2003 February 11 Tuesday
Theodore Dalrymple On British Academic Boycott of Israel

Theodore Dalrymple has written an excellent essay on the phenomenon of contempt masquerading as compassion.

There’s nothing British academics like more than a good academic boycott. It makes them feel they are at the center of things, important cogs in the motor of history—and virtuous into the bargain: for virtue these days is more a matter of making the right gestures and expressing the “right” opinions than of conforming one’s behavior to inconvenient ethical standards. It allows one to be a libertine on a Neronian scale and yet detect the odor of sanctity emanating powerfully from oneself.

Dalrymple argues that one reason academics do not boycott Syria and other countries with worse human rights efforts is they expect more from the Jews than from the Arabs. Why? Because they really believe that the Arabs are not capable of better behavior but that the Jews are. So this boycott is a compliment to the Jews because it views them as having a greater capacity than the Arabs to live up to Western moral standards (though that brings us to the separate question of whether the academics really believe those moral standards should be the ideal that all should live by).

This argument reminds me very much of an argument that Steve Sailer has made about why liberal whites like to accuse other whites of racism: it gives them someone to feel better than.

And this is typical, in my experience: whites who proclaim their anti-white feelings don't really care much about blacks or other minorities, pro or con. What they care about is achieving social superiority over other whites by demonstrating their exquisite racial sensitivity and their aristocratic insouciance about any competitive threats posed by racial preferences.

For the British academics (and some American academics as well) Israel provides a group that is enough like them that they can point at the Israelis, draw a distinction, and say "see, we are better than those folks". Their protest is motivated by a desire for more status. It also becomes a way of proclaiming solidarity and membership within one's group: "Oh, of course I support the boycott. You know how I feel about colonialist oppressors and fascists".

Israel is a great place to boycott or condemn because what happens there attracts so much press attention. Its rather more easy to get attention for one's views about Israel than about, say, Tibet (the "Free Tibet" bumperstickers I see on the occasional Volvo in an upscale community are definitely much quieter statements of moral superiority - though great for showing up in a museum parking lot and having acquaintances see it when they arrive at the same time). Also, since the uber-capitalistic United States (colonial oppressor, ya da ya da) is Israel's chief supporter a boycott of Israel is also a way to boost one's status (at least in the group that the academics imagine themselves to be a part of - and its status within one's group that matters most) by looking down on the United States. This is double bonus points.

When someone is proclaiming membership in a protest movement or identification with a cause it is always important to ask why. For a lot of young men in college and afterward involvement in environmental and other politically correct protest activities is a great way to meet young women and impress the women with their principled compassion. For academics (who after all could just as easily be protesting much larger scale violence and killing in Africa) protest is mainly a way to demonstrate the correctness of one's moral beliefs to one's peers. In far too many cases the prevention or ending of an injustice is not the main goal of protest and workable solutions are not offered.

Update: My original quote from Steve was apparently from an earlier draft and the URL had a slightly later version. The quote now represents what the URL points to.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 February 11 01:26 PM  Cultural Wars Western


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