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Pure Evil: The Reasons We Can’t Wrap Our Heads Around It
Ignorance is bliss, but bliss only matters if you’re on the right side of history.
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Someone in my extended family called me a few days ago. He was born and raised in California, and he’s also well-traveled and has been to Israel several times in his life.
In our last conversation, as we were talking about the Israel-Hamas war, he said to me: “I think the hardest part for so many of us that is we can’t wrap our heads around the pure evil of Hamas. When someone shoots and kills 18 people in Maine, and they say the shooter was mentally ill, we can understand how a mentally ill person might do such a thing. But this Hamas evil feels like something completely unexplainable.”
Since moving to Israel from Los Angeles in 2013, I’ve paid particular attention to how people, particularly those in the West and Western countries, view the world.
In some cases, Israelis are the very same as so-called Westerners, especially when it comes to humanitarianism, “live and let live,” and a host of other so-called Western values. (Don’t forget that many “Western” values originated from Judaism.)
But where Israelis are surely different than so-called Westerners is in how Israelis confront what we can call “the realities of the world.” And the realities of the world are those of tremendous suffering, hostility, violence, and death — across the approximately 200,000 years that Homo sapiens have existed.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not advocating for or suggesting that we should just accept suffering, hostility, violence, and death. All I’m saying is, they have largely been the realities of human existence.
Nowadays, poverty is at an all-time low, and there are many other trends which suggest we human beings are privy to the best conditions we’ve ever experienced, even as wars are waged, pandemics occur, and genocides are exacted.
It seems that after the two world wars, something notable started to happen (and I’m generalizing of course). People in the West started having significantly fewer children than in previous generations. Because of this, each child becomes significantly more cherished by their parents, causing them to shelter their children in enclosed environments which over-emphasize “safe spaces.”
As such, more children have been developing what social psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls “fragility of mind and emotion.” Basically, lacking resilience in life. Many of today’s so-called Westerners are more insecure, more easily offended, and more reliant on others. They have been taught to seek authority figures to solve their problems and shield them from discomfort, a condition sociologists call “moral dependency.”
When we (i.e. people in the West) raise kids unaccustomed to facing “the realities of the world,” the West is threatened. When we choose to live in a so-called bubble where people say things like, “Can’t we all just get along?” or “I thought there were no more wars,” we severely weaken our capacity to safeguard the greatest of Western values, including but not limited to essential human rights.
I’m not necessarily advocating for a world in which we wage wars at every beck and call. Generally speaking, I’m anti-war. But I also know that all seven billion people in the world are not anti-war. And in a world where some people (even if it’s a relatively small percentage of people) want to wage wars to superimpose their beliefs and values on the rest of us, those who are automatically anti-war tend to lose and die out.
Hence why Israel is fighting this war, and has engaged in profound military conflicts in virtually every decade of its 75-year existence — both for its very existence, and also for the West, since Israel in many way represents Western interests across the volatile and unpredictable Middle East.
Sadly, though, there’s a growing disconnect between Israel and significant parts of the Western world. Whereas many people in the West are living in a world of “safe spaces” and “moral dependency,” Israelis don’t even know these terms can be found in the proverbial dictionary.
Quite literally, every building and structure built in Israel after 1970 must, by law, include bomb shelters — because, among other reasons, both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to Israel’s south, and Hezbollah on the country’s northern border, have munitions plenty capable of reaching every inch of Israel.
Whereas children in schools across the world perform “fire drills” and “natural disaster drills,” Israeli children are instructed to do “incoming rocket drills.” Some schools even have “calming” songs that they encourage schoolchildren to sing as teachers escort them to the school’s bomb shelters.
What’s more, Palestinian terrorists who have infiltrated the Jewish state going back to the early 1900s, don’t target military establishments and personnel. I think most Israelis would be a lot more “understanding” of the Palestinians if their so-called resistance groups tried to wage war on Israeli soldiers and military infrastructure, even though no Israeli wants to lose Israeli soldiers in any type of battle.
Instead, Palestinian terrorists indiscriminately attack civilians, and as many as possible, in the most heinous ways. We’re talking about suicide bombers who blow themselves up on public transport buses. We’re talking about terrorists who shoot up restaurants and bars, sometimes disguised as Orthodox Jews. And we’re talking about kidnapping and killing innocent children (what started the 2014 Israel-Gaza mini war). Just to name a few “tactics.”
Israeli parents are effectively forced to educate their young children about said “tactics” since they happen so frequently. Not to mention, the wars and mini wars that Israel faces every handful of years, as Arab countries and Arab terrorist organizations incessantly vie to destroy the Jewish state decade after decade. Israeli parents have to have hard conversations with their children about these harsh realities, too.
This is all to say that Israelis have, unfortunately, been born into pure evil. It might come as a shock to you, but the founders of Israel, including those who preceded the State in the 1800s and early 1900s, knew that modern Zionism would transform an extraordinary amount of Jews. Early Zionist thinkers all agreed that something had gone drastically wrong in Jewish history, which went far beyond the persecution that Jews had suffered at Gentile hands.
Boy were they right: Rebuilding our home in the modern-day Middle East has made Israelis more resilient. And with more resilience comes more independence, more courage, more ferocity, more glory, and even more optimism.
This is why, after the unthinkable attacks by Palestinian terrorists on October 7th, virtually the entire country mobilized. You probably heard about the 350,000 military reserves who returned to duty, and millions of other Israelis instinctually started volunteering across the country, donating an extraordinary amount of products and services, and launching their own projects to offer additional support.
There are also hundreds of thousands of Israelis living abroad who are hosting Israeli families suffering from the war, politically advocating in the cities and countries where they reside, and embarking on social ventures to raise vital awareness about Israel and the Middle East.
However, many of these Israelis living abroad, particularly in Western countries, are enduring a frightening reality — a reality that is starkly different from what many Jews have experienced since modern Zionism propelled legal Jewish immigration, beginning in the 1800s, to what is today Israel.
In this starkly different reality, virtues like “freedom of speech” are used to justify chants like “Gas the Jews!” and other blatantly antisemitic demonstrations.
In this starkly different reality, “freedom of religion” overlooks Islamic Jihad (which calls for the killing of all Jews).
And in this starkly different reality, “democracy” means that politicians tolerate obviously incendiary behavior and gross double standards, in fear of defeating backlash during the next election cycle.
In 1987, Thomas Sowell published a now-classic book called, “A Conflict of Visions,” in which he offered a simple and powerful explanation for why people disagree about reality: We disagree about reality, Sowell argued, because we disagree about human nature.
According to Sowell, this agreement about human nature is rooted in two competing visions — what he called “unconstrained vision” and “constrained vision” — each of which tells a radically different story about human nature.
Those with “unconstrained vision” think that humans are malleable and can be perfected. They believe that social ills and evils can be overcome through collective action that encourages humans to behave better.
Subscribers of this view believe that poverty, crime, inequality, and war are not inevitable; rather, they are puzzles that can be solved. We need only to stand up for the right causes, enact the right policies, and spend enough money in the right places in order to eradicate these social ills.
In contrast, those who see the world through a “constrained vision” lens believe that human nature is a universal constant. No amount of social engineering can change the sober reality of human self-interest, or the fact that human empathy and social resources are necessarily scarce. People who see the world this way believe that most political, social, and economic problems will never be “solved.” They can only be managed.
Sowell himself appeared to be in the “constrained vision” camp, since one of his greatest maxims was: There are no solutions, only trade-offs. As Sowell explained, “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”
And the truth is that many of us so-called Westerners have overindulged in illusions, myths, and “perfect world” thinking — at the expense of learning about and accepting harsh realities, such as those related to war and military conflicts, socioeconomics, immigration, politics, history, other societies which promote varying political systems and values, and a plethora of other issues.
I get it: Ignorance is bliss, but bliss only matters if you’re on the right side of history. And right now, the West is teetering on the wrong side of it.