Shemini 5744 -- Dangerous Compartmentalization
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 22, 2014
Last year, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced a ban on over-size soda drinks. In general, the New York Times was sympathetic to the ban, as at least a first step towards combating the ever growing incidence of chronic obesity, especially in poorer neighborhoods. Eventually, a state appeals court struck down the ban on the grounds that the city health commission had exceeded its delegated regulatory powers in imposing the ban.
At the same time, both Colorado and Washington have recently legalized marijuana, and the momentum appears to be in towards more states following suit.
Many libertarians oppose the regulation of over-sized soda drinks and support the legalization of marijuana. And there are no doubt those who support both laws against the sale of over-sized soda drinks and of marijuana. My interest is in those who had no problem with New York City regulating what soda drinks food establishments can sell but ardently support the legalization of marijuana. Wherein lays the distinction? Presumably they can do better than, "I jog five miles a day and would never drink such a large Coke, but marijuana elevates my mood and spurs my creativity." (There does seem to be a class bias in the Bloomberg regulations. Large frappachino's consumed by well-to-do patrons at Starbucks were excluded by the Bloomberg regulations; super-sized soft drinks drunk by working class slobs at McDonald's were not. After all, the working class can't be expected to know what's good for them.)
For those in the latter group – for legalization of marijuana and the ban of super-sized soft drinks -- the key to resolving any apparent conflict between the two stances is to compartmentalize the two issues: Sodas are a health issue; marijuana is a liberty issue. But that won't work. Both issues involve health concerns and questions of personal liberty. There is abundant evidence of the negative effects of prolonged marijuana use on cognitive functioning, just as there is of the costs of obesity. At one level, however, the justification for prohibition of marijuana use is greater: The likelihood of car accidents by those under the influence of over-sized sugar drinks is far less than of those caused by marijuana users.
THE TYPE OF COMPARTMENTALIZATION described above is not limited to those of any particular political orientation. But I would argue that it is more prevalent among those on the Left, who are more comfortable with controlling the lives of others according to their more enlightened views.
In addition, there is a pronounced tendency on the Left to view the world in terms of abstract categories of favored and disfavored groups. Among the favored categories are the poor, black, women. Israel suffers greatly from this tendency, for the Palestinians check off so many of the boxes of victimhood: non-Western victims of imperialism, poor, weak -- the "Other" in Edward Said's successful characterization. As such, they can do no wrong, and it is pointless to argue facts or history with their champions.
The same dispensation extends towards Muslims in general. To discuss the propensity of the Muslim world to violence and terrorism, its pervasive backwardness and illiteracy, or its treatment of women is to invite charges of Islamophobia.
Things get amusing when favored groups like "women" and "Muslims" are pitted against each other. Western feminists, always so quick to find lingering traces of patriarchy in Western societies, even as the gap between women and men in higher education grows ever wider in favor of women, have nothing to say about the second-class status of women in virtually the entire Muslim world – the physical mutilation, denial of education or health care, forced marriages to much older men, often close relatives -- as Phyllis Chesler has pointed out to her great detriment in feminist circles. No less perplexing, groups whose lifestyle would be punishable by hanging in Iran and subject to capital punishment in much of the Arab world, nevertheless zealously proclaim their sympathy with the Palestinians and hatred of Israel.
The tendency to divide the world into favored and disfavored groups shields progressives from the human consequences of their actions. In the name of the "people," the Soviets waged war on the kulaks, rich peasants, leading to the death by starvation of millions; Pol Pot murdered millions of his fellow Cambodians, and successive North Korean dictators are systematically starving their people today. (Here the totalitarian Left and totalitarian Right meet in their ability to justify the slaughter of millions.)
David Horowitz, a red diaper baby and a former leader of the Students for a Democratic Society, has spent the last forty years of his life doing teshuva by trying to bring his former comrades face to face with "the real world consequences of [their] actions," most recently in a projected nine-volume anthology of his writings offering an anatomy of the political Left entitled The Black Book of the American Left.
Horowitz offers a trenchant example from his SDS days of how the use of labels shields the would-be builders of utopia from the consequences of their deeds: "Trashing the windows of merchants on the main streets of America seemed warranted by the notion that these petty-bourgeois shopkeepers were the cogs in the system of capitalist exploitation . . . . Fantasizing the death of local cops seemed warranted by the role they played as an occupying army in America's black ghettos."
The bombs set by spoiled rich radicals like President Obama's friend and mentor Bill Ayers had no chance of triggering the desired revolution. But the people they were designed to kill were flesh and blood human beings. The Brinks security guards and two policemen gunned down by the armed robbers for whom Kathy Boudin, another radical of the period and today a Columbia University professor, drove the getaway care left behind nine orphans.
ADMITTEDLY, IT'S QUITE A DISTANCE from making false distinctions between super-large soft drinks and marijuana to the crimes of Pol Pot or even the lesser evil of Ayres/Boudin. But we are speaking of a cast of mind, with many gradations.
For big government progressives politics gradually becomes totalizing and takes over all realms of life. Political arguments become Manichean struggles between good and evil. While conservatives, who do not see life and politics as coterminous, tend to view those of a different political bent as misguided; progressives are more likely to see opponents as either cretins or evil.
In the struggle between good and evil, neutral rules of mutually agreed on procedures become pushed to the side. When Nixon used the IRS for political purposes, many on the Right were appalled at the breach of government neutrality. But liberals, in the main, have been far more tolerant of the much more extensive politicization of the IRS under Obama – nothing to see here, move on. The ends justify the means. Preventing the evil Koch brothers from spreading their tentacles in order to leave the playing field of political advocacy clear for public employee unions justifies letting the IRS tilt the playing field.
WE SEE THE INTRODUCTION of categories of "good speech" and "evil speech" to trump neutral principles of freedom of expression in Israel. Ha'aretz recently turned the summoning of Adam Verete, a high school civics teacher, to an administrative hearing into a cause célèbre comparable to the Dreyfus Trial no less. Student Sapir Saboch had written to school authorities accusing Communist Party supporter Verete of using the high school classroom for political indoctrination of students and to urge them not to serve in the IDF. She further accused him of humiliating her in front of the class for contesting his views and saying that she wanted "to kill all Arabs." The first charge Verete did not deny, and the latter was largely substantiated. Nevertheless Verete escaped with a reprimand. Yet Ha'aretz devoted two editorials in a single week to the alleged McCarthyism.
One of Verete's principal defenders was Professor Yuli Tamir. Yet Tamir was not so concerned with free speech when Yisrael Shiran, a religious vice-principal, wrote a letter to his superiors protesting the manner in which commemoration of the Rabin assassination had been turned into a celebration of the Oslo process itself. Then Education Minister Tamir immediately ordered him fired: "You are Satan's defender. . . . This blasted inciter will not be allowed into any school, even as a sanitation worker." (After a court battle lasting years, Shiran won reinstatement and damages.)
When a dean at Tel Aviv University defended hiring a lecturer who did not believe that Israel is guilty of war crimes – unlike all the other members of the department -- on the grounds that students should be exposed to varied opinions and outlooks, Ha'aretz accused him of "demagogy" and denied that there is any benefit to permitting the expression of such views. [Hat tip to Ben-Dror Yemini, a man of the Left, but both a meticulous defender of Israel against delusional accusations and a scrupulous defender of the procedural rules guaranteeing a level playing field.]
David Newman, an academic dean at Ben Gurion University characterized Verete's administrative hearing as a "witch-hunt against teachers who introduce political values and ideology into the classroom." Newman has consistently defended the BGU political science department, which is comprised exclusively of political radicals like BDS supporter Neve Gordon and which was found to seriously lacking in academic quality by an outside academic review body. The very notion of free market place of ideas is anathema to him. Better to allow high school teachers holding fringe views to indoctrinate their students, over whom they wield inordinate power.
Haifa University Professor Steven Plaut offers numerous other examples of the assault on free speech from those on the Left, who are so quick to charge others with McCarthyism: the successful hue and cry raised by Haifa University faculty against the granting of an honorary degree to Nobel Prize Winner Israel Aumann due to his right-wing views; the efforts of Hebrew University professor and then head of the civil service Yitzchak Galnoor to have Professor Nachum Rakover, an Israel Prize winner in Jewish law, dismissed from the civil service for having answered truthfully a question posed to him in the Knesset about the Torah view on same-sex marriage.
And most recently a young woman doing national service in a school was fired on the spot by a school principal for telling a student who asked about her orange shirt after school hours that it expressed opposition to the evacuation of Jewish residents from the Gaza Strip.
No, Ha'aretz did not print any editorials against the muzzling of that national service volunteer. She represented "bad ideas" and thus had no right to express them.
Related Topics: American Government & Politics, Intellectuals, Social Issues
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