Why I Was Wrong About The Palestine-Israel Conflict
Like so many people, I’m outraged by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s shameful.
And like so many others, I know my views are correct. The other side is wrong, not me. My feelings are shared by hundreds of millions of people. The weird thing is, they’re shared by both the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine supporters.
Yet, most of these people are like me. They aren’t Israeli. And they aren’t Palestinian. They have no family involved in the conflict. Yet, we share a moral outrage.
Are we angry because we’re reasonable and rational moral individuals? Or is something deeper going on?
Underneath our outrage
Maybe we’re not as moral as we think. In the Moral Animal, Robert Wright explores the science of evolutionary psychology. Here are four revealing quotes:
- Our emotions evolved because they helped our genes survive
“Sympathy, empathy, compassion, conscience, guilt, remorse, even the very sense of justice, the sense that doers of good deserve reward and doers of bad deserve punishment—all these can now be viewed as vestiges of organic history on a particular planet.”
- Morals are an excuse for political action
“…a moral code is a political compromise. It is molded by competing interest groups, each bringing all its clout to bear. This is the only discernible sense in which moral values are sent down from on high—they are shaped disproportionately by the various parts of society where power resides.”
- What seems morally right to us, is actually only right for our genes survival
“What is in our genes’ interests is what seems “right”—morally right, objectively right, whatever sort of rightness is in order.”
- In essence; people use morals to gain and retain power
“…moral discourse, political discourse, even, sometimes, academic discourse—are by Darwinian lights, raw power struggles.”
Our moral sense stems from what is best for our genes survival and replication. So, our moral outrage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may not be based on what’s objectively right, but on what supports our tribe.
Can this really be true? Are our morals nothing more than subconscious tools of our genes?
What’s this got to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Why would our genes care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? We’re not a risk from the bombs and bullets. And we have nothing to gain.
So what’s going on?
In part, our brains of today were developed when all social interactions within our tribe determined our level of food, sex, and protection. If our tribe liked us, we (and our genes) survived. Today, our empathetic brain is being hijacked by images of wounded children and crying mothers. These images won’t determine the food or sex we get, but our ancient brains don’t know that.
But there’s more going on, and it’s linked to virtue signaling. Robert Wright helps explain the term “introjection”:
“Absorbing the values and traits of others, including powerful others—may be a way of cozying up to a high-status person who “distributes status and rewards to those who support his beliefs.”
But we don’t only use our morals for inducing good-will from high-status people. We use them to build friendships. And what’s that got to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Wright explains, “One of the strongest bonds two friends can have—the great starter and sustainer of friendships—is a common enemy.”
While we have no direct interest in the conflict, we use it to score points with our friends and political compatriots. It’s a way for us to bond. But while the bombs and bullets land on our TV screens, they explode on their homes. We bond, they’re bombed.
What should we do?
The answer to what we should do became obvious to me when I was visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City. You’re probably aware that state-sponsored art, like this museum, becomes a tool for state propaganda. That’s why the CIA supported Jackson Pollock’s modern art during the cold war – so on all fronts the U.S. appeared superior to the Soviets (clearly another CIA action with disastrous unintended consequences – the rise of modern ‘art’).
While the first half of Mexico City’s modern art museum was filled with dangling ropes and other nihilistic modern art, the second half was filled with exhibits focusing on the evil three-lettered American spy agencies; the NSA, CIA, and FBI. Ruthless as America’s secret agencies may be, this moral outrage towards America is blinding visitors from a far more subversive problem in Mexico.
There’s a museum in Mexico City that is banned to the public, including Mexican citizens. The Narco Museum. It’s filled with everything from gold-plated automatic weapons to mountains of methamphetamine.
The Mexican government’s moral outrage is directed towards America, rather than the drug war in their own country. Over 20,000 people are murdered every year. Kids are dissolved in acid. Politicians are either corrupted or murdered. The police work for the cartels. That’s their real problem. Yet, they focus their outrage on the FBI, CIA, and NSA.
Their outrage is similar to millions of people who express their outrage at the Israeli-Palestinian war. They focus on the actions of people they can’t influence, while simultaneously neglecting their own problems within their control.
We should not interfere with the injustices in the Middle East. We should address the injustices in our own life. There are kids in their twenties worrying that the Palestinian refugees don’t own a real home, yet they don’t own one either. They should redirect their efforts towards the economic challenges in their own countries. Or even better, study engineering and earn a home themselves.
It’s not heroic to be outraged at something far away (no matter how many retweets or likes you receive). There is no cost for you, you sacrifice and risk nothing.
It’s easier to condemn a dictator in a distant land than stand up to our own tyrannical boss. It’s far less painful to condemn a soldier for shooting a child, than to condemn ourselves for that third bowl of ice-cream. We appear as angels compared to the devils of war.
What if I’m wrong?
Maybe I’m wrong. But that doesn’t change what we should do. We should still focus on our own life. If you actually want to influence the Israeli-Palestinian conflict beyond a retweet, you first need real power of your own.
Consider the story of Sam Zemurray, the banana man. He was a poor Jewish immigrant in America. He didn’t spend his time focused on his moral outrage, he focused on building a banana business. His focus was so intense he became more successful than the monolith that was United Fruit. And having focused on himself and his company his entire life, when the time came, he was in a position to influence the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 1948, the UN would vote to decide whether to recognise Israel as a country. The Arab states didn’t want to recognize the Jewish state. The western countries did. As a result,the South American countries held the balance of power.
It was at this moment that Sam Zemurray influenced history. Using his contacts and money, he phoned presidents across South America. Through persuasion and bribery, he convinced many to either swing their vote in favour of Israel or to abstain. His phone calls gave his Jewish people an internationally recognised state.
Perhaps the modern millennial feels they have as much control over their own lives as they have control over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. House prices are high. Jobs are low. Millenials have no hope. This is bullshit. And self-defeating. Sam Zemurray had no education and got his start selling the bananas others would throw away. If he can turn trash into one of the most powerful companies in the world, surely a millennial can overcome a tough job market and a pricey housing market.
You may stay out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because you recognise your moral outrage may be misplaced. Or you may stay out of the conflict because, like Zemurray, you want to focus on building the power that can truly influence the conflict. Either way, your actions will be the same; you’ll focus on your own life.
We can apply this tribal moral outrage to many modern phenomena. Trump, Hillary, radical feminism, toxic masculinity, gangsters, banksters, and other trend-worthy topics. But imagine if people diverted their energies to correct their own problems, before focusing on the apparent wrongness of others. Wouldn’t that be more moral?