Subjectivity, Objectivity, and Political Action

If you strip away the rhetorical flourishes, here is what we are told every day:

1) If you aren’t Jewish, you may not disagree when I say something is antisemitic. 2) Any objection to the genocide being carried out against Palestinians is antisemitic. If you disagree, see 1). 3) Therefore, you must either admit to being antisemitic, or shut up and let the Israeli state, backed and supported by US imperialism, continue to commit crimes against humanity. *

Underneath this justification for mass murder is a method that has become more and more beloved by those layers that loudly proclaim radical sounding slogans while refusing to support any policies that may threaten capitalism—those layers that we collectively call the pseudo-left.  The method is called “standpoint theory,” and can be summed up as, “if you are not a member of this oppressed group, you may not disagree when I say something is an attack on this group.”

Standpoint theory itself, however, falls apart when examined.  The basic assertion makes racism, sexism, antisemitism, &c, utterly subjective. If they are completely personal, and up to each individual to decide, then, obviously those most immediately affected are able to make such statements.  If I am in pain, no one but me is entitled to an opinion about how much pain I am in. It is something I’m feeling, it is purely subjective, and my insights on my feelings are obviously enormously more significant than anyone else’s.

But is racism entirely subjective?  Is antisemitism? No, they are not. To take extreme examples, if someone were to claim “The Birth a Nation” was not racist, or “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is not antisemitic, we would not be dealing with a difference of subjective feelings, we’d be dealing with someone who was wrong.  To be sure, there are cases that are not as blatant; that is why they are worth discussing.

Because here’s the other thing: you cannot demand objective action—such as “stop protesting the genocide in Gaza”—based on purely subjective feelings.  Can you?  I am constantly hearing of such-and-such a man who stalked or harassed a woman because he believed his own feelings for her entitled him to demand she take an action.  We are appalled when we hear of such things, because we recognize that, while he is certainly permitted to feel whatever he happens to feel, it wrong to demand someone else act based on those feelings, and even more wrong to force someone to act based on those feelings.

It is a million times worse to demand the slaughter of entire population be permitted to continue because of your feelings. If you want to convince me that opposing the Zionist state is antisemitic, you’ll have to do better than, “Shut up if you aren’t Jewish.”

*If you happen to be Jewish and oppose the genocide, you are dismissed as a “self-hating Jew” and the problem neatly goes away.

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6 thoughts on “Subjectivity, Objectivity, and Political Action”

  1. While I agree with your main point, you are hitting a pet peeve and, as a writer whose command of the language I cannot approach, I request you reconsider your word choice and IMO change: This is not a genocide.

    An ethnic cleansing? Absolutely. But Gazan Palestinian Muslim Arabs have almost no racial or genetic distinction. Hutu vs. Tutsi? Genocide. Chinese vs. Uighur? Almost certainly genocide. But the Gazans are not a genetic group distinct from other Palestinian Arabs who are not being massacred.

    I hate that this is the hill that I die on, but it just sets my teeth on edge every time I hear it, and to hear it from my favorite living author is just a bridge too far, a thing up with which I shall not put.

  2. Some critics of Israel are calling the slaughter and starvation and the destruction of the infrastructure of civilization in Gaza a genocide, when in fact it is but a mere ethnic cleansing? HUMBLEST apologies.

    Carry on then.

    Except, oh wait, the term genocide is well defined under international law, the ICJ has ruled that Israel is plausibly committing it, and the ICC is seeking warrants of arrest for its leaders.

    Not so subjective after all.

  3. Erik: Though I value keeping the conversation on these pages as civil as possible, on this occasion I’m sympathetic to Kragar’s sarcasm. Still, using precise terms is important. Among the definitions of genocide we find: “the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group” (Gooogle dictionary), “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a group of people because of their ethnicity, nationality, religion, or race” (Britannica), “violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group” (Holocaust Encyclopedia), ” violent attacks with the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group” (US Dept of Justice CRM 1-499). I believe that what is going on in Gaza qualifies, if for no other reason, then because Palestine is a nation.

  4. My response was over the top, to reuse a recent phrase. Such retorts are all too common, but rarely lead to productive discussions.

    And possibly our correspondent is largely on the same page, as he says. The point I was trying to make is this: whether it is called an ethnic cleansing or a genocide, whether it is happening to all Palestinians or just the ones in Gaza, it is very important that it stop.

  5. Stopping the killing would be great. As a general rule, I am against governments killing people.
    This all also goes a long way (once again) towards showing how the concept of geographical control of the populace is another bad idea.

  6. Nails it. Another way to say it: opposition to genocide has not shit to do with identity. Genocide is genocide, not a religion (or gender, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or age, or any other human attribute).

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