September 06, 2005

Them and Us

I have read a quite a few commentaries around the web, and in the MSM, comparing Katrina to 9/11. One thing I haven't seen commented on: On 9/11, the enemy was them, with Katrina, it is us. There is a world of difference between the two, even when the objective danger is comparable.

Living in Israel, I often have non-Israelis wondering that I live in such a "dangerous place". I usually reply that the chance of violent death in Israel is not higher than in the US, and is in fact much lower than, say, West Philadelphia, where I lived for four years without anyone wondering about the illogic of it. (West Philadelphia is not the most dangerous part of the city, by the way. That honor goes to North Philadelphia.) In fact, the experiential reality of living in Israel is that it's much safer than the US. The reason: In Israel, the danger comes from them, in the US it is from us. Violent crime in Israel is almost unknown, and when it does happen it's almost always a crime of passion. Israelis may think they are anxious about personal security, but few of them are in a position to personally compare their anxiety to that of Americans. I have lived significant amounts of time in both places, and I think I can say with confidence that in comparison to the US, Israelis feel safe.

Part of the reason is undoubtedly rational: Israel's personal security problem is much easier to live with than the US's. I don't worry about my kids being kidnapped. Women don't worry about walking around at night. When someone yells at you from a car, you don't fear for your safety. All this adds a significant intangible to the quality of life. But I also think that a big part of the difference is purely psychological. We humans are simply better equipped to deal with external threats than internal ones: a threat from one of us provokes far more anxiety than a threat from one of them. In fact, an external threat can have the paradoxical result of reducing rates of anxiety. I have lived through a few crises (examples: here, here) and can attest that the resulting cohesiveness of society can almost make it worth it (especially in the second case, when there really wasn't any significant danger).

New York on 9/11 was a clean fight against them. It is the kind of tale that makes heroes. Anyone doing their best and fighting hard will come off looking good. In contrast, New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina is a dirty fight against us. The ambiguousness of the fight makes no-one look good. Compare firemen and policemen: Firemen are heroes. Policemen... well it depends who you ask.


Addendum: I think that much of the attraction of groups like al-Qaa`idah (القاعدة) is the strong cohesiveness generated by making everyone else into them, the enemy.

(Crossed-posted on Gene Expression.)

Posted by David Boxenhorn at September 6, 2005 09:04 AM | TrackBacks
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I've rarely read anything I agree with more.

Posted by: muse at September 7, 2005 06:33 AM Permalink


Too bad that Razib deleted the posts on Gene Expression- I think the rabid responses, even from so called jews, not to mention the White Nationalists, where well worth seeing and recording, esp. to visiting Israelis. I know it's not the right forum and all, but it's spontenuity and breath was well worth recording. It was incredible how they picked a fight with, what ends up to be, your perspective from another country.

Posted by: Aboriginal Hebrew at September 7, 2005 09:04 PM Permalink

Yes, I didn't know that my impressionistic observations would generate so much vitriol. Then I understood: ANYTHING about Israel or Jews, no matter how irrelevant to the "Middle East conflict", or any other nominal controversy, is controversial. Clearly it was a case of Blogging While Jewish.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at September 7, 2005 09:24 PM Permalink

On this point... why does gc tolerate, much less offer carte blanc apologetics, for some one like Diana? Clearly the woman is ISM or Finkelstein material; using her Jewish credentials to defame millions of Jews, and their endlessly disparaged "shitty little enclave," as Melanie Philips would say. I'm certain if an Islamist were to even hint at a theocratic disposition, w/ agenda, gc would ban them immediately w/ comments in tow. In fact, I've seen it- I've been lurking for years! I love what gc and Razib are putting out, but on a personal note this just smells of hypocrisy, unless, of course, run-of-the-mill Zionist now = WNs to them. I'm unduly flustered no doubt, but it stings to see this (and being banned from posting to boot!). Sorry for the neurotic outburst :(. back to our regularly scheduled programming...

On topic, I've seen some comparisons of Katrina to the Gaza pullout, mostly on Israel Insider, which has plenty of American Christian Zionists contributing. It's funny to see forces of nature extrapolated into modern divine retribution/theist action. The paradigm is old, but still very interesting and in a weak sense profoundly wide ranging. It kinda reminds me of my great grandfather refusing to go to America (from Walachia Rom.) on the grounds that: Jews should not tempt God by traversing the great chasm of the seas... directly challenging the almighty and his angels. Abhorrent conditions on immigrant ships at the time aside, it certainly shows that “us” and “them” metaphysically measured and structured. If you read the press these days, it seems both “Terrorism” and “Natural Disasters” often characterized as forces outside of nature & linear time, the ultimate “them”. e.g., the US has a war on “Terror”. e.g., Hurricanes are incarnated with names. Not only are events depicted anthropomorphically & deterministically but, more so, in a cyclical or karmic drama. Causality is constantly warped. Can the mythic modus operandi, per Campbell & Eliade and I guess major premises in Evo Psych, ever be shaken?

Posted by: Aboriginal Hebrew at September 8, 2005 06:26 AM Permalink

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