Thursday, October 25, 2012

Extreme Hate Meets Extreme Honor

Faux Virtue

Can you have too much virtue? Can you have too much honor? Undoubtedly and perhaps surprisingly so, notably if it channeled to hate, leading to actions that are inhumane. Today the odd combination of the desire for honor and the obsession to hate often reside in some strange harmony of  irrational hostility in the same person; but it's not a new thing, George Jochnowitz writes:  "Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet was rewritten as Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. The nobles of the Shakespeare play and the hooligans of Bernstein’s musical had the same value: 'honor.' Their idiotic commitment to their idea of 'honor' leads to tragedy in both cases. Aristocrats and hooligans share the same extremist ideas. Their extremism is the same as the senseless hostility of Ahmadinejad, who wants to kill Israelis just as the Montagues wanted to kill the Capulets."


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by George Jochnowitz
Extremes meet. The most irrational example may be the unofficial alliance between extreme leftists and Islamists. Marxism and Islam have been de facto allies at least since the Bandung Conference of 1955, when Third World countries united with Marxist regimes in order to fight against freedom and Israel. This alliance did not stop Marxists from persecuting Muslims in their own lands, nor did it prevent Islamists from suppressing Marxists in their theocratic states. Leftists and Muslims disagree about everything—women’s rights, religion, the economy—you name it. These differences did not prevent them from joining to fight democracy and Zionism, whom they defined as their enemies, for no good reason.

Who were the only two members of the House of Representatives to vote against a resolution calling upon the Security Council to charge Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 Geneva Convention? They were ultra-rightist Ron Paul and ultra-leftist Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich has lost a primary election, and so he won’t be in Congress next year. Neither will Ron Paul, who has announced his retirement. However, his son, Rand Paul, is now a member of the Senate.

The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement have no official positions on Israel. Both, however, oppose the government of the United States. Both talk about nothing but economics. Rightists who oppose the government are called libertarians; Leftists who are anti-government are called anarchists. The Libertarian magazine Reason, in its November 2012 issue, contains an article by Brian Doherty entitled “Ron Paul: Man of the Left.” We would expect Ron Paul to support the Tea Party, and he does. He and his son Rand attended a Tea Party rally in Austin, Texas, on May 6. It is hard to imagine how someone who supports the Tea Party could accept the ideas of the Occupy Movement.

Nevertheless, Doherty writes, “Ron Paul was the only prominent candidate who dared say anything good about the Occupy movement during the Republican primary season.” He did so despite the fact that “in October 2011 an Occupy intruder broke into an unoccupied Paul booth in the middle of the night, stole literature and DVDs, and defecated into the middle of the Paulites’ space.” Perhaps Paul felt that the actions of an individual don’t speak for the whole movement. What is more likely is that he understood that anti-war activists agreed with his choice of ending America’s commitments abroad—an America with no foreign policy whatsoever.

If Reason, a magazine at the right end of the spectrum, is troubled by Paul because of his support of the Occupy Movement, it is surprising to learn that The New York Review of Books, a publication that is liberal and leftist, printed Michael Greenberg’s “New York: The Police and the Protesters” in its October 12, 2012, issue.

Greenberg’s sympathies are with the Occupiers as opposed to the police. Nevertheless, he cites a damning quote by an Occupier: “We don’t talk to people with power, because to do so would acknowledge the legitimacy of their power.” If the power of governing officials is illegitimate, it is not too much of a jump to say they should be overthrown. Greenberg also tells us that Norman Siegel, a former executive of NYCLU (New York Civil Liberties Union), said, “There are ways to use the system to challenge the system. Unfortunately, Occupy wasn’t willing or sophisticated enough to maneuver in this manner.” But maybe Occupy was very sophisticated indeed about this matter. Using the system to challenge the system would be acknowledging that the United States has freedom of speech. The extremism of the Occupy Movement is shown by the fact that it has no demands, meaning its demands can never be met. It can never compromise, and so it is hoping for revolution. It has chosen not to pursue its goals in a way that would recognize America as a free country.

Ron Paul and the Occupy Movement are so much on the extremes that their views have begun to coincide. Brian Doherty and Michael Greenberg, on the other hand, represent opposite sides of the existing political culture. And so both of them have reservations about those on their side who seem to want to step beyond the political culture. Both Reason and The New York Review of Books are operating within the boundaries of a democratic society, unlike Ron Paul and the Occupy Movement.

Maurice H. Keen studied the destructive effects of a phenomenon called “honor,” as an obituary in the New York Times tells us.

Keen illustrated the strange values of chivalry by telling us of a knight who had committed rape arson, murder and kidnapping—after a truce had been declared. “He was executed for violating the truce, not for murder and rape. Murder and rape were accepted as the norm.”

Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet was rewritten as Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. The nobles of the Shakespeare play and the hooligans of Bernstein’s musical had the same value: “honor.” Their idiotic commitment to their idea of “honor” leads to tragedy in both cases. Aristocrats and hooligans share the same extremist ideas. Their extremism is the same as the senseless hostility of Ahmadinejad, who wants to kill Israelis just as the Montagues wanted to kill the Capulets.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad too is obsessed with “honor.” He has subjected his country to sanctions. He has said Israel should be wiped off the map and is producing nuclear materials, thus provoking Israel to attack him. Iran has no reason to be enemies with Israel. Iran doesn’t really want to support the Palestinians, just to destroy Israel. Iranians don’t like Arabs and Shiites don’t like Sunnis. So why is Ahmadinejad risking the lives of his people and the future of his country. “Honor.” Extremes meet.


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George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at george@jochnowitz.net.

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Copyright ©2012. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article appeared in the algemeiner (October 4, 2012). It is republished here with the permission of both the author and the algemeiner.

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