A Culture Poisoned by Self-Contempt

To demand that the strength of everyone’s emotional responses to the events that occasion them be proportional to their importance is to demand the impossible. It never has been so and never will be so, however much we might regret or feel guilty about it; the shameful fact is that the death of my dog affected me more deeply than did the tsunami that swept away so many people in 2004. Distant events may be important in the abstract, but it is ones local to us that we feel most deeply about.   

There is a quid pro quo or price to pay for this, of course: I cannot expect anyone who knows nothing of me to care very much about my fate, however tragic it might be. And in fact, it is just as well that our passions and emotions cannot be made proportional according to some rational scale of importance, even if such a scale could exist. If everyone acted according to such a scale, civilisation itself would be impossible; it would never have developed in the first place, for there would always have been something morally more important to do than to develop any of the arts necessary to it. Modern utilitarians, who demand that we should devote the totality of our discretionary incomes to relieving as much suffering around the world as possible (and there are some modern philosophers who maintain this) are, in effect, barbarians, for there will always be enough suffering in the world to absorb the whole of the world’s discretionary income and make all else impossible. Because they are virtuous, they think that there shall be no more cakes and ale.

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But while we can never fashion our feelings and concerns to the importance of what occasions them, yet we believe that, at least in political affairs, that we should show some sense of proportion. We should not grow agitated over trivia. The fact that punishments can never be made exactly proportional to the seriousness of the crime is not a reason for them to have no relation whatever to that seriousness. 

This is a complicated matter, because what appears at first sight unimportant might be the tip of an iceberg, or emblematic of some deeper malaise or evil. Besides, man is a symbolic animal; what is symbolic is important to him, ineradicably and unavoidably so. Spitting on something that someone considers sacred is often as bad as an actual assault on a person; and while the symbols of others may appear to us ridiculous, hateful or irrational, we have our sacred symbols that probably appear ridiculous, hateful or irrational to them. Wilfred Owen the war poet hoped that one day we might no longer fight for flags, but even if the world were ever to become post-national, we should soon attach flags to other entities and begin to fight over them.

I say all this preparatory to my reflections on the passion shown for the Palestinian cause (if there is such a thing as a single Palestinian cause) around the world, especially in the West. If the Chinese support the Palestinians as led by Hamas, it is not because they feel anything much—and by the Chinese I mean, of course, the Chinese government—but out of sheer political calculation. For them, the Palestinians are but a pawn on the world’s chessboard, and if for some reason the situation changed, they would drop the Palestinians with no more regret than that with which a cow relieves itself in a field.

But the crowds of demonstrators around the world are not like this. They think that they feel deeply. They think that they are angry. They think that they are being compassionate. They think that they are being, and doing, good. They are having a whale of a time.

The Daily Telegraph interviewed two young women in London during one of the monster demonstrations there in which they were participating. Of course, a sample of two is not representative of anything except of the two themselves (and as I know from being interviewed from time to time on radio and television, what anyone says can be edited in such a way as to make him appear to say the opposite of what he actually said, or to make him seem ridiculous); nevertheless, I could not help but feel that these brief interviews were significant.

The interviewer asked them what they thought of the massacres on October 7 in Israel in which 1300 people had been killed. The first young woman, who was black and seemed very nice, was surprised; she had not heard of them and knew nothing of them. She admitted that perhaps she ought to know something of them and said she would look them up.

The second young woman, white, did not really believe in them; she thought they might have been made up. Probably, she thought they were made up, but that if they were real, they were justified. After all, the Gazans had been oppressed for years, living in a miserable enclave etc. That much of the misery of Gaza was caused by the defalcations (and worse) of Hamas was a thought too confusing for her to have.

On an American campus, privileged young women (potential Mesdames Defarge all) stood behind a banner saying “Whatever it takes”. And the popular slogan, “Palestine shall be free from the river to the sea” was chanted in many countries. The kind of freedom that might be expected from a movement such as Hamas did not apparently trouble or even occur to them.

I surmise, though I cannot prove, that the prospect of an October 7 on a much larger scale excited their imagination. There are many people who think that the lengths to which people are prepared to go is evidence of the justice of their cause, and massacre in the name of justice—whatever it takes—is proof of how much they must have suffered. It is not that the slogan fails to consider exactly how Palestine will become free from the river to the sea; it is perfectly well understood. The imagined massacre of millions of Israelis is contemplated with pleasure.

As far as I can recall, there were no mass demonstrations against the massacres of October 7. In some quarters, there were even expressions of joy or satisfaction. When one considers also the disproportion of the reaction to the Israeli retaliation—surely expected and even desired by Hamas—to the concern expressed over the civil wars in Yemen or Syria that have been responsible for incomparably more deaths, one cannot resist the conclusion that the reaction was an expression of that oldest of all hatreds, plain and straightforward anti-Semitism. There have been no comparable widespread demonstrations about the proxy war in Yemen, for example, fought between the Sunni Saudis on the one hand and the Shia Iranians on the other, that so far has cost the life of 150,000 Yemenis and, according to the United Nations, caused a famine resulting in a further 250,000 deaths. It is only when the Israelis kill—and that in strictly military retaliation—that a distant death truly counts or moves large numbers to go out onto the streets and demonstrate in favour of future genocide—the real and literal kind, not the metaphorical kind bandied about by apologists for Hamas.

Ably bringing up the rear of this passion for imagined genocide—what fun, and how profitable it would be, at least for a time, as the Rwandan genocide proved!—is anti-Western feeling. Among Westerners, exhibitionist self-hatred is the sign or even proof of true moral enlightenment and generosity, albeit that no one wants really to pay the corollary of it in hard cash. Among Middle Easterners, such hatred is a symptom of the gnawing self-contempt of people who want everything Western without having to admit that their own region of the world has contributed so little of late centuries to what they themselves desire and cannot go without. That their own societies have charms and even virtues of their own is not enough for them. They know that they are backward and have been intellectually parasitic on the West for generations, and—unlike the Indians, Chinese and Japanese—cannot see a way out of this situation. Their one glory, a world-evangelising religion, that was supposed to arm them with conquering eternal truth, has left them firmly in the rear. They can neither accept nor reject the West; thus, self-contempt is their destiny, alas.

25 thoughts on “A Culture Poisoned by Self-Contempt

  • JH says:

    Typically perceptive.

    I doubt, however, that we are viewing anti-Semitism – at least not anti-Semitism of the type that actuated Hitler and his supporters.

    Rather, we are watching a re-run of the anti-American marches of the 1960s and 1970s and events such as the removal of the Shah in 1979.

    The present demonstrations, as with those events, are almost solely mass anti-Western sentiment under another guise.

    Israel is, and South Vietnam and the Shah were, supporters of the West. That is the crime.

    One suspects that Israel could do what it liked if it were to become a Marxist dictatorship. However, as an ally of the West anything Israel might do to respond to the atrocities committed upon its people will be condemned with unbridled enthusiasm.

    • pgang says:

      Socialists first, but with a sizeable dollop of anti-Semitism for extra flavour.

    • john mac says:

      Agree wholeheartedly with your post JH and have said much the same in other forums. Too many in the media are obsessed with the anti semitism angle, whereas I’ve viewed the assault on the West the greater issue. Antisemitism sells, just as “racism ” sells, and with this they can shoehorn the ghost of Hitler and the “far right ” into the equasion, watering down the real and only issue – Arab/Muslim contempt for the West, with Palestinians as the tip of the spear and Israel the target of all that ails them. Win/win for propaganda and self-loathing westerners. As far as I’m concerned, Israel can forget about “Proportionality ” and end it once and for all despite the almost predictable condemnation from the likes of Albo & Co, Trudope etc. We are on the cusp of civilisational breakdown and to pick the low hanging fruit of “Antisemitism” over an existential black cloud , despite the atrocity of October 7. Is not helping .

    • Sindri says:

      The phenomenon is on show everywhere. I recently watched a Nordic politician delivering a new year broadcast, a member of the soft-left ceasefire community when it comes to Gaza. When she got onto the obligatory stuff about regional conflict, she made all the right noises about Ukraine and briefly deplored the Russian invasion, but it was all a bit detached. Then she got onto Gaza. She became animated, with head-shaking and tutt-tutting, quoting Hamas casualty figures without even having mentioned the vastly higher number of civilians and and soldiers gunned down or blown up by Putin. Why the difference, I wondered. First, the west has no boots on the ground in Ukraine; if it did, the support for Ukraine that comes from some, but by no means all, of the left would be non-existent. It would be straightforward case of wicked western imperialism. Ukraine itself, although it aspires to be part of the west, still appeals to the left as a victim, in a moderate sort of way. But Gaza ticks all the boxes. It has all the fundamentals required for the full-throated support of the left: (a) victim status and (b) a narrative of the conflict, true or false, that permits the delicious pleasure of castigating the west, which embodies the very society and culture that support and protect the left as no other. It’s an irresistible combination, driven by moral vanity rather than balanced moral assessment.

  • Brian Boru says:

    It is a small point but I have difficulty with the word “retaliation” which has been used here and also generally in the media. I prefer the expression “self defence” to characterize what Israel is doing. Retaliation denotes an element of revenge and whilst that is understandable, it is not the primary reason for the action against Hamas.

    • David R says:

      I agree. To do nothing would invite further such attacks into the foreseeable future and encourage Iran et al to openly try their hand in the destruction of Israel.

    • john mac says:

      Yes Brian, “Retaliation ” confers a “Tit for tat” nature to the situation, much like when our mendacious media describes a person murdered by thugs as getting into an “Altercation ” with them , as if looking for trouble!

  • nfw says:

    I like pointing out to the hip and woke that a Marxist-Leninist hero mass murderer, Josef Stalin no less, was responsible for the creation of the State of Israel (just Israel nowadays) and the country’s membership of the UN, so he could block the UK and France in the Middle East. It all fell apart when Stalin told the Isaelis he would not permit open emigration of Jews from the world capital of peace and freedom, ie the Soviet Union. No doubt he realised the effect of that potential brain drain and its flow-on effect to other “nationalities”.

    I also like asking them when they will be attending the next Hamas sponsored gay parade. No doubt Iran will provide the cranes. And of course Hamas pays tribute to that other great murderer, rapist, slave owner, thieving, war-mongerering, low IQ psychopath Mohammed. Talk about great examples of inhumanity to man, or however they perceive themselves.

  • Katzenjammer says:

    It’s not much different than antisemitism in the past in this factor – a false image of Jews as cunning manipulators is overlaid over a few outlier or invented instances as evidence generates self righteous rage against all Jews. Disputing that false image of Jews is taken by those as an attack on their deepest values as humanitarians. Substitute ‘Israelis’, ‘Zionists’, ‘Jews’ in that.

  • David Isaac says:

    When we had sickness and poverty all around us and little knowledge of the outside world the White Western do-gooding instinct, particularly strong in women, was a boon rather than a hazard.
    The attempts to paint Israel as the victim in this story have not worked with young people. They’re way too cynical. More than half of the deaths in the Hamas raid were likely due to friendly fire and the Hannibal directive to sacrifice Israelis rather than let them be captured.

    • Paul W says:

      ‘Cynical’ meaning so dumb they believe every bit of terrorist propaganda coming their way.

      • David Isaac says:

        What you say is no doubt true of some. The young disbelieve the pro-war propaganda of Zio-USA but swallow the race-mixing, ‘sexual perversion as sacrament’ narrative. The old tend to gag on that somewhat but are more conditioned to always think well of Israel. They obtain their news from the old media stalwarts. Both groups are misinformed and deluded.

      • Sindri says:

        Exactly. Where is “hasn’t worked”, as “David Isaac” excitedly puts it (hope springs eternal in the jew-obsessed, jew-baiting mind), it’s down to sheer ignorance and a skewed moral compass.

        • David Isaac says:

          No. It’s down to a conflict of interests. Palestinians, forlornly in my opinion, want a viable state. In their dreams they want an end to the state of Israel, NOT its people. Israel is in the process of enlarging itself and removing a thorn in its side, aiming to disperse the Gazans into the Arab world or more likely the ever-accomodating and diminishing West. I was commenting only on the success of the propaganda from each side.

          • Katzenjammer says:

            “they want an end to the state of Israel, NOT its people”
            Your beleif of that is a proof of the success of Palestinian propaganda. It’s alos the root cause of the conflict.

            • Daffy says:

              Since the Mandate, Arabs in and around the region of Palestine have done little else but seek to murder Jews. I think your distinction is misplaced.

              • Ceres says:

                Spot on Daffy. Many people need to read the hamas charter and listen to their recent WORDS. The barbaric attacks on Israel will never end.

              • Sindri says:

                Quite right. Read article 7 of the original Hamas charter. It’s revolting. The idea that the object of the slaughter is “zionists”, not Jews, is obfuscation (transparently so here).

            • David Isaac says:

              Perhaps my wording was imprecise. I have no doubt they would prefer the Jews to leave Palestine/Israel. One possibility for evacuating Israel would be a move to a depopulated Ukraine.

  • Daffy says:

    Israel’s self-defense has yet to reach the level of ‘proportional’. Seeing Hamas would want to eliminate Israel, ‘proportionality’ demands that Israel eliminate Hamas. Now, that’s only fair, is it not? Bearing in mind, of course, that sadly, the cultural climate of Gazans seems to support Hamas, as does for that matter the UN and its schools.

    • DougD says:

      My comment what would be a response by Israel acceptably proportionate to the butchery by Hamas on 7 October of Israeli men, women and children including babies has been rejected from publication by the moderators at all Fairfax/Nine and Murdoch media including The Australian. Perhaps thinking about eg how many Palestinian babies it would be acceptable for Israel to kill, how they would be selected, how they could be acceptably killed etc doesn’t fit the proportionality idea very well.

  • Dallas Beaufort says:

    Playing it straight: Who would want the Moslem worlds not wanted dumped into their backyard.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Why do you term them “privileged young women” when in reality they are unlikely to taste privilege, because privilege is earned by beneficial, positive, personal action? Geoff S

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