Sunday, February 21, 2010

More Mideast Map-Territory Misfits

Every school boy and girl knows that a map is not the territory. Yeah right! (said in sarcasm)

Barry Rubin notes quite otherwise:When It Comes To Analyzing The Middle East, We LIve In The Age Of Idiocy


Richard said...

One of the maps we have of the world is that there is always a "solution" to every problem. Unfortunately, the Middle East may be just one of those problems that might not have a solution - except of course time.

Greg A. T. said...

Rubin seems to only address the maps that are being drawn by one side.
He doesn't seem to note anything about the mapping onto the US of Israel that happened last year when Israel attacked the Gaza strip. As laid bare on the Jon Stewart show's segment "Strip Maul":

Jump to 3:54 to get to the mobius strip of public policy, and the way in which a completely false parallel was uncritically accepted by politicians of all stripes. E.g., "If Vancouver were to launch bombs into Seattle, the US would respond with all the force we had, right?"
I would have thought that the absurdity of the parallel would be obvious. Why doesn't Rubin mention these failures?
What would Korzybski have thought of this thinking?
This is certainly a complex problem, but exposing the flaws in thinking of only one side seems to be exactly what led to this mess in the first place.

Bruce Kodish said...

Since he's long dead, I can only project what I think Korzybski might think based on the kinds of things he supported and said when he was alive.

He roundly condemned Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia early in the 1930s when it was not considered reasonable to do so by many 'fair minded' bien pensants in the U.S. and elsewhere.

I would guess that he might equally condemn the Nazi-saluting Hamas, Hezbollah, Iranians, etc. in their genocidal cause to destroy Israel and expunge Jews from the region and that well-meaning bien-pensants who might not consider this a balanced view would scold him.

Richard said...

What you have in the Middle East is essentially two different outlooks. Israel is a prototypical time-binding society, with the incremental improvements that go along with that. That is to be contrasted with the Nazi-saluting Hamas, which can best be described as a time-bound outlook, stuck somewhere between the middle ages and the Third Reich, depending on the day of the week.

Greg A. T. said...

Can you please clarify your statement:

"I would guess that he might equally condemn the Nazi-saluting Hamas, Hezbollah, Iranians, etc."

It is unclear if you are suggesting that all members of Hamas, Hezbollah, and all Iranians are Nazi-saluting and should be condemned?

And what form of action should be taken to "condemn" them - I assume that it follows that it would be right to kill them, since everyone would agree (and I would concur) that it was right to kill Nazis. Am I taking this too far?.

Or by your statement, did you simply mean that the Nazi-saluting ones are the bad ones that need to be condemned (killed?) and there are non-Nazi-saluting ones that can just be corralled into ghettos? (is this too strong of a word? too loaded? If you say yes, have you been to the Gaza strip to see first-hand the conditions of Palestinians living there? What is your meaning of "ghetto"? Certainly a word that could be indexed to mean very different things through the years.)

Regarding what Korzybski would have thought, let's ask the question of something that would have been contemporaneous to Korzybski: What did Korzybski think of the Japanese internment camps?
Was he a big fan?
Are you?

I don't mean to push too hard on what I understand very rightfully to be an extremely emotional issue. Even though I have heard stories of the holocaust many many times over, every time I hear them I am deeply moved, sometimes to tears.

But it seems like Korzybski committed his life to avoiding emotional thinking and (maybe ironically) to a near fetishization of rationality (construed in his non-Aristotelian way, of course). It would be a shame to throw all of this out and just use his system to "rationalize" (in the bad sense of the word) Israel as the state of the time-binding "good guys" and anyone who opposes or criticizes Israel as the time-bound (potentially exterminate-able) "bad guys". Isn't it possible that things are more complicated than this?


Greg A. T. said...

In looking at the tone of my last post, I suspect that it has far exceeded my intentions. Humblest apologies.

As a neophyte seeking to understand Korzybski better, I was curious how his ideas would be applied to a situation as complex and fraught with struggles as the conflict in the Middle East. But I didn't realize where the argument was headed or how it would come across to a reader.

So let me sincerely apologize for the tone of both of my posts (particularly the second), which were shot through with either-or thinking.

I am also currently caught up in the throes of dissertation writing (reading this blog is a welcomed break from that) and won't have time to thoughtfully engage in conversation going forward (not that I have been thoughtful thus far...). But I will be certain to read any responses posted here.

As someone who is interested in Korzybski, I was thrilled to find the blog. It is a remarkable resource and I look forward to (quietly) following the blog, and am anxiously anticipating the book!


Bruce Kodish said...

It didn't cross my 'mind' that antisemitism motivated anything you said, however much I might disagree with the implications. I published your comments because I considered them as coming from a basically reasonable, respectful person and reflect common attitudes among many people. But I do appreciate your attempt to clarify, things. It usually helps to clarify things which might be misunderstood. No need to apologize. If we can talk in as open and friendly way as possible, maybe we can both learn something. I'll try to respond to some of your points and question from your comment of March 11 10:21 a.m. But that comment actually contains a lot of material to look at and might take a little while to sort out, so I beg your patience with me.

Bruce Kodish said...

Hi Greg,
Regarding my reference to the Nazi-Saluting Hamas (Sunni) and Hesbollah (Shiite) groups, etc., a good place to start would be with the German historian Matthias Kuentzel especially his book Jihad and Jew-Hatred. Go to his website at
Here's a Youtube video featuring Kuenzel
Check those two references to start.

Once you start looking into it, you will find a wealth of reliable information about the connections between Naziism and Arab/Muslim radicalism.

This Nazi-Muslim amalgam forms Islamic Fascism or Islamofascism, the ideology that the Jews of the Middle East have been dealing with and fighting since before the founding of the state of Israel. And which the rest of the world now faces as well. I would guess that Arabs and Muslims constitute the largest number of victims of that ideology.

I certainly don't believe it justifiable to condemn or kill all Arabs, or Iranians, or Muslims. I do believe in fighting the ideology and those who wish to implement the ideology and I believe in the right of people to defend themselves and the right of the State of Israel to defend its citizens.

The analogy of Gaza as a 'ghetto imposed by the Israelis on down-trodden Arabs' doesn't reflect the reality of 'Palestinian' Arabs very well. You have to look at the role of the other Arab countries over many decades and international institutions like UNRWA in creating and maintaining their plight. Jewish and Israeli leftists and far-leftists like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and others like them simply are not reliable sources about the history or region.

You certainly seem correct about the passion surrounding the issue of the Israel-Arab Conflict.
There exists a lot of false knowledge and misinformation and I try to steer blog readers to what I consider reliable and accurate reporters and analysts like Barry Rubin. With a more accurate view, people who have perhaps been misled by an often terribly biased media and academic sources might direct their passions more appropriately. What Kuentzel, Rubin, and others—including myself—oppose is not going to help Arabs and Muslims one bit.

That brings me to your characterization of Korzybski as "committed his life to avoiding emotional thinking and (maybe ironically) to a near fetishization of rationality..." I think that crams his non-aristotelian outlook into boxes where it doesn't actually fit. His whole point about 'semantic reaction', i.e. , 'evaluation' was to steer people from the traditional opposition of 'emotion' and 'intellect'. He proposed that we always operate with 'emotion'-'intellect' together and that the two could not be separated, except verbally, when considering how we actually experience and behave. When we do make that separation we will blunt our reactions in unhelpful ways. However it seems true that many people who thought they were practicing what Korzybski taught, have fetishized— as you put it—a rather meager and truncated version of 'rationality', but that differs greatly from what Korzybski wanted to bring about in people.

I hope I've addressed enough of your comments for at least some thoughtful chewing. I'd have to spend more time than I have now to give you a more complete meal.


Greg A. T. said...

I certainly thank you for your understanding. In looking back at my post and considering the fact that you have no idea who I am, I wouldn't have faulted you in the slightest for thinking me anti-semitic.

Your insights about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis are helpful as well as the resources for finding out more about Naziism and Arab-Muslim radicalism. It wouldn't take much to convince me of such a connection considering the things that Iran's President Ahmadinejad has said. My only concern was with the potential identification of 74 million Iranians with his position - and it is clear that this was not at all your point. And I'm certainly happy to sign up for the war against these ideologies of hate (and I'm sure you've heard Ahmadinejad's famous line about gays when he was on the Columbia campus - when asked about the severe laws against gay relationships, he said something like "there are no gay people in Iran so it isn't a problem" Huh?).

And I am most grateful for your insight into Korzybski's thought, this is really the meat of it all for me. Considering K's position, it makes me all the more interested in finding out more about what exactly he means that emotion and intellect are bound up together in evaluation. This is much closer to my own thinking than the previous position that I had pigeon-holed him into, and so my interest has been piqued. Lots for me to read up on.

Thanks so much for your insightful response. I hope that somewhere down the road (once I get a better handle on K's ideas) we might be able to chat a bit more.


Richard said...

Taking a quote from S.I Hayakawa, I believe that the tragedy of the Middle East is that it has forced both the Israelis and the Arabs into a two valued orientation. Every action seems to precipitate an equal horrid reaction - each one justified based on the logic of conflict and the previous actions. Of course when it comes to security - the orientation is almost always two valued - historically speaking. Who can fault the Israelis for building a wall to keep out suicide bombers - even if the consequence is the magnetization of well meaning Palestinians.