“Though dissenters seem to question everything in sight, they are actually bundles of dusty answers and never conceived a new question. What offends us most in the literature of dissent is the lack of hesitation and wonder.” – Eric Hoffer
Are we getting soft? I sometimes think so about this time of year, before I head off to the gym to toughen up with all the other people who indulged during holiday season.
I wish mental toughness were as easy to come by.
Because I’m an opinion columnist, and because I’m opinionated, I spend a fair amount of time on discussion groups, both professional and amateur. Lately though I’ve become less interested in arguing my opinions than I am in asking tough questions.
I have my opinions of course, and who does not? But more and more I’m concerned about questions I don’t have firm opinions on, only disturbing questions and a sometimes terrifying uncertainty.
I like to bring these up and see what insights other people might have.
It’s depressing. I’m finding that though a lot of people are perfectly prepared to defend their position, they are not willing to consider tough questions and get angry with you if you bring them up and threaten their firmly-held certainties.
Here’s an example from Israel. Several acquaintances on a discussion thread condemned Israel for the way they treat the Palestinians in their midst. Keep in mind this is a sample issue. I’ve had the same discussion about a number of other issues.
I realize it can’t be fun to be Palestinian. But I had some questions.
OK, admittedly the Israelis come from European stock who moved to the territory of present-day Israel where they weren’t wanted by the indigenous population – rather like our ancestors did. One might wish the U.S. had taken them in if nobody else would, but done is done.
Question: Does anybody seriously doubt the contention that if the Palestinians unilaterally disarmed and quit attacking Israel there would be peace and a gradual reduction on the odious restrictions the Israelis impose on them?
And that if the Israelis did the same – there would be six million dead Jews in fairly short order?
Question: Given the morally ambiguous circumstances of Israel being where it is, do we and should we acknowledge some kind of loyalty because they are also members of Western Civilization?
Question: When you have a society with an alien population which regards itself as at war with the larger society, is there any way to survive other then methods which are repugnant to free men? I mean requiring all members of the other group to carry separate ID, restricting where they can live and move about, requiring permits to work in certain areas, restricting their rights to possess arms, and a lot more that we’d quite rightly find intolerable.
And can a society remain free for some while others are subject to this kind of discrimination?
I’ve been crew chief on a gang of manual laborers – but I’ve never had to make a rule that nobody on the team approaches me within thirty feet without getting a gun pulled on them! (Example from an Israeli security expert.)
Question: If Israel in a long-term untenable position militarily (what Iranian President Ahmedinejad called a “one-bomb state”), then is the solution to invite all Jewish Israelis to immigrate to the U.S.? (And by the way, what about the white South Africans?)
The disturbing thing is, once past the initial claims: “Israel is doing the same thing to the Palestinians the Nazis did to the Jews, Israel is waging genocide against the Palestinians,” etc, nobody is willing to consider the questions.
I don’t mean disagree. I’ve made it plain I am not making rhetorical points. Though I have my opinions I am at this point genuinely interested in other people’s answers, and I say this as plainly as I can.
Doesn’t work often. The questions are either ignored, or attacked. Doesn’t do much good to keep returning to the questions either. Eventually someone will say they’re stupid questions.
No they’re not. They’re tough questions and they require some tough-minded thinking. And that’s where I fear we are going soft.
We have made certain courses of action unthinkable. Worse, we have made it unthinkable to ask the questions.
We see on the news every day that the world is still a dangerous place. To live and be respected in it requires a certain tough-mindedness I fear we are losing.
Bio: Steve Browne is an award-winning reporter and columnist who entered journalism by accident while living and working in Eastern Europe from 1991 to 2004. He is the author of two books for English students: “Word Pictures: English as it is REALLY Used,” published in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and Novosibirsk, Russia, and “English Linguistic Humor: Puns, Play on Words, Spoonerisms, and Shaggy Dog Stories.” In 1997 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights. He is currently living in his native Midwest, which he considers “the most interesting foreign country I have ever lived in.”
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