Tuesday, July 26, 2016

the conversation you can't have

This is a conversation I'd like to be able to have, but due to current cultural themes running powerfully in America at this point in time, unfortunately I cannot.  But I'd like to offer it theoretically, because it seems that it's not just me unable to have these talks.  Everyone's unable to talk about these notions.  Almost like there's a taboo against it.  In any case, here is the talk I'd like to have.

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H.M. Lohmann (HML) -- Steve, good to see you.  How have you been, what have you been up to?

My Jewish Friend Steve (JFS) -- Hey Hy.  Same here.  I've been good mostly, but this craziness with the Republicans and the insanity of Trump's egomania and bigotry has me concerned, so I'm a little edgy.  Forgive me if I seem a little scattered.

HML -- So what are the things that bother you?  Can you just ignore them?  Are they things you think or worry about, or are they things that actually are happening in your life?  Let's catch up.  What have you been doing?

JFS -- Well I'm sure you experience some of the same, Hy.  As a fellow Jew, you've seen the insanity from the Republicans and the craziness of Trump.  Apparently he's got Putin's backing.  Putin's a famous anti-Semite.  And there's that wall Trump wants to build.

HML -- I don't know how to say this, Steve.  So I'll just say it directly.  I'm not a Jew any more.  Religion-wise, I mean.  I guess I'm still a cultural Jew because of who I am, who my parents are, et cetera.  But I'm not following the faith any more. 

JFS -- Atheist?  Listen, I know what you mean.  I try to tell people I'm a Buddhist myself.  Saves me from the anti-Semitic responses.

HML -- No, that's not what I mean.  I mean it seriously.  Not just as a thing I say to keep people from taking a negative stance.

JFS -- Isn't this the wrong time in history to be disavowing the Talmud?  Look at the oppression we face everywhere on Earth.  Solidarity, Hy.  That's how the Jewish people have survived for so long.  Solidarity.  Don't be ashamed.

HML -- I'm not ashamed to have been born a Jew or raised in the Jewish faith.  I just don't agree with the Talmud any more, Steve.

JFS -- Did that Dawkins guy get to you?  The Brights?  The global atheists?  What do you mean here, Hy?  I'm sure you know the Brights are just another way of keeping anti-Semitism at bay.  Dawkins, Dennett, all of them are friends of Israel. 

HML -- I'm not an atheist now, not for social cover purposes and not in truth.  I don't even like those Brights.  They seem like con artists to me.

JFS -- Everyone's a con artist, Hy.  You know this.  Everyone manipulates everyone else.  You have to be a manipulator just to survive in this crazy world. 

HML -- What I'm saying is related to what you just said, Steve.  The world is for sure crazy right now, but I believe it's crazy because of the perspective you just described.  When you become so cynical that you assume everyone's a manipulator and so you have to be a manipulator yourself, I think you are working to destroy the world.  Not to be a part of it.  And definitely not to make it a better place.  To the extent any of us can do that on our own, I mean.

JFS -- My grandparents used to tell me when I was younger that the goyim always will hate the Jew, and the only way the Jew gets a fair shake is by manipulating the goyim into thinking we're not Jews, or don't have a Jewish outlook.  Otherwise the goyim just won't do business with you.  I have to say, Hy, my grandparents were right.

HML -- Manipulation as a self-defense strategy, eh?

JFS -- Basically.

HML -- Let me ask you something, Steve.  You have a family now.  Do you manipulate your kids, tell them lies about yourself, tell them lies about the world?

JFS -- What's a lie?  I don't think I tell them any lies.  I think what I try to do is prepare them for life as a Jew.  It's an anti-Semitic world, Hy.

HML -- I used to think that way, Steve.  But when I got into my early 30s, I didn't like all the anxiety I was carrying around every day.  I didn't like the way it felt to assume every non-Jew was trying to run a dirty trick on me.  I didn't like trying to go through my day with a view that said, "everyone hates me, I'll never get ahead, I'll never have a happy life."  By the time I was in my late 30s, I was a neurotic mess.  I used hand sanitizer any time I went anywhere that wasn't temple or a business run by people I knew were Jewish.  Every time I encountered someone I thought or knew wasn't Jewish, instead of listening to them talk, I'd be wondering -- "how is this person going to screw me over today?" 

JFS -- That sounds like a sane perspective to me.  This was a problem for you?  You must have had a psychiatrist at the time, what did he think?

HML -- He thought the manipulator perspective was safest.  Either that, or move to a town or area where the population was mostly Jewish.  His idea was pretty simple:  interaction with goyim causes stress and anxiety, so try to remove the sources of stress and anxiety.

JFS -- Sounds pretty smart to me.  It's going to take a few decades before Judaism is fully in control over American society, so you may as well be comfortable in the meantime.

HML -- Well, I got to thinking in another direction.  For example, if I followed the psychiatrist's idea, I'd move to Israel.  Simple enough.  I could find work there I'm sure. 

JFS -- Yes, but then how would you help progress American culture?  Doesn't it disturb you that there's so much anti-Semitism here and so much official Christianity?  We have an obligation to correct bigotry wherever we find it, as Jews we have this obligation.  You remember this from your childhood, right?

HML -- To be honest, Steve, that's one of the things that I first rejected.  That obligation.

JFS -- I don't get it.  The Jews have been at the front of every major social change in America.  We are responsible for the 1965 Civil Rights Act.  Look at what we've done in the South with the SPLC.  And even as we speak, we're slowly converting Utah.  Doesn't the existence of a state dominated by those MoMos make you angry, Hy?

HML -- Not really.  They remind me of the Orthodox Jews who have their own little neighborhood in New York City.  They just want a place to be themselves.  Why should Mormons settling Utah bother me as a Jew, if Orthodox Jews have done a similar thing in neighborhoods around America?

JFS -- You haven't read Krakauer's book then?

HML -- Oh no, I read it.  There wasn't the slightest bit of empathy for the Mormons as victims of religious persecution.  Isn't religious persecution a problem for the Jewish people?  Shouldn't we be sensitive to others being persecuted for religious belief?  Don't we have that much in common with Mormons?

JFS -- I'll pretend you haven't noticed that the Mormons use the term Zion incorrectly.  They think Zion is the MoMo heaven.  That alone pisses me off.  There's only one Zion, and it's the historical home of the Jewish people.  You know this Hy, or at least you used to.  I don't really understand this new perspective of yours.  Did you suffer massive head trauma since I last talked to you?  Is it possible your brain got a bit scrambled?  I know a good neurologist.

HML -- I haven't been in any accidents, didn't have a stroke, haven't had a heart attack, no aneurysm, didn't have a brain tumor, and didn't get shock therapy.  I've actually been pretty healthy, Steve.  Surprisingly.

JFS -- So obviously you didn't move to Israel since we're standing here talking.

HML -- No, I didn't.  I'm not here on vacation from Israel.  I didn't go anywhere, actually.  Didn't move to a mostly-Jewish neighborhood or town.  I just thought about a few things.  For example, I tried to imagine what it's like to not be Jewish.  To not hold the Jewish perspective, to not have learned the teachings of the Talmud.  I tried to figure out how others experience Judaism and Jews.

JFS -- That sounds like the mark of Jewish self-hatred, Hy.  Tell me something -- was your psychiatrist Jewish?  Maybe a goyim shrink sent you down this path.

HML -- No, my psychiatrist was someone I knew from temple.  I don't think we have non-Jews pretending at Judaism at my temple.  Or former temple I guess.

JFS -- So where did these ideas come from?  Did you start reading or listening to right wing crazies?

HML -- Actually, I started paying attention to the prominent Jews among the Republican party and a few from the Democrats too.  The ones who call themselves the neocons.  Wolfowitz, Perle, Kagan, Kristol.

JFS -- Those people are the only voice of sanity in that insane party of bigoted racists.

HML -- Maybe.  I mean I'm sure you can see them that way if you want to take a certain perspective.  But it's that certain perspective that bothers me, to be honest.  I'm not really comfortable with the ideas of Israel first, America second.  I'm not really happy about American entanglement in the Middle East when a lot of that revolves around fighting wars for Israel.  And the lopsided influence of AIPAC is something I just can't respect.  Not any more.  I'm living in America, not Israel.  And besides, isn't Israel a pretty thriving economy now, with a strong military of its own?

JFS -- Yes it is.  And don't you forget it!  Look at what Israel has been able to do in 70 years.  No other nation on Earth has grown so quickly in global political power, economic strength, or military fearsomeness.

HML -- So if that's true, why does the United States have to send so much money and guaranteed business contracts to Israel?  Shouldn't Israel be able to take care of itself?

JFS -- You really do sound like a self-hating Jew, Hy.  I'm a little uncomfortable here.  You know that Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map.  Palestinians constantly threaten Israel.

HML -- Palestinians?  They threaten Israel?  Didn't you just say Israel has military fearsomeness and a lot of economic strength?  What military does Palestine have?  What economic strength?

JFS -- They teach their children to throw rocks at IDF soldiers.

HML -- Rocks are more dangerous than bullets, rockets, mortar fire?

JFS -- Listen, these Palestinians are filthy people.  Have you ever seen the pictures of the trash they live in?  Compare the beautiful modern urban landscape of Tel Aviv against whatever is the nicest part of Palestine.  The only parts of Palestine that are modern and not dens of illness and decay are those which the Jews have taken for themselves and resettled as Israel.  That's exactly why Jews need to support Israel.  If they don't, Palestinians will turn the whole region into trash piles where illness and poverty and despair dominate.

HML -- So let's assume you and I are neighbors in a nice American suburb, Steve.  Your house is modern and well-equipped.  Mine is a bit older and my yard is not nearly as well landscaped.  Maybe I have some bare spots on my lawn, or openly displayed foundation around the house rather than flower beds and shrubs to hide the foundation.  Maybe I have an older car in the driveway and it hasn't been washed in months, so it's not shiny.  Would this be a problem for you as my neighbor?

JFS -- Absolutely.  You're dragging down property values and I wouldn't want my kids playing in the neighborhood if you're not keeping your property up to civilized standards.  People who live in houses like the one you described are often child molesters or other perverts or degenerates.  Usually they carry diseases.  I'm not letting my kids play anywhere near your house.

HML -- You got all that from the status of upkeep I described?

JFS -- Oh yes, certainly.  Statistics show...

HML -- Can I interrupt you there, Steve?  I'd rather talk about what your experience of me as neighbor actually would be, rather than what statistics show.

JFS -- Okay, I'll humor you.  Why would I have a positive attitude toward someone who can't keep their house up to the neighbor's standards?

HML -- I didn't say there were community standards that all homeowners had to meet.  I'm just talking about variables in home ownership.  Some people don't need to have a fancy landscape around their house.  They don't need a new car every year and they don't need to keep that car constantly looking like it never gets dirty.  I've met people like that, Steve, and to be honest, they never treated me poorly.

JFS -- I think if your neighbor keeps his house pristine, you are supposed to do the same.  I don't want to live next door to a hovel.  Disease.  Lower property values.  Degenerates.

HML -- So if you lived next door to me and my house was what I described, you would assume I'm carrying diseases, am a degenerate, and I'm trying to lower your property value?

JFS -- Absolutely.  Statistics show...

HML -- Sorry to interrupt again, Steve -- but shouldn't you base your opinion of your neighbor on how your neighbor interacts with you, like in a conversation?  Isn't that more realistic than making all kinds of assumptions, which will guarantee that when you first talk to that neighbor, you assume he's going to make you and your family sick, whenever he's not affirmatively trying to ruin your property value and whenever he's not scheming to do something degenerate or perverted in the neighborhood?

JFS -- I don't have the time to get to know everyone.  This neighbor is someone I'd probably avoid to save time.

HML -- Steve, when we were in college I remember you talking a lot about tolerance.  You seemed to understand it back then.  But I wonder what happened in the meantime to make you intolerant in the way you just described.

JFS -- I'll tell you what happened.  I became an adult with a family to protect, and I have watched and listened as those insane reactionaries in the Republican party have spent a couple of decades trying to destroy equality.  Luckily we have a few in the Republican party who understand Jewish values and are willing to go to bat for Jews and Israel.  Otherwise I would expect that Jews like you and me would be in some concentration camp if not dead.

HML -- Listen, Steve, I'm meeting someone for lunch in 15 minutes and it's just about 15 minutes away so I've gotta run.  It's been good catching up.  Here's my phone number.  Call me when you have some free time, we can continue this conversation then.

JFS -- That's too bad, I wanted to talk more about the current presidential race and what it means for us Jews.  I'll call you soon.  In the meantime, support Bernie or Jill Stein.  Nobody else will protect our values.


-- H.M. Lohmann, who regrets that these sorts of talks can't happen in America 2016.

 

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