Thursday, September 17, 2015

Paul Berman, Cognitive Dissonance the Purported Importance of Being Earnest

Paul Berman is an essayist who situates himself on the left end of the political spectrum. Despite that, I have read many of his pieces with interest--and even admiration (for example, this lengthy examination of the career of Tariq Ramadan, academic and grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, appeared in The New Republic some years ago, and is nothing short of superb).

Quite often, when reading what Berman has to say on the subject of radical Islam, I find myself wondering what it's going to take for him, a man who seems more than half way there, to have that final epiphany that will push him over to the right side of politics. Then I read something like this, wherein Berman performs contortions worthy of a Cirque du Soleil performer, with the aim of convincing himself and others that there are actually "two lefts." There's one left, goes Berman's claim, that is comprised of newly-minted British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. That kind of left makes icons of "rebels" such as Cuba's Castro brothers and the late Hugo Chavez; that kind of left makes common cause with Hamas and Hezbo and spits on the Israel, the Jewish State, for supposedly trampling on Palestinians' dignity and their legitimate national aspirations.

The other kind of left, Berman further insists, is comprised of people who are more or less like him (or who are like, say, Alan Dershowitz, another noted contortionist). These Type 2 leftists can see the true threat posed by the jihadis/neo-Caliphatists, deplore the Jew-hate/Zionhass inherent in Corbyn's nutty utterances, but cannot bring themselves to decamp from the Democrats.

The difference between the two kinds of leftists--and here's where I think Berman really misses the boat: the Corbyn sort of lefty is exponentially more "earnest" than those in the second lefty camp.

That's it. One type of leftist is excessively earnest. The other type...isn't.

But does that claim hold up under scrutiny? Are there really two kinds of leftists, and is their degree of earnestness (what--is there some sort of "earnestness meter" that can measure the trait?) what divides them?

I'll answer those questions with a question: is Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a Jew, any less earnest than is egregious Jew-hater Jeremy Corbyn?

And here's another question: does Paul Berman really think that bifurcating his political fellows in this manner is the way to quell the cognitive dissonance that arises when someone on/of the left wants to find a way to distance himself from today's leftist ideology, a toxic potage that incorporates Zionhass and anti-Americanism and that evinces a distinct fondness for totalitarianism and its puveyors?

Sorry, Mr. Berman, not only can it not be done, but the effort to do so reeks of desperation.

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