Monday, 10 May 2010

Generalizations about Culture and Antisemitism

Generalizations about Culture and Antisemitism

Rob isn't happy with the reviews of the Anthony Julius book I linked to yesterday. (Goldblog has even read the book, and speaks highly of it today). He makes three comments, one aimed at me:

3. Yaacov, please try not to make big sweeping comments about the UK. There is something childish about looking at the world through a prism of we-win-you-lose, we're-up-you're-down.

He could be right about me, of course, but I think not. Here are some thoughts abut the matter of culture, personal actions and responsibility, and generalizations.

1. The decisions of the individual are always that: decisions of an individual. Living in a society infused with hatred, or love, or indifference or whatever can never be a justification or condemnation of what a person does. If everyone thinks a certain way, the individual still has the obligation to think for themselves and to do what's right. This is a moral position, but also a description of history. No matter what the situation, there are always some people who can think for themselves, even if they're a small minority, and their existence proves that others could have thought similarly. Even in deeply antisemitic societies there are always some who don't succumb.

2. Culture matters. It's no coincidence that antisemitism insists on re-appearing (or never disappearing) in some cultures, while other have always been immune or grow so over time. (Europe, China and the USA respectively). The culture we live in informs us in myriad ways, and it's not easy to see through those influences. We don't need the new Julius book to know that detestation of the Jews is deeply embedded in much of European culture, including of course in England (though the book apparently describes this exceptionally well).

3. Cultures are not monolithic. At the precise moment in the late 19th century when antisemitism was taking off in Germany, there was a group of Germans who set themselves the goal of combating it with all rational tools. (They failed). Societies are complicated things. This doesn't negate the previous point about how culture informs and forms us, it merely adds that sometime this can go in more than one direction simultaneously.

4. Antisemitism is an emotion, not a rational thought system. Cultures are good at inculcating emotions.
Originally posted byYaacov Lozowick's Ruminations

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