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Koan 1 — Bibi, Walt, and the concept of buffer zones

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- with sympathy for the real, while holding compassion as the ideal ]
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First, I want to requote two parts of the Times of Israel report titled Netanyahu finally speaks his mind that I quoted a short while ago in my post Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts:

Because, given the march of Islamic extremism across the Middle East, he [Netanyahu] said, Israel simply cannot afford to give up control over the territory immediately to its east, including the eastern border — that is, the border between Israel and Jordan, and the West Bank and Jordan.

and in more detail:

Netanyahu didn’t say he was ruling out all territorial compromise, but he did go to some lengths to highlight the danger of relinquishing what he called “adjacent territory.” He scoffed at those many experts who have argued that holding onto territory for security purposes is less critical in the modern technological era, and argued by contrast that the closer your enemies are, physically, to your borders, the more they’ll try to tunnel under those borders and fire rockets over them. It had been a mistake for Israel to withdraw from Gaza, he added — reminding us that he’d opposed the 2005 disengagement — because Hamas had since established a terrorist bunker in the Strip. And what Hamas had been doing in Gaza — tunneling into and rocketing at the enemy — would be replicated in the West Bank were Israel so foolish as to give the Islamists the opportunity.

I am not blind to the force of that proposition.

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Indeed, what PM Netanyahu is calling “adjacent territory” in the case of Israel and the West Bank is, in my limited understanding of geopolitics, no different from what generally goes under the name of “buffer states” — and what Stephen Walt, not a great Netanyahu admirer to say the least, describes as the “immediate neighborhood” in the case of Ukraine and Russia in his FP piece The Perils of an Itchy Twitter Finger:

No great power is indifferent to potential threats in its immediate neighborhood, and all the more so when it has valid historical reasons to be concerned about particular areas. Furthermore, great powers are usually willing to do pretty nasty things when vital interests are at stake.

Walt approves the existence of the State of Israel, but not Netanyahu’s formulation of the exigencies of that State’s continued existence as a home for the Jewish people — yet in the paragraph I just quoted, he appears supportive of the concept of a buffer zone in the case of a “great power”.

Should “little or no powers” get a say too, Walt? Or are they not major enough to count?

And while we’re about it: Is Israel best seen as a Goliath towering over the Palestinians, or as a David caught between a swathe of Islamic states and the deep blue Mediterranean sea?

What if it’s seen as both?

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Okay, let’s take a step back — reculer pour mieux sauter. Here’s the koan as I see it.

On the one hand, there’s a certain grim reality to the idea that your own people won’t want mortal enemies sitting right on your doorstep — think of those Russian missiles in Cuba, for instance — while on the other, the people whose middle ground would provide a buffer zone between two more powerful powers wind up getting little say in their own affairs if the notion of a buffer zone is accepted and implemented.

Well, about this buffer business — do you don’t you, will you won’t you, Walt?

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I have called this wrangle of rival thoughts and emotions — of ideals and realities, pragmatics and morals — a koan: one of those unanswerable riddles that the zen tradition uses to break the lock of binary logic in favor of holistic insight.

If one starts with a premise that falls on one side or the other of the Israeli-Palestinian koan, there will be plenty of supporting evidence for that side of the matter, and precious little coming from the other side that can’t be argued away or dismissed… as spin, as hasbara, as duplicity, taqiyya even.

The koan itself has numerous variants, grand-parents and cousins:

  • is peace inherently and only peaceful?
  • is peace human nature? really? by no means?
  • must peace be warlike to be achieved?
  • are morals best taken as certitudes, or better understood as ad hoc guidelines?
  • and which came first in any case, the Philistines or the Israelites?
  • I have been smashing my head against these questions for quite some while now. I set out to explore them via the Said Symphony game, but seem to have dropped that particular attempt — and now realize I have been continuing the same exploration in the more informal form of a great many blog posts here on Zenpundit — particularly those in which I use my DoubleQuotes format.

    So this post too, along with a passel of recent posts on Gaza, continues that search — not the search for which side to support, but for enough altitude to see clearly across both sides of the Wall.

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    So: is the Wall enough of a buffer zone?

    Is it an affront that should be torn down, like the Berlin wall — or should its remit be expanded, perphaps, to encompass the whole of “Greater Israel”?

    Geopolitics seems to be pretty firmly rooted in the idea of the “outside world” — the world around us. And yet each person in that “world around us” has an “inside world” of their own, and in that “inner world” may find themselves “conlicted” or “at peace”. So that’s another dividing line, another border, another wall.

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    When I limit myself to the world around me and consider peace, it seems to me that the peace doesn’t arise in the absence of a sense of justice, at the very least a sense of justice agreeable for the sake of peace to those on both or all sides.

    But “inner peace”? — where does that fit into the “war and peace” picture? That seems to be a question that geopolitics by definition sets aside, ignores, and effectively denies: geopolitics is by definition inter-human, not intra-human.

    When I open myself to the possibility that “inner peace” and “peace-making” — in the sense of conflict-resolution — are somehow inextricably interwoven, I see the koan, the dilemma with fresh eyes.

  • Which comes first: the compassion, or the negotiated concession?
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    Human reasons for sympathy: a DQ in the Wild

    Thursday, July 17th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- continuing a series reflecting on current events in Gaza ]
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    The tweet titled A Jewish woman and a Palestinian woman protesting together in 1973, 1992, and 2001 shows two women standing together three times in thirty years, each time with the same paired messages.

    I’ve only reproduced the first image of the three here, partly because I am not sure the whole series shows the same two women — but it seems to be yet another instance of a DoubleQuote in the Wild, this time with two people and their respective placards in juxtaposition:

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    I am beginning to see the two sides in a conflict as two sides of a human moebius strip

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    Locked horns: reading the abstract news

    Sunday, June 1st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- pattern recognition in news media, also polarization, Swiss cows, and klezmer ]
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    Berkane & Bergamote, two Heren cows, lock horns for the title of 'queen' in Grimetz, Switzerland

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    It’s fairly extraordinary what happens when you scan a news item or op-ed piece in search of those remarks that are abstractions from the particular topic of the piece. I was struck by this today when I read:

    A tradition of vigorous, nuanced debate is increasingly being boiled down to a binary choice of worldviews.

    I mean, how many other topics in the same newspaper that day might that sentence have been slipped into without causing an eyebrow to lift?

    Of similar interest, perhaps, and from the same piece:

    ultimately, a big tent does have parameters

    That doesn’t strike me as quite as open an insight, but maybe that’s just because “big tent” has more speciic resonance. And then there was:

    Both views are completely valid, but they can be conflicting

    That one intrigues me because on the face of it, it’s a contradiction: maybe a little set theory, expressed in the form of slightly different wording, could resolve it.

    Here’s one more, still from the same piece, with a touch of zen to it — or is that psychotherapy?

    By looking at ourselves, we can be better people

    And this one, forgive me, is simply chilling:

    are you now or have you ever been … ?

    **

    So, “big tent” and all, are we talking about the US Congress here?

    Actually, those quotes all come from a Washington Post piece by Marc Fisher titled For Jewish groups, a stand-off between open debate and support of Israel — but that’s pretty much beside my point.

    The thing is, as SI Hyakawa pointed out, good writing tends to be writing that moves up and down the “ladder of abstraction” from intimate details (“my cow Bessie” — or “Berkane” or “Bergamote” in this instance) to broad-sweep analysis (“13% of livestock in the region”), because details (and anecdotes) evoke emotion while statistics and abstractions ensure that the wider picture is not omitted from the telling.

    WHich is why, among other things, in a world of think tanks and white papers which favor analytics and statictics almost to the exclusion of details and emotions, my own analytic tradecraft, as expressed in the HipBone Games and Sembl Thinking projects, favors quotes and anecdotes as highly as facts and stats.

    **

    One of the specific art acts discussed in that WaPo piece is The Shondes‘ klezmer rock punk song, I Watched the Temple Fall [lyrics, YouTube ]. Here’s what the band has to say about the song:

    We wrote “I Watched the Temple Fall” because we were thinking a lot about what Jews put our faith in, and where that faith really lives. We’d been talking about Abraham Joshua Heschel’s notion of Judaism as a religion of time, not space, and thinking about how that related to Zionism. Confining ideas into spaces (temples, states, what have you) can falsely polarize us and take us away from the big, important stuff. We wanted to write a song that clearly said, “Look, it might be devastating to face, but the state of Israel commits actions daily that violate the basic tenets of Judaism.

    Rock, punk, and klezmer I don’t know much about, but Heschel‘s book The Sabbath is one that has moved me profoundly, and reading this particular statement made me wonder what David Ronfeldt might find of interest for his Space-Time-Action (STA) theory in the song, or in Heschel’s thought.

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    Well, we began this post — about the attractions of abstraction — with an image of two Swiss cows named Berkane and Bergamote locking horns in a championship fight — here’s some klezmer from Itzhak Perlman — again, see, I’m climbing back down the ladder of abstraction to the level of the individual — to round things out:

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    Of dualities, contradictions and the nonduality, yet more

    Monday, April 7th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- like a fox in the hen-house, artist Miriam Elia among the Penguins ]
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    Simply this:

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    You may recall my interest in the matter of non-duality, which runs all the way from the lofty theological abstraction of Nicholas of Cusa in his Of the Vision of God:

    I have learned that the place wherein Thou art found unveiled is girt round with the coincidence of contradictories, and this is the wall of Paradise wherein Thou dost abide…

    to a practical if unexpected means of obtaining ceasefires in “gun battles between police and gangsters”…

    **

    The unfortunate rabbit in the illustration atop this page has been cut in half. By a taxidermist who fancies himself a post-modernist, perhaps?

    The image comes from a book by artist Miriam Elia, brilliantly lampooning the contemporary art scene in the pages of a clearly satirical imitation children’s book in the Penguin Ladybird Books series. Penguin is flapping its legal wings, and wants any remaining copies of the book destroyed once the artist has recouped her costs.

  • Read the story at Hyperallergic
  • Read the story at the Independent
  • Read the story at the Guardian

  • Buy your own signed copy, quick, on eBay
  • **

    Okay, as usual, the affair is subtler than our knee-jerk reactions might suggest, and while Penguin comes off a little flat-footed, it is in fact in reasonably courteous discussions with the artist by her own account, and perhaps something good will come out of the kerfuffle. Censorship has a habit of biting back.

    It’s the dual rabbit that concerns me, though. Can it be happy, sliced and spaced like that? IMO, the whole page is a brilliant visual koan.

    Run, Rabbit, run!

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    An iconic photo?

    Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- iconic, ironic, either way it's interesting, instructive ]
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