Adjectives are useful...To hide the truth

By Daniel Chejfec

​As some of you know, I read a number of books a year, and currently I am reading an interesting book called "Russia and the Arabs", written by a former Pravda correspondent and Soviet official, Yevgeny Primakov. What makes it interesting is not the facts it present - no news there - but the perspective.

The Russian perspective of the evolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is certainly very different from the Western one; what shocked me the most about this book is the profuse use of adjectives, as in "The progressive forces of the Nasserite revolution were confronted by the reactionary monarchical governments supported by the Capitalist West". Now keep in mind that this book was not written back in the day but in 2009, full 20 years after the fall of the USSR - yet the power of the adjectives is undeniable. Primakov manages to divide the world in "friends" and "foes" of the people based on a narrow Communist lens; while he criticizes the Soviet leaders of the time for not recognizing the existence of progressive forces other than the communist party, he himself adopts the same attitude in defense of his own preferred "revolutionary heroes", obscuring the fact by transposing events in time and conflating political situations years apart. So why do I bring it up?

Because we do the same thing every day. We explain past action and justify them based on what is happening today, just as Primakov does. Since Osama Bin Laden is today an enemy of the US, it was OK for the US to oppose Islamic Fundamentalism. The problem with this statement is ignoring the fact that Osama Bin Laden was the product of the Mujahedeen fighting against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with American support. Similar misreading are very common when talking about Saddam Hussein or Yasser Arafat, or even about Israeli policies. You cannot justify the past actions by invoking current events - yet we do it.

Using adjectives is a good way to blur the lines and confuse your readers or listeners. If I say "President George W Bush started the war in Iraq under false assumptions and faulty intelligence", is very different that if I say "Bush was a liar who got us into a war for his own greedy reasons" - and we heard them both. The problem with the second version is that its appeal is not to the mind or to reason, but to gut reactions and it is an appeal for an emotional response. Emotions are, by definition, irrational, and when you deal with irrational behavior it is very difficult to find common ground or even a compromise.

Ideally, our emotions are to be listened to when formulating our responses, but they need to be kept in check. As the old Jewish sages said "Who is really strong? - He who control his passions" ("Mi Hu Givor? - HaKovesh et itzro"). Passions are not to be dismissed nor ignored, they have their place, but that place is not in the analysis of facts.

Something similar is happening today in America when it comes to President Obama. People are reacting not based on an evaluation of his policies but on the fact that he is Obama. With Bush, some believed he could do no wrong and some believed he could do no right; ironically, the same is happening with Obama - so much for Martin Luther King's dream. I still hope that our leaders will be judged by the content of their policies and not by the party they belong to, but for now I don't believe I should hold my breath.

There is a need to return to a rational political discourse, and one way of doing it would be to copy what the Israelis used to do in the 1960s (they don't do it anymore either): Publish your plans for he country before the election and make room for an open discussion on the issues not based on who is a liar and who is not, but based on what options are the best for the country. I guess I'm asking for a "return to pragmatism in politics"...maybe somebody could found the "Pragmatic Party", but then we'd run the risk of falling into the same trap...

I don't have solutions - I just know what is bothering me, and that is the lack of political culture in American politics and the knee jerk reactions and the profuse use of political labels. People cannot - should not - be stereotyped with labels; neither should political alternatives.

My opinion? Keep your eyes open to see reality, your ears open to listen to all, and your hand open to work with others and preserve our precious Democracy.


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