Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Black Lives Matter and the destruction of social capital

Recently read the following comment:
A second example i’ll give is Black Lives Matter. One is labeled racist/white supremacist/white nationalist/nazi if you say “no, All Lives Matter.” But the problem isn’t a devaluation or disrespect to the grievance (at least in all instances as it is implied) — it’s the selection of the name. ... In the BLM case, the name is overly narrow and the counter argument is equally disparaged. I’ve gotten into some heated discussions with Black/All/Blue lives matters all in a group and I posed a simple question: If the movement had started as “Police Accountability Matters” with the exact same issue to be resolved, would they react different — and all 3 opposing views suddenly agreed, everyone suddenly stopped the name calling and “arguing” and started discussing the pros & cons of ideas on how to solve the problem. They were all getting too hung up on the word selection and arguing about the rationality of each other based upon different interpretation of what the label meant.
Which fitted what had struck me about BLM, which is the destruction of social capital involved: that is, of positive social connections, of networked reciprocity.  

Social capital can reasonably be called capital, because it is a form of the produced factor of production (distinct from land, which is the acquired-from-nature factor of production, and labour, which is the reproduced factor of production). Other things being equal, the higher the level of social capital, the better functioning a society and the better prospects for a social group.

When the mainstream gay and lesbian community was seeking to achieve decriminalisation of their erotic lives, relationships with the police were crucial, for good and ill. The police were used to persecute the queer community, leading famously to the Stonewall riots

As the process of legal and social normalisation of homosexuality became increasingly successful, relationships with the police were still crucial, as gays and lesbians were particularly vulnerable to, and specifically targets of, violence. So the gay and lesbian communities worked to build better relations with the police. This was largely, and surprisingly quickly (as social change go) highly successful, leading to, for example, police contingents marching in Pride marches. In my own city of Melbourne, there has recurrently been a police show on the local gay and lesbian radio station, Joy FM, either as part of the regular program grid or as podcasts.

Along comes Black Lives Matter, who began to stridently object to police marching in uniform in Pride marches, which was an attack on, and seen as such, the connections built up between queer communities and police forces. In other words, an attack on built-up social capital.

Black Lives Matter was founded by three women, two of whom identify as queer. It was founded and spread largely through social media, which means via a communication mechanism with the most limited level possible of social connection and still communicate. Black Lives Matter has also been a disaster for the African-American community and relations with the police. The attack on queer-police social capital was a relatively minor part of a wider social capital disaster, a disaster which can be measured in hundreds of lost African-American lives from the post-BLM surge in homicides in various cities with high African-American populations such as Baltimore and Chicago. The increased death toll in dead African-Americans (1,800) for two years (2015, 2016) is more than half the estimated African-American deaths (3,446) from lynching in the decades 1882-1968.

The disaster came from (1) a gross mischaracterisation of a (highly variable by region and jurisdiction) problem with police use of deadly force; (2) a ludicrously simple diagnosis of the cause (racism); and (3) a misplaced approach (demonising police and actively seeking to reduce police interactions with African-Americans at which it has been all too successful). If one wanted a test case of what is wrong with intersectionality in a time of social media outrage, this is it. Attempting to operationalise intersectionality, notably via social media, in the form of BLM, has a much higher body count since 2014 than any form of white racism.

BLM manifests intersectionality’s indifference to problems of social order, the presumption of malice in “explaining” social outcomes and the attendant sacred victims without social or moral agency (particularly not negative agency). Despite the burblings of such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, the biggest danger to “black bodies” comes from other African-Americans, not the police. The main line of defence against that danger is not Twitter outrage, but the police themselves. The BLM reduction of social “analysis” to Manichean duality (evil, racist police v oppressed “blacks”) is a disastrously false simplification that directs attention and effort away from approaches which have some chance of being effective and towards a wildly simplistic and divisive outrage disastrous in its effects.

As psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out (pdf), the point of sacredness is to remove from trade-offs (or strongly resist any trade-offs) and a functional social order is all about managing trade-offs.

One of the ongoing problems in African-American communities is their low levels of social capital. It is hardly surprising that a political campaign based on attacking existing social capital turns out to be disastrously counter-productive. On the contrary, it seems a sad irony that communities suffering from low levels of social capital spawned a political movement destructive of social capital.

More accountable police forces better connected to their local communities can have considerable success in reducing crime. But that requires building broad coalitions focused on creating connections, not parading moralised differences. Presuming malice, undermining connections, poisoning interactions may be be congenial to the playbook of TwitterIntersectionality; to a time of cry-bullies, point-and-shriek, the oppression Olympics and moralised identity hierarchies. But it is not remotely a path to better social outcomes.

[Also published at Skepticlawyer.]

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The persistence of (belief in) socialism

I find the persistence of belief in socialism surprising (an example here), particularly given that Venezuela and North Korea both, in their different ways, display, yet again, the disastrous results in poverty, human misery and tyranny of "actually existing socialism": that is, state domination of the economy. The lesson of Venezuela is, if anything, even stronger, as it is an example of the "democratic path to socialism".

Now, it is possible that by socialism such folk mean something other than a state-run and dominated economy, but if they do, they need to pick a different term because that is what, socialism, in practice, means. Trying to get it to mean something else this late in its history is not practical. And using socialism as a placeholder term for some unspecified system of "common" ownership is empty moral self-indulgence parading as political commitment.

Recently, I had drinks with a very well-read friend who grew up in the Soviet Union and so has some lived insights into this. He made two very cogent points:

(1) What other language of justice-inspired of major social change is there? There remain all sorts of reasons to be morally repelled by aspects of contemporary society: what is the alternative political vision for a post-capitalist society? If there isn't any, then "socialism" wins by default, as it has no effective competitor in the moral marketplace.

(2) For the Left, history is not the past, it's the future. For folk like my friend and I, history is what happened in the past, from which we can learn and draw lessons. For the Left, history is what is going to happen, it is what has an arc that bends towards justice while the past is something to be judged, censored and transcended.

(As an aside, it is a nice illustration of a wider tendency for secular appropriation of religious ideas that Barack Obama liked quoting Martin Luther King who was quoting Theodore Parker on the arc of history bending towards justice, but turned what was a "kingdom of God" religious point into a very different secular claim.)

This second point coincides with something I had noticed about modern progressivism--what I had come to think of as the history is their bitch phenomenon: the recurring confidence that, if their policies are adopted, the legacies of the past can be swiftly surmounted. But history happened, lives on, and provides a rich source of lessons: history informs and constrains.

If, conversely, history is the future and the past is a record of sin and failure, of Haan history, to be judged, censored and transcended, then elevated hopes for what their policies can achieve, including the persistence of belief in socialism, is much less surprising.

But no more justified. Wishing does not make it so, and a lack of an alternative articulated vision of a post-capitalist society does not make socialism a worthy project. The unending record of failure of actually existing socialism is not some weird happenstance, it reveals key features of the entire project of socialism, as things show their nature in their history.

Four strikes
The first error is the implicit notion that public (which functionally means state) ownership of the means of production will somehow abolish selfishness, sociopathy and psychopathy. On the contrary, it creates a single, all-encompassing hierarchy for the self-servingly ambitious to climb. Socialism does not lock out selfishness, it gives it the keys to the entire kingdom. Socialist states always end up creating corrupt and exploitive hierarchies in particularly pathological manifestations of the late Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy or sociologist Robert Michels' Iron Law of Oligarchy.

The second error is that state ownership destroys key information for the functioning of an economy. This is the Mises-Hayek socialist calculation point. As is common for these sort of predictions, Mises and Hayek underestimated the ability of people to make adjustments, to get around the inherent dysfunction of the system they are stuck in, but Mises and Hayek correctly identified an inherent and deeply dysfunctional flaw in the entire project.

The third error is to wildly overestimate the capacity of the state apparatus to efficiently use the information that is available to it. Anyone who deals with government bureaucracies (or any large bureaucracy) will be familiar with this phenomenon. But the effects get much worse when government bureaucracies are the only significant users of information in the society and have coercive power backing them. Historical anthropologist James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State is a classic analysis of the problems involved, which extend beyond his revealing analysis and are compounded when the state is the (formal) economy.

The final point is the emptiness of the notion of democratic socialism. Socialism is inherently tyrannical, Hayek's Road to Serfdom point. The point is often somewhat obscured by the tendency to see democracy as some teleological endpoint of the arc of political history, whose apotheosis is finding the "correct" system for counting votes to elect officials.

Moving from theory to history, democracy is a system for entrenching and operationalising the broadest level of social bargaining and there can be no effective social bargaining with or within a state that runs everything. In a state-dominated society, due to having a state-run economy, there is no independent basis of social information and action outside the all-encompassing state, so no basis for genuine social bargaining. Democracy will never tame socialism, socialism will always eat democracy.

The state was born in coercion and expropriation. Democracy is not some magic talisman that can somehow eliminate those features from a state in charge of everything. On the contrary, democracy becomes a casualty of the all-encompassing state becoming more intensely a system of coercion and expropriation.

These features explain socialism's history of tyranny and massive human misery. A record of human experience that any serious analysis must grapple with rather than airily dismiss.

Returning to archetype
Socialism is not a modern invention. The first states dominated their economies so thoroughly that they can reasonably be called socialist. That the remaining command economy, North Korea, has ended up with a god-king dynasty running everything is not some weird aberration, it is a return to the origins of the state once the state has become the society.

The reality is that history is not progressivists's (or anyone's) bitch: as the entire socialist project demonstrates. So, while socialism currently may be the only game around for aspirations for a post-capitalist society, it is not a game anyone should seek to play. The real work is not in trying to find a way to make socialism "work": that is a project doomed to failure and which leads only to human misery. The real work is to come up with an alternative vision of the post-capitalist future. That the state is the easiest substitute for private firms based on ownership of capital may make socialism the default alternative to capitalism; it does not make it a worthy one.


ADDENDA: Reacting against the human suffering and moral failures which are part of the rise and practice of capitalism is fine, but if one then discounts (on whatever grounds) the mass murders and starvations, human misery and tyranny which are so saliently and deeply part of the history of socialism, one's politics clearly are not based on human suffering and concern for human flourishing, but something else.

FURTHER ADDENDA: Much of the trumpeted sins of "capitalism" are either things that have no intrinsic connection to capitalism (such as slavery and imperialism: both which have proved eminently compatible with socialism) or which came from capitalism supporting more effective and capable states (such as imperialism) or have their (often worse) counterparts in other social systems, all of which further points to the doomed nature of basing or anchoring one's search for social structures more conducive to human flourishing in reaction to capitalism.

NOTE ON USAGE: Nothing above should be taken as an endorsement of the term capitalism which I dislike as it is typically ill-defined and often used to conflate phenomena together: in particular commerce and government action. Commerce cannot be relied upon to exclude people by social category, so governments have to intervene to get such results--for example, the economic side of Jim Crow or adjustment of the New Deal to disadvantage African-Americans.  Calling the results "capitalism" obscures rather than revealing.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The uselessness of "bubble" talk

This is based on a comment I made here.

If turning points in asset prices could be reliably predicted, they wouldn't happen (since no none would buy at the "about to be seriously undercut" price).

The "bubble" folk don't seem to understand that calling it a "bubble":
(1) entails not knowing when the turning point will happen;
(2) means prices are reflecting current information, not information that hasn't become available yet.

Given that it is a principle of modern physics that there is no information from the future, it hardly seems likely that economics can squeeze out such information.

The most one can squeeze out is that there may be herd effects in asset prices (i.e. people think prices will rise, act on that shared belief, so prices rise). But as we have no idea when the herd effect will stop happening (see [1]), that doesn't get us very far. After all, herd effects (possibly "flock effects", as the mechanisms seem similar to bird flock movement: a manifestation of the perennial human habit of adopting social heuristics that economise on information) can operate in either direction.

Identifying what is driving current asset prices movements, and how robust those factors are, is useful, but that is useful without adding in the "bubble" usage.

So, all a "bubble" claim ends up doing is something saying something like "I believe current asset prices are based on thinly grounded expectations which will collapse at some unspecified (indeed, unknown) point in the future". Doesn't seem to get us very far--apart from being an awful basis for monetary policy, especially given the (fairly disastrous) track record for such actions: which is hardly surprising as deliberately creating asset price instability is hardly a good basis for a stable growth path for an economy.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Monday, July 24, 2017

The "race" delusion in American politics and society.

Ron Unz has produced two pieces of statistical analysis on ethnicity and crime in the US providing evidence that there is no distinctive tendency among Hispanics to have a higher crime rate, once other factors are controlled for, while there is clearly a much higher crime rate among African-Americans.

This being an American piece, anything to do with African-Americans is treated as a "race" issue, a "black" and "white" issue. Which is precisely where the whole debate goes wrong right from the beginning.

African-Americans are not, in any useful sense, a "racial" group. They are a cultural group: better labelled in a more distinctive way, such as Ebonic-Americans, so as to be distinguished from recent African migrants or even Afro-Caribbean migrants, who are culturally distinct groups with distinctively different histories and cultural legacies. Ebonic-Americans are group born out of the experience of mass slavery and the consequent trajectory of the descendants of those slaves in the US. That is precisely the distinctive social trajectory that creates an ethnic group and identity.

Those called "white" Americans are, in fact, European-Americans or Euro-Americans, an amalgam of ethnic groups who can reasonably be identified as a series of separate "American nations", as was famously done by historian David Hackett Fisher in Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America and more broadly by journalist Colin Woodward in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. (See summary article here.) The wave of European settlement created an amalgam population distinct from the indigenous inhabitants and those imported from Africa as slaves. The obvious way to distinguish them was by skin colour, hence the "white" and "black" appellations.

But skin colour does not act in social affairs (though reactions to skin colour can do so). It is an easy marker of (entirely unearned) status (for good or ill), but not an analytically useful term. Thus the contemporary use of "white" in academic and progressivist circles is typically a misdirecting technique wiping out any notion of cultural heritage or civilisational achievement.

Humans are primed to notice ethnic cues. Small children will generally befriend someone of a different race who speaks the same dialect before they will do so (pdf) to someone of the same race who speaks a different dialect. This is hardly surprising: our hominid ancestors were forming ethnic groups deep in our prehistory: it allowed us, the cultural species, to cooperate beyond the foraging band (the Biblical story of shibboleth is all about ethnic cues.)

We began to systematically interact across the continent-wide groups we call races much more recently: far too recently and intermittently for it to be "hard-wired" into our cognitive architecture. Attempts to use implicit bias to show some deep racist cognitive programming suffers from the problem that the Implicit Association Test (IAT) has consistently failed to show the reliability (consistency across measurement) or the validity (connection to behaviour/social outcomes) to justify such use. Other attempts to make much of similarity bias have also failed to reach those benchmarks. Evidence suggests it is also relatively easy to (pdf) make other group markers trump race among adults.

Origins of racism
Due to our evolutionary history, we do have a deep tendency to tribalism or groupism. But this is a potentially "free-floating" tendency which can attach itself to all sorts of groups (such as, for example, political parties).

Racism as such was originally a product of the combination of mass slavery and universalising morality. In all its forms, racism originated as a justificatory explanation for what people were doing for other reasons. So, the first racist discourses grew up in the context of the mass slaving of sub-Saharan Africans and only appeared after the development of universalising morality (specifically, Christianity and Islam) because only a universalising morality is likely to have any problem with the systematic enslaving of others.

There was no moral problem about slavery for Romans--slaves were losers, Romans were winners, slavery was just a mark of losing. Indeed, there was so little problem that Romans ran one of the most open slave systems (pdf) in history, as freed slaves became full citizens. So much so, that people would sometimes use slavery as a path to Roman citizenship. Aristotle's attempt to provide a moral justification for slavery (as his ethical system did have a universalising tendency: hence its later incorporation into monotheist thought) just struck the Romans as Greek nonsense.

Once folk are all "children of God", then slavery causes a moral problem--why are you treating children of God as property? While there are some glimmers of racist discourse in the Roman Empire after the adoption of Christianity, the first significant racist discourse (that is, a systematic denigration by race) comes out of Islam. For example, in a C11th book of geography by geographer Said al-Andalusi (1029-1070) Al‐tarif bi-tabaqat al-umam (Book of the Categories of Nations): 
Chapter 3: Nations having no interest in science 
The rest of this [category], which showed no interest in science, resembles animals more than human beings. Those among them who live in the extreme North, between the last of the seven regions and the end of the populated world to the north, suffered from being too far from the sun; their air is cold and their skies are cloudy. As a result, their temperament is cool and their behavior is rude. Consequently, their bodies become enormous, their color turned white, and their hair drooped down. They have lost keenness of understanding and sharpness of perception. They were overcome by ignorance and laziness, infested by fatigue and stupidity. Such as the Slavonians, Bulgarians and neighboring people.
Also in this category are the people who live close to the equinoctial line and behind it to the populated world to the south. Because the sun remain close to their heads for long periods, their air and their climate has become hot: they are of hot temperament and fiery behavior. Their color turned black and their hair turned kinky. As a result, they have lost the value of patience and firmness of perception. They are overcome by foolishness and ignorance. These are the people of Sudan who inhabited the far reaches of Ethiopia, Nubia, the Zini, and others. 
Chapter 5: Science in India 
The Indians, as known to all nations for many centuries, are the metal [essence] of wisdom, the source of fairness and objectivity. They are peoples of sublime pensiveness, universal apologues, and useful and rare inventions. In spite of the fact that their colour is in the first stage of blackness, which puts them in the same category as the blacks, Allah in His glory, did not give them the low characters, the poor manners, or the inferior principles, associated with this group and ranked them above a large number of white and brown peoples.
Why were Slavs and sub-Saharan Africans being systematically enslaved rather than being conquered and/or converted to Islam (which would make them no longer able to be enslaved)? Because, the explanatory justification of racism went, slavery was what they were fit for.

Catholics were not supposed to enslave folk: so said Pope Paul III (r.1534-1549) in his 1537 encyclical Sublimus Dei. But they (and Christians generally) could trade and own slaves that other people had enslaved, so there was still a moral problem of owning fellow children of God. Add in Enlightenment notions about the rights of man and an even more serious moral dilemma was created, leading to a fairly intense racist discourse of explanation and justification--hence the Antebellum South running one of the most closed systems of slavery in human history: especially as freeing the slaves en masse would, in system based on citizen election of officials, create a serious political issue for the existing voters. Hence also the Constitution of the Confederate States of America absolutely entrenched slavery while the Jim Crow system tried to insulate Euro-Americans in the South from the political and employment implications of the end of slavery. 

Western racist discourses also arose out of the cleanliness of the blood laws in Reconquista Spain, blocking the children of Jewish converts from various positions and social benefits, creating a social cartel for the "Old Christians" and their descendants in Iberia and then in Spain and Portugal's American colonies. This language of inherited contempt, independent of religion, was then extended elsewhere in Europe to create specifically anti-Jewish (rather than anti-Judaic) discourses as a response to the disturbing social flux of modernisation and the creation of mass nationalisms.  

Maximum extents of European imperialism.
The last source of Western racism grew out of noticing that by the C19th Europeans dominated the globe, and trying to find language to both justify and explain it. It is not the case that racism caused slavery or imperialism or social cartelisation: racism was created to justify and explain the slavery, imperialism and social cartelisation that people were already doing for other reasons. (It is worth noting that the problem with Jim Crow was not that it was racist, but that it was oppressive--"race" was simply the dimension across which oppression was organised.)

As any sort of explanation for any of this, race is truly awful. Imperialism was just what states do when they can and when there is a return in it. Europe created particularly effective states, so particularly effective imperialism (much of which was directed against fellow Europeans).

Slavery is a response to control of people being more valuable than control of land (see economist Evsey Domar's classic essay on the subject) and there not being sufficient local population to bind to the land (if there is, some form of serfdom typically arises).

People can form social cartels on all sort of bases. (The current debates about the increasing lack of cognitive diversity in Western academe is precisely about a form of social cartelisation.)

As a way of creating unearned status and effortless virtue, and justifying treating other people badly, however, racism works very well. The modern innovation is to discover that discourses of anti-racism can work just as well as techniques for moral and political exclusion: we can ignore and despise them, they're racists! (Or even a basket of deplorables.)

Illusions of race
But racist discourses of justificatory explanation left a legacy of seeing people, and talking of people, in terms of race rather than ethnicity or meta-ethnicity. Such race-talk turns out to be very useful if you want to strip away any notion of cultural heritage or civilisational achievement. Which is really useful if you want to maximise your despite of fellow citizens--you just "explain" any bad social outcome on the basis of the presumption of malice: default explanation of differentiated social outcomes in terms of the malice (i.e., racism, misogyny, various phobic views) of fellow citizens (or civilisation members). It is an excellent basis for assertion of superior status: though much less useful for serious analysis as it relies on ignoring, explaining away or otherwise discounting differences between groups that lead to variable social outcomes.

Such talk has the great virtue of simplicity—you do not have to know the details, merely what are the correct signals. (And there is no more powerful contemporary signal than hostility to racism, defined so as to function as a social signal, not for careful analysis.) In an information-dense society, where displaying cognitive competence is at a premium, such virtue-signalling [piety display] allows massive economising on information as well as providing reputation protection and expectation convergence. Hence its particular importance for participants in transnational networks and workers in areas with a premium on cognitive competence. It has the wider disadvantage of committing people to social narratives that support such signals and so blocking consideration of contrary facts or concerns.


The two unspeakable truths of "race" in the US are:
(1) If African-Americans had the same average IQ and the same crime rates as other Americans, the "race" issue would disappear (as the experience of Asian-Americans and recent African immigrants demonstrates); and
(2) it is not a "race" issue but an ethnic one--Ebonic-Americans are a distinct ethnic group while "white" Americans are Euro-Americans, an amalgam of ethnic groups.

IQ but not genes
The moment one talks of differences in average IQ between groups, the automatic assumption is that one is "really" talking about genes (and so "race"). Not so, as the evidence strongly suggests that the role of genes in inter-group differences in IQ is relatively small. For example, urbanisation had its normal effect (after a lag) in significantly raising (pdf) the average IQ of Ebonic-Americans. Moreover, children of an Ebonic-American father and Euro-American mother have significantly higher average IQ than Ebonic-Americans generally and are not significantly distinguishable in average social outcomes (pdf) than other Americans while, in the case of reverse pairings, children of an Euro-American father and Ebonic-American mothers have much the same patterns as Ebonic-Americans in average IQ and social outcomes.

It is very unlikely that these results have a genetic explanation: it is very likely that there is a cultural-experiential explanation for the first result and a cultural explanation for the last two results--likely due to the experience of slavery being highly adverse to the development of social or human capital, or mechanisms for generating the same, as well as mothering practices [patterns], given that sub-Saharan parenting patterns are very distinctive (pdf).

Indeed, sub-Saharan parenting patterns, particularly the reliance on siblings to raise younger siblings and the very limited role of fathers in parenting and the unusually low levels of maternal attention, seems somewhat programmed to, in the right circumstances, generate gang culture, which fulfil a somewhat similar role (albeit rather pathologically) to that ritual societies perform in their origin cultures.

So, Barack Hussein Obama is not Ebonic-American (his father was a, temporary, Kenyan immigrant, his mother was Euro-American). Indeed, culturally, he had a Euro-American upbringing. Hence, the US has not yet had an Ebonic-American President. Instead, from 2009-2017, the US had a two-term culturally Euro-American President of partly African descent; which fits right in with the results from the studies cited above.

If the social outcomes of African-Americans continue to be discussed in racial terms, then the debate will continue to be deeply dysfunctional, as it will direct attention to all the wrong places.

Culture as a basis for friendship and social combination, or social friction, is much more rational than skin colour. The “it’s all about race” presumes “people are identical except for race” (that being only skin deep). But they are not culturally identical, with all the implications of that.

A comment by Malcolm Gladwell is apposite:
Well, yeah, there is something — well, I hesitate to say under-theorized, but there is something under-theorized about the differences between West Indian and American black culture, the psychological difference between what it means to come from those two places. I think only when you look very closely at that difference do you understand the heavy weight that particular American heritage places on African-Americans. What’s funny about West Indians is, they can always spot another West Indian. And at a certain point you wonder, “How do they always know?” It’s because after a while you get good at spotting the absence of that weight.
And it explains as well the well-known phenomenon of how disproportionately successful West Indians are when they come to the United States because they seem to be better equipped to deal with the particular pathologies attached to race in this country — my mother being a very good example. But of course there are a million examples.
Gladwell is talking here of people of common African descent, but who come from very different experiences because of distinct historical legacies that go with, and help create, culture. For good or ill.

If we talked about race a lot less, and talked about social capital, human capital, family formation, parenting practices [patterns], and other features of culture, much more, there might actually be some progress. But the story would also become more complex, and not create an easy basis for despising fellow citizens or setting up linguistic trip-wires (micro-aggressions anyone?) in the service of moralised status games. Moreover, a people who wait for others to redeem them will wait forever. But the primary role of the modern secular religion of antiracism is not to solve problems, it is to been seen to care and play the consequent games of moralised status and despite. 

Note that nothing I write above implies that oppression is not a key part of that historical trajectory of Ebonic-American culture: on the contrary, it is crucial to understanding that legacy—hence “the weight” that Gladwell speaks of. But a legacy where the multi-dimensional burden of slavery and the social exclusions of Jim Crow are crucial, with racism as justificatory overlay.

[Also posted at Skepticlawyer.]

ADDENDA People have switched cultural identities for millennia. If we stopped calling ethnic identities "racial" then "transracialism" would make more sense, as "transethnicity".

FURTHER ADDENDA I like the way William Saletan puts it: race is not a causal unit.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

No, Ibn Khaldun is not the father of economics

I am a great admirer of work of the C14th Muslim intellectual Abū Zayd ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī (1332-1406), known as Ibn Khaldun. I gave a paper on his thought to the University of Melbourne Medieval Roundtable in April 2016, I will be giving another examining the course of the Ottoman Empire in the light of his analysis in August 2017. Widening the circle of those acquainted with his thought is laudable.

Overstating the case, however, is not. Such as claiming that he is the real originator of economic thinking: particularly via his Muqaddimah (1377) (sometimes also called his Prolegomena). Now, apart from the piece being an instance of the unlovely contemporary habit where people cannot be just factually wrong, or have made some analytical error, they must be morally delinquent, the claim is misconceived.

That Ibn Khaldun was a serious and perceptive economic thinker is clearly true, as is discussed in this 1988 contribution explicitly suggesting he was "the father of economics". But a key characteristic of any sort of father, metaphorical or otherwise, is that they have intellectual progeny, as is pointed out here. In this case, intellectual progeny specifically in the field of economic analysis. Within the Muslim world, Ibn Khaldun failed to do so.

It is not that Muslim intellectuals were not aware of his work. In The Muslim Discovery of Europe, Bernard Lewis instances Ottoman officials attempting to analyse European states via use of Ibn Khaldun's model of the path of states. It is simply that they failed to follow in his intellectual footsteps.

What makes Adam Smith (1723-1790) the father of economics, and originator of modern economic thinking, is not Adam Smith or even The Wealth of Nations (1775), it is Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), David Ricardo (1772-1823), Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi (1773-1842) and all those who followed on after. It was that Adam Smith had intellectual progeny, and, in the matter of economic analysis, Ibn Khaldun didn't.

It is worth noting that one reason that The Wealth of Nations had such an impact (apart from a book in the world of printing having a profound advantage over a book in the world of scribes) was that Great Britain was a parliamentary state, with the government by discussion that involves, and Smith's ideas rapidly became part of the political and policy debate. Conversely, Finnish priest and politician Anders Chydenius's (1729-1803) pamphlet The National Gain (1765), which preceded The Wealth of Nations and apparently advocated very similar ideas, was likely hampered in having an effect by Sweden being a more peripheral state, that Chydenius himself was a controversial political figure and Gustav III's coup of 1772, which abolished Parliamentary rule until it was restored in 1809.

If it turned out that Ibn Khaldun's ideas influenced Adam Smith, that might make him the Grandfather of Economics (vaguely possible, but not terribly likely; especially as the first complete scholarly edition of the Muqaddimah in Europe was not until 1858, part of the long-term scholarly impact of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798), but the temporal distance to intellectual progeny would still preclude him from being, in any useful sense, the Father of Economics or the originator of modern economic thinking.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The depths of Palestinian dysfunction

We are about three years away from the centenary of the (third) Palestine Arab Conference in December 1920 which demanded an end to Jewish migration into Palestine and just under three years from the centenary of the April 1920 Nebi Musa riots, the first fatal clash between Jews and Arabs in Palestine on the matter of Jewish migration and Zionism. (Though the March 1920 Battle of Tel Hai might also be regarded as the first clash.)

We are about four years away from the centenary of the appointment of Amin al-Husseini as Mufti (later Grand Mufti) of Jerusalem whose policy of total rejection of any negotiation with Jews, any acceptance of Jewish migration, or even the legitimacy of Jewish residence in Palestine, set the basis for Palestinian politics until the Oslo Accords (which, it turned out, involved negotiations with Israel but not any substantive movement on the other rejections).

Almost 100 years later, the politics of Amin al-Husseini are almost entirely replicated in the politics of Hamas. An almost century which saw the almost three decades before the establishment of Israel, the two decades of Israel existing up to the 1967 war, the decades of the Israeli occupation of Gaza (until 2005) and the West Bank (with partial Israeli withdrawal in 1994). Yet Palestinian politics based explicitly on Islam is back where it started from. This does not suggest that Israeli policy and actions has much purchase on the underlying patterns of Palestinian politics.

The stream of Palestinian action represented by Fatah is different in aspects of its political rhetoric, as it has a history of using much more secular rhetoric based on Arab nationalism with elements of revolutionary socialism. But the difference is merely in the rhetoric, not the underlying politics. Even there, Amin al-Husseini also talked in pan-Arab terms, being involved in such politics before he took up the Palestinian cause. (Or, more accurately, the anti-Zionist cause, as the Palestinian identity has been created in the course of opposition to Zionism.) Claims that the public statements of Fatah aimed at Western audiences show some sort of acceptance of Israel, and any substantial Jewish presence in Israel-Palestine, are belied by what is taught in Palestinian schools and pushed in Palestinian media.

The Oslo disaster
Moreover, as Efraim Karsh points out, the Oslo Accords have been a disaster for both Israel and Palestinians. The level of violence since the Accords has been much higher than during the Israeli occupation of 1967-1993, the standard of living of Palestinians has become much lower than it was under the Israeli occupation, and Palestinians suffer under much more corrupt administration than they did under Israeli occupation. As both Fatah and Hamas have stopped having elections, while the Israelis permitted local elections, even democracy was better under Israeli occupation. Meanwhile, since the Accords, Israel has had more killing of its civilians, its security situation has worsened and its politics has been destabilised.

Indeed, with the sole exception of the peace treaty with Egyptevery time Israel has withdrawn from territory (Southern Lebanon, Gaza, West Bank) its civilians have been attacked from that territory. Why would any more territorial withdrawals remotely seem like a good idea? Not to most Israelis any more, according to opinion polls.

The only even vaguely plausible basis for that being a good idea, would be if it brought peace. But that requires Palestinian acceptance of that such a peace, and there is no evidence whatever for that being a remotely plausible outcome. Indeed, apart from various statements aimed at Western opinion, the evidence is clearly against it. Not only the experience up to this time, but also the patterns of Palestinian opinion and the wider history of the Islamic Middle East.

Palestinian opinion
Regarding said opinion, a series of statistically reliable opinion polls of Palestinian opinion are available, though mostly in Arabic. Fortunately, political scientist Daniel Polisar has pored over those opinion poll results, distilling the results into two online essays, here and here.

So, what do Palestinians think the aims of Israel are?
On over two dozen occasions since 2009, PSR fieldworkers asked West Bank and Gaza residents, “What do you think are the aspirations of Israel for the long run?” With clock-like consistency, the options espoused by most of the parties represented in the Israeli Knesset and by consistent majorities of Israelis—namely, that Israel is seeking “withdrawal from all [or part] of the territories it occupied in 1967”—are chosen least often. More popular is the belief, held by one-fifth of Palestinians, that Israel’s goal is “Annexation of the West Bank while denying political rights of Palestinian citizens.” But the view commanding an absolute majority in all 25 polls, at an average of 59 percent, is that Israel’s aspirations are “Extending the borders of the state of Israel to cover all the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and expelling its Arab citizens.”
Assuming one takes respondents at their word, three of every five Palestinians living next door to Israel believe its aspirations are to reconquer the Gaza Strip and the Arab-populated areas of the West Bank, annex them, and expel the more than four million Arab residents currently living there plus the 1.7 million Arab citizens of Israel. And this, despite the fact that in the past quarter-century, not a single Israeli Knesset member, respected public figure, or major media personality has advocated such a view in public or is reliably claimed to have expressed it in private.
What is their opinion of Jews?
In 2009, the Pew Research Center asked publics in two dozen countries how they viewed Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Regarding Jews, 94 percent of Palestinians reported a “very unfavorable” opinion. (Only 23 percent reported a very unfavorable opinion of Christians.) In this respect, Palestinian views are par for the course in the Arab world: between 92 and 95 percent of Lebanese, Egyptians, and Jordanians also expressed very unfavorable opinions of Jews. Two years later, Pew repeated the questions and achieved comparable results. In the latter survey, Pew also asked whether some religions were more prone than others to violence. More than half of Palestinians averred that this is the case, and of these, 88 percent fingered Judaism as the most violent. (The other choices were Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism.)
Let us remember what 1300 years of Islamic doctrine and practice held--that it was a cosmic insult, literally against God, to treat Jews as the political equals of believers. This outlook was based profoundly on Islam's deep civilisational principle of Muslim supremacy, as embedded in law and in cultural practice; something deemed to be ordained by God. Such supremacy is explicitly the doctrine of Hamas.

The persistent refusal to grapple with the reality that Islam is a different civilisation, with profoundly different basic ideas and cultural and institutional legacy, is at the heart of much Western delusion about Middle Eastern politics and society in general and the Israel-Palestine dispute in particular. An essay, by a former Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia on jihad, apparently written between 1974 and 1981, on the nature and significance of jihad within Islamic law (pdf) provides a case in point. Nothing even remotely like it would be produced by any Western former chief justice.

(As an aside, that so many Western commentators still do not understand that Islamic martyrdom--killing non-believers in pursuit of Sharia rule--is both the best, in the sense of highest status, the only guaranteed path to Paradise, and wipes away all sins and transgressions, is a pointed and repetitive example of such failure to inform oneself. Such a killer's previous impious behaviour does not in any way undermine the Islamic nature of such acts; on the contrary, it is precisely the putative ability of martyrdom to put all such past transgressions to naught which makes it attractive to "bad" Muslims: and pointing to such past transgressions as some evidence of it not being an "Islamic" act just parades one's own wilful ignorance.)

Palestinian politics
Muslim supremacy was also the outlook explicitly adopted, and sought to be acted upon, by the founder of Palestinian political movement, Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem when he began Palestinian rejectionism in 1921, that:
demands that Palestinians (and beyond them, Arabs and Muslims) repudiate every aspect of Zionism: deny Jewish ties to the land of Israel, fight Jewish ownership of that land, refuse to recognize Jewish political power, refuse to trade with Zionists, murder Zionists where possible, and ally with any foreign power, including Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, to eradicate Zionism.
Hamas just represents a return to the original ideas motivating Palestinian politics. Hardly surprising, as they come from the same original sources and core ideas.

The only possible path to peace under the politics of the Grand Mufti and of Hamas is the destruction of any element of Jewish organised politics and the Jews accepting powerless subordination to believers. If that is the dominant Palestinian path to peace, then there is no path to peace available to Israel, no concession or cunning policy trick which will allow peace, on any terms remotely likely to be acceptable to Israelis.

So, what about "secular" Palestinian opinion, as represented by Fatah and the PLO? It and its supporters are products of the same cultural nexus, the same civilisation. It may have adopted a rhetorical Marxism--so, instead of Israel being destroyed because it is Jewish, Israel needed to be destroyed because it was it's a colonial imperialist project--but the declared aim didn't change. Hardly surprising given that it and its supporters are products of the same culture and civilisation and Fatah and the PLO never repudiated the Grand Mufti.

Thus, organised Palestinian politics have swung from the Jews should be destroyed because they're being outrageously uppity (1921-48), to Israel should be destroyed because it's Jewish, to Israel should be destroyed be it's a colonial imperialist project, and back to Israel should be destroyed because it's Jewish.

The notion that the experience of defeat, humiliation and partial dispossession has somehow convinced Palestinians to embrace an entirely foreign view of Jews as their moral and political equals, in contradiction to 13 centuries of Islamic doctrine and practice, is not something that has manifested in any way in organised Palestinian politics. On the contrary, preaching, rhetoric, schooling and public culture within Palestinian Territories all point to the opposite--that they have systematically "doubled down" on the notion that the entire experience is a cosmic insult to be rectified at some future time when Jews will again be restored to their proper status as the powerless subordinates of their cosmic betters. As expatriate Iranian journalist Amir Taheri points out, this "nexus" of beliefs is very powerful and deeply resistant to change:
As far as I know, one question has yet to be asked of Palestinians:
Which would you prefer: (1) to see a Palestinian state on the map? (2) to see Israel wiped off the map?
To judge by non-scientific, anecdotal evidence, most Palestinians want both. And this underscores the reality that no progress will be possible until and unless “Palestine” becomes a pragmatic political project rather than a religious-ideological cause célèbre. Until that day dawns, in poll after poll, the Palestinian nexus will continue to provide answers of the type that Daniel Polisar has analyzed with great talent and acumen.
But attending to such facts requires treating Islam as really being a different civilisation with different underlying ideas, history and cultural legacies. Palestinians are not WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic), not remotely. But treating them, by default, as if they are by not seriously examining Palestinian politics, opinion, schooling, preaching, media (or treating it as just blank-slate reaction to what Israelis do) is both congenial and reassuring to many Westerners.

So, organised Palestinian politics is a bust in permitting a path to peace--which is why it has never been achieved, despite the fact that potential agreements have always been available. Available, that is, if one was willing to treat Jews as political equals; and that insult of equality was and remains a step way too far.

Palestinian opinion (2)
If organised Palestinian politics is a bust, perhaps there is some good news within Palestinian public opinion?

Not so much. Consider questions about who is to blame for various problems plaguing Palestinians:
Over the years, there were also many questions posed about problems for which Israel wasn’t listed as a possible culprit; on these, respondents assigned blame to their government, to leading figures and parties, or to society as a whole. But when Israel was offered as an option, both where its culpability could plausibly be claimed and where doing so was farfetched in the extreme, more Palestinians passed responsibility to Israel than opted for any other answer. Whatever else this might say, it indicates a tendency to ascribe to Israel greater power than it actually wields—along with intentions so diabolical as to lead it to act in ways detrimental to the Jewish state’s own interests, so long as this will cause suffering to Palestinians.
How could one possibly contemplate final peace with a state so malign? (Or a frame of mind which has failed to notice that they were actually better off under direct Israeli rule: but the cosmic insult of equality is too strong.)

Particularly as Palestinian opinion overwhelmingly denies Jews have any links to the land of Israel. Moreover:
This denial of Jewish roots and rights might help explain why Palestinians are skeptical that Israel, not yet three-quarters of a century old, will continue to exist as a Jewish state, or perhaps at all, in another generation. In 2011, the Greenberg poll asked Palestinians to choose which statement is more accurate: “I am certain Israel will exist 25 years from now as a Jewish state with a Jewish majority” or “I am not so certain . . . .” Over 60 percent doubted Israel would continue to exist as a Jewish state. In the 2015 Washington Institute poll, a similar question was asked, with different wording and a lengthened time horizon. In response, only a quarter of Palestinians believed Israel would continue to exist as a Jewish state “in another 30 or 40 years.” A comparable number thought it would exist as a bi-national state of Jews and Palestinians, while close to half said Israel would no longer exist either “because Arab or Muslim resistance will destroy it” or “because it will collapse from internal contradictions.”
In sum, when the Palestinians look at Israel, they see a country of enormous power and influence that has done great harm to them, that seeks to displace them entirely from historical Palestine, and whose people are deficient as individuals and also lacking any collective rights to the land in general or to Jerusalem in particular.
Why make peace (in contradiction of fundamental religious and cultural principles) with a malign state which, if one hangs onto one's hate for long enough, will just go away? Faced with this systematic rejection, it is hardly surprising that endless negotiations never end up with anything other than temporary truce agreements and provisional arrangements. For reasons which are not amenable to Israeli policy levers.

It is also hardly surprising that Palestinian opinion strongly supports violence against Israel and Jews, and has a completely one-sided notion of what constitutes terrorism:
When asked hypothetically if Israel’s use of chemical or biological weapons against Palestinians would constitute terror, 93 percent said yes, but when the identical question was posed regarding the use of such weapons of mass destruction by Palestinians against Israelis, only 25 percent responded affirmatively.
Indeed, Palestinians are much more positive towards Muslim terrorism in general than other Arabs:
Also in the same survey, Palestinians were asked whether “The destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City by people suspected to be members of Bin Laden’s organization” was terrorism. Only 41 percent were willing to say yes; 53 percent rejected the term. The same pattern crops up in surveys conducted between 2006 and 2009 by the Arab Barometer project, in which Palestinians consistently distinguished themselves from other Arabs in rejecting the term terrorism for such jihadist operations as the “Madrid train explosions” (March 2004, 191 killed) and the “London underground explosions” (July 2005, 52 dead). In both cases, a majority of Palestinians averred these were not acts of terror, whereas comparable figures in the other Arab publics ranged from 17 percent down to 2 percent. ...
Though the level of support varied widely among countries and across time, one constant is that the Palestinians were always the leaders in seeing suicide bombings and similar attacks as justified. On average, 59 percent saw them as being justified often or sometimes; no other Arab or Muslim public came close.
Violence against Israel is seen as effective:
Similarly, Israeli decisions to pull out of previously held territory have been seen by Palestinians as a consequence of their “armed resistance” and not as a function of Israeli strategic interests, international pressure, or other factors. This was pointedly true regarding the decision by the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to leave the Gaza Strip. When asked by PSR in September 2005, a month after the pullout, what was “the single most important factor” in the Israeli decision, 57 percent chose “attacks by Palestinian resistance.” Time and again in polls before and after the pullout, three-quarters on average would tell PSR they saw “Sharon’s plan to evacuate the Israeli settlements from Gaza as a victory for the Palestinian armed resistance against Israel.” ...
West Bank and Gaza residents were asked: “Do you think that when Palestinians use violence that injures and kills Israeli civilians this makes the Israelis more willing or less willing to make compromises?” Sixty-four percent opted for “more willing,”and only 17 percent for “less willing.”
Why make peace with a malign state against basic religious and cultural principles when violence continues to work? More to the point, if you are Israel, how do you negotiate any peace if every Israeli concession is seen as a sign of weakness, a presaging of Israel's eventual collapse and destruction? (Remember the history of Israeli withdrawals.)

Nor is it surprising that perpetrators of violence are valorised:
In the poll, a substantial majority, 61 percent, thought it morally “right” to “nam[e] streets after Palestinian suicide bombers like Dalal al-Maghrabi who killed Israeli civilians within Israel.”
There is support, according to various opinion polls, among Palestinians for various potential package deals and compromises, as David Pollock explains here. The bad news is that they fall into the temporary truce agreements and provisional arrangements category (which have always been sanctioned by Islamic doctrine), being allied to a strong belief that Israel will collapse or be destroyed.

The refusal of the Palestinian leadership to agree to recognise Israel as a Jewish state or to give up the right of return makes complete sense in this context.

Paid to be dysfunctional
As Israeli journalist Haviv Rettig Gur points out, the view of Palestinians as a powerless put-upon people also serves Palestinian interests, both in avoiding the burdens of responsibility and in selling a "blame Israel' narrative to everyone else. (Which Western progressivists are all too willing to buy.)

The West, via UNWRA (which has an annual budget of over a US$1bn), pays billions of dollars and euros for the Palestinians to remain dysfunctional. The trick is done by a definition of refugee that only applies to Palestinians--to be a Palestinian "refugee" one has to have been resident for two years up to 1948 in the territories became Israel, or be a descendant of same. Palestinians are thus the world's only hereditary refugees. As hereditary refugees, they receive said billions in euros and dollars from the West. If the same definition of refugee as applies to everyone else was applied to Palestinians, not only would stop feeding into Palestinian view of unique victimhood, it would also force them to start collectively working for a living--which would make cooperation with Israel much more attractive.

If the US and the EU were serious about promoting Israel-Palestinian peace, they would do that immediately, at least in their own policy (getting the UN General Assembly to agree may be more difficult). If commentators on Israel-Palestinian peace were serious, they would advocate that. The seriousness of such efforts and commentary can be judged by whether they are even remotely aware of the issue, and the deeply perverse incentives this funding creates (which looms a great deal larger in Palestinian economies than does US aid to Israel in the Israeli economy).

That, after provoking conflict with Israel, Hamas received billions in pledges of rebuilding money is another case of Palestinians being paid to be dysfunctional, to be shielded from the consequences of their actions and attitudes.

The West (and particularly Europe) pays the Palestinians to have no incentive to adjust their attitudes, or make peace, and then wonders why Israel is resistant to their perspectives.

Palestinian popular rejectionism
As Daniel Polisar points out in his second online essay, while there has sometimes been Palestinian majority polling support for a two-state solution, it presumes the content of such an agreement to be such as to well beyond what any Israeli Government is likely to agree to. Support for a binational state is much lower. Moreover, even if not explicitly offered the option, a significant (and rising) minority opts for an Islamic/Palestinian state on the entire territory of Israel-Palestine as a write-in response. When explicitly offered the option, support is much higher (and far higher than the equivalent view among Israelis: but Palestinian opinion has always been more extreme, and Palestinian politics more violent, than Israeli opinion and politics), with an Palestinian state "from the river to the sea" being much the preferred option again and again. Unsurprisingly, a 2015 opinion poll found that:
A tiny minority, 12 percent, said “Both Jews and Palestinians have rights to the land.” An overwhelming majority, including 81 percent of West Bankers and 88 percent of Gazans, answered unequivocally that “This is all Palestinian land and Jews have no rights to it.”
So, even when we seem to be in the realm of compromise, the nexus fights back. This us-or-them mentality is nicely expressed by opinion poll results:
[In 2003] Only 17 percent of Palestinians believed Israel’s existence was compatible with the realization of their rights and needs, while 80 percent believed it incompatible. The identical question was asked in 2007, with similar results: 77 percent of Palestinians believed they could not achieve their national rights or meet their needs as long as Israel existed.
Opposition to Israel's right to exist is overwhelming, and most so among young Palestinians, the product of the Palestinian education systems:
Indeed, when JMCC asked Palestinians in 1995, “Do you think Israel has the right to exist?,” 65 percent said no. In February 2007, Near East Consulting (NEC), a Ramallah-based survey research firm that differs from its peers in using telephone surveys rather than face-to-face interviews, asked the same question and reported that 75 percent of respondents answered in the negative. NEC asked the question again in May of that year and again the same percentage disagreed. Tellingly, the percentage of naysayers was highest among the young, reaching 92 percent among Palestinians between ages eighteen and twenty-four.
Israeli scepticism about any putative peace process appears well grounded (as, for that matter, does scepticism regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state). Conversely, Western commentary which presumes some changes in Israeli policy would allow peace to be achieved appears deeply delusional. Israel can decide what it wants all it likes; short of simply expelling all the Palestinians from their borders, it is not in Israel's power to achieve any stable arrangement, merely varying degrees of tolerable ones. Particularly as the overwhelmingly preferred Palestinian outcome remains to expel all the Jews.

Historical roots
We need to be quite clear that Palestinian attitudes do not spring from some reaction to Zionism but from much deeper sources. Under Western pressure, the Ottoman Empire in the later C19th began to move to equal legal rights and standing for Muslims and non-Muslims. The result were periodic "equal rights" massacres (such as Aleppo in 1850 and in Damascus in 1860), where, although often in part sparked by other factors, believers would also become homicidally enraged over the loss of (superior) status that equality with non-Muslims entailed.

Armenian dead, Erzurum, 1895.
This was a pattern the Ottoman state itself eventually embraced, as Muslims became an increasing majority within the shrinking Empire, with the Hamidian massacres of the 1890s, the Adana massacre of 1909 and the Armenian, Greek-Pontic and Assyrian genocides of the Great War. The pattern continued in Arab states in the interwar period, with various massacres of non-Muslim groups, such as the Simele massacre of 1933.

The massacres of Jews in Mandatory Palestine did not come out of nowhere. The Jews did show a willingness to kill back. One sometimes get utterly misleading claims that Palestinian terrorism represents "asymmetric warfare". That is nonsense on stilts--killing Jews was engaged in decades before Israel was born, when Muslims were a majority in Mandatory Palestine. Indeed, as noted above, we are approaching the centenary of the tactic in Israel-Palestine.

The agitation against Zionism did represent a shift in the pattern of massacre elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East--Jews became increasing targets, when Christians had mainly been the victims up to then, culminating in the Farhud pogrom in Baghdad. So, when antipathy to the actions of Christian Powers was the issue, local Christians were massacred. Once Zionism came along, more local Jews were massacred--which was actually a gain, in a sense, as Jewish populations were smaller and more urbanised, so such massacres involved less actual killings.

Palestinian politics helped build Israel
In a way, Israel owes the Grand Mufti a debt: his homicidal enmity, and his ability to inspire and motivate support, was so clear that any Jews in Mandatory Palestine who had doubted the need for a Jewish state did so no longer. But his benefits to Israel extended beyond that. By absolutely confirming what their own local experience showed them, he and his movement greatly encouraged Jews from all over the Middle East to flee to the new country of Israel. Indeed, once Israel was established, and the prevailing Arab attitude to Jews being effective political actors was continually demonstrated, Middle Eastern Jews embraced Zionism much more thoroughly than European Jews did, with about two-thirds of them fleeing to Israel (the rest mainly fled to France and the US, leaving behind tiny remnants of communities with a longer history in the region than Islam) and did so without any local horror remotely on the scale of the Holocaust. (Though the various Ottoman genocides were powerful indicators in their own right, along with the responses to the creation of Israel.)

Of course, seeing Zionism as including any sort of response to Arab actions rather gets in the way of various progressivist pieties.

The modernising threat
Decades prior to the establishment of Israel, the Mufti, and the movement he led, responded to the new arrivals with a level of virulent contempt and violence wildly in excess of anything represented by current European populist nationalists towards Muslim migrants into Europe. And Mandatory Palestine in the 1920s was not remotely an over-populated place. The newcomers brought capital, labour, skills which resulted in an expanding economy that then drew people in from the rest of the Middle East--an unknown proportion of contemporary Palestinians only have any connection to Palestine because the Jews moved in.

Kibbutz, 1941.
But the newcomers also brought in modernisation; including beliefs about democracy and equal rights, about expanded possibilities for women. They were an affront to the traditionalist landlord class, with its debt bondage, and the associated clerical establishment, at so many levels. Deeply embedded notions of Muslim supremacy were a convenient lever to try and keep the modern world out--and fear and hatred of modernity is something Jew-hatred has had a strong association with over the last two centuries. Trying to fit some anti-colonialist story over the top of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim Jew-hatred obscures way more than it reveals.

Moreover, as the history of equal rights massacres in the Ottoman Empire, and the Hamidian massacres and the Armenian, Pontic-Greek and Assyrian genocides, the various minority massacres of the interwar years, including the Farhud, the Lebanese Civil War, the Algerian Civil War, the contemporary history of Iraq, Syria and Libya all attest, abandoning the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) would be a suicidally stupid choice on the part of Israelis. Yet the elimination of the IDF is clearly a core Palestinian aim.

The case of Lebanon, originally a somewhat Christian-dominated state which failed to provoke remotely the same enmity as Israel, provides a revealing contrast: though set up as a multi-communal or confessional state with the Christian community in first position, Lebanon was not explicitly a Christian state, it did not involve non-Muslims moving into Muslim lands (in contradiction of the "proper" direction of history), the Christians were not bringing modernity with them and it all ended in civil war anyway, with peace only being achieved on the basis of a state weak enough not to be threatening but also too weak to perform basic functions.

Lebanon was also set up during the heyday of Arab nationalism, when Arab Christians in particular were at the forefront of an ideology which pushed the common status of Muslims and Christian Arabs as Arabs, hence Lebanon's role as a founder-member of the Arab League. As Arab nationalism tied itself to confrontation with Israel (which failed) and very strongly state-centred economic policies (which also largely failed) it has lost most of its popular and institutional base, while Arab Christians have found that agreeing with Muslim Arabs to exclude the Jews from Arab identity has, in the longer term, just meant they became next on the hit list, hence the steady emigration of Christians from Arab lands.

Population exchanges, 1920s.
The role of blaming Israel as scapegoat had wide appeal in the Arab Middle East. Especially as, that a bunch of refugee Jews built a prosperous democracy not only showed up Arab failures, it is a cosmic insult. Hence the continuing refusal of Arab to accept "the Zionist entity" and the efforts of Arab regimes to divert popular attention and anger to the Zionists and the Jews (though that has proved a fading game). Hence also leaving the Palestinians as stateless sticks to beat Israel with.

The great success of Israel of taking in so many refugees and building a successful society, democracy and state has, ironically, obscured both the flight of Jews from Muslim countries and that so many Israeli Jews are of Middle Eastern, not European, origin. But is has also obscured that the Palestinians are the only case of people in a C20th population exchange who were not taken in and absorbed by their ethno-religious confreres. Any claim that it is Palestinian dispossession which drives Arab attitudes to Israel is disproved by the treatment of Palestinians by Arab countries. It is easier for a Palestinian to become a citizen of Western settler societies Canada, USA and Australia than of most Arab countries. (Kuwait, for example, expelled its Palestinian residents without any blowback.)

Europe in the late 1940s; mostly not voluntary moves
(particularly the Germans).
There is a great deal to Ruth R. Wisse's point that Zionism is unexceptional, it is anti-Zionism which is exceptional. Indeed, anti-Zionism is pervaded by exceptionalism--the Palestinians as permanent and hereditary refugees, as stateless sticks to beat Israel is rather than being accepted as citizens of Arab states, to be paid to be dysfunctional, as agentless victims who have no responsibility for the failure to achieve piece, as morally counting only when harmed by Israel. 

Whatever the merit of separating anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism in the West, it has always been a distinction without a difference in the Arab world--which was anti-Zionist because it was pervaded with Jew-hatred. While European anti-Semitic tropes have found ready acceptance in the Arab world--most obviously, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (whose first Arab translation was by an Arab Christian in the 1920s)--this was a Jew-hatred founded in Muslim supremacism: anything which implied that Jews had equal moral and political standing with believers was a cosmic insult. Which the existence of Israel most emphatically did entail, but so did implying Jews had any right to live in Israel.

The exceptionalism goes all the way back to end of the Israeli War for Independence, as Einat Wilf reminds us:
In the negotiations following the war, the Arab negotiation teams not only refused to meet with representatives of the State of Israel, but took great pains to emphasise that the armistice lines separating the newly independent State from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank were not to be borders. Borders implied permanence. These were cease-fire lines only, because the war was not over. The message was clear: the Jewish people might have declared independence in the State of Israel, but sooner or later there would be another war that would erase that humiliating eyesore from the Arab region.

It is all about not accepting the existence of Israel as anything other than a temporary, and cosmically perverse, state of affairs. Cosmically perverse because the fundamental objection remains the same that it always has been--treating Jews as politically equal to Muslims and Arabs.

The main driver of Muslim, particularly Arab, attitudes in general, and Palestinian attitudes in particular to Israel and Jews, remains Muslim supremacism. It is not that absolutely every Muslim, Arab or Palestinian buys into all of it (or any of it); it is that Muslim supremacism retains the balance of presumption and opinion and continues to drive attitudes. But Muslim supremacism is central to most of the difficulties between Muslims and non-Muslims (and, for that matter, many of the problems between Muslims; though in such cases it is about what it entails, whether and how it should be adhered to, and who counts as a Muslim). In particular, Muslim supremacism is why the patterns of behaviour within Muslim communities tend to shift depending on their share of the population and their level of local population dominance.

The depressing reality
But looking at all this history is messy and awkward: it gets in the way of all sorts of neat, convenient narratives. It being a common contemporary progressive view that somewhere, somehow, history stopped and no one has inconvenient historical and cultural baggage--well, no non-Westerners. (The principle of Haan history most emphatically applies to the West: including, of course, Israel.)

Taking the broader perspective does lead us to a depressing place. But there is a reason we are not far from the centenary of the Jewish-Arab violence in Israel-Palestine. And the reason is not Zionism and the Jews, the reason is that the Palestinians have not remotely escaped from over 13 centuries of Islamic doctrine and cultural practice. Unless some mechanism is found to sort those who have from those who haven't, and and increase and keep the former and shrink and expel the latter (since even a hostile minority is enough to keep violence going), the no-peace just provisional arrangements situation will continue, indefinitely.

ADDENDA: Here is a New York Post piece on how much foreign aid to Palestine is spent on supporting violence against Israel. And a Strategy Page piece on the dysfunctional (and homicidal) political competition between Fatah and Hamas. Here is a scholarly piece which includes a discussion of (pdf) the role Muslim hostility to equality with non-Muslims contributed to mayhem and murder in the declining Ottoman Empire.


[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]