Monday, May 14, 2018

A few years back, I talked about a branch of philosophy called Pragmatism, the only major philosophical school of thought to cross from the US to Europe, in the context of this analysis of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.  Quoting (briefly) from that piece:
“by ‘pragmatic,’ I don’t just mean ‘practical.’  For according to the cornerstone principle of Pragmatism (the so-called ‘Pragmatist Maxim), reality itself is defined, and thus changeable, by human action in the real world.
… consider a canonical example of Pragmatic thinking: why a knife should be considered sharp.  According to the Pragmatist, the knife is sharp NOT because it possesses (or partakes in) some metaphysical form of “sharpness,” nor because the notion of sharpness can be measured empirically (through some combination of blade width and hardness, for example).  Rather, a knife is sharp because any rational person seeing one sitting next to a stick of butter would use the knife to cut the butter, rather than vice versa.  And an irrational person who tried to do the opposite would necessarily fail.”
While many aspects of reality are dictated by things beyond human agency (the existence of the sun and mortality, for example), not everything falls into this category.  As just mentioned “sharpness” might not be an actual thing without the act of human beings interacting with objects in the world.  Similarly, human political agency creates, rather than just describes, things and the meaning behind them. 
As a simple example, those of you who dislike manufactured pop music as much as I probably consider the Eurovision Song Contest (presuming you consider it at all) as a punchline or musical freak show.  And, as proud as I am of the Jewish state’s many, many accomplishments, the victory of a chicken-warbling circus act at Eurovision ’18 would normally not get onto my shortlist of Israeli gifts to the world. 
But once BDS got into the act, spreading their bile throughout the Interwebs in hope that they could rally the world to vote down Netta – Israel’s ultimately successful entrant into this year’s Eurovision contest – suddenly Eurovision became something it wasn’t before: a global political referendum on the Jewish state’s place in the world.
Keep in mind that this was not what Eurovision was created to be, nor were the performers – including Netta – interested in turning the event into a global vote for or against the their countries.  But by making votes against Netta a political act of condemnation, BDS simultaneously (if inadvertently) turned votes for her into a political act of support.
Moving onto a more serious example, think about the impending opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.  Under normal circumstances, this would be an unremarkable event, one that should have occurred decades ago. 
For as long nations have established diplomatic ties, the location of embassies was not even a point of discussion.  If you want to establish diplomatic presence in the US, the UK or France, for example, your only option would be to build an embassy in Washington, London or Paris.  The same rule applies to every other state in the world, large and small: you build your embassy in the other guy’s capital.   
But because this normal situation was denied in one special case, the idea of opening or not opening an embassy in Jerusalem city became more and more politically significant with each passing year. 
If Israel’s foes had not raised this price sky high, building or moving an embassy in Jerusalem would be as un-newsworthy as every routine embassy opening in the world.  But this decades-long denial of Israel’s legitimate rights turned the final, reasonable, and appropriate acceptance of those rights into a new game-changing, Pragmatic reality.

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