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The triumph of stupidity

In America, another nine people are dead due to the bizarre but widespread belief that instruments of death are in fact instruments of freedom and life. According to the twisted logic of the National Rifle Association, more guns and more public sight of them would have prevented the Charleston church massacre.

It is clear to anyone with even half a primate brain (but living outside America) that the problem is too many guns in too many hands. Underlying that – the real problem – is the grotesque logic of the NRA and its millions of supporters, which in turn is part of a wider, more profound flight from rationality in the U.S.

To put it simply, the most developed and most advantaged of countries is home to some of the most stupid thinking in the world. Stupidity that doesn’t derive from biological incompetence or lack of education, but from a willful denial of centuries of learning, discoveries and accumulated knowledge, dating back to the Enlightenment.

And we’re not talking about isolated, banjo-twanging simpletons in the Appalachian mountains. A deep suspicion of science and knowledge runs throughout mainstream America and is held by many of the so-called educated elite. Ideas that are regarded as voodoo in most other places – opposition to vaccination, denial of climate change, rejection of evolution – are credible and socially acceptable in contemporary America.

At a time in which the earth is becoming more endangered and human existence more vulnerable, a large number of Americans are shoving their heads into the sand and discarding reason for sentience and superstition. Willing themselves back to a simpler, less burdensome past.

I don’t have the knowledge or expertise to attempt to explain the phenomenon, which likely has its roots deep in the American experience. What bothers me about what Andy Borowitz calls America’s “fact-resistant humans” is that they are over-represented on the list (it runs to several pages already) of Republican candidates for the presidency. The appalling possibility that one of them might be the next U.S. president keeps me awake at night.

With the exception of Rand Paul (who largely keeps away from the subject,) the Republican presidential candidates support Israel blindly – meaning that they support everything that the Netanyahu government does without question. That support is irrespective of how much they know about Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians, which is not very much in the case of most of them.

When Scott Walker visited the region in May, he met with Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, cabinet ministers Bennett and Steinitz, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and so on. But he didn’t meet with any Palestinians. Not one Palestinian, on what Walker himself described as a “listening tour.” That shows a real commitment to listening.

Republican support for Israel is anti-knowledge; it falls into the same category as anti-vaxx, climate change denial and opposition to gun control – unthinking, simplistic, clichéd and based on fantasies about what the world should be like, rather than what it is.

It is also deeply influenced by post-Holocaust Judeophilia, Israeli propaganda and, I suspect, latent anti-Arabism. Faced with a precarious world and demographic changes that will decimate their national party in a few decades, Republicans see Israel as a promised land of frontier derring-do and white (oops, make that Western) rule.

There’s also another reason for the affinity with Israel. The Netanyahu government and its supporters are almost as stupid as the Republicans. Not when it comes to vaccines and climate change, perhaps, but certainly as regards to their tribalism, their messianism and their colonial aspirations. As with their American counterparts, many Israelis hearken back to simpler periods when God made the decisions, the world could be fooled and Arabs could be dealt with without arousing international opprobrium.

“Everything that Israel has done , and I emphasize everything, in the last 23 years is either evil stupidity or stupidly evil.”

That was said in 1990 by Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the Israeli academic and intellectual who died in 1994. No loony leftie, Leibowitz was both a deeply religious Orthodox Jew and a world-renowned scientist. But he was best known for his courageous and trenchant criticism of the occupation and his prescient pronouncements about its inevitable results.

“Rule over the occupied territories would have social repercussions,” Leibowitz wrote in 1968, shortly after the Six-Day War. “After a few years there would be no Jewish workers or Jewish farmers.  The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police. 

“A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech, and democratic institutions.  The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the state of Israel.”

I wonder how many of the Republican presidential aspirants have even heard of Leibowitz, never mind read anything he wrote. And if they haven’t, on what basis do they speak about Israel with such authority and fervor?

For Israelis, the Republican presidential race would be little more than a side-show were it not for the fact that, as Leibowitz put it, “Without an agreement imposed from the outside, our situation will deteriorate to that of a second Vietnam, to a war in constant escalation without the prospect of ultimate resolution.”

America is the only outsider that can conceivably impose an agreement – and America, unfortunately, may soon be in the hands of a science-denying lover of Israel without a clue about what is really going on here. But at least we’ll be able to reassure each other in our mutual stupidity.