OK, so the actual article in the New Scientist is headlined “The mathematics of being nice” but I’m suspicious enough of what is, nonetheless, my favorite science mag to see that word “nice” as a slightly snide diminution of what the article actually says (as in a pandering to anti-religious sentiment, but, hey, they ran the article!). Here’s a quote from the interview with Martin Nowak, professor of mathematics and biology at Harvard University:
So how do you see religion?
I see the teachings of world religions as an analysis of human life and an attempt to help. They intend to promote unselfish behaviour, love and forgiveness. When you look at mathematical models for the evolution of cooperation you also find that winning strategies must be generous, hopeful and forgiving. In a sense, the world’s religions hit on these ideas first, thousands of years ago.
Now, for the first time, we can see these ideas in terms of mathematics. Who would have thought that you could prove mathematically that, in a world where everybody is out for himself, the winning strategy is to be forgiving, and that those who cannot forgive can never win?
I had a curious conversation with a conservative lately in which he claimed the US Constitution as a conservative document, while I objected that in the 1780s conservatives opposed it, since conservatives then were believers in monarchy and tradition. Yes, he conceded, but today it’s a conservative document. I suggested that this is what happens time and again, that the gains made by progressives of one era against the vehement opposition of conservatives, become the core items that conservatives defend in a later era. So perhaps it would behoove him as a conservative to get ahead of the curve by helping the progressives today!
He wasn’t buying it, of course. And it makes some sense that he wasn’t, because in many ways these labels of progressive and conservative are about contrary emotional responses to the world. We need both responses.
Yup, the pic’s been going around for a couple of months, googling tells me, with the quotes going back to a Saturday Night Live sketch before the Holidays, but maybe, like me, you haven’t seen it until now.
A woman was killed and 39 people were wounded on Wednesday afternoon when a bag exploded next to a bus stop across the street from the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha’uma), near the capital’s western entrance.
It was the first serious terrorist bombing in the city since 2004, and for many residents it brought back terrible memories of the second intifada.
We are grateful to have received this press release from our friends at the World Muslim Congress (and while we are about it, we include below their last week’s condemnation of the attack on Michael Lerner’s home):
Muslims condemn today’s attack on the Bus in Jerusalem.
March 23, 2011, Dallas, Texas
Muslims condemn today’s attack on the Bus in Jerusalem.
The world Muslim Congress strongly condemns the attack on the bus in Jerusalem as well as the resumption of the rocket attacks on the civilian population. We pray for God’s blessing for the victims and their families.
It will be most interesting to see how Americans respond to the new movie, Miral, by well-known painter and movie director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). The movie opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles, and on April 1st in some other cities. Miral tells the story of several generations of Palestinian women from 1948. It is based on an autobiographical novel by the Palestinian-born, Italian TV journalist Rula Jebreal, who grew up in the Dar El-Tifl orphanage in East Jerusalem. The idea of a well-known Jewish artist telling a story from the Palestinian point of view has of course raised a ruckus. As an article in the Jewish Journal puts it
In the weeks leading up to Miral‘s release, some mainstream Jewish groups, such as the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, condemned the drama as agitprop and, in particular, denounced its U.S. premiere at the United Nations earlier this month.
… Schnabel said he understands why some Jews have condemned his movie – some without even having seen the film: “It comes out of fear,” he said. “The fear that the Holocaust occurred, that ‘we have been [decimated], and we don’t want it to happen again’; that ‘these people, the Palestinians, are against us having a State of Israel, and we must fight for that, no matter what happens.’ But I don’t believe that’s true. I believe a Jewish homeland in Israel is superimportant, and a great thing, but we must have empathy; we have to be sensitive. I don’t think it’s a very encouraging way to look at people, as ‘us and them.’ It isn’t us and them.We are all human beings.And what is good for the Palestinians is also good for the Israelis.”
The Bay Guardian, a Bay Area newspaper, just published a profile of Michael Lerner on the occasion of Tikkun’s 25th Anniversary. In an extensive comment on the article on the Bay Guardian‘s site, Michael describes it as
the fairest story I’ve ever had printed about me in S.F. And far better than the profiles of me in the NY Times Sunday Magazine, the Washington Post, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal when they were describing me as “the guru of the Clinton White House,” not to mention far better than anything that has ever appeared in any Jewish magazine. Asaf Shalev did a masterful job of incorporating a lot of information and avoiding the normal cynicism of the media. I deeply thank the Bay Guardian for having such a competent reporter!
In the aftermath of another assault on his home, the article allows Michael to speak for himself. For example:
While criticism of Israel coming from non-Jews is often dismissed as anti-Semitism, Jews who express dissent often get called “self-hating.” But Lerner said the illogical conclusion that Israel is the same thing as the Jewish people, and that if you criticize Israel you hate yourself has become less effective in silencing dissent. “It simply isn’t true that people are angry at Israel because of some internal psychological deformation,” Lerner said. “[Increasingly] people are saying ‘If being ethical is the same as being a self-hating Jew, then I choose to be ethical.’ “
The piece and Michael’s comments on it can be found here.
One of my favorite paintings from our art gallery: Peter Lewis's "Miscommunication." Click the image to see the art exhibit.
I have only just managed to read Peter Marmorek’s very interesting post “A Chaotic Journey” – about a Muslim who was once his student who has been condemned to life in prison for plotting a terror attack – and the vigorous discussion in the comments. (I only just got to it because we were fully occupied with preparing for our 25th anniversary celebration which happened beautifully Monday night).
Reading the post and comments now, I see it is a genuine discussion between people of very different outlooks of the kind that I have always hoped would happen on Tikkun Daily (and that often has). But it’s also one that I would like to think is only in its beginning stages. Whether we can move into more productive stages on these kinds of discussions is unclear to me: I don’t have much skill at doing so myself and feel in truth that few of us do. Not in person and still less online, where we tend to write quickly, spontaneously and all too often reactively.
I feel grateful to David for engaging in the dialogue though in a clear minority on this site, and to Peter, Anon, Amy, Robin, Wilder, Gina and Donna for engaging in turn. (The comments thread starts here and I have set that link to open a new tab so you can toggle between this post and that one if you wish).
This is what I see:
people disagreeing but trying very hard to explain themselves across a divide that is actually very common in our culture.
people getting annoyed with each other
people trying not to get annoyed with each other.
I greatly respect the willingness to try hard by everyone in that thread. I also feel how exhausting and, for some, dispiriting it is when the divide is not bridged.
I hear the frustration in people’s voices, a sense of being misunderstood (Peter: “Perhaps the fault is a lack of clarity in my writing, but you clearly don’t understand what I was trying to say,” Robin: “Did you even read what Peter wrote…?”) and of disbelief at others’ opinions (David: “My God, I cannot believe for the empathy being directed at a potential mass murderer.”)
We do apologize that the Tikkun website was down for several hours today. We were at first told it was a cyber attack, but it wasn’t clear whether it was on us or on our provider, a Japanese company. Eventually it appeared this company was being besieged on the phone by many customers, preventing us from getting through; when we did, they restarted our server and all was well. That’s all I know so far, and hope we were just one among many affected by the Japanese devastation and not the objects of a targeted attack on Tikkun.
We had two genuine such attacks today. A relatively mild one was our being called self-hating Jews in a letter in the San Francisco Chronicle (4th letter down on this page) objecting to my letter of Monday (also 4th letter down here), that I also posted on this site. It was tedious to have such an ad hominem response to my points — let us by all means disagree about what will most help Israel to survive but let’s not stoop to name-calling and assumptions of bad faith or evil intent.
That kind of personal disrespect escalates so easily – first people call Rabbi Michael Lerner a self-hating Jew, as they have done for years (but just come once to one of his services and see the joy this man has in Judaism; or hear him tell about the effect the Holocaust had on him as a child, or read this); then some extremists plaster his home with posters and graffiti showing him, among other things, as a dog on a lead held by Justice Richard Goldstone who is portrayed as a hater of Israel (this was last May after Michael announced we would give the Tikkun Award to Judge Goldstone, one of Israel’s truest friends, with the courage to say what friends need to say); and last night they plastered his home again but portraying him now as a Nazi. Escalation. What’s next? This is the kind of hate crime (as the Berkeley police officially labeled it) that can encourage even more off the wall people to think they are doing the world a service by attacking the person not just the house. This time there were no overt death threats though, unlike last time, I am happy to say.
Today Truthout has done that rather unusual thing: given a leader of the religious left a lot of space to tell their story. As that’s the Tikkun story, as told by Rabbi Michael Lerner, I am particularly happy about it. Asked what Tikkun‘s successes and failures have been, Michael responded in part:
Our greatest achievement has been to legitimate – in the Jewish world and increasingly in liberal and progressive circles – the idea that there should be a middle path that involves support for both Israel and Palestine and critique of both Israel and Palestine. That critique must include the way both peoples are responsible for the current mess, at the same time recognizing the vast disproportion in power and Israel’s consequent preponderant responsibility to create a politically and economically viable Palestinian state.
This position has earned Tikkun a reputation in the Jewish world establishment as self-hating, etcetera, even though we support the existence of the state of Israel and see this as the best way for Israel to embody its own values.
Some sectors of the left see us as apologists for Israel.
Increasing numbers of young Jews now accept the worldview we’ve put forth in Tikkun, although it still is rejected by the Jewish establishment.
A San Francisco Bay Area web magazine editor called me this morning to offer congratulations on Tikkun‘s 25th Anniversary, and also on my letter to the editor about it that she saw published in the San Francisco Chronicle this morning (below). Before Jo Ellen Kaiser edited Zeek she was the longest serving editor at Tikkun, so I said she deserved the congratulations more than I did.
Indeed all of our past staff are included in our gratitude today. And all those who have written for us. You may not realize that no one who writes in Tikkun gets paid: that’s nothing we are proud of, in fact we are ashamed to say it and wish that we knew how to be a better-funded organization; but still we are amazed and filled with gratitude that so many people do want to write for Tikkun out of passion, love and whatever other reasons.
And there is you, the reader, the center of the whole enterprise, whose interest and involvement and readiness to shell out for a subscription (it’s not too late to subscribe now!) or to donate is what in the end makes this possible. If you weren’t seeking how to tackle the problems we have with a different kind of thinking than the thinking that created them (to paraphrase Einstein) we wouldn’t be here.