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Hebron: Welcome to hell

I can’t say I’ve done a great deal of international traveling, but I’ve done some. I haven’t been anywhere I’d call paradise, but I’ve been to a small handful of places that feel like hell. Hebron is one of them. I visited there this past June. In some sense, I’m glad I visited. In a more obvious sense, I’m glad I left.

Hebron is in the news today. I don’t claim telepathic powers or have any special powers of prophecy, but you’ll just have to trust me when I say that I saw this coming.

If you want to see why, here’s part of the explanation. (20 minute You Tube video). Rather unflattering to the Palestinians. I have a certain sympathy for the Palestinian cause, but its partisans should ask themselves whether they can really demand sympathy for what this film depicts. One can’t easily expect justice or freedom from children nurtured on pseudo-historical nonsense–and brazen brain-washing–of the kind these children are being taught and subjected to everyday. (Just to be clear: morally speaking, I think one can expect justice from any human being, even under conditions like those that prevail in Gaza or Hebron, but as a matter of prediction, just people will be scarce there, and when it appears, justice will take the crudest forms consistent with being justice.)

English: A view of the net used to collect tra...

English: A view of the net used to collect trash thrown by Israeli Settlers towards the Palestinian part of the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, rest assured that such attitudes do not arise in some purely theological vacuum. If you lived in a cage instead of a proper house, and people tormented you every day by treating you as a caged animal, you might find yourself adopting some twisted attitudes yourself. (6:40 You Tube Video). I might have regarded this video with extreme skepticism had I not visited Hebron in person, walked its depressing streets, and seen with my own eyes the way the Jewish settlers–whose settlement is built atop the Palestinian part of the city–literally dump their garbage on the Palestinians who live beneath them. The Palestinians have installed netting between themselves and the settlers to avoid being entirely inundated by garbage. Call it an environmental problem.

What about the children? Are Palestinian children unique in being indoctrinated into some crazy theo-political conception of the world? No, not really. (5:31 You Tube video) There’s a famous paper in Aristotle studies by Myles Burnyeat called “Aristotle on Learning to be Good.” The first link in this paragraph takes you to a video that might be called “Israeli Settlers on Learning How to Hate.”

What can we do about it? Why not start by not doing any harm? Why not find a way of stipulating that the dollars “we” spend (whether via the government or privately, whether to Arab sources or Jewish ones) not make it to governments and organizations dedicated to the corruption of children and the subversion of freedom. If we can’t ensure that, why spend it? Just a thought, and just a start.

In any case, no need to wonder all that much about why Arab-Israeli peace always seems so elusively distant. The preceding videos don’t explain everything–but they explain a lot.

Irfan

P.S., September 26, 2013. A passage in Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology turns out to be highly relevant here. It’s from the chapter on “abstraction from abstractions,” and is easy to dismiss as mere polemical rhetoric unless you see it against the backdrop of an actual phenomenon:

Apart from the fact that the educational methods of most of [a child’s] elders are such that, instead of helping him, they tend to cripple his further development, a child’s own choice and motivation are crucial at this point [the point when he moves from the use of merely perceptual-level to more abstract concepts, e.g., moral or political ones]. There are many different ways in which children proceed to learn new words thereafter. Some (a very small minority) proceed straight on, by the same method as before, i.e., by treating words as concepts, by requiring a clear, first-hand understanding (within the context of their knowledge) of the exact meaning of every word they learn, never allowing a break in the chain linking their concepts to the facts of reality. Some proceed by the road of approximations, where the fog deepens with every step, where the use of words is guided by the feeling ‘I kinda know what I mean.’ Some switch from cognition to imitation, substituting memorizing for understanding, and adopt something as close to a parrot’s psycho-epistemology as a human brain can come–learning, not concepts nor words, but strings of sounds whose references are not the facts of reality, but the facial expressions and emotional vibrations of their elders. And some (the overwhelming majority) adopt a precarious mixture of different degrees of all three methods (IOE, pp. 20-21, second ed.)

It’s worth re-watching the UNRWA video (third link from the top) with this passage in mind. The IOE passage gives a perfect description of UNRWA’s method “educating” Palestinian children. But if you watch the video carefully, you’ll see some of the children dropping the ball on the lesson they’re supposed to be learning. Some of them are not paying attention. Some give the wrong kind of answer to the questions asked of them. Good for them.

We usually think of inattentiveness and the failure to follow directions as paradigmatic instances of cognitive culpability, even in schoolchildren. In this case, I think, they’re the reverse. The apparently inattentive and clueless child in a UNRWA setting is likely to be the epistemically virtuous one who knows that, to preserve the integrity of her mind, she must tune out the neurotic lesson being drilled into her head. We can’t “help” such children unless we start by acknowledging that fact. And abetting the indoctrination is out of the question. The right lesson is Pink Floyd’s: Hey, “teacher”–leave those kids alone. 

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