Aryeh Schonbrun

On American Idiocy

If we’ve learned anything from the past few months, we’ve learned to cherish our lives and those of our loved ones. Whenever violence breaks out, we instinctively regress into a state of appreciating the bare necessities of life, food, dwelling, air, water and security. We cling to whatever security we may have and we fight to maintain order. We long for the peace and serenity that we know from our ante-bellum experience, and we mourn war’s victims, and sacrifices. When the dust settles, we presumably wish to return to our lives as civilians and pursue our interests in a civil, peaceful manner.

However, owing to the inherent violence of our species, as evidenced by our bloody history, it strikes me as curious how averse we’ve become to even the thought of war, and of bloodshed. I consider myself a pacifist. I believe in the power of diplomacy, of dialogue, and of peace. I have faith in humanity to resolve conflict without the need to resort to violence, whether it be physical, economic or psychological. Isaac Asimov’s famous aphorism “violence is the last refuge of the incompetent” resonates with me. I want to be trusting. However, as we are all now acutely aware, the world remains a violent place. So, why then do we choose to ignore the systems of power that contribute to such violence?

While I condemn Hamas’ terrible attack against innocent civilians, I cannot accept the ongoing bombardment and destruction of Gaza as either strategically sound or morally legitimate. This war was as inevitable as it was completely avoidable. Israel knew about the threats and failed to act, and the global establishment fed the extremism by empowering irresponsible proxies with hegemonic support (through “humanitarian” channels), thereby allowing tensions to fester and grow. The dialogue surrounding the war, too often focused on “narratives,” biases and affiliations, fails to maintain proper grounding in the human tragedy unfolding under the auspices of such global corruption. Instead of seeing the war for what it is, we are forced to forego objectivity and adopt a side, or remain indifferently neutral, either from callousness or despair.

Adding to the psychological strain that we feel towards the situation, we mourn not only the loss of life, but also a way of life—the Western life that both sides, Israelis and Palestinians alike, have consecrated as their ultimate goal. Freedom, liberty, security, sovereignty and, of course, peace and tranquility (that is, for the victor). This sense of Western fundamentalism startled me when I first came to Israel. From what I remember hearing about Israel growing up (i.e. intifadas, wars, rockets, etc.), it seemed as if Israel should be far removed from the affluent, entitled culture of my upbringing in New York, but I found that the opposite was true: Israeli society was proceeding as if it were New York. This unrealistic reverie, propped up by the impossible web of corruption and confusion that defines U.S.-Israeli relations, led many Israelis to falsely assume that they could function indefinitely as a Western protectorate while inhabiting a region which was, quite obviously, non-Western.

On October 7th, Israel got a very rude awakening from this unsubstantiated fantasy, and our reaction to this trauma has the potential to affect not only us and our immediate vicinity, but politics on a global scale. As I’ve written before, Israel must reassess its dependence on Western hegemony in order to survive, but not solely as a strategic maneuver in order to strike the correct balance in an increasingly multipolar world, but on sociological and psychological terms as well. This war has brought with it an opportunity to explore the shortcomings of the global establishment and devise a proper critique not only of Israel’s obsession with Western power in the context of its incoherent strategic interests, but of the objective viability and value of the hegemonic values themselves.

In the West, we are taught the value of civil society. From a young age, we are conditioned to accept the role of society in dictating our needs and wants, our skills, personality and profession. We are taught to obey the law, contribute to society and, most curiously, we are taught how to live. While most of us upstanding citizens perceive the threat of force as a mere abstraction, the systems that govern our lives do not operate in a vacuum of violence. Whether it be the threats of the criminal underworld, or the constant monitoring of the public sphere by heavy-handed government agencies, our perception of reality is influenced greatly by arbitrary power structures that remain opaque to even the most critical of observers. Only by putting distance between oneself and such dynamics, by migrating abroad to another region of the globe, for example, may one really appreciate the relative insignificance of the individual “freedoms” preserved by the West.

In light of such clarity, and guided by the indispensable expertise of professional academic and security advisors, one may begin to deconstruct and neutralize the effects of the intense propaganda that we must contend with in order to secure our true freedom from authoritarian rule. However, this societal awakening, a process that has already begun, cannot succeed without the prior deconstruction of the central tenet of the current manifestation of the American Dream—the distinction between civil and political life.

The idea of professional isolationism, of one’s right to voluntarily disengage from the public sphere and live in one’s own bubble as a private citizen (defined as an “idiot” in Ancient Greek), oblivious to society and the rest of humanity, pervades the civilian life of the average American citizen. While “politics” dominate the public sphere, an authentic political life remains out of reach for the vast majority of the population, who are forced to play democracy while ignoring the blatant abuses of power perpetrated by the military-industrial-financial complex. Such an inability of the masses to even apprehend their powerlessness deprives them of both individual and collective political consciousness and forces them into a state of accelerating regression, which will eventually lead to the disintegration of society itself.

This is why I believe that Israel’s struggle with the acute destabilization of its own social fabric, which began with the anti-government protests and was shortly followed by the massive security debacle, may offer many Americans a concrete warning of what could befall their own country if measures aren’t taken to correct their problems, and even a safe, controlled environment for the responsible experimentation with alternate forms of government (much in the same way that Pfizer experimented with its initial rollout of its Covid vaccine in Israel). Unlike in the U.S., where the vast majority still believe in their ability to repair the system from within, many Israelis now feel that the political establishment of the state has failed them irredeemably, and that only external forces can stabilize the state and prevent the collapse of society. I personally believe in a compromise of sorts: I would like to see a gradual “trimming” of the extremists on both sides of the political spectrum and the reestablishment of centrist policies (including some long-term agreement with the PA) with foreign support and in coordination with non-governmental state actors.

Additionally, I hope that an eventual resolution of our own conflict could inform the many Americans who wish to engage in their reformation of the American public sphere and give hope to those who dream of change within the confines of their own overbearing, artificial surroundings. Israel’s special relationship with the U.S., though it currently manifests as a threat to both Jews and Arabs worldwide, promises to transform into a unique facilitator of positive social change on a global scale. Israel can rely on steadfast American support while it attempts to fix its political establishment, and America will stand to gain from the insight and human inspiration stemming from the eventual resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians. I accept that many may judge my rosy prediction as either too optimistic or fundamentally naïve, and I must concede that I often doubt the practicality of such reasoning myself, however, the possibility of extracting either side from their interdependence seems to me even more unlikely and naïve. The bonds between our two countries cannot be severed: Either we work together to resolve the conflict in a way that benefits all, or we shall both, Americans and Israelis alike, languish in the ever-growing paralysis and despair that threatens humanity.

And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life.” (Genesis 44:29-30)

About the Author
Originally from Westchester, NY, Aryeh made Aliyah 6 years ago.