Clouds Over the Land: Sunset Song – Numbers 10:9

Clouds Over the Land: Sunset Song – Numbers 10:9

by

Howard Adelman

If you go to war in your land against an adversary that oppresses you, you shall blow a teruah with the trumpets and be remembered before the Lord your God, and thus be saved from your enemies.   טוְכִי תָבֹאוּ מִלְחָמָה בְּאַרְצְכֶם עַל הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת וְנִזְכַּרְתֶּם לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּם מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶם:

וְכִֽי־תָבֹ֨אוּ מִלְחָמָ֜ה בְּאַרְצְכֶ֗ם עַל־הַצַּר֙ הַצֹּרֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֔ם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶ֖ם בַּחֲצֹצְר֑וֹת וֲנִזְכַּרְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵי֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּ֖ם מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶֽם׃

When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound short blasts on the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God and be delivered from your enemies.

The Israelites are in the wilderness. Why are they getting commandments about blowing a trumpet in a certain way when they are defending their land against an aggressor? The Israelites had no land to defend. This is the only mention of the land in this section. There are verses on the cloud settling in over the Tabernacle and remaining there. There are verses on the cloud lifting from the Tabernacle and once again permitting the Israelites to go forward. There is the fire on the altar; when the cloud rests over the Tabernacle, and then the latter had the likeness of fire. (9:15) However long the cloud settled in over the Tabernacle, the Israelites remained encamped, unmoving and unable to move.

There may be fire, there may be water in the form of a mist, and there is always the harsh land, but what is noticeable is the absence of any mention of ruah, the divine spirit that animates things. Sometimes ruah is identified with the breath of life and with the soul, the only thing that remains when the physical body melts away with death. Earth, water – sometimes in torrents rather than as simply a mist – and fire, but no ruah.

The setting is described at the beginning of Numbers in the opening of verse 9:1-2. “The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, on the first new moon of the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying (2) Let the people offer the Passover sacrifice at its set time.” Some take this as a message to hold a second Passover when you were unable to celebrate the first, when the family was unclean because someone had just died. But it is a description of a second Passover, as horrid a period as when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt when God was killing the first-born in every Egyptian family.

On the first anniversary of the exodus, when the nostalgia for what has been lost sets in, when the Israelites are in the desert, when the casualties of the trek through the desert can be counted, they are told that they are suffering a very different misery. This misery too shall pass. The cloud of despondency will lift and they will be able to move on with their lives. But when death lies in their midst, they are unclean. And once again they must eat bitter herbs and consume unleavened bread, the bread of affliction.

On the anniversary of the exodus, on the New Year, on Rosh Hashanah, otherwise known as Yom Teruah (Numbers 29:1), Tekiah is sounded, a long blast, when the people are assembled. Then, when they are attacked, when they are at war with themselves and, thus, with others, the Israelites sound the Teruah, the series of nine very short staccato notes, and the Shevarim, three medium length blasts following each Teruah section of three notes. The community is called to leave behind its misery, leave behind self-pity and get on the move to fight the enemies that assault them.

If you want to comprehend this section of the Torah, I suggest you watch Terence Davies’ movie, Sunset Song. It is a long film. (two hours and fifteen minutes) It is also a slow film. But it deserves your patience, if only to view the gorgeous but harsh Scottish countryside and the main character, Chris Guthrie played by Agyness Deyn. Chris is a bonnie lass and one of the greatest, if not the greatest character, in Scottish fiction. The film is an adaptation by the director of the first 1932 volume of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s trilogy, A Scots Quair, set in the north-east in the Scottish village or estate of Kinraddie and largely located in the farm, Blawearie, the meaning of which is found in its very sound – blah and weary.

The farm stands in stark contrast to the name of the larger community, Kinraddie, which means whistling away to oneself when the day shines bright before one and the sun is shining. The film oscillates between these two opposite moods. As Gibbon wrote, “there were more than nine bit places [like the very short blasts of Teruah] left in the Kinraddie estate.” Blawearie is one of those bit places. The film ends with the Sunset Song, the Flower Song, in an elegiac reference to the passing of loved ones and the passing of an old order, the passing of an age of innocence, but also of horror that receives its ultimate global expression in the muddy trenches of World War I.

The film begins in Kinraddie, in the local school, where a tall and thin and precocious red-headed lass, Chris Guthrie, is singled out for her excellent pronunciation of French, her ability to whistle as the instructor says, without making the whistling sound. The film ends by repeating the refrain, “The Land endures.” “Only the land endures.” And Chris discovers that she is the land. Otherwise, “there were lovely things in the world, lovely that didn’t endure, and the lovelier for that… Nothing endures.” But the land! The land endures even as the song, “Flowers of thee Forest” is sung.

I’ve hear them liltin’, at the ewe milkin,’
Lasses a-liltin’ before dawn of day.
Now there’s a moanin’, on ilka green loanin’.
The flowers of the forest are a’ wede away.
As boughs in the mornin’, nae blithe lads are scornin’,
Lasses are lonely and dowie and wae.
Nae daffin’, nae gabbin’, but sighin’ and sobbin’,
Ilk ane lifts her leglin, and hies her away.
At e’en in the gloamin’, nae swankies are roamin’,
‘Bout stacks wi’ the lasses at bogle to play.
But ilk maid sits drearie, lamentin’ her dearie,
The flowers of the forest are a’ wede away.
In har’st at the shearin’ nae youths now are jeerin’
Bandsters are runkled, and lyart, or grey.
At fair or at preachin’, nae wooin’, nae fleecin’,
The flowers of the forest are a’ wede away.
Dool for the order sent our lads to the Border,
the English for ance by guile wan the day.
The flowers of the forest, that fought aye the foremost,
The prime of our land lie cauld in the clay.
We’ll hae nae mair liltin’, at the ewe milkin’,
Women and bairns are heartless and wae.
Sighin’ and moanin’ on ilka green loanin’,
The flowers of the forest are all wede away.

How does that harsh land endure? How does it survive the harsh winds and pouring rain, the heavy snows of winter? Through fire. The constant flame throughout the film is the family altar, the big stove in the kitchen ever burning. And life is renewed when Chris falls in love with Ewan Tavendale (James Grant) and they blow out the candle to have sex in the dark, not only when they are first married when Chris is still seventeen and approaching her eighteenth birthday, but on each occasion afterwards. Except when Ewen returns from WWI on leave.

Ewen went to war to fight for king and country, urged to do so by his Presbyterian pastor to fight Kaiser as the anti-Christ and lest he be regarded as a coward. War transformed him from a loving and sensitive man into a brute who rapes his wife without turning out the candle. The scene is even more horrific than it reads. However, his ostensible cowardice was truly an act of bravery, for the spark of love within him, the ruah in the film, made him seek out the “white feather” treatment by the military; he was shot as a deserter in the three short blasts of the shofar, the Teruah, in the final act of the film.

The flowers of the forest are all wede away. They go mad. They rage. They rave. As Chris does when Ewen, her dear and loving lad turned into a monster by a war he did not want to fight, by the English who “by guile wan the day” “for the order sent our lads to the Border,” is shot as a deserter, his self-sacrifice lest he condemn Chris to a life of abuse as her mother, Jean, had been before she took her own life and that of her baby twins.

However, that is not where the film begins. We will soon learn about the harsh unforgiving reality of the hardscrabble land of these Scottish farmers, but Chris leaves the class with which the film opens with her best friend. They skip playfully through the forest in one of the many moments of pure bliss in a scene of sheer pastoral beauty, like the many scenes of golden fields of grain and green pastures.

Sunset Song, in the end, is not a lament for a past that will be no more, though it is that, with all its vices and virtues, but it is about the renewal of spirit, the renewal of life, just when you begin to think that life cannot get any worse. We know from the narrator of the film, Chris herself, who will go to renew her love of books, her love of life, her love of what I would call Torah rather than the harsh prescriptions in the biblical text that become the sole focus of tyrannical men and fathers who will mistreat their sons and even long for incest with their daughters. Peter Mullan plays John Guthrie with the same mastery that he lights his pipe in the few moments when he sits content with himself and with the world. At other times, he straps Chris’ brother Will (Jack Greenlees) across the back. One suspects that Chris became a writer as well as a teacher, for poetry suffuses a movie of tragic loss and despair.

In the opening, Chis intones about herself: “So that was Chris and her reading and schooling, two Chrises there were that fought for her heart and tormented her. You hated the land and the coarse speak of the folk and learning was brave and fine one day; and the next you’d waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you’d cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies.” The schizophrenia was only resolved when, after many tests akin to those Job suffered, she discovered that she was the land.

The Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. They had yet to learn that they were the land, that they were at one with the land, and that they would repeatedly betray that land as they betrayed their harsh and unforgiving God.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

First-Borns

Numbers 3:11-13 First-Borns – Parashat Bemidbar הפטרת במדבר

by

Howard Adelman

 

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 11 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
יב  וַאֲנִי הִנֵּה לָקַחְתִּי אֶת-הַלְוִיִּם, מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, תַּחַת כָּל-בְּכוֹר פֶּטֶר רֶחֶם, מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְהָיוּ לִי, הַלְוִיִּם. 12 ‘And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every first-born that openeth the womb among the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be Mine;
יג  כִּי לִי, כָּל-בְּכוֹר–בְּיוֹם הַכֹּתִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּי לִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאָדָם עַד-בְּהֵמָה:  לִי יִהְיוּ, אֲנִי יְהוָה.  {פ} 13 for all the first-born are Mine: on the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto Me all the first-born in Israel, both man and beast, Mine they shall be: I am the LORD.’ {P}

What’s the deal? Why did I pay my friend, a Cohen, whose actual name happened to be Aaron (the Cohenim are all descendants of Moses’ brother, Aaron) to redeem one of my sons as a baby? It did not even cost me the five silver dollars I gave to Aaron, for he handed me the coin in the first place and asked me whether I wanted to keep it and give him, as a representative of God, my son, or whether I wanted to return the coin. I chose my son and he gave the five silver dollars as a gift to him. And I said a blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם. אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו. וְצִוָּנוּ עַל פִּדְיוֹן הַבֵּן

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning the redemption of a son.

I only learned much later that I should have redeemed my son for 100 grams of silver. I never weighed the five-silver-dollar coin to check if the weight exceeded the minimum amount. Was the whole ceremony invalid?

In any case, Aaron blessed my son. The ritual is called, “Pidyon Haben.”

It seems on the surface to be a nutty ritual. What does it mean that the first-born belongs to God? Why is a first-born redeemed? Why are the Levites provided as a substitute? What are these three verses about?

Exodus 13:2 reads: “Consecrate to Me every first-born; man and beast, the first issue of every womb among the Israelites, is mine.” If you have four wives or two wives, assuming they are Jewish, the first-born son of each of them belongs to God.

Exodus 13:12-13 reads:

12 you shall devote to the Lord the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the Lord.13 But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.

The commandment runs through the Torah text. (See Deuteronomy XV:19-22 where the reference is only to the first-born of animals.) It is not a one off in Numbers. Further, in Exodus it is connected to the tenth plague when the Lord slew all the first-born of Egypt. How? And why the first-born of animals as well as the first son?

In the case of animals, it must be unblemished, the best of the newborns among one’s herd. The Priest ate the flesh of the sacrifice. But no one eats the flesh of your first-born son. You do not want him to die. You get him back. And I even paid the money only symbolically. The rabbis say that a first-born is holy by nature. Ironically, holiness appears to be a given, not something acquired.

It is from this attribute that Christians insist that Jesus as the one and only son of God was sacrificed, as a beast is sacrificed, so that the sins of humans can be redeemed. What a contrast with Judaism. The Jewish ritual is a shell game. For I never gave Aaron my son. He never took him. It is all symbolic. Jews abhor sacrificing their children. Christians celebrate that God sacrificed his only son. Sacrifice is avoided for redemption, not to achieve redemption for oneself and clearly not for the sins of mankind.

Further, there is a twist. The first-born could be a girl. You do not have to redeem a daughter. Only a son. And only if he is the first-born, which he is not if a daughter is born first. The reference is both to boys and to first-borns. Both are necessary conditions. There are additional conditions. If the first-born son of a Jewish woman is delivered by caesarian section and does not “open the womb” himself, the child does not have to be redeemed. If the woman had a stillbirth, that child, even though born dead, was considered to have opened the womb so that even if she subsequently gives birth to a boy, that boy is not considered a first-born to be redeemed in the ritual of Pidyon Haben. But if she has twins, only the first out of the womb is redeemed. Finally, if the child himself is a Levite or a Cohen, he does not have to be redeemed. Why? Because he is destined to be a sacrifice and not someone sacrificed. Further, he is destined for religious institutional rather than political leadership.

There are a number of explanations for the ritual. One is that in Egypt, given Pharaoh’s command, the first-born sons were at risk. Another is that when God slew the first-born infants of the Egyptians, the first-born sons of the Israelites needed special protection. In another innovative interpretation, it is the first-born son of Jewish women, not Jewish men, who must be redeemed because the redemption is carried out for the shechinah, the feminine side, the nurturing side of God, the place where God actually dwells. In another account, the ritual is carried out in memory of Rachel whose fist-born son, Jacob, was sold into slavery.

I want to try another approach by trying to understand the nature of the first-born before trying to figure out the resolution of the puzzles and the connection with previous explanations.

Though key characteristics such as agreeableness, aggression, conscientiousness, extraversion and openness seem to be randomly distributed among children, first-borns seem to have a disproportionate share of the following twelve characteristics:

  1. Achievers who strive to win;
  2. Controlling;
  3. Careful rather than rash high-riskers;
  4. Diligent;
  5. Greater BMI (body mass index);
  6. Higher proportions of homosexuality;
  7. Lower insulin sensitivity, hence higher amounts required;
  8. Premature adults with a propensity for leadership;
  9. Reliable;
  10. Self-assured;
  11. Serious;
  12. Structured

Note that 21 of NASA’s first 23 astronauts who made trips into space were either eldest or only children. All seven of the original Mercury astronauts were first-borns. Fighter pilots are most likely to be first-borns or only children. Assuming the validity of the evidence concerning the significance of birth-order, though the data does not track first-borns following stillbirths, etc., what has all of this to do with the rituals described above? Even more significantly, what does it have to do with God and Jewish history favouring second-borns – think of Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob; Ephraim and Menassah. First-borns may receive a double inheritance, but also need to be redeemed from God.

It is noteworthy that Jesus was a first-born and Christ is considered “the first-born of all of Creation.” (Hebrews 1:6) Israel as a nation is referred to as God’s first-born son. (Exodus 4:22) Yet so many times it is a second-born who replaces a first-born in a leadership role. Relative to Judaism, Christianity, especially through the doctrine of supercession, can be considered a second-born which takes the blessing of Israel away. By nature and custom, in terms of privilege, first-borns have a clear edge.

Then why is the actual sacrifice of the first-born replaced by the dedication of that fist-born to service to God and then the Levites provided as stand-ins? Put another way, why does the first-born naturally belong to God while the second-born turns out to be the one chosen by God? Jesus, paradoxically, is a natural first-born, but the religion founded upon his sacrifice becomes the second born that historically Christians believed succeeded primogeniture in history.

I am sorry, but I do not have an answer. But I do have some thoughts. Four core ideas are involved: sacrifice; substitution; redemption and historical significance versus natural birth order. I begin with the last.

Of 44 presidents, 24 were first-borns, even more if one includes George Washington for his older siblings were half-brothers. (This was also true of FDR and Clinton who also had older half-siblings, adding further to the count.) John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson from the founding fathers were first-borns. In addition, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush were all first-borns. However, I suggest that although first-borns may be fighter pilots, fighter pilots are only the best political leaders for democratic monarchies or parliamentary democracies headed in that direction. Then you want first-borns as warrior kings, though with Jimmy Carter, the U.S. certainly did not get one.

The history of Canada, though a parliamentary rather than a residential system, is not much different. Of Canadian prime ministers who served more than a couple of years (this excludes John Abbott, John Thompson, Mackenzie Bowell, Charles Tupper, Joe Clarke, John Turner and Kim Campbell), Sir John A. Macdonald, as wily a politician as one can find, had two older siblings; his oldest brother died (William) when he was two-years old. Alexander Mackenzie had older brothers. Wilfrid Laurier had an older sister who died two years before he was born. William Lyon Mackenzie King had an older sister who lived to the age of 41. Only R. B. Bennett and Robert Borden, two notable failures as prime ministers, were first-borns before WWII.

 

However, after WWII when Canada came into its own as a nation, things changed with respect to first-borns. Only Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien were not first-borns. Louis St. Laurent John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson, Paul Martin, Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau were all first-borns. Does that mean anything? Statistically, it certainly does. Being first-born plays a significant role in directing one towards political leadership.

 

Why then in the Torah did the Israelite nation in its genesis run counter to this propensity and told stories of younger siblings usurping the leadership role of his elders? Why would an unsteady and insecure character like Moses become the founding political leader of his people? Why does the Torah favour selection over the authority and natural leadership of first-borns?

 

Do first-borns tend to sacrifice others for their own advancement while second-borns sacrifice themselves for the public good? The careers of Justin Trudeau, Paul Martin, Lester Pearson, and Louis St. Laurent would seem to belie that. There is no evident correlation, though there is a possible one with ideology.

 

However, there is another sense of sacrifice. The first-born is the testing ground in parenthood, the child on whom all the inadequacies of parents (and God) are thrust. The first-born, with all the advantages of favouritism, is the sacrifice undertaken in raising children. Parents do learn something, as does God, from initial mistakes. Further, a later child can learn from those who go before, particularly lessons in figuring out how to get around road blocks. Relatively and disproportionately, first-borns are brave born leaders for the most part, but second-borns are more wary of direct confrontation. (There are exceptions, of course, Jean Chrétien is an example; as the 18th of 19 children, he had to learn to be scrappy to earn his place in the sun.) A second child inherits more experienced parents and has a chance to watch and learn more than the first-born. The second-born must rely more on his own wits to get ahead. This often makes the later-born a more cultivated leader without the brash thrust of the first-born.

 

Precisely because the first-born is up for sacrifice, the first-born must be redeemed from God. This requires that a substitute be offered to minimize the extent of that sacrifice. The suggestion is not that second-borns and later-borns have a propensity to make better leaders than first-borns, but, rather that the two groupings constitute very different kinds of leaders, ones wary of competing in a wide-open field or vast sky, but, instead, prepared to search for a niche where they can shine. Hence, Jews became a niche people instead of fulfilling God’s wish that they multiply and dominate the world as God’s physical expression in the world. Hence a polity very different than either the U.S. or Canada, in spite of the wide differences between the U.S and Canada.

Canadian Civic Religion and a German Core Culture

Canadian Civic Religion and a German Core Culture

by

Howard Adelman

When I posited a set of values central to the Canadian civil religion, I did not define that set as constituting the core culture of Canada as a nation. Further, I dubbed it as a civic religion rather than as a set of cultural values. The differences are important.

Germany is a country that has undergone a radical revolution with respect to the dominant values and practices of the society in the last 72 years. The difference in practices was most evident when Germany agreed to admit and resettle by far the highest number of Syrian refugees in the West. Germany also admitted the most asylum claimants.

“Germany has pledged 30,000 places for Syrian refugees through its humanitarian admission programme; nearly half the global total of resettlement and humanitarian admission programme places for Syrian refugees and 82 per cent of the EU total.” (Amnesty International.)

What a change even from 1979, about the half way point between WWII and the present. In the Fall of 1979, I was a guest of the German government sitting in the balcony of the Bundestag in Bonn (the old capital of West Germany before reunification) when parliament passed a motion to admit 20,000 Indochinese refugees into Germany by a sizable majority, but the vote was very far from unanimous. Afterwards, the Minister in charge met me and, with an enormous smile of self-satisfaction, asked me whether I thought that what had been accomplished had been great.

I did not give him the answer he was expecting. Essentially, I gave his Parliament a C grade. Germany was so much larger, so much wealthier than Canada, I said, and Canada was then admitting 50,000 Indochinese refugees. I said that I did not see why Germany was not admitting 100,000 rather than just 20,000. The Minister was visibly unhappy with my reply. Somehow, I had deflated the great joy he had taken in what had been accomplished. But his reaction was not defensive. We went back to his office to discuss the prospect of Germany taking in more Indochinese refugees.

Germany then had a much more expensive method of resettling refugees. Supported 100% by the government, they were kept in special camps, usually for two years, where they were taught to speak German, learn German ways and otherwise acclimatize themselves to German society. While the young attended school, adults were given training to upgrade their skills to facilitate their entry into the German job market. Of course, this method of resettlement posed challenges. As one example, it is much more difficult to learn a language when you live within your own linguistic community and have relatively little contact with the native German-speaking community. I described the Canadian private sponsorship program and how it might be both more suited to integrating Indochinese refugees as well as permitting Germany to take in many more refugees.

The Minister was skeptical, but he was a very enlightened and open man, indeed eager to try new things. He offered me a car and a translator to travel around Germany for 2-3 weeks and explore the issue with Germans and to return with a report on whether I thought such a program would work and, if so, how it might be implemented. The translator was necessary to facilitate contact with a much wider group of Germans than the many who spoke English. Further, my German skills had so deteriorated that I could not speak as well as an Indochinese refugee, and he wanted me to speak to them as well about their own experiences.

I took up the challenge. I visited only lists of liberal people in human rights and other humanitarian organizations as well as a number of German clerics. My report was completed in 8 days. I concluded that it would be impossible at that time for the German government to introduce a private sponsorship program for refugees. Second, I had come to understand why the decision to take in 20,000 refugees was considered such an accomplishment.

My interviewees were unanimous in declaring that such a program would be impossible to implement at that time. It was not that Germans were ungenerous. Rather, they regarded the Indochinese as never being able to become German. This was not seen as a problem of the Indochinese, but because of the German self-definition of themselves. To be a German was not just to be a citizen – which the Indochinese could certainly become, but it meant being an ethnic German. The liberals I consulted said that a shift away from an ethnic self-definition would not and could not take place in their lifetimes. I would not have predicted from those interviews that the shift came as fast and as extensively as it happened, even though, as I understand it, a majority of Germans still maintain a self-definition of a German primarily in ethnic terms. (Cf. Christian Jopke “Contesting Ethnic Immigration: Germany and Israel Compared,” European Journal of Sociology, 43:3, 301-335, December 2002)

Last month, the German Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière from the Christian Democratic Union, published ten points that he believed were central to the German core culture. This was especially interesting to me because his name indicated that he might have been descended from the Huguenots, the Protestant refugees who fled France and the French Catholic persecution then underway in the seventeenth century. When I first visited Berlin, I remember being surprised to learn that 10% of the names in the Berlin telephone directory were Huguenot ones. I checked and my presumption was correct. The Minister’s family originally came from Maizières-lès-Metz. As Hurguenots, they sought asylum in Prussia and attended French-language schools and Huguenot churches in Berlin until the beginning of the 20th century.

The Minister asked, “Who are we? And who do we want to be? As a society. As a nation.” He initially offered three core characteristics of German constitutional patriotism: “the protection of human dignity,” the reverence for democracy, and linguistic commonality. However, he argued that there was more to it than that. “Democracy, respect for the Constitution and human dignity are honoured in all Western societies. I think there’s more. There is such a thing as a ‘German Core Culture’.”

The Minister offered two components to a core culture. “First is the term culture. This shows what is at issue, namely, not rules of law, but rules of living together. And the word “core” is not about prescription or obligation. It is much more about what is guiding us, what is important to us, what gives us direction. Such a direction-giving guide for living in Germany is what I mean by core culture.”

What is the difference between what the Minister wrote about Germany and what I wrote about Canada? Aside from the use of “culture” rather than “religion,” he referred to rules. I had referred to values. His were rules about “living together,” which implied they were obligatory informal rules governing behaviour for all those who lived in Germany even though he declared that “core” did not entail obligation. Later he would specifically declaim such a suggestion by stating that the rules could not be prescribed and were not even obligatory. In contrast, the values I listed were normative aspirations rather than rules, which I do not believe even a majority of Canadians feel are central to who they are. But the implication was that they were the dominant set of values setting standards, not for living together, but for doing good works together.

In both cases of informal rules or aspirational values, they are signifiers as guides, as offering meaning and direction. However, in the German case, we observe an effort to redefine the German nation from an ethno-national approach to a normative frame. But not from a citizen frame. And not from a long term residential frame. All German citizens are automatically part of this nation. But the definition of the nation goes further to include others who live in Germany, speak German and agree to abide by the same rules that facilitate Germans (in this cultural sense) having “trusted and true” norms for living together. They are not the only rules which are trusted and true. Other cultures may have different sets of rules. Nor is it a claim for a superior culture, just one that is different and unique for Germany.

When the Minister spelled out the content of the rules as translated into a set of practices, it was clear that he was enunciating norms more characteristic of the French definition of laicité, what I have dubbed the French secular religion, than the description I offered for the Canadian civic religion, if only at its most basic in avoiding the description of what he was talking about as a religion. I contend that he was offering a secular religion based on rules rather than aspirations, rules which permeated the fabric of the whole society.

He called them customs, expressions of a certain attitude – norms of etiquette for members of German society, such as introducing oneself by name, acknowledging the other by name, and shaking hands upon meeting. But it also included “prohibitions against demonstrators” covering their face. At first, one is invited to think of demonstrators wearing face masks to hide their identity. But it is clear that he is enunciating a form of civic religion, a secular religion unlike Canada’s explicitly rooted in faith groups, a core culture based on rules rather than values, which limit even the clothes worn in public. “We are an open-minded society. We show our face. We are not Burka.” [my italics]

His second statement about the practices of the core culture of German society spoke, not of etiquette, but of a precondition, education, not as techné, not as instrumental, a type of education in which Germans excel, but a claim that, “A well-rounded education has a value in itself.” One is carried back to the debates in North America over general education at universities in contrast to mastery of specific disciplines so characteristic of the transition of the university from a Sanctuary of Method to a Social Service University. Germany came late to this transition in higher education. It is noteworthy that in my definition of the Canadian civil religion there was no inclusion of proselytizing even in the mild form of education.

A third emphasis was on achievement combined with a social safety net. “We require performance. High performance and high quality produce high living standards. Our country was made strong by striving for accomplishment.”

Perhaps the most interesting of the ten norms enunciated was the fourth one regarding accepting the past as present, which in Germany, entails a special provision for Israel. I quote it in full.

We are heirs of our history with all its high and low points. Our past affects our present and our culture. We are heirs of our German history. For us, it means a struggle for German unity in freedom and peace with our neighbours, the maturing of the states together into a federal State, the fight for freedom and for acknowledgment of the lowest lows of our history. This also includes a special relationship with Israel’s right to exist.

Wir sind Erben unserer Geschichte mit all ihren Höhen und Tiefen. Unsere Vergangenheit prägt unsere Gegenwart und unsere Kultur. Wir sind Erben unserer deutschen Geschichte. Für uns ist sie ein Ringen um die Deutsche Einheit in Freiheit und Frieden mit unseren Nachbarn, das Zusammenwachsen der Länder zu einem föderalen Staat, das Ringen um Freiheit und das Bekenntnis zu den tiefsten Tiefen unserer Geschichte. Dazu gehört auch ein besonderes Verhältnis zum Existenzrecht Israels.

In Canada, I did not make the obligation to remember the sins of cultural genocide committed against our aboriginal peoples or making up for those sins by acts of redemption a part of the civic religion, not because this is not entailed by the values of the civic religion I set forth, but because, even if this was the most egregious sin, our past sins are manifold – the imposition of the Chinese head tax, the rejection of Sikhs seeking homes in British Columbia, the “None Is Too Many,” approach to Jewish refugees and the internment and relocation of Japanese Canadians during WWII. More importantly, I believe the Canadian civil religion is more of a social justice than a confessional religion.

A fifth characteristic of the core German culture that he tried to define was the esteem given to poets and philosophers, to musicians and artists. “We have our own understanding of the stellar value of culture in our society.” Is the equivalent in Canada the centrality of hockey in our collective lives and memory? Is this why I did not include the so-called “low” culture as a central feature of the Canadian civic religion? The question is rhetorical only to make the reader think about why I would not include it.

The sixth characteristic directly addresses the issue of the role of religion in German society.

“Germany is characterized by a particular relationship between State and Church. Our State possesses a neutral worldview, but views Churches and religious communities in a friendly way. Church festivals add rhythm to our yearly cycle. Church steeples dominate our landscape. Our country is Christian. Our religious life is peaceful. And the basic prerequisites for this are the absolute priority of the law over all religious rules within our state and communal co-existence.”

Note, neutrality rather than impartiality with respect to religion. Note the state support for and celebration of religion. Note the definition: “Our country is Christian.” And it is evidently out of that Christian religion that the rule of law trumps and sets boundaries to any religious rules. Does de Maizière not recall when the ravings of Martin Luther “to connect” Germans included screeds against Jews? In the desire “to connect,” there must be a self-consciousness of what is disconnected in the process. A reading of E.M. Forster’s Passage to India would teach one that.

Note as well with respect to the Minister’s seventh point about the German “civilized ways to regulate conflict,” based on compromise and consensus (presumably as illustrated in the industrial-union accords so characteristic of German economic life), currently expanded to dealing with and tolerance of minorities and rejection of violence as a principal way for resolving conflicts. The seventh point includes this odd sentence: “We accept diverse ways of living, and those who reject this will find themselves outside the majority consensus.” Besides the construction as a tautology, the “majority” consensus dictates tolerance, but anyone who refuses to participate in this consensus is effectively ostracized from the core culture of Germany.

The eighth point insists that Germans are no longer to be defined ethnically, but are also no longer to be defined in terms of nationalism. “Enlightened patriotism” is the new designation to celebrate unity, justice and freedom. Note the difference with my depiction of the Canadian civil religion. There was no mention of unity there. Instead of justice, which is a result, the stress was on impartiality and fairness, both of which are procedural. And freedom was very clearly articulated as a goal rather than a given.

While my depiction of the Canadian Civil Religion was small “l” liberal, but otherwise apolitical, the Minister’s depiction of the core culture of Germany included a clear political position.

“We are part of the Western world: culturally, spiritually and politically, and the NATO protects our freedom. It links us to the USA, our most important foreign friend and partner. As Germans, we are always also Europeans. German interests are often best represented and fulfilled through Europe. Conversely, Europa will not flourish without a strong Germany. We are perhaps the most European country in Europe – no country has more neighbours than Germany. Our geographic location has formed our relationship with our neighbours over the course of centuries that used to be problematic, but is currently good. This fact influences our thinking and our politics.”

Wow! It is one thing to describe this as a current reality about Germany. It is another to depict it as a core feature of German culture. Partnership with the U.S. Primacy of Europe. Centrality of a strong Germany.  Compare this claim of partnership with my own negative contrast with the values and norms of those who rule America at present, the implicit depiction of the economically and militarily weak Canada relative to the U.S., but with its moral superiority. Further, Canada has an outlier status, not just in North America, but with respect to the rest of the Western world. That politics may have influenced the creation of the Canadian civil religion, but does not define it.

Finally, and most descriptive of all, there is at the heart of the German culture, nostalgia, memories and attachments to place and time that did not play any part of my depiction of the civil religion of Canada, except in the claim that the different memories of groups, such as religious communities, helped understand the differential responses to refugees by different religious and other communities. Therefore, the core of memory was not nostalgia, but a concrete memory of the failure to live up to the values and virtues listed as central to the Canadian civic religion.

Look at how the Minster described those who do not share in the norms of the core German culture. First, they seem to be only newcomers. Secondly, there are those who 1) do not absorb those values; 2) ones indifferent to them; and 3) those who reject them. The result will be a failure in integration. Canadians who do not share the values of the Canadian civil religion are not depicted as failing to integrate, if only because the core civic religion does not require a majority status. In a subsequent blog, I will outline the problems that emerge when identifiable groups do not identify with the predominant Canadian civic religion. There will be differences in the values of the emerging generation as well as the values of various groups of immigrants from those of the Canadian civic religion.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Canadian Civil Society III – Partisans versus Impartiality

Canadian Civil Society III – Partisans versus Impartiality

by

Howard Adelman

This blog continues the discussion of the core values of the Canadian civil religion in contrast to the Stone- Trump ethos now governing the polis in the U.S.  In the previous two blogs, I dealt with the first five values: civility versus incivility; compassion versus passion; dignity versus indignation; diversity versus unity; and empathy versus insecurity. In this blog, I want to take up the last five antonyms:

Canada                                        U.S.A. (current ruling ethos)

  1. Impartial                           Partisan
  2. Egalitarian                        Inegalitarian
  3. Fairness                             Ruthless & even Unfair
  4. Freedom as a Goal          Freedom as Given
  5. False-consciousness        Humans as Falsifiers

Yesterday, at the final public session of a conference held at the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto on Religion and Ethno-Nationalism in the Era of the Two World Wars, Victoria Barnett from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Professor Susannah Heschel from The Mandel Center at Dartmouth College were on the final panel moderated by Doris Bergen, the Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Chair of Holocaust Studies at the University of Toronto.

A number of observations:

  1. The conference in Ottawa was held by people engaged in interfaith dialogue; the conference in Toronto was, in part, about people engaged in interfaith dialogue 75-100 years ago.
  2. The Ottawa conference, like the Toronto one, was about religion, but the former presumed a peaceable kingdom and did not focus on either ethno-nationalism or violence but rather the victims of both.
  3. While the Ottawa conference was about interfaith cooperation to do good, the Toronto conference primarily explored the role of religion in causing, contributing to or exacerbating violence.
  4. The Ottawa and Toronto conferences are both signs of an increasing interest developed over the last couple of decades in the role religion plays in politics in general and in either peace or conflict more specifically, filling in a correlational gap in scholarship that heretofore focused only on power, economics, ideology, nationalism, etc.
  5. While the Ottawa conference approached the issue of the relation of religion to the polity from the perspective of participant observers, the Toronto conference strived for detachment, but both did so within an ideal of impartiality that, in itself, seemed to belie an essential part of traditional religion, its commitment to the truth of partiality as expressed in any specific religion.
  6. Lurking in the background of the Toronto conference was the heavily quantitative use of the Minorities at Risk (MAR) data base at the University of Maryland initiated by Ted Gurr in the mid-eighties and used in Jonathan Fox’s Religion, Civilization, and Civil War or his edited volume, Religion, Politics, Society, & the State, and, most importantly, his own conclusion that religion was not a salient factor in violent conflicts. The figure cited at the conference was only 13%.
  7. The latter complemented my own studies referred to in the Ottawa conference that historical memory rather than faith was a main determinant of assisting refugees, suggesting that faith had a very limited role in fostering good works as well as violence.
  8. Victoria Barnett suggested two main streams for approaching the relationship of religion and power, that of interfaith dialogue so evident in the Ottawa meeting, and a more critical approach, one which has barely broken through into deep discussions of theological differences and the role of those differences in fomenting violence or the role of overlapping beliefs fostering good works.
  9. Susannah Heschel was very suspicious, no, dismissive, of any attempt in using religion to apply to secular systems of values. Though she restricted her asides to caricatures – football as a religion – she was clear that she wanted to limit the use of the term to social systems based on rules and practices that made reference to a superior being, though religions exist which do not.
  10. However, in listening to the discussion, I concluded that the distinction was not between religions confined to a connection with a superior being and the extension into realms of civil society, but between faith systems that were rooted in absolute certainty and the truth for which one was willing, not only to die but to kill, versus religions that brought to consciousness that which had been taken for granted and, therefore, left unexamined, the connection between absolutist beliefs and violence.

The core characteristic of traditional religion may be that it is rooted in an inherent bias. Therefore, how can I dub a set of values articulated as the best for a polis as a civil religion if one of those values is impartiality? Is interfaith dialogue only possible because of a willingness to set aside or bracket theological differences in the search for commonality, thereby surrendering the core of that which may give religion its sense of passionate commitment? What if violence is defined as the commitment and effort to achieve a higher good? If so, how can interfaith dialogue be peaceful if it tries to go beyond making space for the other and, instead, uses the space in between and among to engage with others over commitment, over truth, and over what is most important in offering one’s life as a sacrifice? Or is that simply the orientation of the dominant Western religions?

One might even go further. Is not the development of a civil religion the sign of that effort to reach for a beyond that has been a hallmark of all religions, but doing so by setting aside the inherent connection to violence? In fact, is not the post-enlightenment effort over the last one hundred and fifty years been to discover and articulate a set of values and norms which defend a common humanity as primary? Has that effort not developed rules about the employment of violence, as in just war theory and practice, that allow lions to lie down beside lambs? In other words, the very effort to strive for impartiality, the very effort to esteem the core values of science, may be the core civic value in overcoming the traditional partisanship, not only of religion, but of ethno-nationalism?

Which brings me to the issue of equality. In Jeffrey Omar Usman’s very long scholarly article, “Defining Religion: The Struggle to Define Religion under the First Amendment and the Contributions and Insights of Other Disciplines of Study Including Theology, Psychology, Sociology, the Arts and Anthropology” [note the explicit omission of politics and economics] published in The North Dakota Law Review (83:123, 123-223, 2007), he concluded as follows:

“whatever definition of religion is applied, it should be applied in a consistent manner, and though courts should act with caution in defining religion, they should do so without fear. It is readily apparent that religion is incredibly difficult to define; scholars and courts have stumbled and will continue to do so in approaching this extraordinarily complicated subject. In endeavoring to formulate the best possible definition, the most important elements of the continuing effort by judges and academics to define religion are: (1) adherence to equality (my bold and italics) as a guiding interpretative principle; (2) employing the definition in a consistent manner; and (3) being cautious but not so frightened that the courts retreat to so vague a definition that the term religion loses its meaning.”

Why equality? Why consistency? How do these two overarching values help prevent slipping into the mire of meaningless equivocation? Look at how Usman’s key elements of a religion, that must be expressed, articulated and be unequivocal, are mapped onto those articulated by Susannah Heschel.

  1. “A religious belief or practice under the First Amendment…should be an approach toward or duty imposed by an authority that is part of some reality or understanding that is beyond the ordinary and beyond the state.” (This is a wider frame than Heschel’s definition in terms of a superior being, but it entails the retention of the distinction between a sacred authority and the profane in relation to fundamental questions of existence, and the exclusion of beliefs that are just personal and not broadly communal. The rituals of football or the collection of memorabilia about a celebrity or even the pursuit of wealth ad infinitum, do not deal with the meaning of suffering and death and the existence of spiritual reality, what Hegel called the Geist.
  2. On the other hand, that authority beyond the ordinary, whether it be called divine or not, “can encompass both the divine and demonic, the creative and the destructive.” (Paul Tillich) [I will return to this at the end.]
  3. There is a distinction between the right of free speech, a much broader right independent of religion, and a guarantee of the free exercise of and the prohibition against an established
  4. To go further, and in an extract by the Supreme Court of the U.S, “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” The First Amendment states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In other words, freedom from practicing religion is as important as freedom to practice one’s religion.
  5. When William James, one of the key founders of Pragmatism, in the nineteenth century wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience [note, experience is singular but religion is written as a plural noun], it is clear that, although there may be a singular ultimate concern, people experience life with a variety of competing and conflicting concerns through various experiences and, therefore, there should be no effort of the polity to give one set of concerns priority over another.

That is why the core sentiment expressed in the American First Amendment is so crucial in the construction of the values of the modern world. Impartiality, equality and fairness are at the centre of post-enlightenment religion rather than partisanship, inegalitarianism as well as ruthless and unfair practices characteristic of the profane realm and built into historic religions. The Stone-Trump doctrine raises the profane values of extreme partisanship, inegalitarianism and ruthless and unfair methods to advance a cause once seen to be core values of religion and ones removed from that core by the First Amendment and modern efforts to articulate a Civil Religion. It is a civil religion as demonic.

And the reason is simple. Whereas Hobbes and Locke made the fundamental mistake of presuming that freedom rather than equality was the fundamental given, and, therefore, allowed those who developed their ideas on this platform to conceive of the state as an instrument for squelching or confining that freedom, a modern civil religion views freedom as the holy grail, as a state that we should be dedicated to establishing for all humanity.

This brings me to my final set of antonyms, false-consciousness versus humans as falsifiers. The latter is easy to understand. Those who would raise the core of the profane to the level of the sacred are slaves to dishonesty, to using whatever is necessary to win, in business or in politics, as long as those efforts fall within the law, or, at least, fall within the law that can be used to send you to prison and deprive you of freedom – hence the effort to control the making of laws to expand the realm in which dishonesty can be used with impunity. Some would claim that sacred is even a non-issue for such people, but the passion of belief of a man like Roger Stone suggests otherwise.

Freedom, instead of providing a platform in which different groups can pursue the questions of the ultimate meaning of existence without interference by the state, is conceived as already pre-determined, as rooted in a law of nature: each individual exists simply to pursue his or her own well-being. Freedom equals the doctrine of possessive individualism. That is why all other belief systems can be used and abused, trampled upon and cast aside, in the pursuit of self interest.

In Friedrich Engels and other theorists, false consciousness was the use of people pursuing survival within an ideological and institutional framework that perpetuated rather than undermined inequality. It was the disease at the ideological base of capitalism. It is the base that forms the core of the Stone-Trump ideology in an effort to monopolize the conception of capitalism under the virtue of greed in the guise of free competition. However, it should be apparent to everyone that competition for recognition is not equivalent to competition over the acquisition of material goods ad infinitum, that competition in capitalism can be a virtue without raising greed to a high altar in the holy of holies.

No one who turns mendacity into a supreme virtue can even explore the conception of false consciousness. For the purveyors of this supreme lie allow for no other competing belief in their civic demonic religion. All humans are greedy. Period! The core of a civil religion is to unpack this false consciousness, not only in others, but in our own ideological conceptions and institutional preferences. Critical self-consciousness to uproot false consciousness has to be at the centre of a civilized civil religion.

It is these values of this demonic religion set in Catfish Row on the waterfront of Charleston, South Carolina, where a Black mammie takes care of the child of a good-lookin momma and rich and powerful father, that were satirized in George Gershwin’s “Summertime” that I heard a chorus sing at a concert last evening.

Summertime,

And the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’
And the cotton is high

Oh, Your daddy’s rich
And your mamma’s good lookin’
So hush little baby
Don’t you cry

One of these mornings
You’re going to rise up singing
Then you’ll spread your wings
And you’ll take to the sky

But until that morning
There’s a’nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by.

Then, among the Hebrew, Yiddish and other great songs, the choir sang “Blackbird” that expressed the ultimate goal of the new civic religion.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life,
You were only waiting for the moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.
All your life,
You were only waiting for the moment to be free.

Black bird fly, black bird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Black bird fly, black bird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Canadian Civil Society II – Islamophobia and Empathy

by

Howard Adelman

This blog continues the discussion of the core values of the Canadian civil religion in contrast to the Trump-Stone ethos now governing the polis in the U.S.  In the previous blog, I dealt with the first four values, but I reprint the whole list as a reference.

Canada                                        U.S.A.

  1. Civility                               Incivility
  2. Compassion                      Passion
  3. Dignity                               Indignation
  4. Diversity                           Unity
  5. Empathy                           Insecurity
  6. Impartial                          Partisan
  7. Egalitarian                       Inegalitarian
  8. Fairness                            Ruthless & even Unfair
  9. Freedom as a Goal          Freedom as Given
  10. False-consciousness       Humans as Falsifiers

Why is empathy, the fifth value above, different from compassion? Compassion is a feeling for the suffering of others. Empathy is a cognitive exercise, getting inside the head of another to understand how and why the individual makes the decisions he or she does. Empathy operates by adopting the point of view of the other as one’s own in order to understand the other’s perspective. This vicarious experiencing of the thoughts, feelings and frame of reference of another was largely evident in the debate leading up to the Members of the House of Commons passing an “Islamophobia” Motion, M-103, by a vote of 201-91 two months ago on 23 March 2017.

Before I analyze the Canadian debate on Islamophobia as an example of empathy for the most part, I want to first explain what Islamophobia is and why I offered “insecurity” as the antonym to “empathy” by tracking Donald Trump’s position on Islam. I also want to do this as an exercise in empathy rather than righteous haranguing against Donald Trump’s self-evidently outrageous statements on Islam.

Donald Trump’s criticism of Islam began long before he launched his campaign to become president and long before he assumed the Office of President of the United States of America. Some statements made five years earlier may have adumbrated one plank of a presidential campaign that would include negative statements about Islam. When Donald Trump took leadership of the Birther Movement, the organized effort to convince Americans and the world that: a) Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.; and b) that Obama was secretly a Muslim, in an interview on 11 December 2011, Trump articulated his more general warnings about Islam and Muslims.

In November of 2015, he uttered the outright lie that, “thousands of people [Muslims] celebrated in Jersey City in N.J. on 11 September 2001.” Though some residents of Jersey City claimed that Trump’s assertion was true and that “we saw it,” no video or photo has ever appeared to verify the claim. According to Trump, “There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it [the destruction of the Twin Towers] a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. No good.” In December of 2015, Trump put out a policy statement in his race to win the Republican nomination that warned of the “extraordinary influx of hatred & danger coming into our country.”

This is what appeared then on his campaign website:

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population. Most recently, a poll from the Center for Security Policy released data showing “25% of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad” and 51% of those polled, “agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Shariah.” Shariah authorizes such atrocities as murder against non-believers who won’t convert, beheadings and more unthinkable acts that pose great harm to Americans, especially women.

The citation of a notorious Islamophobe, Frank Gaffney and his organization, in itself fostered Islamophobia. Gaffney was even banned from attending the Conservative Political Action Conference when he levelled the same claim against the board members of being Muslim Brotherhood agents that he had accused Hillary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, of being. Thus, Trump’s call on the campaign trail to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., his assertion in an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN that, “I think Islam hates us,” and that, “we can’t allow people coming into the country who have this hatred of the United States,” and his promise to absolutely implement a Muslim database, all offered evidence of his purported Islamophobia. The campaign climaxed in the two failed executive orders he issued when he became president to ban members of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

However, in Riyadh on Sunday as President of the U.S. appearing before an Arab summit of 50 leaders, he called his foreign policy, “principled realism,” though it is very difficult to discern any moral principles informing the doctrine. He asked for “partnerships” that would “advance security through stability, not through radical disruption.” In a slip of sloppy writing, he contrasted those prospective partners with perfection: “We must seek partners, not perfection.”  The ideal was self-reliance; the compromise was partnerships, partnerships even with predominantly Muslim countries.

Donald Trump made other mistakes in his overtures to these countries. He celebrated the pyramids and palaces of Giza and Luxor, the ruins of Petra in Jordan, all pre-Islam, but conspicuously not the grandeur in art and architecture, science and technology, thought and writing achieved at the pinnacle of Muslim civilization. However, he lauded Islam as “one of the world’s great faiths” and insisted that the war was against terror, against radical Islamicists; the majority of the victims were Muslims. He never used the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” that he claimed Barack Obama had been too cowardly to employ. He continued: it was not a war between civilizations.

How can we reconcile these assertions as President with Donald Trump’s claims as a campaigner? Was Trump guilty of Islamophobia, but quickly abandoned the belief after he became president and made his first foreign trip abroad to Saudi Arabia? Let me try to understand the position, but only after reviewing the debate on Islamophobia in Canada.

On 26 October 2016, the Canadian Parliament gave unanimous consent to a motion by NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, condemning Islamophobia:

That the House join the 69,742 Canadian supporters of House of Commons e-petition (e-411) in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.

In his speech, the Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, NDP) said:

Mr. Speaker, hate crimes targeting Muslim Canadians have tragically become more frequent in recent years. Each time we hear of another, it weighs heavily on our hearts. We know that Canada is fundamentally a country of peace. Nous célébrons la diversité et les différences. Cela fait partie de qui nous sommes mais ces valeurs doivent être protégées. Les étincelles de haine doivent être condamnées. Nous ne pouvons pas rester sans rien faire. L’histoire nous l’a bien appris. Nous devons lutter contre la haine perpétrée à l’endroit de n’importe quel groupe de personnes en raison de leur religion, de leur ethnie, de leur langue ou de leur orientation sexuelle. We must actively fight hate perpetrated against the Muslim community and denounce, in this House, lslamophobia in all of its forms. Au nom de tous les néo-démocrates, je tiens à offrir mon appui à la communauté musulmane de Sept-Îles et à rappeler à toutes les communautés musulmanes du Canada que nous sommes avec elles.

What took place between the passage of this motion and three weeks earlier, on 6 October, when an almost identical motion was defeated by a handful of Conservatives members shouting, “Nay”?  Did Parliament deny the Canadian-Muslim community the recognition and empathy it deserved in the defeat of that motion? Was it subsequently moved by a petition with almost 70,000 signatures and/or the third attack on a newly-built Sept-Ȋles mosque that took place just four days before the motion passed? Was the defeat of the 6 October motion itself an act of Islamophobia that even went beyond the claim that it was an indication of a lack of empathy? Or was the vote of a handful of Conservative members of the House likely motivated simply by partisanship, as Mulcair claimed?

Ironically, the vandalism was probably not a hate crime. At the time of the unanimous passage of the motion, a man turned himself in to the police confessing responsibility for the crime. He said that he had become drunk that night in the bar next door to the cultural centre and did the damage, but he was too drunk to even know at the time that he had committed the crime. Nor, given the subsequent debate on a bill against Islamophobia, was the earlier dissent on the motion likely motivated by either partisanship or Islamophobia. It was more likely the Conservatives did not fully grasp the meaning and intent of the concept “Islamophobia’. They gave evidence that they had not been sufficiently empathetic to the position of the Muslims.

Why would they want to vote against a bill that condemned a form of hatred? One possibility is that they regarded Islamophobia as a term that did not mean “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.” It was not anti-Muslim or anti-Islam at all. Islamophobia literally meant fear of Islam, Islam – phobia.  Fear is different than hatred. One can irrationally fear all Muslims even though very few are terrorists, but there is no necessary connection between fear of the other and hatred of the other.

However, the Ontario Human Rights commission offers a definition of Islamophobia as: “stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general.” In the UK, the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia in its 1997 report, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, defined Islamophobia as “an outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination.” The concept is made up of the following eight recurring views of Islam as:

(1) a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change;

(2) separate and ‘other’ without ‘values in common with other cultures,’ being neither affected by them nor having any influence on them;

(3) ‘inferior to the West,’ ‘barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist;’

(4) violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a ‘clash of civilizations’;

(5) a political ideology used for political or military advantage;

(6) rejecting out of hand ‘criticisms made of the West by Islam’;

(7) hostility justifying ‘discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society’;

(8) seeing anti-Muslim hostility ‘as natural or normal’.

In contrast, antisemitism is defined as hatred aimed at Jews. Islamophobia has a wider range than hatred. There was a fear that the vagueness of the term and its broader cast would have the potential to stifle debate. Some even claimed that this was the only reason for introducing the bill, to stifle criticism of Islam even further. According to Dennis Prager, “The term “Islamophobia” has one purpose — to suppress any criticism, legitimate or not, of Islam.” Critics, specifically from the Jewish community, claimed that Motion M-103 put forth by Mississauga-Erin Mils MP, Iqra Khalid, would allow a person criticizing Islam to be subjected to criminal charges. A final reason offered was that, in contrast to B’nai Brith’s extensive collection of data and documentation of violence, harassment and vandalism against Jews, the equivalent documentation against Muslim and Islamic institutions was sparse.

Ironically, a Muslim academic, Ingrid Mattson, who holds the Inaugural Chair of Islamic Studies at Huron University College in London, Ontario, said that as much as hatred targets Muslims groups, there were many more antisemitic attacks in Canada. I was not able to ascertain whether Amira Elghawaby, the Communications Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), who was also at the conference, agreed or whether she would simply say she does not know because the Muslim community is not as adept at collecting data as the Jewish community.

First tabled on 5 December 2016, M-103 passed in March by a vote of 201-91 and was referred to committee for further review. Why had it been subject to so much acrimonious debate? Why did opponents view it a slippery slope to limiting freedom of speech or even introducing Sharia law into Canada when that law ran counter to Canadian values and laws? Why did almost the whole Conservative caucus, with the exception of Michael Chong and Bruce Stanton, oppose the bill? Why were not these opponents swayed by the 29 January mosque shooting in Quebec City where six Muslim worshippers were killed? And why, according to an Angus Reid poll conducted between 13 and 17 March 2017, did only 12% of Canadians support the bill? 31% saw M-103 as endangering free speech, another 31% viewed it as a motherhood motion without any effect, and 17% viewed the bill and the debate as a waste of time.

Khalid’s motion required the government to undertake three initiatives:

  • Condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination;
  • Quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear;
  • Develop a government-wide approach for reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia.

The latter would require the heritage committee to create and maintain a data base on hate crime, much as B’nai Brith does for the Jewish community with respect to antisemitism in its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents. Data collection on Islamophobia, in contrast, is sparse.

However, an effort to collect such data, however valuable, might also cause one to pause, especially if the data is to be assembled by government. For, in the age of digital communications, incidents of antisemitic remarks have expanded exponentially, suggesting a rising tide of antisemitism based only on the number of incidents recorded. As B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn opined, the comment section of any news media includes a plethora of comments condemning Zionist plots and Jews for murdering children. In addition to genuine acts of antisemitism – spray painting swastikas on gravestone, vandalizing synagogues and Jewish community centres – there are a plethora of crackpots now publishing antisemitic symbols and spreading hate.

The same can be said of hatred aimed at Muslims. Haroon Siddiqui gave a speech at the Aga Khan Museum that blamed the media, in particular, the National Post and the Postmedia newspaper group, for contributing to Islamophobia by looking for terrorists under every minaret and writing up every Muslim who makes an outrageous statement suggesting militancy or malevolence. On the other hand, given the incident yesterday evening in Manchester, one should not be surprised at the fear that a Muslim could be a terrorist. Should Harvey Levine, the Quebec Director of B’nai Brith, be condemned when he asked Montreal police to investigate two incidents of Muslim imams allegedly calling for the killing of Jews?  It should be no surprise that Levine had concerns about M-103.

Cannot the same be said about motions condemning antisemitism – that they go overboard and sweep up genuine criticisms in their compass? What is the difference between some strong criticisms of Israel and the xenophobia allegedly evident in statements and articles critical of wearing the niqab and the fearmongering that accompanied it. A motion was passed unanimously by the House of Commons, the Irwin Cotler motion, that noted “an alarming increase in anti-Semitism worldwide,” incidents that included a singular and virtually exclusive preoccupation with the alleged misdeeds of the Israeli government and even the denial of the right of self-determination for the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist.  When does legitimate criticism of Israel become antisemitic?

There is one notable difference between the antisemitism and Islamophobia. The latter starts with fear and expands towards hatred. The former starts with hatred that fosters fear. But there are far more commonalities. And, in the final analysis, whatever the fears of creeping infringements on freedom of speech in both cases, whatever the ambiguities, whatever the comparative quantitative and qualitative analysis of victimhood, whatever the contradictions when some Muslim groups seem to be main purveyors of antisemitism and some Jewish organizations are major critics of the open-ended nature of the focus on Islamophobia, if one empathetically enters into the mindset of the pains and fears of members of either group, whatever the qualms, support for motions condemning both antisemitism and Islamophobia usually follow. Even when it does not, one must appreciate the relative civility in which the debate was conducted and honestly get inside the mindset of the person in opposition.

Which brings us back to Trump. I do not think he hates Muslims. I do think he used hatred and fear as means to advance his own political agenda. He should be condemned for manipulating people based on their irrational fears and hatreds rooted in their insecurities and, thereby, contributing significantly to a rising tide of Islamophobia.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian Civil Society I

Canadian Civil Society I

by

Howard Adelman

At the conference in Ottawa last week on “Our Whole Society: Religion & Citizenship at Canada’s 150th,” the objective was to advance solidarity among faith groups by allowing them to operate within a broader framework of shared practices, in spite of diverse perspectives. I was there to address the role of faith groups with respect to immigrants and refugees and to help comprehend the role of faith groups in society more generally.

In my talk, I addressed each of these topics. On the issue of solidarity, I challenged such an objective on two grounds. First, a family resemblance existed among different faith groups on shared practices and values that required no solidarity on perspectives. They already had a common frame; they did not need solidarity on content. As John Borrows noted in his keynote address, the goal should not be to close the space and eliminate the gaps between and among groups. Nor should it simply be to allow space for others. Rather, those spaces should be used to encourage dialogue and debate, to facilitate exchanges that encourage respect for others.

Secondly, I addressed the conjunction between immigrants and refugees and suggested a fundamental difference between the two groups, not in terms of the traditional difference between one group who came of their own free will and the other who came because they were forced to flee. Free will and coercion are not dichotomous choices. Rather they are ideal poles and different immigrant and refugee groups arrive with different degrees of each motivating their quest for Canadian citizenship. I then suggested that the groups could better be distinguished by the different ways they integrated into Canadian society, a process that had important implications for future support of refugees and for the premise of the interfaith dialogue that led to the cooperation of faith groups.

Third, I challenged the conception of “exclusive secularism” that seemed to have been presumed by the organizers. This is a brand of secularism that insists that a hard line had to be drawn between the secular and the faith worlds, as hard a line as Kant drew between reason and faith in his Critiques. I challenged this proposition on two grounds. First, in many jurisdictions, especially in France with its doctrine of laicité, secularism itself is a religion and a relatively dogmatic one at that. It is a value-rooted system that prescribes conduct and especially dress, not just the banning of the hijab by school girls, but the wearing of speedos by males at public swimming pools. Second, it is a myth that faith groups are excluded from the political process. They enjoy in many areas, but especially in the sphere of refugees, an intimate partnership with the state as well as with the rest of secular society.

Fourth, I insisted that research had pointed to the important relevance of history rather than the primacy of faith in explaining the hand religious groups extended to refugees. That is why the Mennonites and the Christian Reformed Church were first to step up to the plate in a partnership with the Government to bring Indochinese refugees into Canada in 1979 and why more established churches, the United Church and the Catholics, had been stragglers. There was a hierarchy of commitment among faith groups, but the degree of commitment was not determined by faith, but by the historical experience imprinted in a group’s priorities concerning the effort to be devoted to refugees.

But the major part of the talk addressed the family resemblance among the different faith groups. I argued that the same family resemblance was shared with a significant part of secular society so that it could be said that most Canadians share a Canadian Civil Religion. It is a civil religion because it is not rooted in a singular faith and because it influences and prioritizes what governments do and, in particular, how government deals with strangers, how it deals with immigrants and refugees, how it deals with the most important question a polis faces, who to admit into membership. They shared core values. The values as articulated below were all expressed by various participants on the first day of the conference. I merely wrote them down.

The easiest way to explicate the Canadian Civil Religion was to contrast it with the American Civic Religion currently dominant in our neighbour to the south. I stress the phrase “currently dominant,” because most Americans do not decry the Canadian values depicted below. Second, the current dominant American values are also present underground in the Canadian collective psyche.

A set of ten values as follows indicates the contrast:

Canada                                        U.S.A.

  1. Civility                                         Incivility
  2. Compassion                                Passion
  3. Dignity                                         Indignation
  4. Diversity                                      Unity
  5. Empathy                                      Insecurity
  6. Impartial                                     Partisan
  7. Egalitarian                                  Inegalitarian
  8. Fairness                                       Ruthless & even Unfair
  9. Freedom as a Goal                    Freedom as Given
  10. False-consciousness                 Humans as Falsifiers

Let me explore each of these dichotomies in turn. In doing so, I will make reference to the brilliant and gripping Netflix documentary, Get me Roger Stone, in which the Stone-Trump doctrine of cynicism is explicitly articulated. Roger Stone has been depicted by Jeffrey Toobin as the “sinister Forrest Gump of American politics.” Whereas the movie Forrest Gump provided a story in which a naïve innocent was present in every key event since 1960, Roger Stone’s biography reveals a cynical disrupter present in everything from an indirect involvement in the McCarthy hearings through his mentor and hero, Ray Cohn (who was also Donald Trump’s litigation lawyer) from whom Stone adopted his dandyism, to his own actual involvement in everything from Watergate to the election and performance of Donald Trump.

Though not ever present in the Canadian sprawl, at the centre of the Canadian Civil religion is the quality of civility. For Canadians, it is the queen of virtues. It is what Americans refer to when they say, “Canadians are so polite.” Civility esteems reasonable behaviour that elevates courtesy to an art form. At the funeral of Ron Atkey, one could not ignore the civility that characterized this man during his life and the order and respect of the memorial service in his honour at Metropolitan United Church. For society to be civil, political engagement has to show reverence for civility in the conduct of those who practice the profession. Civility, relatively, is an outstanding trait of the Canadian Parliament.

In contrast, Roger Stone and Donald Trump raised incivility to a political art form by using discourtesy to others, innuendo, ad hominem attacks, personal insults, troll accusations and hate speech as the core of the political process. Whether Trump was telling the Russian ambassador that Comey was a “nut job,” or whether he and Stone were leading a mass crowd to shout, “lock her up” in reference to Hillary Clinton, Trump wallowed in libel and defamed his final competitor in the race for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz, by referring to stories accusing his opponent of being a sexual gallivanter when Trump’s own operators had written the stories. This is not a core value of most Americans. It is a core value of the Trump regime currently in charge of the polis in the U.S.

A second virtue extolled in the Canadian Civil Religion is compassion, a concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others. Compassion entails not just pity, but self-sacrifice for others. Compassion is not merely driven by the sight of the dead three-year-old Syrian refugee boy, Alan Kurdi, washed ashore on a Turkish beach, or abhorrence at the horrors of war itself, as Donald Trump was possibly motivated by the dead children killed in the chemical attack by Syrian forces that left 75 dead, including 20 children. Donald Trump called the behaviour an “affront to humanity” and castigated Bashar al-Assad for his heinous action. But his outrage was not based on compassion for it did not lead to sacrifice and the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. Rather, it led to blowing up runways, facilities and planes with tomahawk missiles.

For the ideology of the Trump brand extols passion for a cause rather than compassion for others. Zealotry, intensity and pugnacity are highly praised under a doctrine of “take no prisoners” and leave behind a scorched earth. For the object is not just winning, but winning at any cost and winning at great cost to the other. For politics is not a positive sum game or even a zero sum game. It is a negative sum game in which you lose, but your opposition must suffer even greater losses. Politics becomes provocation and the only response to criticism is to attack, attack and attack.

A third virtue of the Canadian Civil Religion is dignity. Dignity admires serious attention to a problem and self-control in dealing with it. But it is not only a virtue with respect to one’s own bearing and conduct, speech and self-regard, it is also the accord extended to others who one considers to be a being who is valued even as one disagrees with his or her opinions. The virtue is identified with respect for inherent and inalienable rights. Humans of all types must be treated with dignity. So must the dead.

The contrasting values of the Stone-Trump ideology esteem indignation in oneself and insults aimed at the other. The goal of the latter is to humiliate and lay open to scorn the character and conduct of others. Indignation demonstrates unconcern and indifference for the other and total absorption and care for oneself. The object is to debase the other and draw attention to oneself.  The irony is that indignation is seen to arise because of perceived unfair treatment of oneself. One is affronted and takes umbrage at the disrespect shown. But indignation does not normally result in the quest for fair treatment, but rather in a view that the world is inherently unfair and that the only response is fight if one does not want to flee the plane of battle. Indignation presumes a politics of resentment and uses that deep understanding to mobilize those suffering from indifference and disrespect.

A fourth value esteemed in the Canadian Civil Religion is diversity. Often, many think that this is the primary cultural attitude as we extol multiculturalism. But the curious question is why anyone would prefer monochromatic unity in opposition to diversity. We do not want to eat at the same restaurant every night. And we all do not love meat loaf and fast food. Canadians extol the richness of multiculturalism, the benefits to society brought about when multiple cultures live side-by-side and interact.

However, the reverence for diversity, the respect for pluralism, is not confined to civil society. It permeates the polis, its makeup, policies and priorities. Canadians do not favour assimilation; Canada has no melting pot. Canadians do favour integration. Canadians support strong multiculturalism, not simply tolerance and respect for differences, but a positive effort to promote diversity both in the political representatives of our society and in how the government deals with different cultural groups. This is a work in progress because the government has never been able to adequately address the status and role of aboriginal groups in Canadian society. However, John Borrows in his keynote speech offered a primer on how to do precisely that.

Trump trumpeted unity in his victory speech. This past American Thanksgiving in late November, when Donald Trump was forming his government, he offered the following prayer: “It’s my prayer that on this Thanksgiving we begin to heal our divisions and move forward as one country strengthened by shared purpose and very, very common resolve.” From the most divisive force in the history of American politics, this prayer may have seemed like an expression of hypocrisy, but Trump has a record of engaging in fisticuffs and then inviting all those he beat up for a drink, while notably abstaining himself.

When he appointed South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, it was not done to highlight America’s multiculturalism, but to honour the success of its efforts in assimilation. When he gave his first address to a joint session of Congress, he extolled unity to end a toxic, partisan environment, ignoring totally that he was the prime source of the toxicity. When he is in charge, everyone should march to the tune of the pied piper even as he plays very different tunes at different times. Unity is a virtue as long, and only as long, as it means unity in “following me.”

That appeal did not last as divisions worsened in society at large, between Democrats and Republicans, within the Republican caucus and even within the White House itself. Trump does not invite or welcome dissident voices. He sees himself as the captain of dissent and difference, but a captain intent on winning the big prize and forging a regime of unity under his suzerainty. It does not work in politics or in society, and Canadians know why.

To Be Continued

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Irrationality of Humans

The Irrationality of Humans

by

Howard Adelman

In this series of blogs I began a week ago, I tried to sketch the deep philosophical assumptions underlying a variety of approaches to comprehending and managing the polis. How do we organize our political lives and to what end? The blog on last week’s Torah portion offered a moral approach, as set out in the Book of Leviticus, essentially setting up rules for redistributing wealth in the economy. The presumption was that religious laws could be imposed on the polity and used to counteract the built-in propensities encouraging economic inequality.

A variation of this approach is currently being applied in Iran which just witnessed the landslide re-election of an ostensible reformer, President Hassan Rouhani, against his challenger, the hardliner, Judge Ebrahim Raisi. I call Rouhani an ostensible reformer because his program differs markedly from the puritans who want to close off Iran to Western influences versus the Rouhani position of greater flexibility and interaction with the rest of the world. Rouhani has a more tolerant perspective on the role of domestic individual behaviour and external foreign interests in dealing with the policies of the polis. But both the reform and the conservative leadership remain committed to the precepts of Islam framing the polity. The conservatives want to control it as well.

The previous two blogs analyzed a book that won the Donner Prize last week (Alex Marland’s Brand Command) which documented the Stephen Harper government’s method of centralized control and the use of branding to manage the polity. My critique insisted that the book had inverted the roles of framing and branding, and that the key issue was framing. Branding was simply a method of covering up the contradictions within the Tory base between free enterprise conservatives, who oppose any moral frame for the polity, and community conservatives who believe the polity should conform to historically predominant Christian norms.

The analysis also implied that, as long as Liberals (or Democrats in the U.S.) covered up the divisions on their own side between economic liberals who believe, on the one hand, that a light touch of liberal tolerance and justice can be used to manage the polity, its inequalities and injustices, versus a more radical wing that sees the need for a greater role of the state in managing competing interests to ensure greater equality, then a well-disciplined opposition with a clear brand can disguise and, indeed, repress those fundamental differences, and then win. The brand can be the disciplined command and control that Stephen Harper employed or the anarchic populist appeal used by Donald Trump. Branding is a tool used to manage contradictions and manipulate constituents either by means of control and command or by populist appeal.

Framing, however, has priority, for if we fail to understand the warfare over principles, in despair a divided polis can easily turn democratic representative and responsible government into a populist system run by a demagogue. The warfare is not simply over principles, but over the role those principles are permitted to play in the polis. To understand the tension between various sets of moral principles wanting to provide the frame, and the behaviour of humans within the polis, it is necessary to acquire a better grasp on that behaviour and the nature of the tension and tribulations between the frame of the polity and the behaviour of its members. In this blog, I concentrate on the latter. In the next blog, I will analyze the civic religion in Canada that provides Canadians with a generally dominant overarching frame.

Conservatives are divided between free enterprise and community conservatives. For free enterprisers, humans are rational actors who make choices to maximize their own individual interests, but their interests are determined by a deeper human nature driven by a need to survive at a minimum, and by greed and acquisitive drives that build on and enhance the survival mode. Humans may be driven by greed, where the principles of survival play a commanding role, but they also may be driven by passions that have an inherent propensity to undermine interests. The predominant Christian ethos was based on the need to control passions that could wreak havoc in our individual and collective lives. Is life or desire fundamental? Neither is rational.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two Israelis who worked in the United States for years, won the 2002 Nobel prise in economics for documenting and explaining individual economic behaviour and demonstrating that it was fundamentally irrational. Their proofs also undermined the rational choice assumptions of the high priests of monetary policy whose behaviour Juliet Johnson described in Priests of Prosperity, a nominee for the Donner Prize. The sacred religion of rational choice was upended in the economic crisis of 2007-2008. Imprinting and unconscious embodiment explain to some degree why survival and desire dictate choices more than any rational deliberation over alternatives to determine which one will best satisfy our individual interests.

The work of both men in behavioural psychology and their articulation of prospect theory undermined totally the Kantian assumption that judgement was simply the process of rational reconciliation between our moral values and our understanding of the world in accordance with the laws of nature, between practical and pure reason, between morality and nature. In 2011, Kahneman published a volume with great popular appeal, Thinking Fast and Slow, which contrasted our predominant predisposition for fast thinking, for thinking that I have described in my writing as searches for congruencies between one’s own inscribed views of the world and priorities in dealing with it, and rational deliberative decision-making.

If you are a free enterprise conservative, you are steeped deeply in the frame set out by both John Hobbes and John Locke that humans are interest maximizers and possessive individualists determined to secure their futures by seeking to acquire and own goods ad infinitum. Humans were inherently possessive individualists driven by the natural laws of survival. Kahneman, using his original work on complex correlational structures and studies of how attention, more than the actual observed world, was correlated with actual behaviour. Influenced by Richard Thaler’s pioneering work on consumer choice and hedonic psychology, in 1982 Kahneman published with Amos Tversky Judgement Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.

Both men were Israelis. Kahneman in particular had served in the intelligence service. The IDF, the politicians and Mossad in 1973 had all ruled out the possibility of a massive assault by the Arab forces. After all, Syria and Egypt had both suffered enormous psychological and physical defeats in the 1967 war. Any rational assessment would have indicated that initiating a war with Israel would be self-defeating. The failure of the intelligence operation to anticipate the possibility of an attack, the failure to look at worst possible scenarios, ignoring or misinterpreting data the IDF itself had collected of an imminent attack – that Russia advisors had withdrawn – failing to recognize that Egypt was currently driven by a sense of shame and a need to recover some honour, even at the risk of another great defeat, had, together with other forms of mindblindness, produced a situation in which the fate of Israel had been risked and almost sacrificed to this immersion in preconceptions that made both the state and much of society blind to the motives and actions of others. Even at its most fateful level of survival, irrationality had framed and limited rational deliberation. And Kahneman and Tversky went on to demonstrate how this mindblindness and irrational choice revealed itself in the most mundane of subjects, consumer choice.

Thus, began the tectonic shift undermining rational choice theory based on interests. Choice was seen to be rooted, not in survival and life, but desire and the assessment of whether an experience will be pleasurable rather than painful. While life emphasizes the needs necessary for the body to survive, desire is something else. It is the effort to see ourselves projected into the world and recognized by another, usually another seen as superior in some respect, for who we have become and what we have accomplished. The individual suffers discomforts and even pain when that recognition does not come. Desire is not material, even as it is manifested in material things. God is portrayed in the Torah as motivated to create the world in the first place to become manifest and to be recognized through projections into the world. Humans were created with the ability to provide that recognition. In contrast to God, humans had the benefit of being embodied.

Humans are not so much possessive individualists as troubled personalities making mistake after mistake about what satisfied their interests, mistakes made precisely because they are governed in their judgments and decisions by a commanding illusion that develops mindblindness, an incapacity to take into account a variety of other factors as they focus on a specific one perceived as crucial to realizing who they are. Humans are not so much possessive as obsessive individualists.

If not for obsessive individualism, how else can you explain why Israelis living in an environment in which neighbours threaten your very existence and when personal allies argue endlessly over every triviality, they nevertheless perceive themselves as extremely happy? They do so certainly in comparison to members of Nordic countries who have created polities that do far more than any other on earth to ensure both that needs are satisfied and that long-term security is achieved. Israelis were indoctrinated to believe in Jerusalem of Gold, that Israel was the Promised Land, even though the external evidence to the contrary was overwhelming. On the other hand, in one study by Kahneman and Gilbert, Midwesterners in the U.S. experienced themselves as deficient in comparison to Californians because they suffered from a much harsher climate; they became convinced that good weather would solve their discontent. Any study of the experience of Californians would show it would not.

Cain and Abel were not driven by possessive individualism. They clearly demonstrated this by their willingness to sacrifice the best products of their labour so that God would recognize them as the best. When one received the recognition and the other did not, the latter was driven, not just to distraction, but to murder the other, not because of the superiority of the other’s nomadic life, nor because of all the herds the other had collected that he as a farmer had not, but because this nostalgic way of life seemed to be recognized as superior by the same God of judgement. There would always be a bias to the status quo called nostalgia or, in modern economic and political theory, status quo bias.

Kahneman and Tversky pioneered in developing an understanding of base rate fallacies and cognitive, optimist and conjunction biases, in attribution substitution and the economic conception of loss aversion that undergraduates find so entrancing in undermining rational choice theory. Together they built the structure of prospect theory and established the primacy of framing, but have thus far had only a marginal impact on the economic religion of rational choice. Their own work could be used to predict how difficult it would be for the status quo of economic rational choice theory to absorb the lessons that emerged from their research.

They provided a solid empirical basis for undermining rational choice theory that has been reinforced by the research of neuroscientists on imprinting and on more contemporary versions of the theory of the unconscious than Freud offered. We are, to a great extent, our genes and the environmental imprinting in our lives.

 

In the contest between genetic determinants and environmental cues, we learn independently of the consequences, not only because of the genes we have inherited, but because we can only really learn some things when we reach different stages of life. Learning is phase-sensitive. It works through genomic imprinting: DNA methylation and post-translational modification of DNA-associated histone proteins. The 1,000+ transcripts in our brain – particularly in the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus – is where memory is imprinted and learning takes place in a process of neurogenesis. Thus, it is not only our organ development, the development of our muscular-skeletal system and organs as imprinted in the subventricular zones and lateral ventricle of the brain that stage our physical development, but our mental development is, to a large degree, also determined by imprinting.

Alongside these developments, in the actual field of politics, efforts were initiated to select politicians who could perform. Hillary supposedly lost because she was so stiff. It was only after she had lost and gave her first interview that she seemed to relax. The goal became to groom politicians to match biases in the populace and to appeal to those biases through controlling the brand or, more demonstrably in the U.S. in the last election, deal with the incongruence of the candidate and both the needs of the populace and the needs of the nation with a more fundamental emotional appeal, even if originating in the chaotic mind of a populist candidate versus the chaos in the beliefs of the populace.

Thus far, Canada has avoided that fate because it has a strong civic religion. But dangers are evident concerning the fragility of the faith.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman