Thursday, April 27, 2017

Materialism As "The Most Common Disease In America And The Western World"

I am not the only person who has come to the conclusion that materialism is one of the greatest dangers to liberalism and, also, life on Earth.  In the talk by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel I posted last week he specifically identified materialism as a disease, "the most common disease in American and the Western world".   And, in line with my contention that materialism, especially thinking of people in mechanical terms, has the most real of consequences in a clear violation of the liberal foundations of equal rights, equality and the moral obligation to observe and respect those rights.  His speech was given in 1968 at what we hoped at the time was the height of the Vietnam War, unfortunately, Nixon would take office after his henchmen scuttled the peace talks in Paris and expand the war.

Given my recent experience with people misreading what was put down in print, I was reluctant to transcribe Rabbi Heschel's marvelous speaking full of the most wonderful and meaningful inflection which makes the irony of the words obvious (the audience, able to see his marvelously expressive face and gestures reacted to that, audibly)  I would encourage anyone who wants to get the deeper meaning of what he said to listen to him.  My transcript starts at about 14:55 but it's in the context of a conference about the Vietnam War held at the Ambassador Hotel - if you don't listen to his description of  the luxury of the accommodation and banquet at which these scholar and dignitaries  discussed the bombing, napalm attacks, massive casualties of that war as it was going on, you will miss a lot of the fuller meaning of what I had time to transcribe. Here is the video from a couple of minutes before so you can hear that.  

Note, please, the irony Rabbi Heschel conveyed in his inflection.  I can't adequately transcribe that.  I've used quotes so people won't claim to believe he was saying what the distinguished political scientist is quoted as saying.

…. One of the speakers, a very distinguished scholar, a political scientist for a very famous university here in California made an answer to a question from the floor. The question was this gentleman is very optimistic … he was optimistic about the war in Vietnam,  

“ You know we have done marvious things in Vietnam, you have no idea, you're totally uninformed.   The only bad people in America are the journalists, Amerian press people in Vietnam who write letters to the press in America saying we that we suffer casualities, etc. [unintelligble] we are doing exceedingly well and we are going to – you know – we are going to solve the problem of communism, right?  No question about it.”

So one lady,  apparently she is “uninformed and very primitive,” she raised a question, “What about the numerous civilians who are being killed in Vietnam?”…  what a silly question to ask.  And he answered scientifically he answered,  “You are mistaken, you don't realize that the number of people, the national population increase in South Vietnam is larger than the number of people killed.”  

Now I would cry, and I did, in hearing that. But this is an indication of a disease, my friends.  The disease I would like to diagnose, if I were to give you the diagnosis, simply, we think of man in mechanical terms.  We don't think of men in human terms.   And I say this is the most common disease in America and the Western world.  Therefore, I should suggest that war is a marvelous thing that it will solve all the problems it's a biological necessity.   It may not be a human necessity – understand me – what does it mean to be human?  Why don't we ask yourself that question?   

A very distinguished general in South Vietnam, I believe - or was it a, not a general, someone else, a captain, I don't know [laughter] – after destroying one of the may villages that have been destroyed by our civilization (in) South Vietnam – some primitive people, don't you know -  he said “We had to destroy the village in order to save it,” [laughter from the audience]  You've heard this, it's now a laughing matter.  What is dangerous about that statement is it has a perfect logic.   Right, yes, we saved it.  That village there'll  be no more shelter for Viet Cong.  It's a marvelous achievement it's good for America.  We destroyed the village in order to save it.  So now you hear from certain people who say we have to destroy American system in order to save it to meet some act of what some Pentagon man said of Vietnam. Right?  So don't blame the wild students at Columbia for saying we have to destroy the system in order to save it, they just repeat what the military man said in Vietnam.  All right

America's war in Vietnam would certainly fit in with a Darwinian scheme of analysis in which 'civilised" people were attacking "some primitive people" as Rabbi Heschel noted, ironically,  in passing.

Once your ear has been opened to hearing that kind of thinking, thinking about people as objects, as machines, in terms of quantitative analysis, you can hear it all over, both on the right and the left.  I hear it all the time in the various statements from the Trump regime, from ICE, from lefty blogs and magazines.  It is all the same disease of thinking of people in mechanical terms and treating them as objects to whom we owe no moral obligations.

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