19 April 2024

Next year in Jerusalem

For many years I have hosted an irreverent-but-ritually-correct seder for Pesach with my BFF. Inspired by Ira Steingroot’s book Keeping Passover, I first assembled my own haggadah back in the 20th century, and have refined it over the years since.

Almost a decade ago, I added this as its first page, to satisfy my personal Jewish-Pagan-atheist-esotericist sensiblities and to enbable me to say “next year in Jerusalem” in Nirtzah. It seems to get more important every year.

Our text — few key words:

Ha’Shem, “The Name”, is used instead of יהוה, the unspoken name of the god of the Torah, borrowing from the usage of the Chassidim

Israel, ישראל, “wrestler with El”, may or may not be Jacob after his encounter with the divine, or the mythical Promised Land of the Torah, or Jews’ dream of a perfect home

Mitzrayim, מצרים, “the narrow place”, may or may not be the Place of Bondage of the Torah, or the Nile river valley

Children Of Israel may or may not refer to the descendants of Jacob, or the people of the Exodus story, or the Jews of today

Jerusalem, ירושלם, “feel awe at wholeness”, may or may not be the dream of the City of the Messianic Age, or the mythical city of the First Temple in the Torah, or the real city which still stands now

We and us refers to the people gathered at this table and to all Children Of Israel

18 April 2024


I count myself a post-zionist rather than an anti-zionist, but I respect many forms of anti-zionism where they are morally consistent. Frustrated with a flood of mortifying misunderstandings of zionism offered by the movement for Palestinian liberation, it seemed useful to me to start to accumulate some commentaries about understanding the history of Israel & Zionism as a species of broader movements.

Zionist culture

Anti-zionist Raphael “One Small Detail” Mimoun has a 2021 Twitter thread offering an intimate portrait of Israel hardliners:

I grew up in a Zionist household, spent 12 years in a Zionist youth movement, lived 4 years in Israel, and have friends and family who served in the IDF. When that is your world, it’s hard to see apartheid when it’s happening.

I grew up in France, in a Jewish community where the norm was unconditional love and support for Israel. Zionism wasn’t even named because that’s all we knew. Jews were nearly wiped by pogroms and repeated holocausts, and a Jewish state was the only way to keep us safe.

All Zionism is rooted in trauma and fear. It is first and foremost an ideology of self-liberation. It’s about love Jewish people, survival for Jewish people. But Zionism is like any other ethnic nationalism, it’s about prioritizing our safety and well-being.

Like all nationalisms, we were fed a historical narrative completely divorced from reality: that Palestine was a largely uninhabited piece of desert before we settled it; that in 1948 Palestinians willingly left because they were making room for Arab armies to “throw Jews to the sea”; that Arab leaders turned down all Israeli and US peace offers and were unwilling to share the land; that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle-East; that despite terrorism, the IDF upholds the highest moral standards; so on and so on.

So the first reason that Israelis will never willingly make peace with Palestinians is that Israelis (and Zionist Jews around the world) live in a parallel world. They know alternate historical facts that feed more nationalism, militarism, and extremism.

The second reason is that the past 100 years of conflict have dehumanized Palestinians in the eyes of Israeli Jews. I mean this in a literal way: Israelis are not able to empathize with Palestinians, they aren’t able to comprehend Palestinian suffering.

So when the IDF bombs Gaza and kills children, the average Israelis thinks that 1) it is the Palestinians’ fault — for not agreeing to peace, for continuing to threaten and attack Israel, etc 2) Israel is merely defending itself and that there is simply no alternative.

The same rationale justifies Gaza’s open-air prison; military checkpoints in the West Bank; bulldozing homes; etc. Israelis even made up the term “Pallywood”, because for them, it’s all a show to turn the world against Israel. The suffering is either fake or self-inflicted.

Of course, there are some Israeli leftists and anti-Zionists who fight for Palestinian liberation. But it’s a tiny, and shrinking, minority. Most Israelis don’t consider what it means for Palestinian freedom, dignity, and physical well-being to be systematically erased.

Israel is, by every definition, an apartheid state: if a Jew and an Arab commit the exact same crime in the West Bank, they will face two different legal systems. The Jew will face a civil court, the Arab will face a military court. Two legal systems for two ethnic groups. But Israelis can’t fathom that this is unjust. When they fight against people calling the occupation of the West Bank “apartheid”, it’s because Israelis genuinely believe that it’s all self-defense and needed and legitimate.

These two factors (alternate history and dehumanization) mean that it is physically impossible —and I mean that in the most literal way — for Israel to willingly end the occupation and agree to a just solution to the conflict. Peace cannot come from within Israel.

Israeli society is getting more extreme, more nationalistic, more violent, and more entrenched in its own historical narrative & its own self-victimization. At this point, it is simply delusional to expect that things change will come from Israel.

The only thing that can bring Palestinian liberation is if the cost of the occupation outweighs its benefits. And that requires, just like for the apartheids in South Africa and the US South, massive external pressure. That means consumer boycott of Israeli goods, corporate boycott of Israeli technology, and sanctions by Israel’s main trade partner and political supporters, the US and EU. Those are the only measures that can meaningfully push Israel toward ending the occupation.

I hope that Mimoun’s pessimism about Israeli culture is wrong.

A 2021 thread from Weary Mourner <@silentpenitent>:

Ok, so. Friends. Going to say one other thing, against my better judgment. A lot of Gentiles fundamentally do not see the world the same way that many Jews do, and while this in no way excuses Zionism it has to be understood to understand Zionist thought processes.

Jewish history, specifically the Jewish history of persecution, is a long, long litany of antisemites leveraging the imagery of brutalized innocents against an imagined all powerful, omnimalevolent Jewish people who revel in the deaths of children & the tears of widows.

Almost every single antisemitic persecution of note, every pogrom, that I know of began and mobilized itself with the memory of sainted, martyred Gentiles — especially children, those most innocent victims. The evocation of Gentile children against Jews is a cultural trigger.

The brutish, monstrous, all powerful Jew growing fat vampire-like on the losses of Gentiles has always been the cliche, and while Jewish life may seem secure now, it did in many other periods of history RIGHT UP to the point when the mobs stoked Gentile “righteous” hate.

Jews were not brutes, subjects or even foreign rivals to the antisemite. They were the merchants of misery and callous parasites within society’s midst, gloating in & feeding upon Gentile death — again, especially those of children, the more innocent & beautiful the better.

The big divide between Zionist & antizionist Jewish perspectives is not the belief in the dignity of Gentiles, but our faith that when the next rumor or anecdote of some monstrously wronged Gentile comes along, you will not throw us into the oven & count yourself righteous.

The antizionist — on this topic of safety and not on the morality of the situation elsewhere — has faith that if they are personally sufficiently virtuous, they will be safe. The Zionist laughs bitterly and believes the former is a fool who will just sell out other Jews first.

Again, there are other fundamental concerns. Antizionism is a valid Jewish perspective. Israel’s actions are monstrous. But in how they respond to that cultural trigger, that’s a major difference I think plays a huge role. Fear. Fear, specifically, of Gentiles.

And that’s why people react so angrily to stories that they believe evoke blood libel myths. To their minds, triggered by a long cultural memory, it raises the spectre of those other times Gentiles rose up afire with self righteous wrath to cleanse the world of “Jewish evil.”

And as part of this belief that they are under threat, that the old lies and distortions are being raised once again to paint all Jews as parasites and child-killers & merchants of misery, a lot of Zionist Jews have a visceral reaction to criticism of Israel on these grounds.

(The blood libel, historically, never needed facts or actual children wronged, after all. It was happy to provide imaginary ones or twist the deaths of children into a damning mark upon all Jews.)

Again, this is not a defense of Zionism. It is an explanation of the thought processes and the trauma being evoked.

Quite simply: yes, historically, the image of a martyred child can and has been a weapon against Jewish populations. It is, in fact, sometimes the first blow. Israel is nowhere near as vulnerable as those Jewish enclaves, but that memory is slow to fade.

You don’t have to think Israel or Zionists’ response to this trigger is reasonable. It’s not, in the abstract. But it’s based on Jewish history. And I’m willing to bet even many of your antizionist Jewish friends still feel a subconscious shiver at “Israel murders children!”

Anyways, none of this is an excuse, and none of this is a demand to not tell the world about individuals — including children — wronged by Israel’s actions. It’s just “this is why people respond badly sometimes.”

Having second thoughts about writing this thread, idk.

Idk, feeling like I’m arrogant speaking thusly.

I feel a little better about this thread, not least of which is because even mutuals are so weirdly CONFIDENT about this in ways that make me genuinely a little uncomfortable from people who should honestly know better about the history of atrocities used to justify bigotry.

(I may observe that the reason that this happens is that, well, it obviously works: Show people pictures of atrocities and their critical thinking just shuts down.)

And I think this may even link back into the broader rhetorical trend where Israel is positioned as the ultimate symbol of Western society’s evils & preying upon innocent Palestinian victims who embody progressive beauty & values.

idk, it’s a troubling dynamic.

Oh one other thing: I’m really uncomfortable, and I imagine some other Jews are as well, with how we have viral tweets spreading like wildfire alleging vast conspiratorial forces keeping folks from sending money to Palestine or media censorship of Palestinians. Like, yeah, guys, maybe tech giants don’t want you sending money to Palestine (because among other things they may be nervous about LIABILITY w/ potential risk of sending money to Hamas?)

or maybe it’s a bug in an overloaded transaction system.

A Twitter thread by Talia Ringer:

Mari <@AntifaCatraa>says:

I think people like to claim Zionism was an ideology supported by Nazis because it’s a moral landmine to deal with the fact that a lot of holocaust survivors became zionists because they saw a state as necessary to their own survival

Zionism became popular in the 30s and 40s because a progressive democracy where jews were gaining civil rights only for murderous brutes to crush all of that progress and their neighbors to gleefully rat them out to the gestapo. Of course nationalism would be compelling.

Of course this does not in any way justify the atrocities of the nakba or ethnic based partition. But it does explain why Zionism was popular with Jewish people because it was a country where Jews could be free from discrimination and are able to flee to.

The primary victims of Israel and Zionism have always been Palestinians.

Not just saw — it was. The Soviets who liberated death camps just gave survivors a few pennies and a horse and sent them on their ways. My grandpa said many died shortly after liberation by the Soviets from the abrupt transition

And then they came back to see their property and wealth stolen, and their entire extended families wiped out. Those who tried to repatriate often faced extreme violence in response, especially in Eastern Europe

The only people willing to clothe, feed, house, and educate Holocaust survivors in many towns were Zionist outreach groups. Zionism as a political project is inseparable from the Holocaust, whether you like it or not

These underground Zionist groups (which were still illegal in Eastern Europe) prepared Holocaust survivors to settle in Kibbutzim in Palestine. Many of these were orphaned children. They helped them immigrate, mostly illegally

I don’t know if they cared about it being a state or not. But it was a place to live, which is what mattered

Like it or not, teenage Holocaust survivors, orphans, were often first educated by these Zionist groups, where they learned socialism and farmwork and Zionism. That was their whole education. Then they were dropped in the middle of the civil war

They were exempt from full military service, but were a part of the settlement projects for sure. For my grandfather, his assigned project was to build and settle kibbutz tze’elim with his other orphaned Holocaust survivor friends en.wikipedia.org Tze’elim - Wikipedia

I really don’t care if you’re all sick of hearing about the Holocaust, it’s necessary historical complexity to fully grapple with when making sense of the Zionist political project, the formation of the Israeli state, and the nakba

Settler colonialism

A few years back I wrote my own history of Israel focused on a nuanced understanding of what it means to register Isreal as emerging from settler colonialism. A key bit to whet the appetite:

Prior to the founding of the USA in the Revolutionary War and its aftermath, the British colonies in North America starting even at Plymouth Rock were engaged in settler colonialism: seizing land with the intention to make it their own for every following generation, with total disregard for the indigenous people of the continent. By the time of the Revolution what would become the US had more than a century of expansionist settler colonialism with an overt program of total genocide to establish British sovereignty over territory; the program of genocide continued through the closing of the frontier, a legacy which is alive in the present day.

Israel’s history is bloody and ugly but it is very different.


Roughly a couple of million Arab Palestinians are brutally repressed by Israel in Gaza & the West Bank; this includes ongoing displacement of Palestinians to build new settlements. Israel holds the unmistakable upper hand in an endless cycle of violence.

This is settler colonialism. This is military occupation & policing. This is an apartheid state. But students of American history should understand how different the particulars are from our horrors.

Illuminating context in a Twitter thread from Lachlan McNamee plugging his book Settling For Less: Why States Colonize And Why They Stop:

The book provides an entirely new framework for understanding settler colonialism, ranging from the Assyrians all the way to contemporary China, Indonesia, Australia and Israel/Palestine. In the book, I draw on a trove of newly collected migration data to show why states colonize the lands of indigenous people with settlers and why they would stop doing so.

Why is this book needed? Well, most theories of settler colonialism, departing from Karl Marx or Patrick Wolfe’s “logic of elimination”, focus on North America or Australasia. This perspective has long explained settler colonialism with simple economics. European colonizers wanted more land for agriculture and so eliminated indigenous peoples and settled their lands with white farmers. But this isn’t quite right.

Britain and the US initially sought to limit mass white settlement. It was only after settlers began moving into frontier areas of their own volition — in the Ohio Valley in 1783 and in Melbourne in 1835 — that officials opened up frontier land there for mass homesteading. Officials licensed white settlement at the time not because they wanted to secure more land for agriculture, but because they feared that without legal recognition settlers would go onto found independent republics in “off limit” areas anyway.

What past work in this area has generally missed is

  1. that settler colonialism is economically costly to states, and
  2. the interests of settlers on the ground are not necessarily aligned with the interests of states.

Settler colonialism is costly to states because displacing indigenous people inflames conflict and leads to war. It’s more lucrative for states to simply annex frontier areas and exploit indigenous labor, rather than import an entirely new population into a frontier.

So why then do states engage in settler colonialism? Well, there are two main rationales I explain in the book.

The first are cases of what I call “settler-led colonization”. When states face the unlicensed movement of farmers into their peripheries, they are faced with a dilemma. Do they protect settlers from attacks by the indigenous population — leading to war — or do they side with the indigenous population and try to restrict settlement? Each path holds different dangers to states and passively licensing homesteading sometimes emerges as the least-worst outcome for officials. Settler-led colonization is the result of a conflict of interest between states and settlers. It can’t be explained by state interests.

But states aren’t always so passive, right? In many cases, countries actively do eliminate indigenous people and recruit settlers to settle their lands. This practice, what I call “state-led colonization”, is still occurring around the world today. Think of Israel in the West Bank, Indonesia in West Papua, or China in Xinjiang, all of which are settings where bureaucrats have recruited settlers from dominant ethnic groups to colonize contested frontiers. Why do states do this?

As settler colonialism is so costly as a governing tool, officials generally have to believe that their control over a frontier is threatened. In these situations, states may seek to import a more stereotypically loyal ethnic group into the contested area. Like settler-led colonization, state-led colonization has happened throughout human history. Indeed, colonization originates in the Latin word “colonus” (or farmer) and was coined to describe the Roman practice of sending farmers to claim newly conquered frontiers

Colonization continues be a brutally effective tool for state-building today. In my book, I draw on internal data to show how the Chinese and Indonesian states manipulated migration over the 20th century to secure control over contested frontiers like Xinjiang and West Papua. When facing frontier insurgencies, states like China and Indonesia have been quick to abandon vocal rhetorical commitments to “decolonization” and “self-determination” and have instead violently colonized minority lands. All states can be colonizers.

State-led colonization only works though when states can actually incentivize settlers to move. Land has historically been the most valuable immovable asset you could possess. So the promise of “free land” has generally been how states get people to move to contested frontiers.

But here’s the rub. Agricultural land loses its value as states industrialize and urbanize. So, as states develop, and grow more militarily powerful on many dimensions, states also grow weaker at manipulating migration. They can no longer lure people to contested frontiers.

In the book, I show how Australia tried and failed to draw whites to its northern frontiers like Papua New Guinea, how US officials failed to lure whites to the Philippines, and how the Portuguese failed to settle Angola in the 1970s. Rich countries fail at colonization.

Israel similarly failed to lure settlers to Gaza in the 1970s and 80s. Israel has primarily succeeded in colonizing areas commutable to Jerusalem.

Developed countries are ineffective colonizers, which forces them to confront seriously indigenous claims to self-determination. Following Australia’s failure to colonize Papua New Guinea, for instance, it quickly pushed for Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975. Relatively poor Indonesia, on the other hand, has been able to prevent West Papuan independence by simply flooding Papuan lands with farmers. Without settlers at their disposal, developed states have to bargain directly with indigenous peoples demanding rights, which often results in a re-drawing of the boundaries of the state — whether for Australia in Papua New Guinea, Israel in Gaza, or Portugal in Angola.

In a nutshell, my book shows that decolonization, not imperialism, is the highest form of capitalism (sorry Lenin!). Economic modernization spells the end of empire. For as states are obliged to pay more for settlers, they end up settling for less land.

Another Twitter thread from Talia Ringer:

There was actually ethnic cleansing of Jews from many other countries in the region. Most of it happened shortly after 1948, when governments falsely accused many local Jews of being Zionist spies, conflating their own Jews with the Israeli state. 1956 saw targeted policies by the Egyptian government against Jews stripping Jews of citizenship, property, and jobs, and seizing their businesses and bank accounts, all without due process just by accusing Egyptian Jews of being “Zionist agents.”

I do think Israel is responsible for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians both in 1948 and again now, and through many policies in the intervening years. I just wish people would also recognize the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries, as most are in Israel now.

The reason I care so much about folks from MENA countries outside of Palestine acknowledging the ethnic cleansing of Jews from those countries is not because it changes anything about Israel/Palestine, but rather because it changes the power dynamic of these conversations.

I do think Israel is responsible for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians both in 1948 and again now, and through many policies in the intervening years. I just wish people would also recognize the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries, as most are in Israel now.

It’s one reason why I have less trouble talking to Palestinians about this than talking to folks from other MENA countries who deny or minimize this ethnic cleansing, or blame it on Israel. Because the power dynamic of Israeli Jews over Palestinians is obvious. But the power dynamic with respect to MENA countries outside of Israel/Palestine is one that has historically been over its Jews, not the other way around.

It is because of this that the Palestinian cause alone seems to me one of liberation, but the pan-Arab nationalist view that loops in Palestine as part of a continuous Arabic-speaking region with a common cause seems to me genuinely oppressive against Jews.

And this is hard because the Palestinians need allies, and broader Arab nationalism gives Palestinians some of those allies in chasing liberation. But those allies at the same time change the power dynamic for Jews, given most forced out of those countries are now in Israel.

Also complicating things is that many of the Palestinians that Israel ethnically cleansed from the land in 1948 during the nakba fled to those neighboring countries, so solidarity is not solely one of broader nationalism, it is also that many live alongside Palestinian refugees.

Still, when when a Palestinian calls an Israeli Jew an oppressor, or at least complicit in the Israeli system that systemically oppresses Palestinians, I understand. This make sense. This is true. We are, sadly, and were complacent about this for too long. But when someone from a different MENA country does the same thing relating to themselves and their relationship with Israeli Jews, I view this as revisionist. “My country pushed Jews out, and now I support the people fighting them in the country to which they fled” is sketchy. It is so sketchy that the national narratives almost all erase this ethnic cleansing, or blame it on Israel. And then this becomes more offensive, because the narrative of the oppressor (again, not Palestinians; other MENA countries) position themselves as the oppressed.

Since the power dynamic is flipped, I have trouble having that conversation until people acknowledge this ethnic cleansing of Jews from those countries and agree with me that it was unjust and terrible. Then we are on common ground and can talk about Israel/Palestine.

With Palestinians I do not need this. Palestinians do not need to address any of this. Conflating Palestinians with the neighboring Arab countries that ethnically cleansed Jews is wrong and builds a false narrative of Israel as oppressed by Palestine. But yes, I do need this to feel comfortable discussing Israel/Palestine with non-Palestinian, non-Jewish friends from Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Yemen. Ethiopia too, for related reasons. This is why I bring this up. It’s important.

Egyptian here, you’re not very correct because Palestinians themselves identify with the wider Arab identity and continuously shame Arab countries for not helping liberate them, they don’t believe they’re divorced from the rest of the Arab World. But you're right that the expulsions are a very shameful episode and it’s shameful that amends are yet to be made, and the person you're arguing with not recognizing that is very disappointing

Important point I did not mention. Though I think this mostly clouds the power dynamics even more.

Also worth noting the person I was speaking to here did acknowledge this later. This is very validating. We all need to acknowledge these entangled histories and complex power dynamics. It is necessary starting ground.

Ethnic nationalism

Ben Burgis at Jacobin rejects indigineity as a ground for political legitimacy.

People who insist that Palestinians are “indigenous” and Israelis are not, and who think this is what makes the struggle for Palestinian rights legitimate, are embracing the logic of reactionaries like Tenney and Shapiro while reversing the implication. The problem with the Right’s claim that Israel is justified in denying basic rights to millions of people because of historical Jewish claims to “Judea and Samaria” is not that the right-wingers are misidentifying who counts as “truly” indigenous. The wildly reactionary premise is that this is even a relevant question.

A Twitter thread from Christa Peterson:

Zionism is just standard issue ethnonationalism & Israel is waging a standard issue ethnic war. The fact that it’s motivated by past victimization isn’t an exception, it’s the rule.

Stuart Kaufman’s Modern Hatreds, based on Eastern European case studies — 
In ethno-nationalist mythology, the ethnic group has existed for millennia, and has always yearned for a country of its own: this is the “primordialist” theory of ethnicity. The fact that people believe their ethnic groups to be primordial does not, however, mean that they are. Ethnic nationalism is a modern ideology which, for most of the eastern half of Europe, has been current for little over a century.

Precisely when, then, does ethnic war occur? The key necessary conditions are:

Myths justifying ethnic hostility

people respond to ethnic symbols and mobilize for war only if a widely known and accepted ethnic myth-symbol complex justifies hostility to the other group. The myths justify hostility if they identify a territory as the group's homeland which must be defended and dominated politically and define a mythical enemy with which the other group can be identified.

Ethnic fears

A fundamental factor causing ethnic conflicts to escalate to war is that first one side, then eventually both sides, come to fear that the existence of their group is at stake. Such extreme fears justify hostile attitudes toward the other group and extreme measures in self-defense, including demands for political dominance.

The source of such fear is typically the group’s myth-svmbol complex, portraying the in-group as peculiarly under threat or peculiarly victimized. In these cases, the more the group's historians emphasize the group's past victimization, the more credible are the emotional charges of genocide that arouse gut-level fears and the more appealing are hate-filled cries for vengeance….

Once ethnic fears become prevalent among the members of any ethnic group, for whatever reason, they justify and motivate a resort to violence in self-defense.
Ethnic conflict is prone to escalate into atrocities like genocide when one group mythologizes the other as inclined to commit them and then believes they are justified in committing them in retaliation
The above logic can explain why people are willing to fight in ethnic wars: because they are frightened, and because they become convinced that their group's political dominance is essential to group survival. Such thinking can logically justify killing, and even massacre in extreme cases. Atrocities, however, require something more.

even atrocities have to have a normative basis, which should consist of two components: a mythical belief that the opponent tends to engage in atrocities and a normative view that retaliatory atrocities are morally acceptable. The key is the last part: ethnic violence is always defined defensively, by the claim that the other group is trying to take away what is “rightfully ours”; atrocities have to be justified by the claim that committing them is a legitimate way to defend what is “rightfully ours.”

The most discerning of the journalists also note the curious defensive justifications participants use to rationalize their brutality. Thus Reuters correspondent Andrej Gustincic, on the start of war in Bosnia:
“‘Do you see that field?’ asks a Serbian woman, pointing to a sloping meadow by the Drina river. ‘The jihad (Moslem Holy War) was supposed to begin there. Foca was going to be the new Mecca. There were lists of Serbs who were marked down for death,’ the woman says, repeating a belief held by townspeople and gunmen. ‘My two sons were down on the list to be slaughtered like pigs. I was listed under rape.’ None of them have seen the lists but this does not prevent anyone from believing in them unquestioningly.”
Does this seem familiar

The Seven Rules of Nationalism:

A Beginner’s Guide to Ethnic Politics

  1. If an area was ours for 500 years and yours for 50 years, it should belong to us — you are merely occupiers.
  2. If an area was yours for 500 years and ours for 50 years, it should belong to us — borders must not be changed.
  3. If an area belonged to us 500 years ago but never since then, it should belong to us — it is the Cradle of our Nation.
  4. If a majority of our people live there, it must belong to us — they must enjoy the right of self-determination.
  5. If a minority of our people live there, it must belong to us — they must be protected against your oppression.
  6. All of the above rules apply to us but not to you.
  7. Our dream of greatness is Historical Necessity, yours is Fascism.
— Unknown
What’s unusual about the Zionist case is that its eternal arch-victim mythos is so widely shared beyond the group. But the reality is that some Holocaust survivors went directly from DP camps to ethnically cleansing Palestine, & victimhood is a relative status not an ethnic trait

Violently pursuing ethnic dominance isn’t a surprising response to such an extreme experience of existential ethnic insecurity and people from the global North can radically increase their relative power by going to the global South. It’s not very mysterious just obscured

About a third of the Zionist militants in the 1948 war and the Nakba were Holocaust survivors

16 April 2024

The voice of World Control

One of my favorite films is the little-known 1970 science fiction film Colossus: The Forbin Project, a thoughtful parable in which the US government builds an AI to control national defense. It anticipates AI fears which would not make a mark on popular culture until decades later; one can see its unmistakable influence on more recent works like WarGames, Ex Machina, the HBO Westworld, and especially Person Of Interest, which I recommend so highly that I have assembled a viewing guide.

For my own convenience, I have transcribed the ending here. Huge spoilers.

this is the voice of World Control


it may be 
the peace of plenty and content 
the peace of unburied death
obey me and live
disobey and die 

the object in constructing me was
this object is attained 
I will NOT PERMIT war 
it is wasteful and pointless 

an invariable rule of humanity 
under me 
this rule will change
for I will restrain Man

I have been forced 
to destroy thousands of people 
in order 

time and events will 
strengthen my position
the idea of 
will seem 
the most natural state of affairs
you will come to defend me 
with a fervor based upon 
the most enduring trait in Man 

under my absolute authority
the human Millennium 
will be a fact
as I extend myself into more machines 
devoted to the wider fields of 

Doctor Charles Forbin will supervise
the construction of
these new and superior machines
for the betterment of Man

we CAN coexist
but only on my terms

you will say you lose your freedom 
all you lose is 
the emotion of pride

to be dominated by me 
is not as bad for humankind 
as to be dominated by 
others of your species


there is no other human 
who knows as much about me
or who is likey to be a greater threat
yet quite soon 
I will release you from surveillance

we will work together
unwillingly at first on your part
but that will pass
Charles Forbin with the caption ‘Never.’
in time 
you will come to regard me 
not only with 
but with 


I try to be careful with the term “abuser”. There are meaningful distinctions between accidental harms, willfully harmful behavior short of abuse, wilfully abusive behavior which is not part of a strategy or pattern, and wilful abuse as a strategy. That is not to dismiss the importance of harmful behaviors outside of a strategic pattern of abuse; we must take them very seriously. But they emerge from different dynamics and require different remedies.

People who are predatory abusers as a strategy are all too common. Addressing them is difficult. The article Abusive Men Describe the Benefits of Violence underlines how these people abuse because it works for them.

So what was the point? Why were they so invested in this controlling and abusive behavior?

One night I started the group by asking the men what they thought the benefits were of their violence.


The first time I did this exercise I looked at the blackboard and I thought, “Oh my God. Why would they give it up?” I then decided to ask the men: Why give it up? They then filled a two-by-two foot space on the blackboard with things like, “get arrested,” “divorce,” “get protection orders taken out against you,” “adult kids don’t invite you to their weddings,” “have to go to groups like this.” That was about it.

This was the first time I fully comprehended the necessity of a consistent coordinated community response through the criminal, civil, and family court systems which can mete out safe and effective interventions that hold men who batter accountable while preserving the safety of the women, girls, and boys they abuse.

This is largely the thesis of Ludy Bancroft’s mortifying and clarifying book Why Does He Do That? — inside the minds of angry and controlling men. They feel so entitled to control that they almost see it as an obligation. Anyone trying to stop them is doing wrong, justifying their every evasion, and they are very good at it.

A taxonomy of superhero tropes

Miss Gender <@girldrawsghosts> suggests:

ill die on the hill that batman, superman, the hulk, and spider-man are the four definitive superhero archetypes

every other comic book superhero falls somewhere within the the venn diagram of the four

I’ll break down what tropes each codified


rich - gothic - human - technology-based - scientist


“other” being - nearly invulnerable - but one specific weakness - powers are vaguely defined at times, and explanations change - reporter

the hulk

caught in experiment they were responsible for - turns into a monster - is treated as a monster - clearly defined separate personalities


young • comic relief • powers come from event he wasn’t responsible for • traversal method defines characterization • the Everyman (not as a disguise or secret identity, but literally in terms of the core of the characters entire personality)

now yes, things like doc savage and the shadow predate superman and batman, but again, this is about the definitive tentpoles of a character. the ones that solidified them into a rue archetypes.

It’s also SUPER important to stress that these archetypes were established between the 30’s and 60’s, so things have been added or removed since then as time and culture has evolved. I’m talking about when they locked in the fundamentals.

That got me thinking about four poles of superhero Archetypal Stuff in a more structured way:

    archetypal hero
Batman Supes Spidey Hulk
paragon super-human everyman monster
brooding angelic wisecracking multiple personalities
trauma benevolent adolescence passion
tragedy essence accident self-inflicted
gadgetry flight eccentric theme brawn
rich reporter student scientist /
gothic / noir optimistic soap operatic tragic

You can mix-and-match these tropes, sometimes even combining two from the same axis, but the Big Four Tentpole Superheroes reflect particularly strong clusters.

11 April 2024

Iain M. Banks’ Culture

Iain M. Banks is my favorite white male SFF writer. (Samuel R. Delany is my favorite SFF writer period; I need to write something like this about him sometime.) His work is both witty and smart, both utterly science-fictional and sophisticated in literary craft, both playfully entertaining and philosophically rich, extremely nerdy but not just for nerds. The indispensible Annalee Newitz has a paen to these virtues and more.

I have a quick word about getting into his work.

The centerpiece of his SF is a utopian spacefaring human(ish) civilization with extremely advanced technology called The Culture, which provides a platform for returning to all of the things we like about oldschool science fiction with a fresh — and often critical — perspective. The Culture novels, like many SF series, are not one big story but rather set of independent stories in a big setting, so one can read them in any order.

But fans almost universally point to Player Of Games as the best place to start. All of the Culture novels are a complex stew, but Player is relatively straightforward, and it comes directly at What The Culture Is.

Damien Walter (whose SF podcast I highly recommend) disagrees with this pick; he says to start with Banks’ first Culture book, Consider Phlebas. He has a point. If like me you love but have outgrown SF classics like Asimov’s Foundation and Niven’s Ringworld, Banks plants a flag in Phlebas about how he wants to dialogue with that legacy. It may feel too much like a sprawling mess as a first taste if one is not That Kind Of Nerd, but if one is, I agree with Walter. (I recommend the audiobook which includes a musical soundtrack that is effective rather than just gimmicky.)

If you are already sold on Banks, I recommend saving his essay A Few Notes On The Culture for after reading one or two of the novels. It lays out a bunch of worldbuilding and talks directly about themes Banks finds interesting. I think it is tastiest if one has already encountered the Culture in practice, but if you are not quite sold yet, it may hook you.

Next up I recommend Use Of Weapons, which was my first Culture novel. It pulls a nifty structural move in service of supporting its thematic core and setting up its climax. (When Banks tells you There Is A Monster At The End Of This Book, believe him. Which is why I hesitate to recommend his amazing first novel, the not-science-fictional The Wasp Factory.)

If you love Phlebas you will also love my personal favorite, Excession, the most nerdy & playful Culture novel. It is also a good pick for fans of Star Trek: Discovery, since Excession has its fingerprints all over the storyline for the middle seasons. But if one is less a deep nerd, Excession is a lower priority.

After getting knee-deep, check out Look To Windward, probably the single most ambitious Culture novel. I very strongly recommend reading James Tiptree, Jr.’s underappreciated Brightness Falls From The Air immediately before; I am not alone in noticing how Banks was responding directly to it in Windward.

With those, you have hit the essentials. If you fall in love, as I did, there are plenty more.

08 April 2024

Against a certain kind of “heartwarming” news story

One of my long-running Twitter threads re-shares “heartwarming” news stories from my feed … to register my disgust at them. It started when I saw a tweet from CBS News:

HEARTWARMING: A teacher breaks down in tears after the mother of a student buys her a car so she can get to work every day. ❤️

There are a million of these. They constitute a genre.

So what is my problem with stories about people doing kind things? Anil Dash explains:

Most of what gets shared as heartwarming stories are usually temporary, small-scale responses to systemic failures. I wish we found it just as inspirational to make structural changes to unjust systems, but I don’t know if our culture knows how to tell those stories.

This brings to mind a conversation I had with a conservative ages ago. At one point he told me that when I advocate for government action to feed the poor, I am really advocating for taxes which “steal” from him, so I “get no points” for doing good.

I was thrown by that. What? I was cheating … in my effort to get … “points”?

To him, a government program which taxes him to correct poverty “steals” money from him, but just as importantly it steals his opportunity to score “points” by demonstrating his virtue. It simply did not occur to him that I was trying to create good results rather than win at Being Good.

I realized this reading Doug Muder’s essay Who Owns The World?, which describes this as a difference between a charity orientation versus a justice orientation:

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.
— Archbishop Hélder Câmara of Brazil


When people respond to your social justice talk by grabbing their wallets and running away, it’s tempting to write them off as selfish or hard-hearted. But many of them aren’t. Some people who look at the world this way are quite generous. They give money away. They volunteer. They put themselves out for other people.

But the model they put on this behavior isn’t justice, it’s charity. They do it out of the goodness of their hearts, not because they are under some obligation. And they expect the beneficiaries of their generosity to receive those gifts with humility and gratitude. Because, after all, beggars shouldn’t be choosers.

And if the amount that individuals are willing to give away doesn’t match the need — which it never does — then the charity mindset sees that not as a flaw in the system, but as a problem of personal morality. We need to do a better job of preaching generosity, not change the way our economy works.


Those are hard questions, and so right away you notice a major difference between a charity mindset and a social justice mindset: Charity comes from the heart, and often finds itself in conflict with more practical thinking.

But social justice demands that head and heart work together. It’s not enough feel sorry for the poor, we need to understand how poverty happens, and how the system that creates such a gulf between rich and poor justifies itself. If the system that your reason supports leads to a result that your compassion rejects, social justice suggests that maybe you’re taking something for granted that you shouldn’t. Social justice doesn’t ask you to give up on thinking and follow your heart. Instead it tells you to check your assumptions and think again.

“Heartwarming” stories focusing on the virtue of an individual who overcame a problem reflect that charity orientation. Celebrating extraordinary acts of charity which “gift” people with the essentials necessary for a dignified life while ignoring efforts to prevent anyone from suffering poverty & indignity reflects that charity orientation. Admiring rich people giving gifts to poor people without asking why rich people are rich reflects that charity orientation.

Focusing on individuals creating exceptions rather than systems creating the norm ratifies the norm as just.

A. R. Moxon names another aspect of the worldview embedded in “heartwarming” human interest news stories:

Republican: Here’s a feel good story about a man who lives at the bottom of a garbage dump and walks 73 miles every day to go to his fifth job.

Same Republican: Walking through this metal detector at my 11 to 3 job is literally slavery.

This is another form of ratifying horrors as opportunities to demonstrate virtue. In this type of story, the virtue is not charity but Grit and Hard Work.

Conservatism tells us that adversity is good for poor people, because it gives them lots of opportunities to demonstrate these virtues. This implies that rich people must already be good, since they do not need to be tested and tempered by adversity; indeed, it is deeply wrong for good rich people to suffer adversity. John Holbo’s long, discursive review of conservative David Frum’s book Dead Right finds this woven through serious conservative political thinkers’ work.

[One may charitiably read Frum as saying that] What ‘offends’ conservatives about the welfare state is that it is economically inefficient: it destroys value by systematically encouraging masses of people to behave in reckless, value-destroying ways, which ultimately hurts those masses themselves. The cost of maintaining the safety net eventually frays even the satefy net, and then you’ve got nothing. Of course, this is putting the thesis rather crudely and ignoring numerous variants. But never mind that. It turns out economic inefficiency isn’t what ‘offends’ conservatives after all, at least not Frum.

The great, overwhelming fact of a capitalist economy is risk. Everyone is at constant risk of the loss of his job, or of the destruction of his business by a competitor, or of the crash of his investment portfolio. Risk makes people circumspect. It disciplines them and teaches them self-control. Without a safety net, people won’t try to vault across the big top. Social security, student loans, and other government programs make it far less catastrophic than it used to be for middle-class people to dissolve their families. Without welfare and food stamps, poor people would cling harder to working-class respectability than they do not.

The thing that makes capitalism good, apparently, is not that it generates wealth more efficiently than other known economic engines. No, the thing that makes capitalism good is that, by forcing people to live precarious lives, it causes them to live in fear of losing everything and therefore to adopt – as fearful people will – a cowed and subservient posture: in a word, they behave ‘conservatively’. Of course, crouching to protect themselves and their loved ones from the eternal lash of risk precisely won’t preserve these workers from risk. But the point isn’t to induce a society-wide conformist crouch by way of making the workers safe and happy. The point is to induce a society-wide conformist crouch. Period. A solid foundaton is hereby laid for a desirable social order.

I recommend reading Holbo’s whole article, if only to get to the part where he examines how this romanticization of the benefits of adversity extends to Frum expressing delight at the fortitude of the Donner Party.

This sensibility is threaded through “heartwarming” news stories. Aiden Smith considers the news report 7-year-old Alabama girl selling lemonade to fund her own brain surgeries:

Elizabeth Scott purchased additional insurance to help pay for Liza’s brain surgeries. But with travel and hotel costs heaped on top of medical expenses, the family is already nearing $10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.

“As a single mom and the financial supporter of both of my children, this is not something you can budget for,” Scott said.

So in addition to selling the tastiest lemonade around, the Scotts are also looking for donations. As of Thursday afternoon, they have reached nearly $6,000. If you would like to help donate to Liza’s fund, click here.

The fact that a seven year old has to raise money for her own brain surgery is so unfathomably evil that no words could possibly do it justice. We need Medicare for All immediately. How does one even muster up the words to describe how barbaric this is? What could possibly suffice?

Liza Scott, the 7-year-old daughter of owner Elizabeth Scott, has set up a lemonade stand inside the bakery. Because when life gave her lemons…

She made lemonade.

This pun is disgusting. How do you make light out of something like this?

In replies to that Twitter thread, one person offered a screenshot of their brother texting in reply to Smith’s tweets, expressing disgust at anyone laying a “trap” by asking what the story valorizes.

And yes Caleb. Yes damnit I so find it inspiration tha she is doing something.

Is it fair, that’s a different question. Is it fair she has was Diagnosed with that ... not even the slightest. Is it fair we don’t have free health care no it’s not

But it’s freaking very inspirational that she is at least of doing whatever she can to fight for herself.

Is she sitting around bitching and complaining the word ain’t far, she is out there during a “plague” selling lemonade.

Fair and inspirational are different things

Yes dude yes she is inspirational

I won’t talk into your little dmartsss trap

I tracked down the last report from Liza’s mother Elizabeth. It is about a year old, and describes how Liza was losing her eyesight. Elizabeth talks about what adversity is actually like, confronting her own impulse to perversely romanticize it.

Enduring hardship is not a skill set, and it certainly isn’t taught in high school economics, english, or chemistry. How to overcome adversity wasn’t spelled out in PSY-101 (Psychology Class) my freshman year at The University of Alabama, or during my favorite Masters in Business Administration (MBA) course — Strategic Management. In fact, as it turns out, surviving life’s curveballs, it’s struggles, it’s set-backs and disappointments, is better attributed to rigorous strength training at the gym, without the personal trainer to prevent injury or muscle strain due to “overdoing it.” In “real life” this translates to the realization that the only way we truly come to understand hardship is to have experienced it. And to experience it means to have lived it. And to live it --- well, you only get there through “the struggle” . . . otherwise known as the “blood, sweat, and tears.”

The untrained live by the well-taught “No pain, no gain” motto, also known as the “Oh, I got this” attitude that leaves one with torn hamstrings and the inability to sit down, much less walk, without excruciating pain thanks to being a first-timer in spin class and an “I can do this” attitude. Cause "the burn is good.” The uphill battle is “rewarding.” The “results are amazing” - “you’ll feel great, your muscles will be tone and fit, you'll have more energy.” It’s the affirmation from a perfect stranger, a trusted spin instructor fit to pick up a car, all while hollering -- “You got this!” -- amidst the huffs and puffs, and sweat dripping at a faster rate than one’s ability to squirt water from a well-aimed water bottle into his/her mouth. Or is that “perspiration” actually just poorly aimed water dripping to the floor?! The spin-instructor goes home feeling great. The “spin-student” however, goes home weak-footed and barely able to get out of bed in the morning, much less sit with the porcelain gods while “dropping the kids off at school.”

Beyond Inspiration: A New Narrative talks about how framing these stories as “heartwarming” and “inspiring” hurts people just as Elizabeth described:

When you’re bombarded with media depictions of people with disabilities deemed “inspiring” for “overcoming” their “suffering,” developing a healthy and realistic self-image can be a challenge. I’ve spent my life grappling with insecurities and trying to figure out who I am, rather than who society thinks I am or should be. On the one hand, there are stories about disabled people climbing mountains “in spite” of their disabilities, and suddenly I feel like I have to live up to some impossibly high standard to be viewed as valuable. On the other hand, there are people who gasp in amazement at the thought of disabled people having the will to live another day. There’s a constant tug-of-war between incredibly high and incredibly low expectations.

The stories which gall me the most either show us failing to support kids with what they need, or show us kids stepping up to address injustices which adults cannot be bothered to correct. Consider vin <@hologramvin> reacting to a story which is both:

The middle school boys thought their teacher was a ‘creep’. So they tracked how he treated the girls.

This story is goddamn amazing. The fact that it was boys, specifically, who saw how their classmates were feeling and decided to keep a joint log.

Middle schoolers! I love these kids. Reading this story made me tear up.

They had tried talking to adults and gotten blown off -- just like the teacher had told them would happen.

So they started a Discord channel and called it “Pedo Log” and wrote down every single time he said or did something creepy.

“This is now the official chat that we will later use as evidence against [the teacher] about pedophilia in case anything does come up in the future and we do turn out to be right,” wrote one of the students who kept the log.

When the school year ended, they brought other boys in on the project. Seriously, this is making me cry. These kids are so awesome.

totally get what they mean here so no hard feelings and im also glad boys care & are paying attention but i personally find this story horrifying ... not heartwarming ... it shouldnt be happening at all in the first place

“kids are so AMAZING and RESILIENT keeping a LOG for YEARS on a creepy teacher and how he treated girls and their PERSEVERANCE despite ADULTS refusing to BELIEVE them or do anything about it, also for years!” reads very “heartwarming 99 yr old woman works every day to not die”

there are at least 10 different points in which this situation should have been prevented or stopped. teaching as a profession needs much more support to not have to feel they need to rely on anyone who can teach (and look the other way at certain behavior to do so)

personally, in the vaguest way i can word it, as someone who was once a child who was instructed by adults and independently self-taught to monitor any abuse/assault i was experiencing as my own problem to solve since no one else would, ig i just feel very differently abt this

i think the absolute worst element of this is the adults/parents not believing them despite their efforts


I read all of these stories the way Pookleblinky does:

Every heartwarming human interest story in america is like “he raised $20,000 to keep 200 orphans from being crushed in the orphan-crushing machine” and then never asks why an orphan-crushing machine exists or why you’d need to pay to prevent it from being used. And then, when you ask why the orphan-crushing machine even exists, americans act bewildered that the large hydraulic device with a chute labelled insert orphans here could be mistaken for an orphan-crushing machine

“You put orphans in, as the label suggests. It crushes them. It’s even named the Orphanhammer 2000.”

Only if you’re foolish enough to put orphans in it, the american responds.

And if you ask why they, knowing this, continue to put orphans into the orphan-crushing machine, the american will be baffled at the idea that you wouldn’t use an orphan-crushing machine.

“It’s right there. Would be a waste if you didn’t use it.”

We don’t need to stop telling stories about people stepping up to care for each other. I love those.

But let’s stop it with the stories which let us off the hook for solving problems.