Tag Archives: tribalism

Affirming the Normative Imagination (up to a point!)  

16 Jun

Affirming the Normative Imagination (up to a point!)


While struggling with the challenges posed by writing a memoir during the endgame of life, conceptual cleansing seemed essential if I was ever to convey my identity with even a slight feeling of authenticity. The mystery at the core of my personal and public existence is how I came to trust my sense of moral purpose in life enough to act upon it despite shyness, a contemplative nature, and a strong dislike of self-promotion? It would hardly be a mystery if social norms led most people to reflect their sense of moral purpose in their relationships, career, and sense of self. We would say it was an aspect of the human condition, moving on to search for some other defining feature of a lived life. As my form of engagement with moral purpose runs against the current of mainstream opinion I have paid the price of marginalization, although validated by inner convictions and affinities with those who are likeminded.


Of course, having a moral purpose should not be confused with claiming moral superiority. The latter depends on a range of qualities associated with dutifulness, integrity, honesty, generosity, kindness, empathy, warmth, and forgiveness among other qualities that relate to living-with-and-amid-others. Moral purpose relates to how we live-in-the-world, with what kind of primary identity, our relations with collective entities (state, family, church) as well as with individuals. There is some overlap, and some areas of tension. We never stop growing inwardly, while the body decays creating false outer impressions.


Although my early professional work often involved a focus on international law, I realized while still in law school that law was an instrument rather than an end in itself. It could be used to do good or to uphold evil, to promote or to obstruct justice. To praise international law as an achievement of the West without saying much more about its problematic historical role in the colonial era or its fundamental present alignments with geopolitical interests, is to succumb to the lure of power, wealth, and status.


Even before I understood my own political stand in the world I saw that the social domain of the international law profession, both for academics and practitioners, were by and large far too beholden to vested governmental and corporate interests and standard careers to question nationalist or capitalist values on principled grounds. Even as I was myself inducted into such privileged ranks while a young academic, I felt nervous and ambivalent, as if I had crashed a party to which I had been mistakenly invited. This self-doubt was partly due to my early struggles as a student. I experienced adolescence as a mediocre under achiever in the midst of talented over achievers, and even through my college years lacked a coherent sense of moral purpose or even a normal degree of self-confidence. Sports were then and even now remain my most reliable comfort zone.


When the Vietnam War came along, it quickly became evident to me that American policy rubbed against the grain of contemporary international law, and that a critical legal discourse was useful in the court of domestic public opinion, but more than this. In this instance, international law was finally on the right side of history throughout the bloody twilight of colonialism and if reasonably respected, international norms might inhibit Cold War warmongers from running wild, oblivious to the dangers of the nuclear age.


Yet I also realized that those who clung to arguments about the wrongfulness of the war and were appalled by the way the United States was behaving in Vietnam, held a rose-tinted view of international law as invariably on the side of the angels. Some of these liberals believed that if only governments, especially our government, could be persuaded to uphold the law in all its external facets, the world would be peaceful and grow prosperous. Questions of equity in global settings were pushed to one side, out of sight. For elites the catchphrase was ‘the management of interdependence.’ For idealists, it was ‘world peace through law,’ an ethos that never attracted me and seemed mechanical and naïve because of its apolitical advocacy. I also felt that this legal utopianism had not the slightest prospect of being acted upon given the way the world was organized, and if due to unanticipated developments, it were to be acted upon it would likely end up as a globally centralized tyranny, almost a necessitated outcome, given the gross inequalities of circumstances between the developed and developing worlds, as reinforced by the refusal of the rich and powerful to make sacrifices to help the poor and vulnerable unless pushed to do so by credible revolutionary threats.


My early views after finishing law school and during my six teaching years at the Ohio State College of Law (1955-1961) did not depart from the political underpinnings of this legalist consensus as applied to Vietnam. I believed that refighting the war lost by the French, who had lots more at stake in Indochina than the United States ever did, was foolish from a realist interpretation of national interests. My views at that stage were similar to those of such eminent commentators on world events as George Kennan and Hans Morgenthau both of whom came to vigorously oppose the Vietnam War as a serious mistake of American foreign policy.  I knew personally and intellectually admired both of these important intellectual and political figures, and in the late 1960s teamed with Hans to run twice for lead positions in the American Political Science Association on an unabashed anti-war platform. Morgenthau ran the first time as presidential candidate, and the following year we reversed positions on the ballot, but with the same outcome, narrow losses to the official slate that opposed our effort that was claimed would ‘politicize’ the APSA.


I also held in these years what I would call ‘a world order’ view that the UN Charter should be respected with regard to peace and security issues as I was alarmed by the prospect of war between the Soviet Union and the United States, and believed that the UN deserved respect even if it was not strong enough, nor was it ever meant to be, to preserve the peace in the face of geopolitical conflict. Granting the veto to the Permanent Members of the Security Council was the clearest possible signal of true character of the UN as a modest undertaking, a perception confused, and somewhat contradicted, by the visionary language of the Preamble to the UN Charter. It was obvious even before the Cold War got going that it would be crazy for the Soviet Union to engage in even limited ways if the UN if the Western majority could control the decision process in the Security Council. The League of Nations had taught the West that it was worthwhile having the Soviet Union participating as a Member of the UN even if it meant weakening the authority or capabilities of the organization with respect to the control of the behavior of its members. Idealists hoped that the wartime alliance would persist in peacetime, while the realists thought and acted as though postwar stability was as dependent as ever on balance of power geopolitics, containment, and deterrence. It was one thing to join forces to defeat Hitler’s Germany. It was quite another to overlook geopolitical rivalries as fueled by competing ambitions, ideas, and fears. Such rivalries quickly surfaced during the peace diplomacy of the victors in World War II, especially exhibiting sharp differences over the postwar future of Europe, particularly Germany.


It was in this Cold War period that I became more overtly aware that moral purpose was my transcendent guideline both as a university teacher and as an engaged citizen, which for me was a dual reality that were best realized when merged. In this context, it was also obvious that international law had very little to offer, although it was relevant as a means of opposing colonialist and post-colonialist moves in what was being called the Third World.  My moral purpose became more associated with avoiding war and siding with the vulnerable. I came to believe that the military dimensions of the Cold War were irresponsibly dangerous, caused massive suffering, diverting resources that could be far better spent at home and abroad making lives better. Again international law was morally illuminating and political useful in some contexts of conflict, including opposition to military intervention and support for a level international economic playing field.


I came to understand that these larger quests were associated with a recognition that human interests deserved priority over nationalinterests when they clashed. This also meant that the empowerment of peoplewas a more emancipatory force than the consolidation of state power. In this regard, the anti-war movement in the United States, especially after 1965, provided the inspirational basis for my first trip to North Vietnam in 1968. Going to talk with ‘the enemy’ transformed my whole perception of why I opposed the war—it led me to identify with the nationalist struggle of the Vietnamese people against this post-colonial colonial futile and anguished effort that was confused with the imperatives of the Cold War by American leaders drunk with their own intoxicating ideology of freedom, which came to mean the promotion of markets more than the wellbeing of people. Meeting with Vietnamese leaders and witnessing the realities of the people of Vietnam and their struggle led me to view the American war effort as worse than a serious mistakeof judgment, in the manner of Morgenthau and Kennan, and having the character of acriminal enterprise. In retrospect, I appreciate the visionary underscoring of this shift of normative assessment from mistake to crime that was given its most comprehensive rendering in the two sessions of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal, chaired by Jean-Paul Sartre, held in 1967.


After I returned from Vietnam in 1968 the media were rather interested in my views on whether Hanoi was ready to make peace, but when I declared my sympathy for the Vietnamese struggle and opposition to relying on modern warfare to devastate a peasant society there was a total absence of interest even on the part of several influential liberal journalists who made no secret of their own opposition to the Vietnam War.  At first, I could not fathom this indifference toward what had been transformative in my experience, but soon I realized that most people did not view issues of war and peace through such a humanistic prism of awareness. Their calculus was winning and losing, and if losing, then cutting losses.


This cosmopolitan understanding of what seemed so decisive for me did involve a refusal to pass judgment and reach conclusions on the basis of national patriotism or ethno/religious identity. I think this way of looking contributed to my response to Palestinian victimization. The mere fact of being Jewish seemed more important for most others I knew than for myself, either others praised me for looking beyond my tribal identity or damning me for doing so, the whole false consciousness bound up in the nasty and defamatory accusation of being a self-hating Jew. I have come to understand that I am neither self-hating, nor self-loving. Being a Jew is a hereditary fact of my beingthat has not been very relevant in my becoming, although I am not oblivious to the horrifying tragedy inflicted upon the Jewish people of Europe during the period of Nazi ascendancy, and what my fate, and many of those I loved, would have been had I been caught in that genocidal maelstrom. Yet I never believed that the Zionist escape from the genuine horrors of anti-Semitism should be or needed to be achieved at the expense of another people or that a Jewish homeland in a non-Jewish society was the proper response to the long history of Jewish persecution.


Human solidarity took precedence. I am well aware that most others whether consciously or not proceed from a communitarian outlook that privileges the part over the whole. The migration challenge and response exhibits both sides of this reality—the tragic migrant loss and protection of community and the  communitarian rejection of asylum and hospitality via exclusions, deportations, walls. Statelessness, undocumented immigrants are also expressions of statist control over the security of the individual in the modern world. In this regard, there is as yet no practical way to affirm humanidentity because there is neither the institutional foundations nor existential reality of human community. We all remain crucially dependent on the questionable humanity and problem solving capacities of state structures even if we claim to be ‘world citizens.’


My own effort over the course of the last twenty years to delineate a new form of engaged citizenship is based on the possible futureemergence of human community, and the commitment to seek that kind of desired reality as a goal without pretending it to be a present reality. I identify such a future-oriented engagement by the label ‘citizen pilgrim,’ the pilgrim being defined as someone on a journey to a desired future. My mature publicsense of moral purpose is associated with thinking, feeling, and acting as a citizen pilgrim to the extent possible, not in a New Age spirit of self-contentment, but in concretecircumstances where the relevance of a shared humanity is given precedence. This helps explain my disposition toward solidarity with the poor, vulnerable, marginalized, and my suspicions toward the rich and powerful.


Such a way of acting in the public sphere is undoubtedly reflected in the intimacies of the private sphere, and vice versa, and so affirms the slogan ‘the personal is political,’ and its correlative ‘the political is personal.’ Love of partner, of children, and of friends strengthens the capacity of the citizen pilgrim to live happily in mostly alien worlds, although the separations of these spheres is more a matter of mental disposition than of experience. In this central respect my guiding moral purposeis to love and be loved, which means eroding the public dimensions of moral purpose, a choice I manifest each time I ignore a beggar on the street.


Of course, maybe I am making too much of my freedom to be and to choose. Perhaps what I am articulating is a thin gloss over genetic programming, as affected by social and cultural conditioning. If there is one distinctive feature of my deference to moral purpose it is a willingness not to fit in, yet also a prudential set of restraints that make me stop well short of being an outlawor a revolutionary warrior.


This little essay is but a sketch drawn to help me address the often questionable enterprise of a memoir, presented as a sort of reflective selfie to invoke an idiom of our age. I would benefit from comments and criticisms, and promise on my part to listen attentively.           

Eco-Insurgency, Tribal Vision, and Ultra-Nationalist Geopolitics

31 Jul

In further critique of Michael Oren


I devoted my last post to an expression of support for the July 14th P5 + 1 agreement reached with Iran on its Nuclear Program, and coupled this with criticism of what the former Israel ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, sets forth in his memoir, Ally, as the ideal form of special alliance relationship that exists and should exist between Israel and the U.S.. In this sequel, I explore the further implications of such a special relationship as a template for dangerous trends in political life at all levels of social organization. Oren reflects these trends, and his views and their implication deserve out attention. He has enjoyed an extremely successful life after surmounting serious childhood learning disabilities and a humble social background. He became a prize-winning historian, an elite IDF paratrooper and intelligence operative, a high-ranking civil servant, and a prominent diplomat, and most recently launched a further career as a politician, being elected to the Knesset in March. In addition to all these worldly achievements Oren appears to have had a long, satisfying marriage accompanied by a fulfilling family life, mostly spent in Israel.


With this background in mind, I find Michael Oren’s life experience to be at once impressive, worrisome, provocative, and overall, alien and emblematic of dangerous trends in politics. I compare my own background, not to claim a comparable stature, but to highlight how small differences in our social locations seem to have produced dramatic variation in life circumstances and outlook. We were both born as American Jews, and were later influenced by spending significant portions of our lives at Princeton University. Yet our experience diverges sharply when it comes to Princeton, Israel, America, Zionism and almost everything in between. It makes me wonder anew about the tenuous links between the subjectivity of consciousness and our perceptions of reality within what Habermas calls the ‘lifeworld.’


Let me start with Princeton, perhaps unfairly, because Oren seems to be so far from the reality I experienced over the course of forty years as to make me think that his ideological affinities with Israel and Zionism clouded his vision of the place to the point of extremity, if not absurdity. In Ally a single reference to me is inaccurate and inflammatory, and raises doubts about Oren’s credibility as an observer.

After calling “outrageous” the UN Human Rights Council inquiry into war crimes committed in the course of Israel’s attack of 2008-09 on Gaza Oren goes on to write in the same sentence that “..its special rapporteur on Palestine, Richard Falk, regularly compared Israelis to Nazis.” With this view of the HRC in mind Oren adds approvingly of George W. Bush being so “disgusted by its anti-Israel bias” that he withdrew the American representative from participation in the council. [references are to location 1069 of the Kindle Edition of Ally]. His reference to me is totally false, and maliciously misleading. On only a single occasion, well before serving as UN Special Rapporteur, lacking any connection with HRC, did I draw any connection between Israel and Nazi Germany, and then only in a very restricted reference to the disturbing similarities between the sort of collective punishment being inflicted on the people of Gaza with the forms of collective demonization relied upon by the Nazis. Not only was there no comparison of any sort while serving in the UN, even in my journalistic writing, there was never ‘regular’ assertions along the lines that

Oren irresponsibly alleges to show HRC bias. In fact, such language was never a part of the critical discourse directed at Israel in the HRC. Rather as the Goldstone Report elaborated in conservable detail, there existed a widely shared perception that Israel’s policies and practices in Gaza before, during, and after the Operation Cast Lead (the IDF name given the 2008-09 attack) amounted to

Crimes Against Humanity, a view that resurfaced again in 2015. The later contentions are to be found in the report of a new fact finding commission appointed by the HRC to examine Israeli military operation, code-named Protective Edge, a 51 day devastating military attack upon Gaza in July 2014. Oren makes his inflammatory reference to my views presumably to make readers believe, contrary to the true situation, that the HRC relies on a deeply flawed and overly critical attitude toward Israel, and its behavior.


Oren’s approach to Princeton is no more convincing, and clearly contradicts my experience. Oren writes that he found himself isolated at Princeton because his Zionist sympathies and support for Israel were so out of step with the prevailing attitudes. In the course of completing his graduate studies Oren found that his support for Israel “was scarcely popular at Princeton.” He doesn’t single out Princeton, but believes his experience was reflective of a more widespread national “mood on many American campuses [that] had turned against Israel and even against America.” [Loc. 567] He goes on, “I held firm but the academic atmosphere regarding Israel remained toxic.” [loc. 594] He even portrays himself as a victim of an anti-Israeli academic establishment, suggesting that his Zionist views exacted a high ‘professional’ cost: “Publisher after publisher rejected my books, precluding an academic career.” [loc. 638; later he alludes to his academic success, having his books appear under prestigious publishing imprints and find their way onto bestseller lists as indirect benefits of Israel’s victory in the 1967 War] At Princeton, and elsewhere, Oren holds that his support for Israel was responsible for leaving him “..often a lone voice in an increasingly one-sided harangue.” [loc. 622]


My impressions of Princeton are diametrically opposed. It was considered precarious on campus to voice any opinions that were out of step with support for Israel or that showed sympathy with the Palestinian struggle. Bernard Lewis was a hegemonic presence in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, and used his influence to marginalize and banish Israeli critics from academic arenas, not only at Princeton, but throughout the world. Michael Walzer was the second most visible scholarly luminary at Princeton who was concerned with this subject-mater, and like Lewis, a stalwart supporter of Israel and an ardent proponent of the Zionist Project, and then after him there was Fouad Ajami, a prominent Lebanese-American intellectual who increasingly sided with Israel in its clash with Palestinian aspirations and later became associated with the Hoover Institutions and the most bellicose views on the Middle East. Not surprisingly, I experienced hostile and condescending treatment from Lewis and Walzer, and their departmental colleagues, on several occasions. There were few contrary voices on these issues at Princeton during my entire period at the university, and those few of us who held more critical positions toward Israel were the ones who during these felt sidelined at the university during the 1980s and 1990s. There were almost always Israeli military officers among the small group of doctoral students interested in international relations, and prominent pro-Israeli diplomats were frequent visitors. I had to get permission from the State Department to allow a PLO diplomat, Shafik al-Hout to speak as a guest in my seminar, and it was granted on condition that he not deliver a public

lecture. Even such a prominent Princeton graduate as Edward Said came to the university to speak in my classes, and never as an invited public speaker.


Many students from the Arab world in this period complained to me about this one-sided pro-Israeli atmosphere at Princeton, and in an effort to counter its presence a wealthy student from Morocco who had suffered from Orientalist pedagogy during his Princeton years took it upon himself to fund a parallel research center with the express purpose of giving students and scholars an alternative voice more open to a sympathetic treatment of issues on the policy agenda affecting Islam and Palestinian aspirations. Such an institutional initiative was a breadth of fresh air so far as the intellectual and political mood was concerned, diluting to some extent the pro-Zionist atmosphere that had dominated the university during my period as a faculty member.


Oren’s undisguised hostility to Edward Said’s Orientalism is a further revelation of his zealous hostility to all intellectual efforts to widen the conversation on Israel and Palestine. In a wildly overstated observation, Oren writes that “Said’s book became canonical in many Middle East Studies Departments, pressuring students and professors to prove that they were not Orientalists.” [loc. 576] To Oren, Said’s book was abhorrent because it alleged that the academic study of the Arab world was shaped by racist, imperialistic, and European ethnocratic assumptions of cultural superiority, and further that Said’s prime targets, such as Bernard Lewis, should be

discarded as purveyors of false consciousness. [Loc. 567, 576] In reaction to these supposed pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli trends, Oren felt “compelled to stand my ground. I worked to expose Said’s Orientalism’s screed.” [Loc. 576] To describe Said’s seminal book as ‘a screed’ is polemical at best, and more likely an indication that Oren had never bothered to read Said’s careful exploration of his hypotheses by literary and cultural analysis. After so much fire and brimstone, Oren’s main refutation of Said seems to be his rather trivial contention that the earliest Middle Eastern scholarship was the work of scholars from Germany and Hungary, “neither of whom colonized the region.” [Loc. 585] This strikes me as a silly argument, considering that both countries were firmly in the Western camp, and shared an Orientalist worldview. But no matter, as Oren professed purpose is to deflect to the extent possible criticisms of Israel. Oren does make some perfunctory remarks acknowledging that Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians in 1948 and establishment of settlements after 1967 might have something to do with growing criticism of Israel. This is mere window dressing as Oren makes it clear that whatever wrongs Israel might commit is beside the point, and a diversion from his us or them worldview: “The terrorists, together with their Arab and Iranian state supporters, would still try to massacre us even if every settlement were removed.” [Loc. 588] This kind of declamation exposes the raw tissue of Oren’s beliefs—that hostility toward Israel is at bottom anti-Semitism and premised on an absolute Arab rejection of Israel’s right to exist in Palestine as a Jewish state. This is a convenient and opportunistic standpoint, trivializing criticism of Israel, which should always deserves support as the sole Western style democracy in the entire region. Oren indirectly inverts the argument of Orientalism, claiming that hostility to Israel is based on ethnocratic criteria rather than being a reaction to Israel’s violation of fundamental Palestinian rights, which serve the Arab world as a respectable rationalization for hatred of Jews.


Oren grew up in a Catholic neighborhood in West Orange, New Jersey where he experienced daily bullying because he was a Jew. This early contact with anti-Semitism was combined with a strong Jewish involvement based on family, community, and synagogue, giving Oren, while growing up, an attachment to Zionism and Israel as a sanctuary for diaspora Jews. He became a Zionist youth activist, departing for Israel at a young age, and never looked back. He combined ardent participation in all things Israeli while maintaining a strong attachment to America. It is not surprising that Oren developed the state of mind of a dual citizen. He movingly describes the day that he was compelled to renounce his American citizenship so that he could become the official representative of Israel in the United States. This act of choice caused anguish for Oren as it violated the reality of his depth experience of dual identity that never dissipated regardless of the legal niceties.


It is very tempting to compare my childhood and adult life with that of Oren, and reflect upon the starkness of the differences. I lived in Manhattan as a child in a middle class neighborhood dominated by Jews, and attended a private school that was almost deserted on Jewish holidays, which were totally ignored on the secular homefront. At the same time my immediate societal environs were sufficiently assimilationist so as to make it seem natural to observe Christmas by singing Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and decorating a Christmas tree. My parents, although both Jewish, were completely post-ethnic in temperament and behavior, as well as post-religious in their beliefs. Already as an adolescent I challenged their secular humanist leanings by becoming interested in religion, and later explored several religious traditions. This inclination toward an embrace of religion may have resulted from the fact that as a child I was cared for by a young Irish immigrant who was a devout Catholic, and took me with her frequently to attend mass at a nearby church, which I found satisfying despite the mysteries of Latin Rite being lost on me. This early exposure to religion has led a non-denominational spirituality throughout my life, but left me without much attraction for institutional affiliations with organized religions.


Also, the rise of Nazism did not impact strongly on my experience during childhood. I had no known relative that was ever in a concentration camp, and the Holocaust seemed horrible, but something that happened in Europe, which seemed distant and remote to in those years. From the age of seven I was raised by my father as a single parent. He was a conservative, strongly anti-Communist lawyer and historian who managed in his spare time to write a couple of widely read books about the rise of Japanese sea power. My father, a tender and loving man in concrete relationships, lacked public empathy. He deeply disliked FDR’s New Deal, accepted the judicial logic of strict constitutionalism, and wrote a book attacking Roosevelt’s plan to circumvent the Supreme Court by enlarging the number of judges through appointment of individuals who would uphold his policies. These parental politics, and my status as a de facto only child, led me to interact with prominent people in several fields as an adolescent, but also to drift inconsequentially in search of an authentic identity. Israel and Zionism were completely remote from this search. I learned from my father that what mattered was national identity, not the sort of tribal reality that Oren acknowledges as an essential part of his experience of being Jewish. As I matured, and decided on the study of law without have clear career goals, my orientation became increasingly anti-vocational. From this standpoint, I hoped to practice ‘international law’ or find something to do that had nothing to do with being a ‘real’ lawyer. With such an outlook, I ended up focusing on international law and law in India while still a law student, and due to a series of coincidences, was hired upon graduation on an emergency basis (substituting for a faculty member who had suddenly fallen ill) to teach some courses for the year at the College of Law at Ohio State University. I ended up spending five years on the campus in Columbus, almost immediately discovering that academic life was congenial, providing me with autonomy and interesting friends at the very beginning of a professional career.


It was in this period that I began to develop a political identity. While still a law student, I had instinctively opposed McCarthyism, and was surprised that my classmates at the supposedly very liberal Yale Law School were generally unwilling to sign a petition opposing blacklisting of so-called ‘Fifth Amendment Communists’ for fear that it would hurt their job prospects. At Ohio State I became involved as a non-tenured faculty member in litigation against several members of the Board of Trustees alleging that as they were owners of off-campus student housing that unconstitutionally discriminated against African American student renters they were personally responsible for violation of rights. Although a favorable settlement of the case was a source of satisfaction, what turned out to be more influential for my political development in this period was interaction with progressive graduate students at Ohio State. And even more so was an afternoon in the university library where I started reading by accident of the French defeat in their war to retain colonial control over Indochina. I was so persuaded that afternoon by Owen Lattimore’s critique of the French colonial enterprise that it led me to became an early opponent of the Vietnam War adopting the realist premise that if the French failed, so would the United States fail, and at great cost to itself, and to its wider alignments and interests. My opposition at that time was framed by reference to arguments about international law and realist assessments of costs and benefits.

A decade later, in 1968, I accepted an invitation to visit North Vietnam as both a peace activist and academic expert on the international law aspects of the war. During this visit, relating again to this contrast with Oren, I found myself identifying with the vulnerability of the Vietnamese peasantry in response to the high-techology warfare being waged by the United States against their country, people, and nationalist aspirations. I shifted emphases from being an opponent of the U.S. intervention in Vietnam to becoming a supporter of Vietnam’s struggle for self-determination.


It became a normative preoccupation rather than a realist stance, the latter being much more respected within the Princeton environment, especially among the faculty. In the course of this political development, I had never experienced any tribalist longings to affirm my Jewish identity, and now I found myself at odds with my government, beginning to feel more comfortable with an affirmation of human identity than with the national identity derived mechanically from my American birth and citizenship, and the dynamics of socialization beneath an American flag. Long before I encountered the words of Vincent Harding, I resonated to the sentiment he movingly articulated: “I am a citizen of a country that does not yet exist.” Derrida, I believe, was pointing to a similar reality when he wrote and spoke of ‘a democracy to come,’ that is, a democracy not yet existing, and not even clearly envisioned beyond some humanistic values that constituted a political community with no spatial boundaries. I have never doubted the primacy of this human identity in my political consciousness, although I find that remaining dedicated to the better realization of national identity through the fulfillment of America’s promise and potential both compatible, and in a sense intertwined. I have at times envied some forms of tribal identity, especially if not enacted at the expense of others, but it never resonated existentially. I believe the interplay of tensions between tribal, national, and human identities in our life experiences goes a long way toward explaining why I see the world so differently than Oren.


Perhaps, another take on these differences, would emphasize forms of empathy that are chosen by each of us. Clearly, Oren has strong empathy when it comes to family, clan, tribe, and nation, but less so, or not visibly at all, when it comes to the human species (putting aside how becoming fully human means extending empathy to animals and even plants). I found surprising that Oren approvingly quotes Atticus, the wise lawyer hero of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, as saying, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” [Loc. 2222] In his text, I find no effort to achieve such understandings as when he deals with Palestinian militancy or Edward Said’s attack on Orientalism. It is this failure of comprehending the other that makes it accurate to brand Oren, however well educated, as primarily a tribalist and nationalist when it comes to politics, while being a very dedicated husband, father, and friend when focusing on the realm of personal relations.


For myself, I raise the historical and humanist question as to whether species survival is increasingly at risk because of the lethal rivalries produced by tribal and national agendas as reinforced by ever more sophisticated technologies of destruction and control. Thinking hopefully, the Anthropocene Age may soon witness the first species insurgency against the eco-tyrannical elites of the world, who have become the suicidal guardians of our neoliberal market forces joined in an unbreakable alliance with dominant forces of tribalism and nationalism. In moments of despair, the end-time hegemony of this unbreakable alliance are likely to retain control of species destiny, perhaps justifying their techno-violence and paralyzing surveillance by imagined struggles with ISIS-like forces, given mass credibility by a compliant, fear-mongering media. In effect, if we care about future generations and the wellbeing of the species and its natural surroundings, we must begin to think, feel, and act like an eco-insurgent.