normality of silent running: adventures in immanence

Blame it on Spinoza. Spinoza provided the raw material for the abandonment of Jewish messianism and what had been the conventional and traditional religious conceptions that had defined jewish life in the diaspora.Spinoza was the architect of liberal democracy and in an equal breath, the principal originator of what became the modern solution to the Jewish problem.

Salutin: Normality has always figured in Jewish experience. For almost two millennia, living in exile among non-Jews seemed normal for religious reasons: Jews had somehow botched their relationship with their God and exile was the consequence. In His own good time, he’d eventually end it. Meanwhile, Jews lived among “the nations,” fruitfully, painfully or both. There were occasional messianic eruptions involving attempts to return to the Holy Land; they were always treated by rabbinic authorities as heretical….

---In the summer of 1656, the Amsterdam Jewish community took the extraordinary step of excommunicating a young man, then 23 years old, whose parents were refugees driven from Portugal by the Inquisition. He stood accused of "abominable heresies" and "monstrous deeds." Accordingly, it was decreed that he be "banned, cut off, cursed, and anathematized." Baruch Spinoza neither protested the edict nor tried to reverse it. Unbowed, he abjured both the God of Israel and the people of Israel, and replaced his old religion with an audacious faith in the supreme power of human reason. In the two decades remaining to him, Spinoza lifted himself, as Goethe said, "to the summits of thought." Somehow, this ex-Orthodox Jew in Calvinist Holland—schooled in Hebrew (he composed a Hebrew grammar), speaking Portuguese, and writing in Latin—fashioned himself into one of the most radical philosophers who ever lived.--- Read More: image:

Spinoza viewed a Jewish revival as a plausible potential, but an occurrence not necessarily desirable. Nonetheless, he articulated two of what became seen as the modern solutions to the jewish problem which were political Zionism and assimilation. Spinoza suggested a preference for the latter while suggesting the former somewhat ambiguously. The adventure of the liberal state would imply the abandonment of Judaism as such: washed away by emancipation and assimilation.

…But in modern times, a separate existence among others came to seem abnormal. So there were attempts to “assimilate,” with or without religious conversion. When these failed, or partially failed, one proposed alternative was for Jews to return to their ancient land and become a normal people, like everyone else: they would farm and engage in the normal range of activity. A German-Jewish philosopher I knew had spent time with a German farmer, as prep for his move to Israel. When I lived in Israel as a student, we were amazed at the sight of Jewish cops and hookers! Normality had been achieved…. ( Salutin )

---Spinoza's radicalism begins in his critique of religion. In the anonymously published Theological-Political Treatise, he insists on the distinction between philosophy, which aims at truth, and theology, which aims, he says, at obedience. He revolts against revelation as a source of truth, and rejects fundamental doctrines like divine providence, free will, reward and punishment, election, the possibility of miracles, and the immortality of the soul. Although Hobbes, in his Leviathan, had already taken a swipe at the Mosaic authorship of the "Five Books of Moses," Spinoza more or less fathers biblical criticism by rejecting the Bible's divine authorship. Though he stops well short of endorsing a religion-free polity, and though he cautions against expressing such an opinion to the masses, Spinoza deems adherents to organized religion slavish and superstitious. He articulates a radical determinism that banishes purpose and contingency and chance, and allows into the world no arbitrary or spontaneous events. (It is in this sense that Einstein said, "I believe in Spinoza's God.") He also famously posits a God who is identical with the totality of nature. This God-or-Nature, this infinite substance outside of which nothing exists, is eternal, necessary, self-caused, self-sufficient, perfect, and perfectly indifferent to us. --- Read More: image:

Ironically, Spinoza, the man who was excommunicated by his contempt for Judaism and efforts to view immanence within a pantheistic framework, helped arrive at the definition of Jewish people as a nation by empathizing the religious aspects of nationalism. His views on the separation between religious and national-secular institutions also contributed to a pervasive zionist idea concerning “normalcy” , to extent the word is appropriate, since jewish/zionism and normal seem oxymoronic- and the future Jewish state, under the quest for material possession of nature spurned under the veiled contempt for Judaism.

…I thought about that this week when I spoke with Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist whose beat is the occupied territories, where she has lived for almost 20 years: first in Gaza, now Ramallah. She’s here on a speaking tour. We discussed the BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) movement, which aims to isolate and stigmatize Israel, as boycotts did to apartheid-era South Africa. I said I feared it would undermine the potential constituency for a peace settlement in Israel, by evoking memories of anti-Semitism. She said, “I don’t agree,” in a straight-ahead tone. “Israelis are able to live a normal life five minutes away from the occupation. They need to get the message that this is not normal and moral. Something has to shake them.”…

---Yet Spinoza's particular genius consists in bringing not only God, but also man, under the universal rule of nature. He does this in his masterpiece, the posthumously published Ethics. A strange thicket of definitions, axioms, postulates, demonstrations, corollaries, and scholia, the Ethics deploys what Spinoza called a "geometrical order" (inspired by Euclid and Descartes) to treat human desires and emotions "in exactly the same manner as though I were concerned with lines, planes, and solids." Considered in this impersonal light, man's highest good, accessible only to an elite few, is shown to be the knowledge of God, which itself yields to an exalted, unrequited love—amor dei intellectualis. Finally, if Spinoza's radicalism naturalizes God and man, it also secularizes politics. The Treatise is the first and perhaps the most eloquent defense of toleration and liberal democracy—and the freedom of thought and speech it secures—in the history of political philosophy. In a sense, Spinoza founded liberal democracy. --- Read More: image:

…She is not an all-out boycott backer. For one thing, “As an Israeli, I cannot boycott Israelis.” But she’s also a complex thinker who sees contradictions and double standards: “If you boycott Israel, why not boycott its backers like the U.S. and Canada?” There’s a Cassandra quality to her, spotting the idiocies on all sides. But she had underlined one aspect of a boycott that I’d missed….

…Hass uses “normal,” which seems like a bland word, in an intensely moral way that jolts you: This cannot be the norm for human behaviour. (Come to think of it, Dalton McGuinty ran in this election pretty much as Mr. Normal. But it can take guts to express normal thoughts like, Good Things Cost Money, in the current political climate of tax cutting. As for bland, Ontario’s very successful premier, Bill Davis, liked to say, “Bland works.” It worked fo

m, as normal seems to work for McGuinty, mainly because it feels true to their natures.)

Hass is splendidly undogmatic about all this. Boycotting investment in occupied areas may make obvious sense but “a visit by a string quartet . . . ?” The point isn’t to formulate rigid rules for action, it’s to somehow get that message to Israelis about what’s normal. She also shows respect for those elsewhere, who must decide how they can best support a just peace. What she offers is some useful info and insight, then it’s on us….

---It is reasonable to conclude by now that Chomsky’s dancing around the question of US aid, his opposition to divestment and sanctions, and to holding Israel to account, can be traced more to his Zionist perspective, irrespective of how he defines it, than to his general approach to historical events . It doesn’t stop there, however. An examination of a sampling of his prodigious output on the Israel-Palestine conflict reveals critical historical omissions and blind spots, badly misinterpreted events, and a tendency to repeat his errors to the point where they have become accepted as "non-controversial facts" by successive generations of activists who repeat them like trained seals. In sum, what they have been given by Chomsky is a deeply flawed scenario that he has successfully sold and resold to them as reality. The consequences are self-evident. Those who have relied on Chomsky’s interpretation of the US-Israel relationship for their work in behalf of the Palestinian cause, have been functionally impotent. There is simply no evidence that any activity they have undertaken has applied any brake on the Palestinians’ ever-deteriorating situation....Read More: image:

…It’s the classic role of the journalist as witness, but there’s something else, which she must have heard often and may make her wince: the prophetic comparison, not in the sense of people who predict things, but those figures from biblical times who stood up to kings, speaking truth and justice to power. Sorry, King David or King Ahab, but this is not normal, what you are doing, simply because you want to or are able to . . .Read More:–salutin-when-to-be-normal-is-weird

--- - Samuel Hirszenberg, Uriel d’Acosta instructing the young Spinoza Could we say that this is what Spinoza means by conatus? In the manner of the conatus, we will the winning throw in a divine game; what we will is willed also in the eternal return. That is, it is selected, but by what authority? and on what grounds is the what that we will selected?...Lest we jump to the conclusion that Spinoza means a will rather than a willing, she adds: It is important that Spinoza not be understood here as asserting some sort of Nietzschean will-to-power ethics, or precursor to the “objectivism” of Ayn Rand. … What he’s making … is a metaphysical statement, not an ethical one … to capture the mysterious connection a person feels with that one thing in the world that happens to be itself… it is compatible with a whole spread of different ethical points of view, going all the way from Ayn Rand’s to Mother Teresa’s. Read More:


But, as Allan Nadler recounts in this Forward review of David Ives’s play, “New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch Spinoza,” no singular version of his life or legacy has emerged from the multitude of historians, novelists and playwrights who have written about the Dutch philosopher famously excommunicated by the Amsterdam Jewish community in 1656:

The many novels and plays inspired by Spinoza are bizarrely diverse, ranging from the great German Jewish novelist Berthold Auerbach’s “Spinoza: Ein Historischer Roman” (1837) and the biological racist Erwin Kolbenheyer’s “Amor Dei: Ein Spinoza Roman” (published in 1913, exactly two decades before its author became a major Nazi propagandist), to Goce Smilevski’s highly erotic “Conversation With Spinoza: A Cobweb Novel,” which won the 2002 Macedonian National Novel of the Year Award. The many short stories inspired by Spinoza range from Israel Zangwill’s “The Lens Grinder” to Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Spinoza of Market Street.” And, as I have already written in these pages, Spinoza’s life, with a particular focus on his excommunication, has been the inspiration for no less than four Yiddish and three Hebrew plays and, most recently, an Israeli play and film. Read More:
Amira Hass:On Friday an Israel Defense Forces soldier called to protest the publication of another story in Haaretz which in his words, tainted not only the troops’ image but also his Sabbath day.

The soldier was referring to Gaza resident Zinat Samouni’s account of how soldiers killed her 46-year-old husband and their 4-year-old son Ahmed – just two of the 29 people of the same family the army killed between January 4 and 5.

The soldier, who said he participated in the fighting, said he didn’t believe the women’s statements were true, though he did believe soldiers “scrawled stupid things on the walls, and that’s really not right.”

This is a common Israeli solution – in this case, to admit to the graffiti’s existence, but downplay its seriousness or view it as everyday Israeli high jinks.

Everything else can be denied. It can always be said that photographs of civilians killed were fabricated. The Palestinians’ accounts can be dismissed as lies, intrigues of Hamas, embellishment or, at best, facts taken out of context since Gazans are, after all, afraid of what Hamas would do to them if they told the truth. … Read More:

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