Sunday, January 18, 2009

Similarities between US and Israel national psychologies

I'm going to share an extended quote from Arthur Silber's most recent essay (and this is just a small portion of the entire piece) because it fits in with a theme of this blog:
Since all States are founded upon and rely on force and coercion (for much more on this subject, see this essay), all States must periodically remind their subject-citizens of the meaning of State power, and of the fact that when the State targets you, there is precious little you have to offer by way of defense. Within this general principle, a narrower principle may also be identified: one particular kind of State is especially prone to fits of aggression, just as any bully is driven to demonstrate regularly that you (and anyone else) cross the bully at your own peril. The psychology of the bully is one that lies at the core of the American national identity, to the extent such a phenomenon can be identified. I discussed these issues at length in two essays in particular: "Bullied, Terrorized and Targeted for Destruction: Our Children Have Learned Well," and "Let the Victims Speak."

What is true of America in this respect is also true of Israel, for their national narratives and their histories contain striking similarities. Chris Floyd recently described this as follows:
[W]hat we have been witnessing in Palestine over the past several decades is a remarkable echo of the dispossession and destruction of the Native American nations by the United States. There are myriad differences, of course, but the broad outline is basically the same: a people denigrated as primitive and inferior are being stripped of their land, driven into poverty and desperation, and killed in large numbers by another people who believe that their "manifest destiny" and moral superiority justify violent conquest and repression. Any violent resistance to the conquest is treated as barbaric terrorism -- and another justification for yet more repression, for even harsher tactics to grind down the conquered, secure "the frontier" and make it safe for "settlers" and the "civilization" they bring.

One reason that Israel persists in its harsh policies of decimation and destruction against the Palestinians is that such methods very often work: you can dispossess another people, destroy all but an ineffective remnant of their society and colonize their land to your own lasting profit and advantage. And you can do it in such a thoroughgoing manner that there will be no realistic possibility of the conquered people ever rising again to take back what was theirs. This is the example that the United States has set for Israel. It is unlikely to work in the same way or with the same degree of success for Israel in 21st century, for a number of reasons. In fact, it can -- and probably will -- end in disaster. But it is not an irrational policy; it does have many successful historical precedents -- including the history of Israel's chief benefactor.
And in "Why Most People Won't Fight," I discussed Uri Avnery's analysis of the same point:
Avnery discusses the profound similarities to be found in the national narratives of the United States and of Israel: how "Israel is a small America, the USA is a huge Israel"; how the "Mayflower passengers, much as the Zionists of the first and second aliya (immigration wave), fled from Europe, carrying in their hearts a messianic vision, either religious or utopian"; how "Both suffered a great deal in their new country. Both saw themselves as 'pioneers' who made the wilderness bloom, a 'people without land in a land without people.' Both completely ignored the rights of the indigenous people, whom they considered subhuman savages and murderers. Both saw the natural resistance of the local peoples as evidence of their innately murderous character, which justified even the worst atrocities." And then Avnery writes:
How is it that a man like Obama, the son of an African father, identifies so completely with the actions of former generations of American whites? It shows again the power of a myth to become rooted in the consciousness of a person, so that he identifies 100 percent with the imagined national narrative. To this may be added the unconscious urge to belong to the victors, if possible.

Therefore, I do not accept without reservation the speculation: "Well, he must talk like this in order to get elected. Once in the White House, he will return to himself."

I am not so sure about that. It may well turn out that these things have a surprisingly strong hold on his mental world.
These are very important insights. That Obama "identifies so completely with the actions of former generations of American whites" folds into my current series, "The Triumph of the White, Male Ruling Class" -- a class to which Obama belongs fully and completely in every way that matters, philosophically, politically, and ideologically. Avnery provides yet another aspect of Obama's identification with the white, male rulers of America, the rulers who have held almost all power from the founding of this nation (and before) through and including today -- and into tomorrow. And Avnery's observations about the power of myth track completely with my writings about that power, and about the power of narrative. As but one example, see "Why the Stories We Tell Matter So Much."
For the argument here, the crucial aspect of these very similar national narratives and histories is this: the founding and development of both America and Israel required the large-scale, even genocidal, destruction of indigenous peoples. To further that destruction, and to provide moral "justification," the indigenous peoples first had to be condemned and demonized. And because force and violence are necessary to the continuation of the State, such demonization must continue into the future, especially since additional acts of destruction will be necessary for the maintenance and consolidation of State power.
I've identified myself as an indigenist, and as such am painfully aware of my own national history as well as the parallels between America's history and that of other frontier settler nations such as South Africa and Israel. In the case of Israel, it appears that its rulers are set - as they have been from the beginning - on creating their own version of the American Holocaust. How the story ends for Israel is unclear - it may indeed well indeed end in disaster for someone other than the indigenous Palestinians. What is clear is the type of exceptionalism and manifest destiny that is driving the Israeli government's actions is not different in kind from that of the American Zeitgeist.

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