Saturday, July 14, 2007

Religion in America 


Thursday, July 12, 2007

"Judaism" without Jews 

The phenomenon recounted in this article--the popularity of all things "culturally Jewish" in Jew-less Poland, the site of Auschwitz and the most deep-set historical anti-Semitism--is extremely complicated.

Some say that this "cultural trend" is a way of resisting strains of fascistic pseudo-Catholic nationalism. I'm sure that's partly true. But the idea that this "embrace" of "Judaism" signals a "transformation in the soul" or "ethics" of Poland--as suggested by numerous people quoted in the article--strikes me as absurd. The idea that Judaism is a real part of Polish culture that needs to be "recovered" also seems absurd to me. Jewish culture was enclosed and alienated, physically, in all of its former host countries in Eastern Europe. Surely the relation between Jewish culture and the cultures of Eastern Europe is real and worth considering; but the idea of a hidden "Jewish soul" of Poland is denial and wishful thinking.

I suspect something much more complicated is going on here in this "revival" of "Jewish culture." The very idea of a "Jewish culture" should raise red flags. Judaism is (or was) a religion and a community, or set of communities (all relatively enclosed, both by outer anti-Semitism and inner exclusivism--which no one will admit today). Like all real religions, Judaism was never just a "religion" in our sense, never just a set of beliefs. It was a polity with a symbolic language (or "culture") with associated metaphysical and cosmological presuppositions. Religion in the true sense names that whole cultural-political-metaphysical system. (In this sense Western political liberalism, with all of its unacknowledged presuppositions, is a bastardized "religion".)

The idea that the Jewish communities could be destroyed, their metaphysical and cosmological presuppositions abandonded, and yet their "culture" thrive--this is a nearly incoherent idea.

And yet this is the way we talk about Judaism, not just in Poland, but in the United States and even in Israel--which is not a shtetl but a modern Western liberal state that happens, in an utterly undefined way that has been debated constantly since 1948, to be "Jewish."

What is a Jew? Who is a Jew? Can one be a Jew without the old Eastern European political and juridical regulations of independent Jewish communities? Can one be a Jew without belief? For Israel, the answer to these questions has to be, Yes. But what, then, defines "Jewish-ness"? Is this a question of blood? Yes, it has always been a question of blood for Judaism. (This was what St. Paul objected to in his attacks on the Torah or "Law".) But can there be a Judaism of blood, without belief, without practice, without political significance? What sort of "culture" remains to give meaning to this bloodline? Is this "culture" sufficiently distinct from merely racial classification?

"Cultural Judaism" is not a religion, but a culture with a nebulous sacred significance--one that is dangerous because it is undefined and prohibits rational thought.

What is a "culture" in this strange, entirely post-modern sense?

It is an identity. It is a name, a signifier of belonging, a shield from behind which aggressive claims are made. Like all modern/American identities (gay, black, Hispanic, female, etc.), it is shifting, vague, and blends with others. And also like all such identities, the Jewish one is founded as a reaction against injustice--a dangerous way of forming an idenity, as it lacks positive content and is determined by violent external power.

Pre-Holocaust Judaism had a positive meaning--a community, a language, a political and juridical apparatus--apart from the hatred the Jews suffered during their hundreds of years in Europe. The new Judaism is defined by the Holocaust. Its negative self-definition is in fact more intense than the negative definitions of all other such identities, because the Holocaust has become the very symbol of irrational hatred and of the evil from which the liberal state must protect us. Modern identities, as they make their rights claims (most totally justified and necessary--do not misunderstand me) must make their appeal to the liberal state. An identity determined by rights claims depends on the beneficence of the state.

The association with the Holocaust makes Judaism different from other negatively, reactively constructed modern identities. And this difference is even more emphatic because Judaism (unlike skin color, gender, sexuality) is supposedly a "religion."

Judaism has in fact become the one and only sacred identity. It seems to me that "Judaism" now names the inherently sacralized character of the victims of the evil from which only the liberal state can protect us. Judaism is, more and more, the religion (hidden under the "guise" of culture, as in Poland) of the liberal state itself.


What is the difference between Judaism in Jew-less Poland and Judaism in the New York described by the Jew-fetishizing New York Times? What is a Jew? Are there any actual Jews, besides the Hasidim, in New York?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Patton Oswalt on the Katrina Principle 

fucking Haloscan 

Just wanted to respond to Mr. Abote's comment in the thread below. Length necessitated a new post. Abote writes:

All of us are aware that it takes a two-thirds majority in the Senate to remove an impeached President from office, right? Just checking.

How would the NY Times's advocacy of removing Bush from office -- I assume you mean you want Bush actually convicted and removed, not just impeached -- actually result in winning 67 Senate votes?

There are about 18 months left on Bush's term. It took the GOP over a year to go from the first reports of the Lewinsky affair to a Senate vote on conviction -- a conviction that it failed to obtain.

Also, I'm not sure that the Times was a "cheerleader" of the invasion of Iraq. This claim didn't match my recollections at all, so I did some research. Yes, Judy Miller wrote those awful articles. But the editorial board never fully supported what Bush intended to do, and certainly didn't cheer it on. On March 9, 2003, about a week before the invasion, the Times editorial board published an editorial that was plainly titled "Saying No to War."

I'm not saying that the Times' advocacy of impeachment would produce the necessary votes to convict. My point was that they're defining our options for us. One can argue impeachment on the merits, from a variety of perspectives: moral, social, pragmatic, political, etc. But the point is that for the Times, and other elements of the "leadership" it's off the table. For the public, if polls are to be believed, it's very much on the table. On this issue and a host of others there is a large gap between public opinion and elite consensus (and thus policy outcomes). This is evidence of a lack of democracy; the preservation of democratic forms as a veneer over the absence of genuine democratic activity.

Secondly, given that the Times has stated that they don't think Bush will leave, what possible good do they think it will do to advocate withdrawal as long as he's still in office? To what end are they writing this? It would be as if they noted that an impeachment conviction was impossible due to lack of votes, but nevertheless strenuously advocated impeachment. What is the point of such discourse if not to only appear to be on the side of right, but not actually have to pay any price for it?

Your point about the lack of votes I also find unconvincing. Things change over time. The Clinton impeachment was very unpopular, so it was no surprise that the Senate failed to convict. The playing field is already very different and would only change after months of headlines about Bushite criminality. I'm not saying it would definitely be successful, I'm just saying that its not impossible and even highly plausible. If The New York Times accurately reported the results of the investigation on the front page, AND advocated impeachment and then conviction on the editorial page, it would have a noticeable effect on the outcome. However this would entail some element of genuine risk on the part of the Times, unlike their advocacy of withdrawal.

It did take the GOP a year to get from A to B with Clinton, but again, that's not the situation we're in. We're way past first reports of high crimes and misdeameanors. There are several ongoing investigations already that have revealed a great deal of malfeasance. People have already drawn up sample litigation to make the case against Bush, and that just with what we know now. At any rate, the timetable argument isn't dispositive either. There may be political and pragmatic benefits to tying Bush's hands with investigations for the rest of his term even if a conviction isn't obtained.

Lastly, maybe "cheerleader" isn't an appropriate term, "accomplice" might be better. I give much more weight to the Miller articles than you do, especially considering that they provided the cloak of legitimacy for the Administration to claim evidence of a threat. It is well documented that they leaked information that appeared on the front page, and then went on the Sunday bobblehead shows holding up the Times and saying, "Look! Even the Times says there's WMD!".

Not only was there propagation of disinformation, but there was considerable suppression of relevant information unfavorable to Bush's goals. Since the Times sets the boundaries for the rest of the country's papers, it became unacceptable in "serious" discussion to doubt their WMD reporting. The stance of the editorial page in no way mitigates this and is just another attempt at co-optation and maintaining a veneer of credibility.

Firstly, the anti-war stance was still well within the framework of the Administration's fictional worldview and did not question fundamental assumptions. What's more, as you point out, it was strongest well after the point that going to war was a foregone conclusion. The decision to go to war was made well before March 9, 2003, and it is simply not credible that this was not known in elite circles. We knew it for chrissake, so they must have known it. Thus their call to "say no to war" was of exactly the same value and serves exactly the same purposes as their call for withdrawal. It has zero value as an attempt at influencing policy, but substantial value as a propaganda device.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Loyal reader Joshr has asked my opinion on the latest NYT Op-Ed The Road Home which dramatically reverses the paper's previous position on the war with the opening lines:

It is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit.

The piece, drawing on the deep reserves of strategic military and diplomatic wisdom stockpiled at the Times' 8th Avenue Command Bunker, goes on to explain how this might be done.

Where. to. begin?

I know! Let's begin at the end!

Let's pretend that I've already pointed out the nauseating hypocrisy contained in a two-page editorial that doesn't once mention the paper's own involvement in a war of aggression that it pompously scolds Bush for launching, an involvement which continues to this moment. Let's imagine we've discussed how the same paper is concurrently publishing "news" stories on its front page pushing irresponsible single-sourced sabre-rattling Pentagon war propaganda about Iran. Let's make believe we've noted the piece's collusion in propagating the deeply malevolent War on (some people's) Terror meme and its casual acceptance that the US has any right to be doing anything in the Middle East that doesn't involve getting the fuck out.

Let's skip all the implicit unwarranted assumptions of right, privilege and good faith; pass over in silence all the silence that passes over the catalogue of criminality; ignore the ludicrous armchair quarterbacking; pay no mind to the pseudo-authoritative tone that bestows us proles with pearls of wisdom and "serious, responsible" thinking.. Such pearls having been the common-sense of the majority of ordinary citizens for over a year now.

Fuck. that. shit. Let's get to the end. Let's get to the good stuff: the sterling honking contradiction that cries over the din of all the other nonsense, the one single glorious glistening turd that demands to be mounted and framed. Let's ask ourselves, why are they writing this? Why the about-face? Why now? The authors tell us that up 'til now they believed in the cause, up 'til now they waited so dutifully, so patiently for steely-eyed rocketman to make his words a reality, but alas:

It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush’s plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor.

Now we know the real plan! Now we're all scrubbed and shiny and ready to gradumate to the the fifth fucking grade! Now we know there's a difference between what the Preznit says, and what's in the world outside my cocktail party! And the truth is: he ain't leavin'!

Well, you know what that means? Let's write two whole single-spaced pages on construction paper for our show-and-tell project DEMANDING THAT HE DO WHAT WE'VE JUST REALIZED HE HAS NO INTENTION OF DOING!!!!!

After taking this bold stance that entails approximately zero risk, the Times goes on to lay out the options:

This country faces a choice. We can go on allowing Mr. Bush to drag out this war without end or purpose. Or we can insist that American troops are withdrawn as quickly and safely as we can manage — with as much effort as possible to stop the chaos from spreading.

Got it, America? Those are your choices. Allow Bush to do what he wants to do, or insist that he not do what we know he's gonna do anyway. Whatever you do, do not under any circumstances get the idea into your head that you can get rid of Bush. Even though, by our own admission, getting rid of Bush would actually make it possible to do what we think should be done. You can allow or you can insist, you can stand aside quietly or you can stand aside and talk, but you cannot affect outcomes. You must stand aside. You are spectators.

This is the moral universe of the New York Times: Start a war, cheer a war, abet the next war, when your credibility is shot, hop on a bandwagon only after it is completely safe and risk-free to do so. Also, make sure that the bandwagon you hop on has no chance of going anywhere. That way you can co-opt the anti-war sentiment and create the appearance of responsiveness to public opinion while the criminal project continues unmolested.

It is the Times' considered stance to not ever, fucking never fucking ever let the opinions of the public influence policy. Impeachment is a wonderful tool as long as its being used by a small group of the powerful and is completely unpopular. We'll cheer those impeachments on all day long. Disagreements among factions of the powerful are fine, but it is completely unacceptable to advocate an impeachment that is desired by the populace.

It is more important to preserve the power structure than it is to stop the war. We will (make you) pay any price, bear any burden, to ensure that the plague of democracy not reach our shores.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sunday Night Jellyfish Blogging 


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