by rebuffing reassurances by people who have merged what they have been taught to believe and what any organism knows – avoid pain, it is counter-productive.
So what do you do? The conventional answers are these: rely on the world to right itself, relax; take up civil arms against darkness by political action and legal action; conclude that there is no hope at least today as we must stand on the only beach we are afforded, and do business as usual and hope for a neap tide that floods only a bit of the world; take violent dramatic action based on the conclusion that this time is one of those really high tides that inexorably drowns the complacent many.
Pick one; all answers are available to you.
And I have been pleased to explain it all to you. For a moment there, I sort of thought you might be missing it…..