Shame and Humiliation Part II of V: Veritas, Prometheus, Mendacius and Humiliation

Shame and Humiliation

Part II of V: Veritas, Prometheus, Mendacius and Humiliation

by

Howard Adelman

The understanding of shame and humiliation is writ deep in our culture. I will illustrate this with a story from Aesop’s Fables. But before I do, I have first to remind everyone who Prometheus was because the fable begins with him. Prometheus was a Titan, the gods who first overthrew the primordial gods only to be overthrown in turn by the Olympian gods. Prometheus was a second generation lesser god, the god of forethought and crafty counsel, a traitor to his side in providing aid to Zeus to help the Olympians overthrow his fellow Titans led by Cronos. He was also a potter.

In Genesis in the Torah, there are two different stories of how man came into being, first by naming. God said and there was. The second was by God moulding the man’s material form from clay. In ancient Greek mythology, that task was assigned to a lesser god, Prometheus. In Genesis, Cain and Abel rival over who should be recognized for making the best sacrifice – the best of a farmer’s versus a hunter’s (or cowboy’s) labours. In Greece, the story takes place in a different direction. For instead of taking the best that you have laboured to bring forth and sacrificing that to God, Prometheus tricks the gods, more particularly Zeus, in the switcheroo at Mecone and ensures that the best and most nourishing part of a sacrificed bull will be reserved for the celebration of human men; he left only the inedible parts, the bones and organs, to be sacrificed to the Olympians. Second, when Zeus, to prevent Prometheus from taking the last necessary step in that sacrifice, withheld fire from him, Prometheus stole a fire bolt, hid it in a fennel stalk and gave it to man. Prometheus was the first humanist.

In revenge for both these acts of rebellion, Zeus created Pandora, the first woman. In Genesis, Eve has a twofold history, created by God in the same way Adam was and, secondly, by taking one side of Adam and forming a woman. In the Greek mythological tradition, Pandora was created specifically to bring mischief to men. Instead of the snake being the trickster, as in the bible, in Aesop’s fable that was directly Pandora’s function. In the Hebrew tradition, that element of Greek mythology was imported into the interpretation of the Biblical tale of human creation. Pandora has been projected onto Eve’s character ever since the two traditions came into contact.

For his double-crossing the gods, humans are not thrown out of the Garden of Innocence called Eden. Rather Prometheus was punished, not by having, like Sisyphus, to roll a great rock up a mountain, only to have it roll down just before it reached the top so that the next day he had to roll it up again. Instead, an eagle was assigned to pick out the eye and/or the heart of Prometheus (after all, he had shown too much compassion for human men), and/or the liver, thought to be the source of bile. As soon as that part was eaten, it grew back so the process was repeated day after day. Prometheus was punished for his foresight – it was taken away. Prometheus was punished for his compassion – it was converted into self-pity at his own suffering. Prometheus was punished for his rebellious spirit against the Olympian gods.

Aesop tells a subsidiary tale. One day, Prometheus decided to sculpt a mirror image of Veritas, the daughter of Zeus and the embodiment of honesty. When Zeus summoned Prometheus to appear before him, perhaps to explain what tricks he was up to, Dolos (Dolus), his assistant, was left behind. Dolos’ chief characteristic was to be a trickster, a master of deception and craftiness, treachery and guile that was even superior to that of his master, Prometheus. Dolos had been fired up by his master’s ambition and decided to fashion a replica of Veritas on his own. The replica would be of the same size and weight and share the same features of Veritas so it would be impossible to tell the facsimile from the real thing. However, Dolos, though an exceptional copier, was not as experienced as Prometheus in his preparations. He ran out of clay before he could complete his copy. Prometheus, when he returned, was delighted at the result, praised Dolos and did not notice that the copy of the original lacked the feet of clay of the original. He infused the copy with a love of honesty to ensure it was a precise copy in spirit as well as in the flesh and placed the sculpture into his kiln.

When the fixing of the clay was completed, while Veritas as the model could walk away on her own two feet, the imitation was frozen on the spot. That forgery, which lacked feet of clay, was named Mendacius, from which we have inherited the word, mendacity, the characteristic of being, not only a liar, but being a born liar. A liar has no feet and cannot travel. A liar becomes fixed in and by his or her own lies. However, as a faithful copy of the original, Mendacius always claims to uphold honesty as the highest principle.

Philosophers serve truth; they understand they are not and never will be masters as they try to perform their duties as the cleaning staff of the intellectual life. Many journalists, perhaps most, pursue honesty and claim it is the truth. They are heirs to Hermes (Mercury in the Roman pantheon), a son of Zeus, and see themselves as belonging to the Olympian gods. But, mistakenly, many and perhaps most follow the facsimile of truth, Mendacius, the immobilized image of Veritas. They fail to recognize that truth is established by subjecting one’s own presuppositions to self-criticism and not recognizing that the truth is never ensured by honesty. For them, truth is ensured by following rules, by recognizing the sacredness of boundaries and not by questioning those rules and boundaries.

On the other hand, they are populist democrats of the human spirit, for those boundaries are universal and apply to rich men as well as thieves, to the rulers as well as the ruled. Thus, they do not recognize that, in the name of honesty as a facsimile of the truth, in the name of universality, their underlying and unconscious goal in life is to prove that all are bound by these rules. Secretly, their greatest achievement will be to prove, that, like themselves, those who are great achievers also have “feet of clay”, which means they lack feet and are stuck and mired in the hidden drives in their own lives. The exposure may be accurate. At other times, it is simply a revelation of the journalist’s own inadequacies projected onto the target and done without the effort or even the ability to see and grasp that the result is more a product of their own projections than the alleged failings of the object of their mischief.

Humiliation, instead of attending to a specific wrong, deflects attention from that fault to attend to an allegedly greater one, an offence against an abstract and universal principle. By abstracting and deflecting, the public and, more importantly, Rachel herself, is distracted from the need to experience guilt. The process, instead, drives shame into even deeper recesses in the soul. And the shaming allows the multitude to coalesce and feel good about themselves at Rachel’s expense. Most importantly, shaming prevents us from expunging our sense of shame within and inhibits us from striving and standing on the stage to express our own self-worth. Who would want to take the risk and be subjected to so much scorn and humiliation? As Brené Brown so richly characterizes the difference between shame and guilt: “Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.” Blaming someone tells the other that he or she did something wrong; shaming someone tells you that the other is bad.

When I transferred in my last year of high school from Harbord Collegiate to Bathurst Heights, portraying that you loved learning in that new school was grounds for shaming. The standard was that it was alright to get top marks, but you also had to show that you did so without cracking a sweat. Shame is a straight jacket that prevents the highest achievement. If you shame another, you cannot feel empathy. And compassion for another is the best antidote to the toxicity of shame.

In Russia, gays and lesbians are persecuted both by the law and by vigilante action to out gays, humiliate them and get them fired. Last night on Pride Weekend around the world on CBC’s The Passionate Eye, I watched the documentary “Hunted in Russia.” In excellent journalism, the film portrayed how vigilantes systematically outed gays, beat and persecuted them, exposed their faces and got them fired on the Catch-22 that the pictures of their victims had appeared in the press as gays and, thus, they were guilty of promoting homosexuality which was against the law. When the persecutors were ever prosecuted for assault, they were mostly able to get off through lawyers’ tricks, widespread support in society and the complicity of the law. On the other hand, if a gay or lesbian protested the infringement of his or her rights, they never could get a permit, and, if they protested in the name of being gay, they were prosecuted under the law for promoting homosexuality. Even without mentioning homosexuality, if two gathered in one place, one to hand out leaflets and the other to carry a sign, even if they insisted they were not together, they were harassed, arrested and prosecuted for launching an illegal protest, for there were two of them together protesting and they lacked a permit.

Shame is a virus and easily detectable because in any age, but particularly in our electronic age, it triumphs when it now goes viral. Vigilantes in Russia use the internet to persecute gays. When going viral is held in such high esteem, a culture of shame expands and grows like a cancer in the body politic.

Tony Judt made cancers on the body politic his intellectual obsession. (I have already published a long essay on Tony Judt focused on his anti-Zionism of which these few comments formed a small part.) But he was driven by a fear of humiliation and that was how the last two years of his life ended. As his wife, Jennifer Homans, described it, “The more he retreated the more public he became. His private life at home and with friends was his greatest comfort but it was also deeply sad: he couldn’t be the things he wanted to be and he was haunted and humiliated by his ‘old’ self—what he called ‘the old Tony,’ who was lost to him forever.” He declared, “whenever anyone asks me whether or not I am Jewish, I unhesitatingly respond in the affirmative and would be ashamed to do otherwise.” He insisted he would and did not feel shame. But he feared, and suffered, humiliation. Why?

One theme, repeatedly mentioned, but not highlighted in his last book Thinking the Twentieth Century, written when he was dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), is perhaps the most revealing. Judt described his father “as a frustrated man: trapped in an unhappy marriage and doing work which bored and perhaps even humiliated him.” Humiliation is that theme. His mother too suffered from shame. “Mother was discreet to the point of embarrassment about her Jewishness versus the overtly foreign and Yiddish quality of most of the rest of his extended family.” When his father drove their Citroën to visit relatives in a poor area of London, Tony Judt “wanted to disappear down the nearest manhole” because of “the envious attention his new car was attracting.” When he lived on the kibbutz in Israel, he recognized that its functioning was based on the “successful deployment of physical intimidation and moral humiliation.” Not our usual association with kibbutzim, but an incisive comment true of most tribal and collectivist societies, whether a small town or an imperial Soviet Union or Russia.

When Judt became a fellow at King’s College, Cambridge, and had some authority, the student cohort who now attended these elite colleges came, not from the aristocracy and private schools, but from excellent state schools. Once they were discovered by one of the “bedders” (women from town who served as surrogate mothers to the young boys and girls, for King’s had become co-ed by that time) cavorting on college grounds nude.

The “bedder” was humiliated and felt ashamed. Three factors explained her reaction: the presence of girls; when she came upon them, they made no effort to dissimulate or even cover up; worst of all, they laughed at her discomfort. In short, they had broken the rules of engagement between herself as a working class woman in the midst of a society of privilege in the name of populist egalitarianism. She felt humiliated.

As Judt explained the situation, previous cohorts of students, though often repugnant snobs and sods brought up in privilege, recognized her station and respected her class and its values. They knew better than to treat a servant as an equal sharing their values. Those gentlemen “would have apologized, expressed their regret in the form of a gift and offered an affectionate, remorseful embrace.” Treating the “bedder” as an equal had “as much as anything hurt her feelings.” She had lost a claim on their forbearance and respect: her role had been reduced to mere employment rather than being a surrogate mother. The new rich bourgeois class shared none of the sensibilities of those who practiced the better side of noblesse oblige, but shared the same ignorant principle amongst themselves: “all human relations are best reduced to rational calculations of self-interest.”

The bourgeoisie, the Olympian gods of modernity who had overthrown the aristocratic Titans, were true believers in the reduced and impoverished capitalist vision: “the ideal of monadic productive units maximizing private advantage and indifferent to community or convention.” They have no “understanding of social intercourse, the unwritten rules that sustain it, and the a priori interpersonal ethics on which it rests.” They spouted and said that they revered Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, probably not having read it, but certainly not having read his volume, A Theory of Moral Sentiments. They acted as if all humans were driven, at bottom, by self-interest. If they became journalists and messengers of the greater gods, their perpetual mission was to demonstrate the validity of that Truth.

Why was humiliation and shame the most evident by-product of this indifference to and failure to recognize class differences? Respect and recognition are the proper antidotes to class differences and economic conditions. And it works both ways. One must show the greatest respect to those who do not share our privileges, no matter what your level or lifestyle. But one must also show the greatest respect to those who have earned it, whether in their intellectual or social productivity. Bringing them low when they slip up is not showing respect. Humiliating them in total disproportion to any error they have committed is merely an effort to displace lack of respect for ourselves in the terrible guise of righteousness and honesty.

All this merely explicates that shame and humiliation were crucial themes for Judt. These extracts do not explain why humiliation was so important so that these two themes became a window through which he experienced the world.

Tony Judt only hints at all the humiliations he suffered on growing up. When he was an established academic in London and went in to launch a complaint about mistreatment of a Czech acquaintance by the authorities, he learned that he was totally ignorant of the circumstances and problematics of the case. He was offended and embarrassed “to be thought both unimportant and uniformed.” And, of course, his humiliation at needing help all the time to do almost everything during his last two years of an immobilized life must have been the pinnacle of humiliation for him. But then why was humiliation so central to Judt’s historical experience?

Because, in the end, Tony Judt was himself a journalist and not a philosopher, a messenger of the gods, but one sent out and about to ensure the gods came to recognize they were only mortal.  In 2010, Maggie Smith published a book, Asylum, migration and community which probes the experience refugees feel when they exit a country and then the double humiliation they experience in their country of asylum. Their loss of status is more embarrassing than anything else they experience, especially if they come from middle class roots. Humiliation is almost always about failure of recognition. And journalists are the group most sensitive to this failure to recognize their role as Hermes to Zeus, as messengers of the Olympian gods.

Tony Judt was a famous scholar, but before that government bureaucrat he appeared to be an ignorant dolt. Tony’s father was an informed and articulate reader, thinker and believer, but he worked in a hairdressing parlour. Tony’s mother was a died-in-the-wool English woman ashamed of her Jewishness and the European accents of her social circle. After all, her friends were “greenies.” Tony was embarrassed and humiliated at the kibbutz because they saw him as just a grunt when he really was a very successful student who had achieved entry into one of the most prestigious academic institutions in Britain. The kibbutzniks had no appreciation of that accomplishment. Judt just generalized on that ignorance and branded them provincial for not recognizing his achievements. And the “bedder” at Cambridge was embarrassed and humiliated, not simply because the students did not recognize the class to which she belonged and the rules of discourse long established in dealing with class relations, for all rules had to be universal and not conventional. These children of the nouveau riche did not see her as an independent Other with sensibilities and responsibilities. The previous privileged classes at least had the decency to give her the semblance of respect and recognition.

The humiliator generally is indifferent or has contempt for the position or the person of the Other, whether a thief or a rich man, whether an ordinary citizen or a great ruler. For journalists are those most attuned to humiliation. They suffer its pains and pangs every day of their lives. One who is humiliated is not only embarrassed, but can develop a repressed anger and urge to retaliate for that non-recognition, an attitude exemplified by Cain when God recognized Abel and not him. The humiliatee wants the injustice corrected and can become a demon in the pursuit of his or her version of social justice. At the extreme, humiliation, revenge and the desire for social justice can be found to be a pervasive theme in the actions of mass killers at schools and at places of work. (Cf. Charles B. Strozier, David M. Terman and James Jones (eds.) with Katherine A. Boyd, The Fundamentalist Mindset: Psychological Perspectives on Religion, Violence, and History.) Journalists are the mass murderers of reputations.

Since Ruth Benedict in the year of Tony Judt’s birth characterized Japan as a shame culture and America as a guilt culture, and since then others have characterized Jewish culture as a guilt culture par excellence, and still others have built on and revised and improved on that distinction so that one broad consensus emerged. Shame cultures grant low cultural value to the individual. Shame can then be used as an effective tool of social guidance. Guilt cultures grant low cultural value to the community and guilt must be instilled within each individual to ensure a degree of social conformity to social norms. Why then was shame so preeminent in Judt’s psyche?

No culture relies solely on shame or guilt. Cultures use an admixture of both. A high degree of one versus the other allows one to characterize a culture as predominantly a shame or, alternatively, a guilt culture. But a culture can have high value placed on both individualism and community. This was true of the Jewish culture of the biblical period and contributes to its “schizophrenic” frenzy until today. It was both a shame and a guilt culture. Tony Judt was driven by a search for community in Zionism, in the kibbutz, in Cambridge University college life and in his intellectual devotion to social justice. In his behaviour and in his intellectual pursuits and writings, he was the consummate individual with an original voice. But in the value given to social order, a shared community was a prerequisite to enjoyment of public life. Guilt is expressed greatest if an individual like Tony Judt fails to grant adequate credit, recognition and acknowledgement to an Other. But shame becomes the main descriptor when social norms rather than individual achievements fail to be recognized. Tony Judt had very little sense of guilt, but was enormously sensitive to humiliation.

So Judt became the scourge of Zionism as the greatest expression of a guilt culture in today’s world. (I will deal with this theme separately in a discussion of the UN Human Rights Report on the Gaza War and the Israeli response.) He became, not an English, but an American Jew determined to turn the tables and humiliate both America and Israel as he also expunged any personal shame and became the widely admired brilliant writer, historian and critic. As an equal opportunity provider, he even had time to distribute the product of his poison pen on the English, the French and others. Only the Czechs get off, and that is because they were the vehicle for his rebirth and rejuvenation. The despiser of identity politics becomes its exemplar when applied to nations.

So why is shame such a vice and shaming others and humiliating them even worse? Because shamers undermine self-respect and respect for another. Shame can overwhelm you and shaming can drown you in a tsunami totally out of control. Enhancing anyone’s susceptibility to shame is not a good deed. Overwhelming someone with a cascade of shaming in an uncontrollable storm of public humiliation is definitely a bad thing. It is a virtue to stand before oneself and before others and be without shame. It is a vice and betrayal of oneself to allow oneself to be drowned in humiliation.

When someone’s actions bring disgrace and ignominy on themselves, they must face their guilt and be subjected to the condemnation of the law and or the moral code of a society applied to the specific offence, not a general abstract principle. Offending a specific law or lying in a specific situation, does not require shaming. Quite the reverse. Shaming inhibits anyone from coming face to face with one’s guilt, for facing one’s guilt requires enhancing one’s self-respect. A person should not be forced or induced to do something because he or she feels ashamed. If you feel afraid and cowardly, the answer is not feeling deep shame or having shame heaped upon you. The answer is getting in touch with the source of your courage. This is not achieved through a torrent of reproach.

It takes a great deal of effort to enhance and build up a culture of guilt. However, firestorms and tsunamis of humiliation can wreck havoc in a very short time, not just to the victim of shaming, but to the whole culture. We are all brought low by an expression of such self-indulgence. It is one thing to win. It is quite another to shame, mortify and humiliate those who do not, but especially those who do succeed but then reveal a fatal flaw. Putting others to shame is not the object of a contest. Encouragement of the highest achievements of all the players is.

If someone esteems shame, embarrassment, mortification and humiliation of another, if one takes secret pleasure in inducing a feeling of self-hatred and the pain that goes along with it, then one is causing harm and injury to the spirit of what it is to be human. Infliction of pain on another goes much deeper than a stab or a bullet wound. Because it plants a seed of self-contempt, a drop of poison that can expand and consume another’s soul.

It is easy to confuse an effort to make another face his or her guilt with subjecting another to humiliation. But the best clue that I know of in discriminating between the two is proportion. When the condemnation is totally disproportionate to any offence that might have been committed, then what we have is an exercise in witch hunting and not a moral or legal trial. If one is caught making a sexist comment or what appears to be a poor joke, the proportionate response is to check whether sexism lay behind the comment. If it does, then the person should be told directly and in person your response. If, however, one’s instigation sends a tidal way of condemnation and stripping of another from all honours and respect, and without checking whether there even was any behaviour to back up the charge that the man was a sexist, then it is clear that it is society that is disgracing itself and not the individual.

If a person is ostensibly caught telling a lie or deliberately misleading another, it is incumbent upon us first to check that it is really a lie deliberately intended to deceive, or whether the inability to be totally open stems from another source. And we do well if we ensure that we ourselves are not dissembling by dressing up our pursuit of humiliation in the name of a righteous cause like honesty, transparency and a respect for those who raised you.

Tomorrow: Part III of V – The Spectrum of Humiliation

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Deuteronomy 25:17-19.Dignity versus Humiliation.22.02.13

Deuteronomy 25:17-19 Dignity versus Humiliation 22.02.13

Parashah Ki Teitzei

by

Howard Adelman

This week Rabbi Dow Marmur wrote a blog on two meta-narratives of Jews. One is remembering Amalek, the arch-enemy of Jews and the epitome of enemies of Jews in all ages. For Netenyahu, Iran is a contemporary Amalek. In the second meta-narrative, Jews are commanded not to forget they were strangers in the land of Israel. Jews are obligated to treat strangers in their midst – Palestinian Israelis — with respect and dignity. Rabbi Marmur was hopeful that the new government of Israel, whenever it is formed, will both remember Amalek when dealing with Iran and not forget we were once strangers in Israel in fulfilling our obligations to Arab Israelis. (The blog is included at the end of my blog.)

Leaving aside the implications for the Israeli government, I accept Rabbi Marmur’s interpretation and want to go on and show how the two processes are interconnected.

The relevant passages are as follows:

17 Remember what Amelek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt —

18 how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.

19 Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deut. 25:17-19)

Before the paradoxical command both to remember Amalek and to blot out his memory, before these verses 17-19 in chapter 25 of Deuteronomy, we read instructions about how to remember Amalek and blot out his memory. The lessons are taught in the way we should respond to four different iconic types of situations.

If we go backwards from the verses referring to Amalek, the fourth instruction is not to cheat when using weights and measures (25: 13-15). If one employs perfect and just weights, then your days in Israel will be long. This is a section Rabbi Marmur could also have cited with respect to the obligations to treat Palestinian Israelis fairly.

13 Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. 14 Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. 15 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 16 For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

What has this to do with Amalek? As I read the four ways to respond, we have to begin with ourselves. If we remember that it is we who make Amalek possible, then we must start with our own behaviour and ensure that we are honest, transparent and fair. This will mean that in the external world, under the heavens, Amalek’s memory will be blotted out and we will not have to deal with him.

The third section is a tale about two men engaged in combat. A wife of one of the combatants, to help her husband in battle, seizes his opponent `by the secrets`.

11 If two men get into a fight with each other, and the wife of one comes up to save her husband from his antagonist and puts out her hand and seizes him by his genitals, 12 you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.

As a consequence, the community is instructed to have no pity and cut off her hand. Why cut off her hand? She was just helping her husband out. There are three reasons. She upset the fairness of the battle. Second, she did so by grabbing the opponent and presumably temporarily disabling him. Third, and most important, she did so in a way that brought shame on him and humiliated him in public by grabbing his genitals.

The second and longest section deals with the obligation of one brother to marry his brother`s wife if his brother dies and leaves his wife without a child in what is called a “levirate marriage”; the brother is obligated to co-habit with her so that she can bear a child and so that his brother`s name can be preserved in Israel. If the surviving brother refuses, the sister-in-law, in the presence of the elders, removes his shoe, spits in his face and humiliates him so that his house is thereafter remembered as “the house of him that had his shoe loosed” (v. 10). The loss of shoes denotes a loss of dignity, hence ‘The House of Loose Shoes.’

While in the fourth and third cases discussed above (examples 1 & 2), one is to guard against being humiliated and to be punished if you unfairly humiliate another, in this case, you are instructed to humiliate another in public because that other failed in his sacred duties to his brother. If you use unfair weights, the future of your family will be marked by humiliation. If you do not fulfill the duties owed to your barren widowed sister-in-law, your family also will bear the mark of shame when they are known as the "House of Loose Shoes".

The first section deals with the punishment to be meted out to the wicked in proportion to the degree of wickedness by beating him on the back, but no more than 40 stripes “lest being flogged further, to excess, your brother be degraded before your eyes” (v. 2).

1.When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. 2 If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, 3 but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes.

Then verse four follows which seems to have nothing to do with the verses that precede or follow. Verse 4 reads: "For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope." He who reaps is entitled to the rewards of his work, including a salary, rest days and vacation pay. And that includes those who witness to the faith.

That seems to have nothing to do with dignity and humiliation. What could an instruction about not muzzling an ox while it is threshing have to do with a brother avoiding his duty to his barren widowed sister-in-law and suffering the humiliation for that failure? What does it have to do with avoiding humiliating a person being punished by ensuring that the punishment is proportionate to the crime and not excessive? All the other example cases are about rights, duties and distributive justice.

I think the explanation is the following. The instruction can be about treating oxen fairly or about respecting the owner of the ox which you have borrowed or not working the ox to death, but it is unlikely to be about the duty to pay your church or synagogue ministers or missionaries. The plain reading of the text essentially says that you should not put a muzzle on a hardworking animal pulling the thresher. The ox is doing the work and should be entitled to eat. This may certainly be a humane gesture and/or a contractual one. But it is mainly a message that even a yoked animal needs to be respected and, as such, is a postscript to the first section.

The four examples offered can be summarized as follows:

Crime or Duty Punishment Rationale 1. -ve Wickedness Up to 39 lashes Proportionality Limits 2. +ve Impregnate brother`s widow If failure, loosen shoe, spit in face & diachronic penalty = House of Loose Shoes Humiliation in perpetuity No limit 3. -ve Wife humiliating her husband’s opponent Cut off the hand No pity Limit 4. +ve Fair weights and measure Long life in the land of promise Rewards No Limit

All four examples have to do with “brothers”, sometimes fraternal at other times "brother used in a metaphorical sense to express loyalty. There are limits to punishing the wicked lest you forget to treat him as your brother, i.e. lest you humiliate him and treat him as even less than an animal for even an animal needs to be treated with respect. The second tale has to do with two brothers who live together and are very close and, therefore, a surviving brother assumes obligations to the other brother`s widow if the latter dies without progeny. In the third case, two men are fighting; they may be the iconic Cain and Abel. However, under no circumstances is the wife entitled to interfere to try to disable the opponent of her husband and certainly not by grabbing her husband’s opponents by his balls. That would not just be an improper practice but a humiliating one as well. The fourth is a commandment of fairness and to regard all others as brothers.

The four cases can be represented as follows:

Brothers vs Enemies 1. Wicked are brothers – limits to punishment 3. Sworn enemies cannot be treated as brothers by the wife of one. Particular and Universal Brotherhood 2. Blood Brothers 4. All men brothers

The respective punishment and reward with respect to humiliation can be represented as follows:

1. Physical punishment of wicked (lashes) but no humiliation.

2. Obligation not to humiliate widowed sister-in-law, and if you do, she can humiliate you and your progeny and brand your family as The House of Loose Shoes.

3. Obligation not to humiliate oneself (and one`s family name) by interfering in a battle between your husband and an opponent by humiliating the opponent.

4. Obligation to maintain honour for one`s family name in perpetuity.

We have two positive duties: impregnating your childless widowed sister-in-law and using fair weights and measures. We have two prohibitions: not engaging in wickedness and, directed at women, not humiliating your husband’s opponent.

What is the relationship between this quadratic structured first part of the chapter and the duty not to forget Amalek? Recollect the three verses 17-19. You are first obligated to remember Amalek`s deeds. He killed three groups of fleeing Israelites who were in the rear: those who were slow; those who were enfeebled or handicapped, and those who were weary and faint. He killed the straggler, the frightened, and the weak and weary. You cannot allow Amalek to humiliate the weakest of your tribe and attack Israel at its soft spot. The message is clear; face your enemies with pride and strength and don`t forget Amalek so that Amalek will not earn favour with heaven.

The text is ambiguous whether Amalek was not God-fearing or whether the Israelites were lo yarei elohim, not God-fearing but I believe the whole text suggests the latter. First, if Amalek was not God-fearing, why would he attack Israel at its weakest point and in so cowardly a way. Second, the whole chapter is primarily about the Israelites disciplining themselves without engaging in disreputable practices and thereby incorporating Amalek within themselves. The latter is the real danger.

The injunction not to humiliate the other is not done just for the respect one must show the other. It is necessary for the respect one owes oneself. Douglas Cubbison in an abridged version of his book, The American Northern Theater Army in 1776: The Ruin and Reconstruction of the Continental Force, described how General Gates transformed a demoralized and undisciplined force, by applying the rule of 39 stripes to laggards, disobedient and undisciplined soldiers, literally whipping them into shape as a fighting force. The lesson to remember Amalek is to remember to engage in certain practices so one would not have to face Amalek and fear defeat. A healthy society does not humiliate its own by leaving the weak behind. A healthy and strong society is disciplined and respectful.

The common theme is humiliation as well as discipline and maintaining your physical strength and fighting capability. You must always respect the dignity of the other and maintain respect for your own dignity. In the Mishna (Avot 3:11) we are told that if you embarrass another person publicly, you lose your share in the world-to-come.The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 58b) notes: “Whoever shames his fellow-man in public is considered as if he shed blood.” At another point, the Babylonian Talmud advises, “It is better for a person to throw himself into a fiery furnace than to embarrass a fellow human being in public.” (Babylonian Talmud, Kethubot 67b). (Jerusalem Talmud Berachot 3:1) (Cf. Hershey Friedman `Human Dignity in Jewish Law`

academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/economic/…/HumanDignityJewish.htm) This entails not torturing your captives though they must be punished in proportion to each crime with a maximum penalty. Do not appease your enemy either. Treat the strangers who are not your co-nationals with respect and fairness.

Remembering Amalek is not obsessing with the evil other but preparing yourself through these general precepts so that Amalek can be forgotten. In Plato`s Laws, the Athenian stranger says that enemy combatants are not protected by the law. If that enemy insults your god and robs your temples, engrave his deeds on his face and hands so that he can bear these as a permanent mark of shame. And beat the enemy without limits. The treatment is the very opposite of the injunction against torture in the Torah or ensuring that punishments are proportionate to the crime committed. Always remember he is a brother. The punishment must not only be proportionate to the crime but proportionate to the person. The person must know always that you do own him and that your respect him as another human being. Never punish in anger. And never humiliate him.

Rabbi Dow Marmur`s blog follows.

CRISIS OR COVENANT?

In addition to the weekly portion, a second text will be read in synagogues this Shabbat. It’s about remembering Amalek, the arch-enemy of our Israelite ancestors and the epitome of all our enemies through the ages. The implication is that though the Biblical Amalekites lived a long time ago, their heirs are still here to harm us.

The message is particularly poignant in Israel today. It’s often articulated by the prime minister when he insists that the Iranian regime is today’s Amalek and that unless Israel deals with it resolutely, it and its Jewish citizens will be in mortal danger. The Holocaust is often invoked in this context, more for effect than accuracy.

But several potential coalition partners in the government Netanyahu is now trying to form don’t seem to want to deal only with the Iranian threat. They also pay attention to the social issues and seem to suggest that right values are as essential for Israel’s survival as military prowess. These include the reduction of the growing inequality in Israeli society and peace with the Palestinians. Their primary proof text wouldn’t be “Remember Amalek” but, rather, “Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” which obligates us to treat all human beings as God’s creatures.

The Amalek reference sees Israel as being in a state of crisis; the reference to remembering the stranger points to what theologians call covenant, the eternal bond between God and God’s people with the obligations this entails and a life style to match.

Yossi Klein Halevi, the gifted journalist and speaker, drew attention to these opposing texts and their implications at a conference last Tuesday at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem of which he’s a Fellow. The conference was aptly called, “From Crisis to Covenant: Rethinking a Narrative for Israel.” Whereas the political Right is prone to cite the Amalek passage of crisis and the Left the covenantal references to having been strangers, Halevi believes that both are equally essential for Israel’s future.

Those who live by one text instead of both are under suspicion. Thus though nobody is in a position to challenge the analysis that Iran constitutes an existential threat to Israel, the almost exclusive stress on it may also be a convenient way of ignoring the many serious internal problems the country is facing. Similarly, to speak primarily about the price of cottage cheese and the non-payment of taxes by the rich, important though it is, may be a way of closing one’s eyes to even more urgent issues.

There’re indications that, despite his own apparent fixation with Iran, Netanyahu would like to form a government that reflects both texts. That’s probably why the first coalition agreement to be signed is with Tzipi Livni, who has put the so-called two-state solution in the centre of her platform. Netanyahu’s apparent wish to include Sheli Yachimovitch and her Labour Party’s social agenda may be of the same ilk.

That’s a positive development. It’s tempting to be cynical and say that as it’s much easier to point to a crisis than to seek to work out what it means to live up to our covenant with God by heeding Jewish teachings about the dignity of all humans and the primacy of peace and coexistence. However, cynicism, though often unavoidable, can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hence the need for balance and proportion.

It makes for hope that, even at times of crisis, those elected to govern the Jewish state won’t abandon Jewish values by making Amalek the only defining text.

Jerusalem 20.2.13 Dow Marmur

[Tag Deuteronomy 25, torture, humiliation, Amalek, dignity]

Parashat T`tzavveh.Deuteronomy.Torture.Humiliation 25.17.19 (RA’s comments).doc

Humiliation.Judt (2010) The Memory Chalet

Humiliation

Tony Judt (2010) The Memory Chalet, London: Penguin Books.

Discussed by

Howard Adelman

Tony Judt was one of the eminent public intellectuals and historians in the latter quarter of the twentieth century, but he reached the pinnacle of his achievements in an outpouring of writings in the first decade of this century. In 2010 he died from a neurodegerative disorder, amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. While losing his ability to write, then move, then talk, and when he was “condemned to long hours of silent immobility”, heroically and with steadfast determination and imaginative innovation, he wrote The Memory Chalet. In that decade he had published Ill Fares the Land (2010), a polemic on behalf of social democracy, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century (2008) and Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2005), perhaps his best and most important book after his famous book on French intellectuals in WWII. In 2012, Thinking the Twentieth Century was published posthumously.

I have previously written of the differences between Memory and History so it is compelling to discuss a famous historian who discusses memory and the “nostalgic recollection of happier days” using mnemonic devises even to store what he has recalled since he could no longer write or record what he thought without assistance. The mimetic, for Judt, entailed mutuality and symmetry rather than mimicry. Recollection was construction. For Judt not only recovered old memories, but had to remember and organize them for easier recovery and composition. So he created a “Memory palace as a storehouse of infinitely reorganized and regrouped recollections.”

Though he claimed to interweave the private and the public, there is actually very little of the truly private in the book; Judt was clearly still a reticent Englishman. We see his intellectual passion, his keen sense of observation and his lively and combative intellect at work, but we only get a glimpse of his gut desires and no insight into his heart. He claimed to interweave the reasoned and the intuited, the recalled and the felt; but, again, there is far more reason and far less of sensibility, far more recollection and a surprisingly small amount of feelings, except about his condition as he lay in a cockroach position immobilized on his back “trussed, myopic, and motionless like a modern-day mummy alone in my corporeal prison”. In response to this state of suspended despair, The Memory Chalet became his escape. But it was also his challenge and the new foe he was obliged to engage in heroic battle.

Judt never once discussed having the option of Dying with Dignity at the time of his choosing. This was raised as a question in Michael’s talk at Massey College, and he answered that he had asked himself the same question. So it obviously was a question not only for me but for very many others. Michael answered that he did not know, but he speculated that Judt may have pulled the plug. Knowing Judt’s personality, the actual suddenness of his death, and the fact that he had just finished delivering the final version of his manuscript to his publisher, this was a real possibility. The Memory Chalet was not simply an escape, nut may have also been a farewell message. In it, Judt provided us with a window into his life. It is an act of sharing and a reaching out for community.

If memory is the effort of reasoning to reach back and comprehend personal experience, if it is a phenomenology of oneself, it is the very opposite of history, for historiography is the effort to record and understand collective events and actions as time sweeps forward. It is not Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu nor Tony Judt’s recollection of his personal journey through time and space. Though running on different train tracks that often criss-cross one another, what memory and history both have in common is not only reaching back into the past, but an effort to understand both change and differences. Both memory and history recognize the role of chance without reducing either one’s personal life or the collective one to caprice. Judt certainly recognized that if he had not by luck or a fluke been born in England and then been admitted into King’s College in Cambridge, everything might have been different. Falling into the career he did as an historian was the most precarious experience of his life. Living the final two years of his life as he did showed the degree to which a human can take command of time and even battle caprice.

In reflecting on a life lived, in fact, through reflection on another’s life and recollection of it, we gain a more acute understanding of our own. Further, by comparing the two experiences, you also obtain a more acute understanding of the other’s, particularly when the key categories and concerns of each life overlap – a concern with education, with the zeitgeist, with globalization, modernity and national character, and with lies and the difference between appearance and reality. But the recognition of fundamental differences is also important. And the unique focus of Judt’s memoir for me is its scattered expressions concerning contempt and humiliation, a point which Michaeldid not take up yesterday evening but which intrigued me.

But first the more mundane differences and similarities! Tony Judt was 10 years younger than myself; he was born after WWII in 1948 while I was born just before it. He also had an academic career but one far more illustrious than my own. He was and remained to the very end a wonderful writer. He went to an English direct grant independent self-governing school subsidized by the local authorities in London open to any boy who did well at the examinations for eleven-year olds. Though Emanuel did not have the snob appeal of Eton, Winchester or Westminster, it nevertheless offered an excellent education. Unlike the high school that I went to in Toronto, Harbord Collegiate, where the Jewish population exceeded 95%, in Emanuel there were only 10 Jews amongst the 1000 students. There Tony Judt encountered endemic anti-Semitism which I only experienced when I crossed the turf of enemy gentile gangs in the exogenous world outside my parochial Jewish world.

We also shared another similarity in the language we both chose to study – German. We both had superb German teachers. Joe, who taught Judt, had a sardonic sense of the absurd, and though he praised first-rate work, he scathingly characterized those who fell below his high standards of perfection as “absolute rubbish” and the “scum of the earth”. He reminded me of one of my own excellent teacher of algebra who would bark at fumblers and dissemblers and tell them to grow drive a truck. We both had the delight of experiencing politically incorrect but brilliant teachers.

But our experiences in learning a language were very different. While Judt in just two years of intensive German study achieved a high level of linguistic competence to enable him to read quite sophisticated books in German, I struggled and struggled with the study of another language. Though I was not as exposed to Yiddish as he was, and that probably was an assist for him, it was clear that he was very adept at languages. I am surprised upon reflection that my gentle and very supportive German teacher did not imitate my algebra teacher’s advice to others and tell me to go drive a truck. For in my select form of high achievers where everyone in the class received over 90 marks on the first German exam, I received a 62 in stark contrast to the series of perfect or near-perfect marks I received in science and my mathematical subjects throughout high school. And those subjects I barely had to study outside class. I studied German 3 hours a day — every moment I could spare from my paper routes and other means of earning money. I finally became proficient enough to read detective stories in German and earn a 92, but the sweat and tears! Judt got the second to top grade with ease. Our recollections both left us with the belief that, “being well taught is the only thing worth remembering from school”.

Judt was admitted to King’s College, Cambridge and it made his life. He went to university in the dying days of in loco parentis whereas I was an undergraduate a decade earlier when enforcement was more deliberate and effective but when we too found many means to get around the strictures. He eventually became a fellow and was even briefly associate dean. I briefly taught at Trinity College at the University of Toronto and swore after that experience that I would never teach at a university again; the students I happened to get were just not serious. Several years later I returned to university because of the opportunity to teach mature students at Atkinson College at York University and ended up staying there thirty-seven years before retiring and taking up research professorships at Princeton and at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. I also had a brief stint as an associate dean very near the beginning of my academic career.

Though living as a resident student in the Oxbridge system was radically different than being a commuting student and then living outside the colleges in student cooperative housing, we both attended university when “liberalism and tolerance, indifference to external opinion, a prideful sense of distinction accompanying progressive political allegiances” were among the manageable contradictions that pervaded both Cambridge and the University of Toronto. We were both on the social democratic left. We also went to university well before political correctness, identity and other forms of gender and identity politics permeated the curriculum and before hypersensitivity to wounded sentiments became a dominant norm concerning conduct. Judt begrudged what has happened to the university and blamed his generation for leaving that residue as its legacy. In a very early book, The Holiversity, I was, surprising to myself, reasonably prophetic in anticipating both the emergence of the social service university into pre-eminence and its successor that is currently on the rise, the supermarket consumer dominated version of higher education.

Unlike Judt, I took no personal responsibility for that outcome but attributed it to the contradictions within the university and the forces of history. Judt emerged as much more of an elitist than I and he totally disparaged the effort to give everyone a chance when hypocritically the talented were privileged anyway. Judt and I both, nevertheless, bemoaned the emergence of post-modernism and we both had “little tolerance for self-expression as a substitute for clarity”. Effort was no substitute for achievement. Judt’s teachers at King’s College at Oxford expunged his nascent Marxism and imbued him with the conviction that history as a discipline was “dependent in the first instance upon facts, not theory”. They taught empiricism “by the simple device of listening very intently to everything I said, taking it with extraordinary seriousness on its own terms, and then picking it gently and firmly apart in a way that I could both accept and respect.” The teachers at St. Anthony’s College at Oxford did the same for my son and cured him of his nascent Gramscian propensities and turned him into a committed empiricist. I was never cured of my affair with abstract dialectical forces, but also never subscribed to the simplistic and reductionist Marxist version.

Though I am ten years older than Judt, he comes across as much more of an old fogey when dealing with contemporary culture. He writes in The Memory Chalet that, “The wealth of resources we apply to entertainment serves only to shield us from the poverty of the product; likewise in politics, where ceaseless chatter and grandiloquent rhetoric mask a yawning emptiness.” I love contemporary entertainment and especially movies. I also think that politics has not been reduced to meaningless talk even though politics is also awash with ideologues, now on the right rather than the left. Though I am very critical of some politicians (and ever more critical of some members of the chattering class) I celebrate and admire the way many others practice the art of politics.

There are other curious and coincidental though perhaps not very revealing similarities. My father, like his, in keeping with their generation, was obsessed with motor cars – the relatively expensive and ostentatious Citroën in his father Joe’s case. My father loved Chevrolets, though in 1948, the year Judt was born, my father slipped up and bought an Austin. That purchase demonstrated why the British automobile industry would virtually vanish in the next few years. However, my generation was perhaps not obsessed but was certainly preoccupied with cars. I stood out in my deliberate indifference. Perhaps it was because, although both our fathers were most at home in their cars that symbolized new found freedom and prosperity and stood for “individualism, liberty, privacy, separation, and selfishness in their most socially dysfunctional forms”, his father took the family on road trips and only left his unhappy marriage later. My father used his car to escape his family and his obligations.

We both used the public transportation system in our respective cities before we reached our teens to explore its various dimensions and pathways. Though both Judt and I found walking pleasurable and enjoyed our bikes, we both love trains, especially Swiss trains. As Judt wrote, “To travel in Switzerland is to understand the ways in which efficiency and tradition can seamlessly blend to social advantage.” Trains can be heavenly bliss. Though I loved taking the commuter train back and forth to Princeton every week for a year, Judt was much more critical of American and the changes in the British train service over the last two decades. “In later years, as Britain’s rail system fell into decline, train travel lost some of its appeal. The privatization of the companies, the commercial exploitation of the stations, and the diminished commitment of the staff all contributed to my disenchantment—and the experience of travel by train in the US was hardly calculated to restore one’s memories or enthusiasms.”

Though both of us despise ideologues of the left or right and are both versions of social democrats, where we differ is very basic. Judt had “lots of homes and I don’t consider my heart to be attached very firmly to any of them.” As he wrote, “I suppose I’ve always been homeless.” In contrast, I was born and educated in Toronto and lived in one home virtually for 42 years – for most of my academic career. And when we downsized recently, we only moved next door. Judt was a baby-boomer; I preceded the baby-boomer generation and enjoyed even more fully what Judt described as the benefits of growing up “in an age of prosperity, comfort and security” and knowing that I could do whatever I wanted in life.

Secondly, we experienced our mid life crises at slightly different ages travelling along different trajectories. I was a hard working kid living with two brothers and supported by a single mother. By the time we were fifteen, my older brother and I had saved enough money to buy my mother a house. Judt, at the same age was busy being indoctrinated with what I presume were his father’s Zionist beliefs rooted in Labour Zionism and Judt in 1963, 1965 and 1967 went to live in Israel and work on an Israeli kibbutz. He was at the time an ideologically committed conformist true believer and an articulate proselytizer. I was at that time a rebel against my orthodox Jewish beginnings, a universalist and an anti-Zionist, though a quiet rather than a noisy one. He then believed in what was widely known as muscular Judaism, in “health, exercise, productivity, collective purpose, self-sufficiency and proud separatism.” I was a cosmopolitan who had broken away from what I regarded as my parochial upbringing. “Is Jewish Survival Necessary?”, my first publication in 1960 in Reflections (24-31), focused on a number of assimilated “Jewish” intellectuals – Simone Weil and Henri Bergson among them.

We are both born again intellectuals. Judt’s immersion in East-Central Europe, specifically Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, brought him back to life. Judt wrote about the double near death experience of Jews – the Holocaust and the feared elimination through assimilation. The events leading up to the Six Day War took me through a third near death experience. Judt does not write about how the Six Day War affected him, but when it arrived he had already become disabused with Zionism as well as Israel. I at the time in the period leading up to the war noticed the huge chasm between my fears that Israel would be wiped off the map and my supposed indifference to the fate of any expression of Jewish particularism, whether in the form of a state or through the Jewish religion.

Though I was not exalted by Israel’s enormous victory in 1967 and participated in none of the euphoric celebrations, I was very relieved and quietly determined to resolve the contradictions between my professed intellectual positions and my deep emotional concern with the fate of Israel. For the first time, in 1973 I finally took my whole family there for three weeks. I was reborn as a Zionist and thence celebrated the recovery of Jewish self-determination. I am extremely proud that two of my grandchildren grew up in Israel and served with distinction in the Israeli armed forces in stark contrast to my strident pacifism as an undergraduate.

Judt was correct when he wrote that, “Many American [and Canadian] Jews are sadly ignorant of their religion, culture, traditional languages, or history. But they do know about Auschwitz.” Except I actually even knew very little about the Shoah. Judt mastered the Czech language and I studied a great deal about not only Zionism and the Middle East but even subsequently revived an interest in Judaism that had been systematically expunged from my soul when I attended Jewish school six days a week. So it is surprising that in spite of these very basic differences, we are both entranced by identity politics in its traditional form focused on the nation state and, in particular, the nation in that state. It seemed paradoxical to me that Judt as a professed cosmopolitan would be mesmerized by traditional identity politics focused on the nation rather than gender or ethnicity and, further, that he would so vividly and succinctly depict key characteristics of each nation and very near come to reifying those characteristics.

In The Memory Chalet, Judt characterizes seven national cultures; American, English, French, German, Czech, Swiss and Jewish, though he clearly revoked his earlier belief that Jews had a “national” culture and deserved to have the responsibility of self-determination to have their own state. (See his infamous 2003 controversial essay on a one state solution in the New York Review of Books.)

For Judt, “America herself is a mistress, rebuffing and seducing by turns”. Judt loved living in New York because, like many Americans themselves, he bought into the myth that New York was on the edge and not really part of America. He observed, loved and depicted the inter-cultural multicultural street life of New York city. Judt was appalled and repelled by the contemporary ostentatious patriotism of contemporary America, and its bellicosity and nostalgic triumphalism, its creation of community through consumerism and its hyperventilated moralism. He was appalled as more and more Americans became hyphenated in their identities and envisioned further decline, not only for America, but for European states as well when, “Intolerant demagogues will demand ‘tests’ – of knowledge, of language, of attitude – to determine whether desperate newcomers are deserving of British or Dutch of French ‘identity’. They are already doing so. In this brave new century we shall miss the tolerant, the marginals, the edge people. My people.”

In his first but relatively late contact with the United Sates, he was overwhelmed by America’s obsession with size, with cleanliness and, especially in the heartland, for him its sole reliance on church and religion for creating community. Judt obviously knew nothing about the role of sport in America, especially American football. He was also amazed by the huge libraries found in the land grant colleges of the midwest with their multi-million book collections. One gets the impression that his discovery as a reticent Englishman startled him even more, that “Americans are shamelessly confessional”. He implied that the style emerged from the power of the Christian religion. I myself believe it has more to do with American mobility, the open frontier and American desire to be efficient even in getting acquainted with another. More generally, it also has to do with more current attempts to end the apartheid between thought and feelings, between the mind and the heart and between the expressed and the repressed. But certainly Judt is right that, America is “an old-new land engaged in perennial self-discovery”.

Contrast the abundance of America with the austere Britain of Clement Atlee in which he grew up in an attitude of grin and bear it after WWII. Austerity was also personal. His mother was a Jewish Cockney who lived in East London at the edge of both the Jewish-English world in Bethnal Green and the core of Dickensian London. She was so assimilated that she had almost no knowledge of Jewish cuisine and cooked like most English mothers with the absence of any flavour in food whatsoever even though his grandmother was a magician in preparing chicken, beef, fish and vegetables. And Judt declared, “We are what we ate. And I am very English.” Does that explain his rejection of Judaism even though he declared “whenever anyone asks me whether or not I am Jewish, I unhesitatingly respond in the affirmative and would be ashamed to do otherwise”. We will have to return at the end to Judt’s sense of shame.

Judt was so English (and so culturally conservative) that he rejected the next generation’s “ersatz classlessness” as epitomized by the bar that the subsequent cohort of students to his own had installed at Cambridge. He criticized the next generation because they were “most readily mobilized against injustice committed many thousands of miles away.” “The difference between us (the two generations), elective cultural affinities aside, lay in our future prospects, not our contemporary condition.” Judt was an open elitist and meritocrat, loved King’s College, celebrated its record of embracing change and disruption by accepting with bemused nostalgia the governance through archaic rules while breaking them in practice. Though he said he understood why subsequent generations of graduates went into commerce and private banking and the more remunerative reaches of the law rather than public service and the unprofitable end of the liberal professions, he really bemoaned their choice.

Judt’s harshest words were saved for the French of which he knew a great deal. My own research and publications on the head scarf issue confirmed Judt’s allegations (2011 “Contrasting Commissions on Interculturalism: The Hijȃb and the Workings of Interculturalism in Quebec and France,” Journal of Intercultural Studies 32:3, June 2011, 245-259), but they were also informed as a result of reading Judt, though I question his interpretation that “in French films: indecision rather than plot drives the action.” As Judt described French intellectuals, “The radical disjunction between the uninteresting evidence of their own eyes and ears and the incontrovertible conclusions to be derived from first principles introduced me to a cardinal axiom of French intellectual life.” In my study of the introduction of the ban on head scarves in French public schools, the commission included several famous French philosophers and sociologists. They recommended the ban even though they had never undertaken any empirical research on the subject It took an American sociologist to reveal that, out of over a million Muslim girls in the French educational system, only fewer than a thousand wore the head scarf and only two, daughters of a Jewish man married to a Muslim woman, wore the headscarf for the reason the commission recommended a ban, that is, because they were wearing the scarf to make a political statement.

Judt tells the story of being encountered in the very prestigious École Normale Supérieure by another student who asked how he did on the strenuous tests for admissions. Having heard that Judt had been admitted as an Englishman without writing the exams, the student remarked, “C’est impossible.” As Judt summed it up, “The radical disjunction between the uninteresting evidence of their own eyes and ears and the incontrovertible conclusions to be derived from first principles introduced me to a cardinal axiom of French intellectual life.” Thus France had made Paris marginal to the international conversation. (Cf. Howard Adelman (2011) “Religion, Culture and the State,” in Howard Adelman and Pierre Anctil (eds.) Reasonable Accommodation and Minority Cultures: Reflections on the Bouchard-Taylor Report. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,100-116)

Germans still had a large residue of anti-Semitism. “If French politics were intensely – even absurdly – theoretical and dry,” German politics was about sex. Though a nice throwaway line, I suspected that Judt’s view of Germanic repressed sexuality was as much a product of inherited British prejudices as of any direct experience. Judt clearly preferred “the distinctively Czech qualities of doubt, cultural insecurity, and sceptical self-mockery” and Zeslaw Milosz’s 1953 The Captive Mind was and remains “by far the most insightful and enduring account of the attraction of intellectuals to Stalinism and, more generally, of the appeal of authority and authoritarianism to the intelligentsia.” For Judt, it was much more incisive than Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon that had such a great impact on the formation of my own views. Though Judt loved the Czechs, he admired the Swiss even though they were obsessed with cleanliness and with an uncluttered regularity for everything. For a historian interested in change, the irony was that, for Judt, in Switzerland, and Mürren in particular, “Nothing happens: it is the happiest place in the world.” It is no surprise that at the end of the book and contemplating his immanent death, he envisioned traveling up and up a train to the highest reaches of Switzerland “for ever and ever”.

Judt’s most complex and contentious as well as most extensive remarks were on Israel and Judaism, surprising for someone who claimed to have left all of that behind over forty years earlier. When he served in the Israeli army on the Golan Heights, he “encountered young, prejudiced, urban Jews.” In the kibbutz before he was even twenty he had discovered “how limited the kibbutz and its members really were; collective self-government or egalitarian distribution of consumer durables does not make you either more sophisticated or more tolerant of others but contributes to an extraordinary smugness of self-regard and reinforces the worst kind of solipsism and insularity.” One cannot tell how the oppressiveness of the experience had been exaggerated over the years so that the kibbutz came to be a doppelganger for his state at the time of his writing. “Israel felt like a prison in those days, and the kibbutz like an overcrowded cell.” Whatever the experience, he came to identify Israel wit the dogmatism of his youthful Zionist indoctrination which he grew to not only actively dislike but to hate.

His criticism extended to the Jewish community in America, Israel’s strongest supporter. Judt queried, “Jews in America are more successful, integrated, respected, and influential than at any place or time in the history of the community. Why then is Jewish identity in the US so obsessively attached to the recollection – and anticipation – of its own disappearance?” And if Emil Fackenheim suggested a 614th commandment be recognized that a Jew is commanded not to give Hitler a posthumous victory by disappearing as a nation or through assimilation, Judt asked, “Are we really Jews for no better reason than that Hitler sought to exterminate our grandparents?” Judt declared that, Holocaust memory is a “vicious abuse of memory used to justify uncompromising Israelphobia and to service lachrymose self-regard.” Judt considered the question and the assertion taken together as capable themselves of dealing a knock out blow, but, of course, the answer is that this is far from the whole story. For there are assuredly more than two compelling reasons! And Judt should b ashamed, though he clearly is not, for failing to acknowledge this fact. This is especially so because Judt believed that, “Judaism for me is a sensibility of collective self-questioning and uncomfortable self-questioning.”

Lies and delusions may arise from omission and distortion as well as deliberately telling a falsehood. And Judt, though a truth-teller, also “had the talents of a silver-tongued orator”. Judt loved not only the many languages he had mastered, but talking, for “talking was the point of adult existence” and he believed it was not merely evidence of intelligence, but intelligence itself, a conclusion he himself belied in writing the book. But he also admitted that, “words may deceive” and be mischievous and untrustworthy. Further, articulacy was a way of conveying proximity while maintaining distance so that language could be used to fend off intimacy, a characteristic he attributed to Barack Obama. Nevertheless, despite these weaknesses he was a champion and master of the use of the English language but not glib talk, which he hated, as well as the kind of theory and methodology that favoured obscurantism where language is used to mystify rather than inform. He always remained contemptuous of garbled language.

When the misuse of language becomes a part of deliberate state policy to exercise and retain power, then we have an Orwellian world. So why get caught up in a a wholesale conveyer of lies if you did not live in a totalitarian society? That is the lesson men who dissected what it was to live in such a society taught. That is what Zeslaw Milosz in The Captive Mind revealed more generally, “the appeal of authority and authoritarianism to the intelligentsia.” How could they say one thing and do another?

When I led the Combined University Campaign Against Nuclear Arms as a student at the University of Toronto, how could one member of the executive who was also Communist Party member campaign against nuclear arms and then defend the USSR resuming testing? How could he live with the contradiction of saying one thing and believing another? I had to resign as Chair and demand his resignation. The committed deluded idealist, the fellow traveler and the cynical time server who adhered to this secular faith participated in an ideological self-delusion and a refusal to imagine or consider alternatives. If communists were the foremost self-deluded political group as we began our careers, the worshippers of the free market, in minimum or no regulation, in reduced government, have joined in voluntary servitude to the new right rather than left orthodoxy.

However, one theme is repeatedly mentioned but not highlighted and is perhaps the most revealing part of the book. Judt describes his father “as a frustrated man: trapped in an unhappy marriage and doing work which bored and perhaps even humiliated him.” Humiliation is that theme. His mother too suffered from shame. “Mother was discreet to the point of embarrassment about her Jewishness versus the overtly foreign and Yiddish quality of most of the rest of his extended family.” When his father drove their Citroën to visit relatives in a poor area of London, Tony Judt “wanted to disappear down the nearest manhole because of “the envious attention his new car was attracting”. When he lived on the kibbutz in Israel, he recognized that its functioning was based on the “successful deployment of physical intimidation and moral humiliation.”

When he became a fellow at King’s and had some authority, the student cohort who now came, not from the aristocracy and private schools, but from excellent state schools, were discovered by one of the “bedders” (women form town who served as surrogate mothers to the young boys and girls for King’s had become co-ed by that time), she witnessed a group of then cavorting on college grounds nude. Three factors explained her reaction: the presence of girls; when she came upon them, they made no effort to dissimulate or even cover up; worst of all, they laughed “at her discomfort. In short, they had broken the rules of engagement and she felt humiliated.”

As Judt explained the situation, previous cohorts of students brought up in privilege recognized her station and respected her class and its values. They knew better than to treat a servant as an equal sharing their values. Those gentlemen “would have apologized, expressed their regret in the form of a gift and offered an affectionate, remorseful embrace”. Treating the bedder as an equal had “as much as anything hurt her feelings”. She had lost a claim on their forbearance and respect: her role had been reduced to mere employment rather than surrogate mother. The new rich bourgeois class shared none of those sensibilities but shared the same ignorant principle amongst themselves: “all human relations are best reduced to rational calculations of self-interest”. This was the reduced and impoverished capitalist vision: “the ideal of monadic productive units maximizing private advantage and indifferent to community or convention”. They have no “understanding of social intercourse, the unwritten rules that sustain it, and the a priori interpersonal ethics on which it rests.” They spouted and said that they revered Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations probably not having read it but certainly not having read his volume, A Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Why was Tony Judt so mesmerized by the Lordship/Bondsman relation? Why did he interpret it in terms of mindblindness and self-deluded voluntary or involuntary subjection to tyrannical authority? And why was humiliation and shame the most evident by-product of this difference in class? Since his tutor showed him respect in his criticism, he learned. If contempt was forthcoming, the student was ashamed. So respect and recognition are the proper antidotes to class and economic conditions. Why was humiliation so important to Judt and a window through which he experienced the world?

Tony Judt only hints at all the humiliations he suffered on growing up. When he was an established academic in London and went in to launch a complaint about mistreatment of a Czech acquaintance by the authorities and learned that he was totally ignorant of the circumstances and problematics of the case, he was offended and embarrassed “to be thought both unimportant and uniformed”. And, of course, his humiliation at needing help all the time to do almost everything must have been the pinnacle of humiliation for him at the end of his life. But then why was humiliation so central to Judt’s historical experience? At this time I can offer only the briefest possible answer.

In 2010, Maggie Smith published a book, Asylum, migration and community which probes the experience refugees fell when they exit a country and then the double humiliation they experience in their country of asylum. Their loss of status is more embarrassing than anything else they experience, especially if they come from middle class roots. Humiliation is almost always about failure of recognition.

Tony Judt was a famous scholar but before that government bureaucrat he appeared to be an ignorant dolt. Tony’s father was an informed and articulate reader, thinker and believer but he worked in a hairdressing parlour. Tony’s mother was a died-in-the-wool English woman ashamed of her Jewishness and the European accents of her social circle. After all, they were “greenies”. Tony was embarrassed and humiliated at the kibbutz because they saw him as jus a grunt when he really was a very successful student who had achieved entry into one of the most prestigious academic institutions in Britain but the kibbutzniks had no appreciation of that accomplishment. Judt just generalized on that ignorance and branded them provincial for not recognizing his achievements. And the “bedder” at Cambridge was embarrassed and humiliated, not because the students did not recognize the class to which she belonged and rules of discourse long established in dealing with class relations, but because they did not see her as an independent Other with sensibilities and responsibilities. The previous privileged classes at least had the decency to give her the semblance of respect and recognition.

The humiliator generally is indifferent or has contempt for the position or the person of the other. The one humiliated is not only embarrassed but can develop a repressed anger and urge to retaliate for that non-recognition, an attitude exemplified by Cain when God recognized Abel and not him. The humiliatee wants the injustice corrected and can become a demon in the pursuit of his or her version of social justice. At the extreme, humiliation, revenge and the desire for social justice can be found to be a pervasive theme in the actions of mass killers at schools and at places of work. (Cf. Charles B. Strozier, David M. Terman, James Jones and Katherine Boyd, The Fundamental Mindset: Psychological Perspectives on Religion, Violence, and History)

Now in none of the cases cited by Judt did the possibility of violence and revenge ever appear to come up. No one became an evangelist for justice. The failures of recognition were relatively mild. Further, when Tony Judt experiences the opposite of non-recognition when his King’s College tutor ignored his youthful theoretical pontification and, by respecting his opinions and examining him closely, allowed him to recognize his own need to undertake empirical work, Judt reciprocated with respect and appreciation.

Since Ruth Benedict in the year of Tony Judt’s birth characterized Japan as a shame culture and America as a guilt culture, and since then others have characterized Jewish culture as a guilt culture par excellence, and still others have built on and revised and improved on that distinction so that one broad consensus emerged. Shame cultures grant low cultural value to the individual and shame can then be used as an effective tool of social guidance. Guilt cultures grant low cultural value to the community and guilt must be instilled within each individual to ensure a degree of social conformity to social norms. Why then was shame so preeminent in Judt’s psyche?

No culture relies solely on shame or guilt. Cultures use an admixture of both, though the high degree of one versus the other allows one to characterize a culture as predominantly one rather than the other. But a culture can have high value placed on both individualism and community. This is true of the Jewish culture and contributes to its “schizophrenic” frenzy. It is both a shame and a guilt culture. Tony Judt was driven by a search for community in Zionism, in the kibbutz, in Cambridge University college life and in his intellectual devotion to social justice. In his behaviour and in his intellectual pursuits and writings, he was the consummate individual with an original voice. But in the value given to social order, a shared community was a prerequisite to enjoyment of public life. Guilt is expressed greatest if an individual like Tony Judt fails to grant adequate credit, recognition and acknowledgement to an Other. But shame becomes the main descriptor when social norms rather than individual achievements fail to be recognized. Tony Judt had very little sense of guilt but was enormously sensitive to humiliation.

The problem was not that the bureaucrat failed to recognize him as an esteemed intellectual but that Tony Judt had let down his intellectual community in revealing his ignorance and had let down his acquaintance in failing to achieve social justice. Tony experienced a life crisis and took up the study of Czech, an initiative that gave him a lead in uncovering the underbelly of the communist system that was the shame culture par excellence, a culture that undercut any individual’s capacities to be allowed to feel guilty or grant recognition to another individual. Tony Judt’s father was aware of the gap between his capacities and his economic role. His guilt was that he had not been personally able to surmount those limitations and realize his potential. His shame was that he let down the expectations off him by the community. In this case, the guilt and shame were reinforcing.

Tony Judt’s mother was an edger, the group to which Tony belonged. Her inability to cook well necessarily made her a subject of shame among the community of Jewish women at that time. At the same time, she was ashamed to associate with the inferior accented Greenies that formed her social circle. As the object of shame and as a subject feeling shame for the other, it was no surprise that she does not seem to have provided either Tony or his father with a happy home life.

So Tony Judt had to find another people to which he could belong. His desperate effort in his Zionist days failed miserably. His intellectual efforts freed him from any guilt, but the aggregate of intellectual eccentrics at King’s College could not provide the membership in the social community he craved and that he had experienced to some degree in the arguments around the kitchen table when he was a youngster. So he went to New York and joined the edge people. Israel as a divine icon had been a god that failed. Judaism had left him bereft but he was too proud to bury that identity. So he became the scourge of Zionism and of American Jews determined to turn the tables and humiliate both as he also expunged any guilt and became the brilliant writer, historian and critic so widely admired. As an equal opportunity provider he had time to distribute the product of his criticism to America, the English, the French and others. Only the Czechs get off and that is because they were the vehicle for his rebirth and rejuvenation. The despiser of identity politics becomes its exemplar when applied to nations

[tags judt, history, memory, national identity, humiliation]

Judt.Tony.Intro.04.02.13

Last night at Massey College, Michael Marrus gave a superb talk on Tony Judt’s book The Memory Chalet, the memoir he managed to finish just before he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2010. Michael not only placed the book in its social context and within the intellectual timeline of Tony Judt’s output, he very evocatively placed us into the experience Tony went through as a person suffering from a terrible debilitating condition. It was a brilliant talk, thematically summarizing Tony’s experiences and themes and bringing Tony Judt very much to life through the words he left behind.

In preparation for the talk, I, or at least my wife Nancy, bought the book on line on Sunday noon so I could avoid searching in the bitter cold of a Toronto winter for a bookstore that had the book. For the first time, I read a book on a kindle. (It was wonderful, but more of that at another time.) Michael came to dinner that night with his wife Randi, but we only had a chance for a glancing discussion of the book. I went to his talk yesterday evening with eager anticipation. His talk was truly brilliantly composed and delivered and was thoroughly empathetic with Tony Judt’s efforts. But it did not answer the two questions that were bothering me. Why was Tony Judt as a committed cosmopolitan adamantly opposed to nationalism or any other version of identity politics so consumed with the identity of the nation? Second, why was humiliation such a scattered but, to me, an important theme in the book?

Michael did not provide an answer. He had not had a chance to mull over the questions. Further, his approach, while contextualizing the book, was one of getting inside Tony Judt’s head. He did a wonderful and elegant job. But I had read the book with a different perspective, and, inspired by Michael, I spent the rest of the evening and early this morning composing my own response and trying to answer the two questions I posed. It is not as elegant as Michael’s take. It is dialogical rather than empathetic. And it came out as rather long. So if you are interested in Tony Judt, you may want to save it for a leisurely moment.

[tag history, memory, identity politics, humiliation]