Thursday, June 23, 2016
Tragedies and the Genetic Fallacy
Q: Suppose you were an Israeli living in 1995, and that you thought that Yitzhak Rabin's take on the Arab/Israeli Peace Process was dangerously naive, and that to support it would put your family and your country at risk. What should you have thought about it after Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Admir, who violently opposed the process?
A: You should have thought that the Arab/Israeli Peace Process was dangerously naive, and that to support it would put your family and your country at risk.
The reason is simple: nothing changed that should have affected your conclusion. You would have based your assessment of the Peace Process not on the personal virtue of Rabin or Admir, but on the trustworthiness of the two parties, the terms of any agreement, the ability of the leaders to ensure that their sides lives up to their obligations, etc. The assassination might make a Palestinian question the ability of Israeli leaders to prevent outrages by Israeli citizens, but -- in spite of the shock, outrage, and even metaphysical horror the assassination created in the hearts of so many Jews (whether in Israel or elsewhere) -- it should not have changed the opinions of Israelis with regard to the Peace Process.
Yet in the real world, it certainly did affect Israeli opinions to an extent that I found utterly astonishing. I do not approve of everything Israel does, and also I see a distinction between Israeli interests and American interests, but I give the Israelis a lot of credit when it comes to certain things, such as understanding the importance of air power and making rational decisions in matters related to their national survival.
Ultimately, this is a mixture of the genetic fallacy, which judges an assertion based on who supports it rather than on its own strengths, together with the modern cult of the victim. Regarding the latter, society is all over the place when it comes to "blaming the victim". Usually, for example, there is no hesitation in blaming a drunk driver who drives into a tree, let alone another vehicles -- unless the driver happened to be a celebrity, or the room is full of family members claiming that society is to blame for not protecting the driver from his addictions. As a rule, though, it is taboo to claim that a victim was less than perfect, and doubly taboo to claim that a victim shared any responsibility for his own fate. Even so, it is just silly to pretend that disagreeing with a victim's political opinions is "blaming the victim"; but that silliness is commonplace. The reaction to the assassination of Rabin is just one example among many.
This was brought to mind, of course, by the shocking member [EDIT: "murder", not "member"!] of British MP Jo Cox. It is right to condemn her murder, and it is right to mourn her death, but I hope that Britons who vote to remain in the EU (which I expect would have won the vote anyhow) will do so for reasons related to the good of the UK, and not as some misguided memorial to Jo Cox.
EDIT 24 JUNE 2016: The British have in fact voted to leave the EU. This surprises me a great deal. I really thought Scotland was more likely to leave the UK (which did not happen) than Britain to leave the EU.