Determinism Presentation

(originally presented several years ago)

THE DETERMINED WILL: WHY THE WILL WAS NEVER FREE1

WHAT THE CONCEPT MEANS FOR SCIENCE AND MORALITY

Presented by:

Patrick Jimenez

Determinism: the position that events which happen, happen as necessary effects of causes. All instances of reality then have been caused, as opposed to being spontaneous in any absolute sense.

Causality: “The relation between cause and effect, or the act of bringing about an effect, which may be an event, a state, or an object (say, a statue). The concept of causation has long been recognized as one of fundamental philosophical importance. Hume called it ‘the cement of the universe’: causation is the relation that connects events and objects of this world in significant relationships. The concept of causation seems pervasively present in human discourse.”

-The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Article on Causation by J.K.

Further, causation is intimately related to explanation: to ask for an explanation is, often, to ask for its cause.”

-The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Article on Causation by J.K.

It is certainly not the least charm of a theory that it is refutable; it is precisely thereby that it attracts subtler minds. It seems that the hundred-times-refuted theory of a ‘free will’ owes its persistence to this charm alone; again and again someone comes along who feels he is strong enough to refute it.”

-Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, p. 24-25

                  • To the extent that an event is described as the effect of a cause, it must logically be seen as the necessary effect of a cause. In this sense, they are necessary effects of the cause.
                  • When we label something as cause of an effect, we are stating that this effect follows necessarily.
                  • Some incomplete sets of instances can potentially produce more than one result. For instance a dog barking can cause another dog to fight this dog. Alternatively it could lead the dog’s owner to give it a treat, or cause a baby to begin crying. A dog’s barking then in each of these instances would only be a part of that cause which leads to the different effects of either: a dog fight, being given a treat, a baby crying. When we speak of a cause then it has to be in its totality (state A caused state B as opposed to certain events in state A caused certain events in state B). For instance the cause which results in this specific instance of the baby crying would include not only the dog barking, but the fact that its parents produced the baby, the proximity of the dog and the baby, et cetera.
                  • Determinism does not state (though it also does not state the contrary) that all effects must in turn be causes. It simply states that all effects have necessarily been produced by their specific causes.

Free Will is contrary to Determinism in the context of this discussion. It refers to a belief that effects are not necessary results of their causes, or that there could be uncaused effects.

                  • Free Will is usually extended specifically to human actions. This arbitrary barrier is usually due to the feeling that humans make authentic choices which are not the result of determinism, and more importantly due to religious positions.
                  • If Free Will is negated then it is very hard to justify notions of good and evil as real concepts.
                  • To the extent the good and evil are maintained as existing, it is hard to justify why a just god would allow such evil

Clarifications:

                  • Determinism does not assert that we do not make choices, have genuine positions, or desires. It simply states that such choices, genuine positions, and desires are determined, or caused. “The ‘unfree will’ is mythology; in real life it is only a matter of strong and weak wills.” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, p. 29)
                  • Concepts such as political freedom (democracy, et cetera) are not contrary to Determinism. Humans can have political positions, views, et cetera as discussed above.
                  • There is no just correlation between Determinism and tyranny, political oppression, or antisocial behaviors.

General Notes:

The philosopher Descartes in his conception of mind-body dualism asserted that the human mind and brain are separate. This is a notion which is utterly rejected by modern science, and which I feel is relevant to our discussion.

                  • Descartes sought to form a boundary between the natural world which he felt belonged to the study of science and the mind which he felt was under the proper sovereignty of the Church.
                  • Alienating the human mind from the natural world is a mistake as science attests. All science assumes Deterministic principles. If we could not rely on Deterministic principles, then the idea of replicating experiments or results would be nonsensical. Neuroscience very explicitly rejects Dualism, and with it the idea that the human mind is somehow apart from the natural world.

The view that every event or state of affairs is brought about by antecedent events or states of affairs in accordance with universal causal laws that govern the world. Thus, the state of the world at any instant determines a unique future, and that knowledge of all the position of things and the prevailing natural forces would permit an intelligence to predict the future state of the world with absolute precision.”

-The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Article on Determinism by B.B.

Some determinists formulate the doctrine somewhat differently: (a) every event has a sufficient cause; (b) at any given time, given the past, only one future is possible; (c) given knowledge of all antecedent conditions and all laws of nature, an agent could predict at any given time the precise subsequent history of the universe. Thus, determinists deny the existence of chance, although they concede that our ignorance of the laws or all relevant antecedent conditions makes certain events unexpected and, therefore, apparently happen ‘by chance.’”

-The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Article on Determinism by B.B.

Presently most arguments for Free Will are of a religious nature, and accept Deterministic principles outside of human actions.

                  • The primary basis of these arguments is: (1) God has granted Free Will to humans (2) humans have Free Will.
                  • This is an attempt to get around the Problem of Evil by placing responsibility for evil in the world with humans as opposed to with God.

Nonreligious Objections to Determinism: Inferences from Quantum Theory

                  • Those who attempt in modern times to assault Determinism from nonreligious grounds commonly draw inferences from Quantum Theory which they feel invalidates Determinism.
                  • In the micro-world, there are thought to be effects which do not become causes, or which terminate any causal change before reaching the threshold of the macro-world. However, Determinism does not state that Effects must become causes themselves. It only states that Effects cannot be uncaused.
                  • To the extent that people believe Quantum Theory presents uncaused Effects, Determinism is seriously undermined. However, I do not believe Quantum Theory does this. There may be causal relationships which we do not understand or which we cannot identify. Determinism insofar as it is a principle for interpreting the empirical world does not necessitate such knowledge.
                  • Those who still believe Quantum Theory undermines Determinism usually make this the basis for their defense of human Free Will, without questioning Deterministic or mechanistic principles outside of human actions. This is utterly inconsistent. If their claim regarding Quantum Theory is to be taken seriously, then no causal chains could be admitted as valid. To the extent that experiments or results could be replicated we would have to admit that we are witnessing nothing more than mere coincidence. Mathematics, and all science, including the science behind Quantum Theory would lose credibility.
                  • An answer to this criticism I have posed is the separation of the macro-world, and micro-world. The distinction between the macro-world and micro-world however is arbitrary. To the extent that it could be given as justified for the sake of argument, why wouldn’t the human mind be a part of the macro world?

Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer

In the discussion of great philosophers, I would like to plead humility. The following is my interpretation of Hume on Determinism and Kant and Schopenhauer on Free Will. I certainly am aware that many might disagree with me. I welcome this criticism. To the extent that I can be proven false in my interpretation, I will certainly make the necessary adjustments.

The Views of David Hume

                  • Hume is famous in philosophy for being a Skeptic. He was skeptical of many things, including claims that humans could have knowledge of the external world.
                  • Specifically, Hume doubted our ability to have any knowledge of causality outside of the imagination. However, Hume never argued for Free Will, and was a Determinist philosopher.
                  • I believe that the current debate on Free Will versus Determinism would sadden Hume. Maybe it would even sadden him as much as it saddens me.
                  • Hume’s position on causality was entirely epistemological in nature. He doubted how much humans had the capacity to know.
                  • His was an honest inquiry. He was not trying to justify the Abrahamic God, or anything of the like. Instead he doubted that we could have knowledge of causal relationships.
                  • The reason being that all we directly perceive (he was an Empiricist) are certain events. We never actually perceive cause and effect, only constant conjunctions.
                  • A rooster crows every morning right before the sun comes up for instance. Does this mean there is a causal connection between the rooster and the sun? Of course not. There is simply a constant conjunction.
                  • According to Hume all events are as far as we know only constant conjunctions. It is by our imagination that we impose a causal relationship.
                  • This does not mean that Hume felt causality was false. In fact he believed in causality. It simply means that Hume did not feel humans could ever prove causality.
                  • In any case, I must point out that the damage Hume did to causality (which Kant repaired) was damage done to determinism writ large. As opposed to Hume being seen as a defender of human Free Will (which he was NOT) Hume has been seen as someone who did violence to the foundations of science.
                  • The problem is that often times when we think of Determinism we are only thinking of it in relation to human actions. Determinism applies to the entire natural world however. Hume casting doubt on causality cast just as much doubt on mathematics, biology, physics, et cetera.
                  • Aside from religious arguments (which are bad arguments) there are no arguments which can even seek to illustrate a scenario where humans have free will yet the rest of the material world does not have free will. If all the natural world had free will, you would of course have unmitigated chaos. We do not have unmitigated chaos because the world acts in accordance with certain laws.
                  • Neither Hume nor Quantum Theory gives even the least comfort to the defender of human Free Will. Anyone who argues that they do must first admit Hume and Quantum Theory also destroyed the scientific method and logic (Quantum Theory is based in science, and Hume was based in logic/philosophy) which would destroy both of the arguments they are trying to use. However, if someone can get beyond that hurdle, I’ll perhaps listen.
                  • Hume also attacked those who argue for Free Will on a practical level. Many people say that we need Free Will for morality (which is true). Thus, if one wants a moral society… therefore Free Will (the bad grammar is intended here).
                  • Aside from the fact that Hume felt it was quite despicable to try to form conclusions based on what one wants to be true, Hume also pointed out that these absurdities can happen with or without Free Will. This is of course a pretty strong blow against morality.
                  • The reason he felt this was that if one had Free Will, that means one has the power to recreate himself. So there are no stable individuals. So to say imprison someone for murder that he committed yesterday would make no sense. Because today he is just as likely to be criminal as a girl scout. If you have Free Will, you cannot use past actions as a guide to present or future behavior. You can only do such within the context of Determinism.

The Views of Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer:

                  • Implicitly our discussion of Determinism thus far has been in relation entirely to the World of Representation, or phenomena.
                  • As humans we can only ever be aware of the phenomenal representations. We can never know the thing-in-itself, or the noumena.
                  • We cannot know the noumena (this is a very short and incomplete explanation, so that we do not veer too far from the main topic) because our only knowledge is mediated by our forms of intuition, time and space, and our senses. Humans cannot experience anything outside of this, so we can never known an object outside of this filter.
                  • There might be a semblance between phenomena and noumena. However, humans can have no knowledge of this. If there is a semblance it is not one in which we are in a position to posit.
                  • Our only knowledge of the noumenal world can be negative.

Kant:

                  • Kant was acutely aware that Determinism hinders morality.
                  • However, Determinism applies only to the world of phenomena. To the extent that it does apply to the noumenal world, we can have no knowledge of this. However, even though dogmatic assertions are clear violations of reason, we can still have faith, or reasonable assumptions.
                  • Though not in anyway provable, Kant asserted that it is not impossible that our morally good actions or morally bad actions do come from our noumenal nature. That is that they are reflections of ourselves solely as opposed to any causal chain. [Note: According to Kant, Descartes’ ‘I think, therefore I am’ though being true, refers only to our phenomenal selves. So we literally have no knowledge of our noumenal selves. All our conscious and subconscious faculties with which we use to make decisions are entirely phenomenal. Your inner voice is phenomenal, not noumenal.]
                  • However, though these actions might be free on the noumenal level, insofar as we can perceive them in the phenomenal world they must be in the context of causation.
                  • Essentially, Kant argued that our actions might be free actions on our part on the noumenal level, and in that sense moral actions, but that on the phenomenal level, they were necessarily translated into natural, or Deterministic actions.
                  • It is important to understand that this position was a matter of faith rather than fact for Kant. The furthest he would go in defending this position was to state it could not be proved false (even if there it was not at all possible to prove it in a positive sense), and that the man who sought a rational moral system, it was a necessary postulate.

Schopenhauer:

Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.”

-Arthur Schopenhauer

                  • Schopenhauer believed very strongly in the Principle of Sufficient Reason (which originated with Leibniz).
                  • The Principle of Sufficient Reason essentially states that in order for something to exist, it must have sufficient reason to exist.
                  • An example of this is that, if something exists, it cannot be impossible for this same thing to exist.
                  • The Principle of Sufficient Reason is not necessarily an explicit endorsement of Determinism, however, I would argue Determinism necessarily follows the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

Science:

Neuroscience, mentioned above, treats the human mind and brain as one. It seeks to explain human behavior from nonreligious sources. Hence the discipline views human behavior as Deterministic.

                  • If Determinism is not true, then the foundation for psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, et cetera is destroyed.
                  • Neuroscience has been more successful than any nonscientific approach in explaining human behavior. This suggests the validity of Determinism.
                  • The mind is subject to natural and biological laws. It is an evolved entity which has adapted and changed over millions of years just like any other body part or mechanism.
                  • Determinism would have to be invalidated for Descartes Dualism to makes any sense. Beyond this, it is hard to understand why abnormalities in the brain would have an impact on the human organism it belongs to. If Descartes is correct, then why should brain damage impair human actions if human actions are uncaused and willed independently of the physical human organism?
                  • More generally, the identification and systematic description of causal relations that hold in the natural world have been claimed to be the preeminent aim of science.” (-The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Article on Causation by J.K.) In other words, science cannot go where causation is not established. What aspects of our phenomenal world would we say is permanently outside the scope of the sciences?

Moral Implications

Evil: morally reprehensible: sinful, wicked. (Merriam Webster’s Dictionary)

What problems does Determinism pose to the idea that there are evil actions committed by humans?

                  • Free Will is necessary in the conception of evil. If an act is committed which could not be otherwise, we do not call it evil. For instance a rock falling on my house is unfortunate. Such an event will have very negative consequences for me, however I will not claim that the rock is evil, or morally responsible.
                  • If human actions are necessary then we lose the foundation with which we assign moral value to their actions. Good and Evil as moral terms lose their validity.

What problems does the existence of Evil pose to those who believe in a just God?

                  • Though I believe Determinism casts doubt on the idea of evil in an absolute sense, there are certainly actions which are commonly considered evil. Such actions includes needless murder, natural disasters, et cetera.
                  • If God is omnipotent and omniscient, then he can stop this evil, or misfortune. The Philosopher Epicurus posed the question this way: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? The he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

Epicurus’s challenge to the theist is deadly if the theist is not able to assert human Free Will as the cause of evil. Of course even if humans did have Free Will, that would not mean that God could not still intervene. This however is outside of our present discussion.

Closing Remarks:

Determinism is an established scientific fact. The claims of science lose their foundation when we deny Determinism. Science has been used in various forms to cast doubt on Determinism, most notably with Quantum Theory. The inferences which must be drawn from Quantum Theory however to justify such an attack on Determinism are groundless, and would have larger implications than simply salvaging human Free Will in a secular context.

Most defenses of Free Will are religious in nature.

Schopenhauer was a Determinist philosopher. Though his primary influence, Kant did maintain a belief in a sort of human Free Will, he admitted it could not be proven in fact. In any case his concept of Free Will applied only to the noumenal. So far as his views of the phenomenal world, he was a determinist. There is nothing in Kant’s philosophy which establishes Free Will. His philosophy actually indicates the contrary.

If religion is a vestige of human thought, I ask those of a secular persuasion, by what justification then can we uphold a pillar of such religious sentiment by clinging to the concept of Free Will?

Does such a concept allow you to view science as credible, or to make sense of an uncaused world?

Is the assertion of evil simply an unfounded judgment which denies we as a society the opportunity of understanding the causes and reasons behind human behavior to the fullest extent? Or is it better to maintain a notion of moral evil which allows us to judge, and not understand, or in other words to pretend that there was not a cause?

I thank you for the opportunity to share my own views on this important matter, and look forward to your challenges. Thank you.

1 President Steven Morales of the Club of Secular Understanding deserves credit for this title.

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Who is being cheated?

We are not equally situated.  Why should that not be taken into account?  

Determining who is the best fit for a university based on their grades or test scores, when I have not taken into account the opportunities and hardships they have faced is absurd.

It would be like if I wanted to admit the fastest runner.  So I say “you all need to start running to my house.  The first person at my front door will be admitted, because that person must be the fastest.”

Now, if they are all equally situated, or in this scenario, starting from the same distance from my house (never mind other factors like hills and such) that makes perfect sense.  If some of them are a mile from my house, and others are twenty miles, and still other thirty miles away… the person who gets to my house first is not necessarily the fastest runner.  If the person from thirty miles away shows up just a few moments later, why should I think that the person from one mile away is the fastest?
Affirmative action recognizes we are not all equally situated.  It is not about making it easier for some people, but recognizing that it already is harder for some people, and that we should perhaps compensate for that a bit as a society.

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He Cannot Speak Spanish

“She knows he cannot speak Spanish.  She did this last year,” I remember my aunt telling my uncle.

I smiled and said “thank you” while paging through the book to imply excitement.  I was confused while doing this.  The whole reason I was pretending to be happy about the book was because my aunt was there, and she always insisted I be grateful for any and all gifts.  Yet, she was not happy about this gift.

Peggy is my aunt’s mother-in-law.  She has never been happy that her son married into a Mexican family.  She also resented that her daughter-in-law broughts nieces and nephews over to her family gatherings.  In this case, we were there for Christmas, and all of our presents were children’s books in Spanish.

My early childhood was spent moving between East Los Angeles and Ontario, California.  All of the neighborhoods were poor and made up of minorities.  My mom would use my aunt’s address to register me for school in the more affluent communities my aunt called home.  As a result, most of my classmates were white and middle class.

Some of my dearest friends as a young child would call me “lazy” “hector” “poor” and so on because I am Mexican.  This never bothered me, as I took it as kidding.  I would joke back.  I never took it that seriously.

Other kids at school would deny that I could be Mexican.  I do not know if this is because my skin is light, or if it is because they did not think I “behaved Mexican.”  It was always rather odd to me to try and prove myself.  If they do not believe I am Mexican, how am I supposed to prove it?  Even as a young child, I had a problem standing by claims I could not prove, so I would just become quiet when pressed.  Perhaps these children took it as an admission that I was just pretending to be Mexican.

In any case, it was the children who doubted my being Mexican who bothered me the most.  Until I moved in with my aunt.  It was an exciting time for me.  I went from an apartment where my best friend’s older brother was shot and killed at my front door, an apartment where I would watch cockroaches run across my mom’s sleeping face at nice, and where we used an old coffee table as a couch because we could not afford a coach, to a beautiful house with an air conditioner, washer, dryer, and many other amenities.  My friends were all impressed by my aunt’s house — the one which had been mine according to school registration forms for several years now — as it was big even by the middle class standards of my school.

After celebrating my birthday party there, kids talked about the house for several days.  It all made me happy and confident.  Until very solemnly one of my best friends who had really liked the house initially asked, “did your family just use welfare to buy that house?”  Now, my friends had joked much worse than this… however before it always sounded like a joke.  This was no joke.  My friend was bothered, and it bothered me.  Years later I would find out that this question came from his older brother who did not like Mexicans when he told him about how I suddenly moved to a new house.  Apparently, vast amounts of welfare money was the only plausible explanation for my not living in poverty anymore.

The aunt who I moved in with was not the only one who had married a white man.  My other aunt married a man of German descent and had children with him.  My cousin from this marriage was one of my primary playmates growing up.  For the most part we would get along, but of course we also fought sometimes.  One time we were arguing in the swimming pool of the house I had moved into about what game to play.  She insisted that she was in charge.  First it was because she was older.  When I refused to do what she said because she was older, she then changed tack and said that Mexicans could not be in charge.  I immediately responded that we were both Mexican.  She said that she is only half-Mexican and hence  better than me,

Today, I do not consider myself Mexican.  It is not a culture I identify with.  This might largely be due to the fact that I do not identify with my biological family at all.  If I am not rooted in my family, why would I pay much attention to its culture?  Giving up my Mexican identity was a slow process.  Several times over the years I have thought to myself, “those kids who used to deny I am Mexican actually were right.”  Yet, I still feel that sense of isolation and anger when I remember the times I have been discriminated against for being Mexican or not Mexican enough.

While I was still struggling with how to identify, my friends Gabriel and Miguel were talking about how white people do not understand Mexicans.  My facial expression prompted Miguel to say, “Patrick, I will accept you as a Mexican when you learn to speak Spanish.”

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Other

I don’t blame the other woman

I blame the one who othered me.

You are just another one who betrayed me.

 

And I still talk to my mom.

It’s not that I believe in ghosts

It’s that I do not believe

In living people.

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Sides

I understood both sides of the story, and let my mother die alone.  Before you start thinking I am a horrible person, let me warn you, I very well may be.  There is frankly something about me and the stands I have taken that bring me joy though.

My family treated my mom as a non-individual.  I know she used to be more.  My mom had an overwhelming desire to express her unconditional love for me.  She had a fierce sense of justice, that was colored by the bigotry which victimized her.   As a young child, she used to tell me that we should love gay people and never judge them, even if gay sex was disgusting and their lifestyle was less than praiseworthy.  This meant something to me as a young child who already knew he was gay.  I was disgusting, but still, worthy of love.  It made me feel more secure in who I was, but also convinced me that part of caring for my mother involved not letting her know too much about me.

I suppose I did not let anyone know too much about me.  My family took this as an opportunity to  assume I was my mom.  Despite her sense of justice, my mother knew  better than to fight battles.  Battles were something she lost.  I remember when my grandma was throwing coffee mugs at her, she ducked.  When my cousins taunted me and I hid behind my mother, she pretended not to notice my cousins.

My mother had a cyst growing in her underarm.  It was huge and leaked.  It humiliated my mom.  My mom was never allowed to feel feminine.  She was told by her family that her lovers were disgusting, and her lovers always ended up leaving her for other women.  After a while she just started obsessing over married men who had no idea they were the object of her attractions.  She was ugly.  She used electrolysis to get ride of her facial hair to no avail.  Her feet were big, and she had bunions and fungus in her nails.  She was morbidly obese.  Her nephews reminded her of this, as their mothers smiled and laughed.  That being said, I really think my mom wanted some sympathy for her cyst that took a while to have removed.  There was a pain looked on my mom’s face when my aunt declared she was not going to be seen with her in public until it was gone.

My mom preached love.  I remember confronting her about this.  She had peace chains hanging from her car and talked about positive vibes in the universe.  I knew she seethed with hate.  It was understandable, but when I tried breaking the wall, she was wrathful.  I think her young son was the one person she hoped not to be dominated by.

I protected my mom.  I slept at the house with her, and put chairs against the door because she was afraid of kidnappers.  It was only years later that I realized she probably had no fear of kidnappers.  Making me think it was my job to protect her from them at the age of six was her way of keeping me with her.  It worked, I thought I could be who she wanted, a strong, loyal person.

My mom had given up on strong and loyal people.  She just wanted to be free from people who could make her feel horrible about herself.  Anyone who was strong was a threat, because in her eyes, they would eventually make her cower.

And so, one day, my my little cousin was getting something from the freezer without asking my mom snapped and yelled at him.  My aunt told her to stop, she was being mean.  This triggered my mom’s wrath, for the first time she stood up for herself.  She quickly forgot any notion of love or positive vibes in the universe.  She told my aunt what she really thought, and she told me what would happen.

My mom would move out, I would move with her.  I would have no choice in the matter, I am her child after all.

At the age of fifteen I had enough a love for politics to understand the role of the Secretary of State.  And so I saw myself as a third party foreign minister who could negotiate.  I began setting the groundwork for negotiations by sitting down with my mom and talking to her about her grievances.  The goal was to then try my hand at shuttle diplomacy and go to my aunt, who only months before, by own mother told me I should see as a second mother.

I thought my mom would be receptive to this, because in the past, I had gotten her to confide with me about my aunt.   My aunt would tell my mother that she had to keep me in check.  My mom did not say anything to my aunt about this, but she was angry enough to tell me.  So I would tell my mom that I would not ever let my aunt bully me.  That if she thought she could threaten me, she was mistaken.

Yet, she was clearly not content to confide in me anymore.  She wanted to be able to act uninhibited, she had wrath to get out, she was not in the mood for conversation.  If she had to speak with her fifteen year old son, how could she expect to take on my aunt who was the most domineering person next to perhaps my grandma, that my mom had ever known?

So my mom told me I was a child, that I had no idea what I was talking about.  That she was my mother and would decide what we do.

The problem is, that my aunt was never the villain I have made her out to be thus far.  My aunt is a co-dependent, manipulative, aggressive person.  My mother was married to her in every substantive sense specifically because she was the other half my mother so desperately needed.  When my mom was unable to function because of all the trauma, including sexual assault and abandonment she had dealt with, it was my aunt who ran her life for her.  My aunt functioned for my mom when my mom could not function for herself.  In her turn, my aunt used this power to control  my mom and use her as a punching bag.  My mom also used her as free babysitting and as a line of credit.

I understood they both were right and wrong.  My aunt saw herself as take charge, as someone who had coaxed my mom in a healthier direction and tried to snap her out of her morass.  She somehow was able to overlook how far out of her way she would go to make my mom feel like less of a person, to make her feel marginalized in her own family.

If both were wrong going into this, my goal was simply to help them both negotiate a relationship which would be mutually exclusive.  My mother’s refusal to work with me, and my aunt’s willingness to treat with me pushed me to my aunt’s side.  It is not that I thought my aunt was now somehow right, but that my aunt was speaking to me.

In my family, I was just as much a non-factor as my mom.  Though I had seen conflict coming, I thought it would involve my mother and I standing up for ourselves, now she was treating me as the non-factor.

My aunt and mother co-parented me.  In the ensuing weeks my mom removed permission for my aunt to pick me up from school, went to my school herself to change the classes I was in without talking to me first, and constantly assured me my time with my aunt, who I had known all my life was coming to an end.

So I decided to stop talking to my mother.  I put forth that I was willing to talk to her when she was willing to talk to me and be respectful.  So long as she continued to belittle me, and be disruptive to my school life, I would have nothing to do with her.

This humiliated her, and she went out of her way to try to be more controlling.  My only path forward was to stand up for myself.  My mother was not letting me stand up for her.  And so, I took the things I knew about my mother, that she was lonely, and insecure, and I used them to make certain she would not be able to threaten me.  Basically, I disempowered her psychologically the way my family did.  I made sure she never had the will to try to have me removed from my aunt’s.

My mother had custody of me, legally, until I was eighteen.  However, once my aunt kicked my mother out of the house, I never had a friendly conversation with her again.  By that time, I had made further demands of her.  She would now have to apologize for making fun of the death of my aunt’s daughter, in addition to having to treat me respectfully.

Instead my mother crafted a narrative in which I was remaining with my aunt because my aunt had money, and I secretly really loathed my aunt.  She told everyone in the family and it got back to my aunt.  In fact, some of the words were true.  I had confided in my mom and tried reassuring her that I would stand up to my aunt for us both if that is what I had to do.  It is simply wrong to assume that that meant I actually did not love my aunt.  I have always loved my aunt, but I was willing to stand up to her.  I have always loved my mom, but I stood up to her.

In the years since, my mom has continued with her narrative.  It grew to include the assertion that I am autistic, belong in a mental hospital, and of course, that I am a “disgusting faggot”.  My mother’s anger never subsided, and so I moved on with my life.

When I found out my mother was dying, I was in no hurry to see her.  I felt a bit bad, for the stranger who was dying.  I knew her once, and I knew she was sad and lonely.  I knew I could have stood up for her, maybe I could have saved her.  That is what I really wanted as a child.  To save my family, which meant saving my aunt and my mom and my grandma.  Ultimately, it meant a promise of happiness and security for me.

I did not go to the hospital though.  In the end, my mom surrounded herself with people who treated her and myself as non-factors.  I would be happy to let them grieve, whatever it is that they wanted to grieve, but I was not going to do it with them.  

When my cousin told me on the phone that my mother was brain dead, he was angry with my response.  I honestly did not anticipate his anger at my response.  My cousin always made fun of my mom.  He made fun of her, of my dad, of me.  Not kidding, he was just expressing his superiority.  A brain dead person is in many ways a non-factor, and that is how my cousin had always treated her.  

He told me to watch my mouth and keep my thoughts to myself.  I told him I could figure out how to manage the expression of my thoughts.  Oddly, while talking to my cousin about my lack of desire to see my mother, I imagined my mother looking at me proud.  My mom died a non-factor.  She failed.

My mom really did love me though.  I have not found the happiness we both wanted so much.  I still expect people to put their dysfunctions above their love for me.  I make connections with people who I assume will abandon me, or who I will have to abandon at some point because they are too toxic.  I think about feeling unconditionally loved, and I try to remember it.  I do not think I will experience it again.

I understand both sides of the story though.  I did experience unconditional love, a love my mom never had at any point in her life.  In the end, I realized I did not even have that unconditional love for her.  I stood up for myself in a way that would make a healthier version of my mother proud.  That brings me joy, it brings me comfort.

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Meow

Meow.  Those were not his last words.  Claudius did not have words.  He was a cat.  An amazing one.

When I picked up his ashes, there was enclosed a poem:

Redefined Love

Do not grieve for I’m still here.

I live in memory and not in fear.

I am always with you, night and day,

In memories of when we used to play.

 

Your kiss was wetter than my nose,

So please dismiss your mournful woes.

And reminisce upon my kiss,

Of you this is what I truly wish.

 

Remember all the times we shared,

The laughs and moments cannot compre.

And know that life is bittersweet,

But the love we shared was a special treat.

 

Please dry your tears and lift your head,

Because our relationship isn’t dead.

Our life, a book, has not been closed,

But a new has been exposed.

 

We will live this new chapter all the way out,

Together, with each other, without a doubt.

Now take a step forward, I’m behind.

For now our love has been redefined.

I found it beautiful, even if a bit cheesy.  Ultimately, it is not true though.  Claudius did not have any conscious wants or desires for my future.  He has no opinion on how I should live my life without him.  Claudius was not a human, and I take nothing from him if I attempt to avoid anthropomorphizing him.

Claudius was more amazing than many human beings I know.  It is not because he somehow had more humanity than them.  It is just a silly prejudice we have, that we think the worth of a creature can be judged by how human or close to human it is.

No, Claudius was a sweet, vibrant, beautiful cat.  He never knew his name.  He never knew the words I spoke.  He did know the sound of my voice.  He did come to me when I hit the mattress with my hand.  He would run to me.

At night, when I tossed and turned with insomnia, he was there next to me, cuddling me.  Other cats were to.  Then I would move, tossing and turning uncomfortably.  The cats would leave, Claudius would remain.

When I turned to another side, I would grab him and pull him with me, so that he would remain sleeping next to me.  Often my face was buried in his fur, and I enjoyed breathing into and out of his fur.

He was warm and soft.  He comforted me.

I knew he was sick before anyone else.  Not because of words.  Because I knew how to read him.  I knew he was sick when he did not have any specific symptoms.  He was just different, I felt it.

A couple days later, and it was easy to notice, something was wrong.  I refused to panic.  Cats get sick just like people do.  I knew I would take him to the veterinarian if he did not get better soon… why rush him to the vet and put him through all of that stress if he is just a bit under the weather though?

Part of me, maybe not all of me, but part of me knew he was dying.  I do not know why.  I suppose the narrative just made sense in my head.  I have lost those I love unexpectedly before.  I have also learned how not to panic.  So I stayed calm.

Luther ended up taking him to the veterinarian for me because I had work.  The veterinarian gave Claudius a shot and antibiotics.  He felt Claudius should be hospitalized, but we did not have the money for that.  I also was not sure if there was a need for that.  Being in a hospital could hurt him.  I knew that being away from me would devastate and scare him.  I did not think that was a great way to make him better.

Also, we do not have much money.

On a Friday night, I changed the blankets and sheets on my bed.  Claudius had peed all over them.  I then took him to a kitty litter tray I had set up just for him.  I assumed he had been peeing because he did not want to be around other cats, because jumping into the cat litter tray was difficult for him in his state, or because he simply was too winded to get to the tray.  So I set up a tray which required no climbing, kept all the other cats away from it, and I carried him there myself.  He just seemed slightly alarmed that I would sit him in cat litter.  He quickly got out and meowed a pained meow.

So I figured he was done peeing for the night.  I took him to bed with me, and he slept.  At about 1:30am I got up to go to the restroom.  When I came back Claudius had moved to where I was sleeping, and he had peed apparently without standing up because he was wet too.  He had such a pained look on his face.

I slept on the other side of the bed.  I had no more clean blankets and I did not have the energy to change them even if I did.  I gently picked Claudius up and took him to the family room.  I sat him down on the futon and said, “I know you are sick baby, if you need to pee on this go ahead, but I need to sleep.”

I then walked to my room and closed the door so he could not come back and pee on me again.  I thought about just sleeping with him.  He might finally be done peeing… or even if he peed on me, who cares?  He is sick, and I can live with it.

I convinced myself that was silly though.  I needed to be able to sleep through the night so that I would have energy in the morning to get up and get him to the hospital.  He could survive one night without sleeping with me.

And so on a Saturday morning I got myself approved for a line of credit through care credit and took him to the hospital.  When I was called in, they immediately asked if they could take him in the back to stabilize him, I said “sure.”  Then a few minutes later they wanted to know if it came to it if I wanted my cat to be resuscitated.  I was a little confused and thought they must ask everyone these questions out of caution.

Then the veterinarian came in to speak with me.  She had to say that Claudius was in critical condition several times before I heard it.

We soon determined he had FIP.  It is not treatable.  And so, I made the decision to have him put to sleep.

They brought him into the room with me.  The vet tech said, “he really hates us, but I am sure he is happy to see you.”  And she was right.  She opened the door of the carrier and he growled at her, then he was put on my lap, and he let me pet him.  He was on pain medication, and seemed a bit like his old self… you know, from a week ago when he was perfectly healthy.

They left me to be alone with him, and I apologized for not letting him sleep with me his last night on earth.  I would have let him pee all over me.  I would have happily walked into that emergency pet clinic drenched in his pee.  

He did not know words.  I do not know what he was feeling.  I just know we had a really strong bond.  I know that my saying “I love you” never meant a thing.  I know petting him and holding him, that meant a lot to him.  So I do not know what he was thinking when he could barely breathe because his lungs were being filled with a disgusting fluid, and he was locked out of the room, locked away from the one person who could comfort him.  You know, the person who was busy sleeping on the side of the bed without pee.

I do not know how much of our bond was shattered by that night.  Or shattered that morning when I gave him over to strangers to poke him with needles and terrify him as we tried to find out what was wrong.

I like to think some of that bond survived.  I suppose I know it did, because he growled at the vet tech, and pliantly curled up in my lap.  He was comfortable.  Then he wanted to get down.  There was a long tube sticking out of his arm though.  I gently placed him on the ground.  I knew he was feeling relatively comfortable because of the medication, and thought he might like exploring a bit.  But he could not walk with the tube.  So I just put him down to trip awkwardly.  I picked him up, and he just wanted to get back down.  After everything else, this beautiful cat could not even walk.

“I guess you just can’t walk kitty.”

Anyone who knows cats knows when they want down, they want down.  He did not put up much of a fight though.  Initially I thought I had comforted him, then I realized that with that much fluid in his lungs, he simply did not have the capacity to put him too much of a fight.  I felt so cruel for letting him down just to fall like that.  

When the vet tech came back in, I asked her to take the tube off so he could walk.  She said sadly, “well, we are going to have to use that tube to…”

“I understand.  I am ready.”

And so my cat did not sleep with me, and he did not walk that morning.  My cat is dead, so my words do not matter.  Not that they mattered when he was alive.  Only actions matter with a cat.  I just cannot stop saying “I am sorry” though.  I want to apologize so badly.

But you know, his ashes are still in a box in my car, because I have not wanted to bring them in.  

I am so sorry.Claudius.jpg

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Helping Israel Help Itself

ISRAEL-against-israeli-apartheid

The Jews of European descent and the Arabs of Palestine have much in common.  Both groups of people have forged their own unique nationalisms in response to oppression and injustice at the hands of more powerful groups of people.  For this reason, it is hard not to have sympathy for the national projects and aspirations of both people.  They are both pursuing the state they believe will give them independence from persecution.  Ultimately, my primary focus is on the injustices that are happening now.  With this orientation, it is clear that the Israelis have allowed their own tragic history to blind themselves to the cruelty they have inflicted on the Palestinians.  It gives me hope to know that segments of the Israeli population do realize that peace is in their interest as citizens of the Jewish state and as human beings with a humanity which transcends borders and nations.  This segment of the Israeli population can be helped in its desire for a two-state solution by meaningful American intervention in the process.  The question is what strategy the United States should employ to bring to bear the appropriate incentives and pressure to the Israeli government and public as a whole.  

Understanding the factors that led to Israel’s recognition of the Palestinian Authority is essential in assessing how the United States might foster the environment necessary to persuade Israel to begin negotiating with the Palestinians in earnest.  These factors must include positive steps by the Palestinians, pressure and incentive from the American government, and an ability of American supporters of the two-state solution to overcome the domestic political influence of groups such as AIPAC.  Failure to pressure Israel successfully will jeopardize the goal of both a Palestinian and a Jewish state by making the one-state “solution” inevitable.

Though Israel dwarfs the Palestinians in economic and military might and is allied with the world’s last superpower, the Palestinians at times have been able to advance their interests against Israel.  It is important to take a look at some of these successes to understand how Palestinians acting alone or in concert with the United States may use them as a model for future progress.  Starting in the 1960’s the Palestinians began to be pragmatic about the existence and rights of Israelis in what the Palestinians considered to be Palestine.  Initially Fateh began this course by calling for a secular democracy which would not discriminate against its citizens on the basis of religion (Khalidi 191-192).  By the 1970’s the PLO went further than this and endorsed the notion of a two-state solution (Khalidi 192).  This position was cemented in the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988 (Shlaim 481).

Eventual recognition of the reality of Israel helped the Palestinian cause in the West (Khalidi 154).  The notion of two separate states has the benefit of allowing people to be sympathetic to the cause of Palestinian statehood without having to take the often uncomfortable stance of denying the right of zionists to the state of Israel (Khalidi 154).  This is very important because in the West there is a justified recognition that the Jewish people have endured a tremendous amount of discrimination and persecution (Khalidi 169).  Despite this, with the endorsement of the two-state plan and renunciation of armed conflict the PLO was able to garner much international recognition, including from the United States (Khalidi 169).

The Palestinians are primarily the victims of the much stronger state of Israel.  It makes no sense to believe that the Palestinians on their own can achieve peace, yet, building on their acceptance of a two-state solution, there are certain steps they can take to invite more American support and to make it more difficult for the Israeli government to insist it does not have a real partner for peace.  

One of the most obvious steps the Palestinians can take is instilling in its youth the example of nonviolent movements.  Khalidi puts it nicely by saying the Palestinians must realize “that what is necessary [is] the reeducation of the Palestinians away from armed struggle and toward a whole new approach of unarmed mass popular struggle” (Khalidi 178).  Whereas I believe strongly that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, and am not in principle against violence in the context of an uprising against oppression, I think it needs to be admitted that in the end the Palestinians will not win their state in a military contest with Israel.  Given that Israel uses oppression and violence against the Palestinians, it makes sense that there will be a violent element to the resistance.  Yet, there has to be more to the resistance than just that.  Palestinian youth would be well-served to have a knowledge of movements that were entirely peaceful, or at least had strong peaceful aspects as necessary elements of their success, such as the Indian struggle for independence from the United Kingdom, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and the end of Apartheid in South Africa. While the Palestinians are living under very poor economic conditions, I imagine it would be possible to get funding from the United States to help in such a venture.  Not only would this be a way for the United States to be humanitarian, it would be easy to define every dollar towards such education as a dollar towards a peaceful and secure future for Israel to the very pro-Israeli American public. Such education will help the Palestinians forge a more coherent resistance movement and fundamentally change the narrative that Israel likes to propagate of being in a sea of violent extremists.

In better absorbing the examples of other resistance movements, the Palestinians will be able to consider other best practices.  For instance, Edward Said argues that in the agreements between Israel and Palestine, the Palestinians have unwittingly “become Israel’s enforcer…   Interestingly, the ANC [African National Congress] has consistently refused to supply the South African government with police officials until after power is shared, precisely in order to avoid appearing as the white government’s enforcer” (Said).  I do not believe that the Palestinians in principle should refuse to provide any security, however Said brings into question what the Palestinians are getting when they help to ensure Israeli security.  Israel providing security directly in the territories would not be easy, and presumably the Palestinians can get concessions from Israel in return for their cooperation in security.

Said also rightfully insists that the Palestinians must retain the right to civil disobedience (Said).  This right will be all the more powerful when the population becomes more educated on methods that have worked in other instances of oppression, and when the Palestinian Authority acts in a nuanced manner to combat the Israeli narrative of Palestinian militancy, while also fostering effective means of resistance.

Another way of empowering the Palestinian voice so that it might better be heard over the Israeli attempts to silence it is to conduct a Palestinian census.  Though a census does not seem like a difficult feat, Israel, the United States, and Arab nations all oppose such a census (Said).  I do not imagine that the Palestinians can conduct a meaningful census in the face of such opposition.  I do however maintain optimism that this will change with the right American president.  It is important to keep in mind that the power of the American president in pursuing Middle Eastern policy is constrained by the pro-Israeli congress and public.  However, the president does have some room for maneuvering, and I believe that when we elect a president serious about peace, she or he will be able to argue that such a census is in the interest of peace and not a threat to Israel.  Hence I support strongly Said’s call to keep the census as a “leading item on the agenda for Palestinians everywhere.”

In order to achieve peace, the Palestinians need a partner.  Unfortunately Israel has often failed to be that partner.  I maintain that the United States is in a position to move Israel towards a more constructive and engaged role in the peace process.

The Administration of President George HW Bush deserves credit for being quite even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians compared to the Reagan and Clinton Administrations.  On May 22, 1989 Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker explicitly called for the end the “unrealistic vision of greater Israel” and instead insisted that Israel recognize the political rights of the Palestinians in a speech to AIPAC (Shlaim 483-484).  To back this courageous stance the Bush Administration was willing to withhold loan guarantees of ten billion dollars to Israel, which forced the sitting Prime Minister, Shamir, to negotiations (Shlaim 503).  Bush was able to present Shamir with a choice, “keep the occupied territories or keep U.S. support” (Shlaim 503).  There is no reason why the American Administration today cannot exert similar pressure on Israel, and we have every reason to believe that doing so will lead to positive results.

Aside from withholding much needed loans to Israel, the United States can also pressure Israel by joining the international community in expecting Israel to live up to its humanitarian and legal obligations.  In 1997 when Netanyahu declared the “battle for Jerusalem has began” (Shlaim 603) the United Kingdom led the international outcry and sought to pass two United Nations resolutions against Israel, with the United States vetoing both of them (Shlaim 604).  There is no justification for Netanyahu’s behavior, nor for America’s enabling of such behavior.  A courageous and pragmatic American president will be able to abstain at the very least and allow Israel to be condemned.  I have no doubt that even if such an American posture does not immediately change the calculations of the government, it will send a very strong signal to the Israeli public that its government’s actions are not working in their interest.

Even with our position as a permanent member of the United Nation’s Security Council and as a major supporter of Israel, our ability to control the actions of the Israeli government is of course limited.  This should not keep us from exerting whatever pressure we can.  When the Bush Administration realized they would not be able to convince Shamir to change course, they did not give up.  Instead they were pragmatic and focused on impressing upon the Israeli public that their leadership was causing a rift with their most important ally (Shlaim 514).  The American government must be willing to pursue such avenues of pressure consistently on successive Israeli governments.

Unfortunately the four years of George HW Bush’s leadership on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict was not continued by his successor, President Clinton (Shlaim 529).  I do not understand Clinton’s blind support for Israel, I do know that his administration’s policies — especially in the beginning — were a great example of what not to do in terms of getting Israel to become a constructive partner for peace.  Not only did the Clinton Administration veto UN Resolutions against flagrantly illegal Israeli settlement building (Shlaim 604), it also apparently ignored suggestions from Israel’s own president to put more pressure on the government (Shlaim 604)!

This brings us to Netanyahu who served as Prime Minister during part of the Clinton Administration, and is currently in his second stint as Prime Minister of Israel.  Netanyahu certainly tests the diplomatic abilities of anyone, Palestinian or American as he is definitely not interested in finding common ground or making substantive sacrifices for peace.  In 2001 Netanyahu disclosed to a family living in a settlement who had lost a loved one to violence that it is necessary to “beat [the Palestinians] up, not once but repeatedly; beat them up so it hurts badly, until it is unbearable” (Shlaim 627).  In the same discussion Netanyahu went on to boast that he can manipulate American public opinion, and that his goal is to stop movement towards peace (Shlaim 627).  These words were all being recorded while Netanyahu was unaware (Shlaim 627).  Using the words of Netanyahu against him is a smart strategy to give the American president more approval by the public to apply pressure, and can also be used to persuade the Israeli public that their government needs a course correction.  

It is hard to doubt that such pressure will have a positive impact especially when we have seen Netanyahu — in my view, the single biggest obstacle to peace today — respond to the minimal pressure that has been applied to him by the Clinton and Obama Administrations.  After Netanyahu provoked a widespread uprising and acts of violence by blasting a tunnel under a Palestinian holy site in Jerusalem, President Clinton to his credit intervened more forcefully than had been his pattern earlier in the Administration (Shlaim 598, 601).  This intervention headed by Dennis Ross led to the first agreement signed by a Likud Prime Minister and the Palestinians and actually produced a reluctant — and admittedly limited — compromise by Netanyahu (Shlaim 601).  

In 2009, shortly after both Obama and Netanyahu had assumed power the “Mitchell Report and the Roadmap stipulated that an end to the Palestinian violence had to accompany a settlement freeze.  The government of Benjamin Netanyahu… seized on this, charging that the Obama Administration was unfairly pressuring Israel to make concessions without doing the same to the Palestinians” (Gelvin 259-260).  Gelvin suggests that Obama’s policy here was flawed because Netanyahu is not interested in a peace process to begin with (Gelvin 260).  He is clearly correct to state that Netanyahu is not a partner for peace, however I think it is wrongheaded on Gelvin’s part to take from this that Obama’s approach is somehow flawed for that.  The real flaw I see in Obama’s approach is that he has not maintained this pressure consistently.  I would like him to take a lesson for President Bush and Secretary Baker, and apply pressure to the Israeli public and parliament to persuade them that having a Prime Minister as obstinate as Netanyahu is not in their interest.

Netanyahu is by no means immune to criticism from the Israeli public.  After the tragic assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, his widow, Leah Rabin refused to shake Netanyahu’s hand (Shlaim 568). She did however agree to meet with Arafat (Shlaim 568).  Arafat said to her “Yitzhak Rabin was the hero of peace, I have lost a friend.  This is a great loss to the cause of peace and to me personally.  I am shocked and horrified by this tragic event” (Shlaim 568).  The reason she would not meet with Netanyahu — then the Likud leader in the Knesset — was because she believed he had been a part of the violent incitement to her husband’s death (Shlaim 568).  On the other hand, she saw Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Arabs as a better partner for peace (Shlaim 568).  Ehud Barak pointedly warned that with Netanyahu’s unwillingness to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians, Israel might end up in the position of “apartheid, or a Bosnia… [or] we might reach both” (Shlaim 605).  As Prime Minister, Netanyahu’s own General Security Service and the director of military intelligence concluded that the Palestinian leader could not be expected to meet Israeli demands so long as Israel was not in compliance with the Oslo accords (Shlaim 606).  It is incumbent upon us to build on these domestic foundations inside of Israel until Netanyahu’s government feels so much pressure is changes course or falls entirely.

Though the Obama Administration has not prevailed upon Netanyahu to fully engage in the peace process, this does not suggest that doing such would be impossible.  Rather, it illustrates the fact that Obama has put only minimal pressure on Netanyahu.  Yet, when it has put at least minimal pressure on Netanyahu, we have seen at least minimal steps in the right direction.  In March, 2015 Netanyahu stated that he is opposed to a Palestinian state (Dyer 2).  President Obama angrily responded that the United States would seek more United Nations involvement in the peace process (Dyer 2).  In November, 2015 Netanyahu met with President Obama and insisted that he actually does believe in a two-state solution, seeking to mollify the angry Obama saying “I want to make it clear that we have not given up our hope for peace” (Dyer 1).

With sustained United States pressure I have no doubt that the peace process can move forward.  It is not simply a matter of successive American presidents having the will to act, they must also have the ability to apply the sorts of pressure I have discussed.  In order for the American president to have such an ability, they will have to be able to control the narrative so that pressure on Israel is framed as encouraging Israel to seek peace out of consideration for its own interests.  An undoubted stumbling block to this is AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee).  Though AIPAC espouses an interest in a two-state solution, calling for a Jewish Israel to live next to a demilitarized Palestine (AIPAC.org) — I have no idea why we would expect one party to be demilitarized and not the other — it is blindly pro-Israel and very adept at influencing congress.  

I am confident that as negative as AIPAC’s influence on American foreign policy may be, it is not an unmovable obstacle to our having a constructive role in the peace process.  AIPAC was around during the George HW Bush Administration, Secretary Baker even spoke to them.  This did not keep the first Bush Administration from being relatively fair to the two parties.  Max Fisher points out that in 2013 AIPAC was a vehement ally of President Obama’s in building support for American airstrikes against Syria (Fisher).  At the same time, the relatively cash-strapped and unorganized Invisible Children NGO was attempting to rally support for action against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda (Fisher).  Given the pull of AIPAC, and the relative obscurity of Invisible Children, you would expect the former project to succeed and the latter to have a very poor chance, if any, of succeeding (Fisher).  Yet, AIPAC was unable to deliver congressional approval to President Obama and Obama ended up calling off the airstrikes against Syria (Fisher).  On the other hand, Obama ended up sending troops to Uganda to assist in the hunt for the warlord Kony (Fisher).

This failure on the part of AIPAC does not mean it is impotent.  Fisher attributes some of the failure of the Administration and AIPAC to sway congress to Iraq-war fatigue and the fact that engagement with Syria would be a much more serious undertaking than our involvement in Uganda (Fisher).  Also, Invisible Children was able to push a much clearer narrative as to why we should act in Uganda.  Given the complexities of the civil war in Syria, such a case is not so unambiguous (Fisher).  This anecdote does however suggest that AIPAC is not invincible either.  To thwart the influence of AIPAC a president who is serious about the peace process must help the Palestinians to better master civil disobedience and good governance, along with supporting the census, while at the same time applying consistent pressure to the Israeli government.  This will be tough given the natural inclination of the American public to be sympathetic towards Israel and the power of AIPAC.  The president must strive to create a narrative in which the United States is helping Israel help itself by making the difficult but necessary decisions for peace.

Ultimately those who support the idea of Israel as a Jewish state must be convinced that the notion of helping Israel help itself is more than just rhetoric.  As Israel gobbles up more and more Palestinian territory in contravention of international law, the dream of a Palestinian state is certainly becoming uncertain.  So is the project of a Jewish state.  As Uri Savir puts it “those who claim Netanyahu has no foreign policy or does not achieve his strategic goals are wrong.  The strategies, the diplomacy and the rhetoric all serve one central purpose: to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.  Israel is shaping a new reality, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River — a binational apartheid state in the making” (Savir 2).  In such a circumstance, Israel will either have to give up its democratic label, or grant Palestinian Arabs the right to vote in Israel, jeopardizing the Jewish character of Israel.  Edward Said points out that it is wrong and unrealistic to expect the millions of Palestinian refugees living outside of the disputed territories to want to return (Said).  At the same time, you cannot expect them all to assimilate into other nations and forget about repatriation, especially when they have not been compensated (Said).  Israel currently is in a position of simply refusing those Palestinians repatriation.  However, once the millions of Palestinians living in the occupied territories get the right to vote in the context of a one-state solution, it is quite easy to imagine that such a government representing all inhabitants of Israel/Palestine will be much more amenable to the notion of taking back large numbers of refugees, further blotting out the Jewish character of the state of Israel.  The Israeli Labor leader Herzog warns that without the two-state solution Jerusalem will be run by “an Arab mayor” (Sterman Newman).

Israel’s recognition of the PLO came after many decades of the Palestinian Arabs refusing to work with Israel.  It also came at a very steep price for Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians.  Whatever progress it has led to has been tentative and mixed, as Edward Said so eloquently points out.  It is in my mind proof of principle however, along with the relatively even handed approach of the George HW Bush Administration.  We must thoroughly understand what led to this recognition and what has been most effective in winning sympathy for the Palestinian cause in Washington if we are to have any hope of a meaningful peace between Israel and the Palestinians while a two-state solution is still possible.  Given the nature of the settlements and the pace at which new ones are being built, the dream of a Palestinian state may be taking its last breaths.  I hope to see this subjugated people overcome all the odds and find the oxygen it so desperately needs before those final breaths expire.  I wish it for the Palestinian people and also for the Israeli people.  If the Israelis forego their own immediate interests — or recognize their broader long-term interests — and obvious military superiority to give the Palestinians the dignity of a viable state, then I think they will be going a long way towards being a light unto nations.

 

Works Cited

AIPAC.org.  Talking Points.  Online.

Dyer, Geoff.  FT.com.  “Netanyahu commits to a two-state solution in Middle East.”  November

9, 2015.  Online.

Gelvin, James L. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: One Hundred Years of War. Third ed. New

York: Cambridge, 2006. Print.

Fisher, Max.  Washington Post.  “Who’s afraid of AIPAC: Is everything we think about lobbying

and foreign policy wrong?”.  October 3, 2013.  Online.

Khalidi, Rashid. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Boston:

Beacon, 2006. Print.

Newman, Marissa.  Sterman, Adiv.  The Times of Israel.  “Netanyahu: Situation not ripe for

two-state solution”.  February 10, 2016.  Online.

Said, Edward.  London Review of Books.  “The Morning After”.  October 21, 1993.  Online.

Savir, Uri.  Al-Monitor.com.  “Netanyahu’s five-pronged strategy to delay a two-state solution”.

December 27, 2015.  Online.

Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Updated and Expanded). New York:

W.W. Norton, 2000. Print.

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