a snapshot…

Posted on Wednesday 24 February 2010

One of my more thoughtful teachers once was discussing the relationship between cognition [thought] and emotions. I think the topic was Schizophrenia – an illness where there is a "schism" between the two. He said something like, "We like to think that our thoughts result in emotions. That’s backwards. Our thoughts are driven by our emotions." At the time, I thought what he said was interesting. It felt right. Over the years, his comments kept coming back – I now think feel know it’s profound. The ancient Greeks thought if they figured out the rules of logic, created a mathematics of logical propositions, cataloged the logical fallacies, they would find a way to define something called truthabsolute truth at that. The Law, the Doctrines of the Roman Church, the Bible, the Quran, and a gajillion other similar documents are testimony to this notion of absolute truth – AKA Dogma.

If you’re a psychotherapist, logic is a crude map to understanding the person. Hearing people being illogical, one is not drawn to argument – rather one asks why? Why is the person over-riding sensible thought? What do they feel? What conflict in their past or present life leads them to stray outside of Aristotle’s logical propositions? What self-serving or self-protective emotion is driving the system right now? It’s not the rules of logic that runs the mind of man. It’s something more like self-protective emotion from that part of the deep brain found in all animals – down to most primitive [in North Georgia, that would be the possums that run to the middle of the road and freeze, feeling that their stillness keeps them safe].

In my retirement, I’ve obviously gotten interested in the thinking of our leaders – the amazing illogical  way that politicians are driven by their feelings – our invasion of Iraq being one fine example. Of course, I’m as guilty as anyone in that the illogic of the Republicans and Conservatives is where my mind focuses – the thing that gets my juices flowing. I can smell Republican illogical thought from a hundred yards, but Democrat logical fallacies aren’t so easily seen. Colleague Drew Weston implies that I was programmed or born that way [I expect he’s right about that].

Which logically brings me to why I’m talking about logic and emotions. The assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh by the Israelis in Dubai obviously bothers me. I can’t seem to stop writing about it. The reports of the responses from Israel and the Arab world are certainly a major example of thought and logic being driven by self-serving emotions. The Arabs talk about the sins of the Jews and vice-versa. In this matter, there’s very little "looking in the mirror." From the Israeli point of view, the "hit" was justifiable homicide – downright heroic. For Hamas, it was yet another atrocity by Israel – "invaders" of Palestine, "Zionists." Their responses are so predictable that any fool could write them [they sound a lot like my response to everything that comes out of Dick Cheney’s mouth]. So, for me, the question of the way Israel and the Palestinians are acting is trivial. They are at war over land. End of story. More interesting to me is why this assassination bothers me.

The illogical part of my response is that I’m not up in arms about our "drones" flying around assassinating al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. How is that different from a Mossad hit squad going to Dubai? Both things are examples of  fighting a war in the middle of a civilian population. Both are impersonal long distant killings. Both take the civil out of civilian and civilization. Any attempt I make to mount a logical argument for this difference in my response is pretty irrational – sort of like my eye for an eye mentality is right and your eye for an eye mentality is wrong – which makes absolutely no sense. I don’t think the answer is to be found in some kind of unacknowledged anti-Semetism, as is always implied in the Israeli response to criticism. I do think that the Jews have mistreated the Palestinians, but I’m on the side of Israel in the long run. Always have been. I’ll admit that I’m as put off by the chosen people argument as I am by Cheney’s "American Exceptionalism." But I hasten to add that the Muslim notion of believers and infidels bothers me just as much as Jewish idea of chosen people.

One thing that bugs me about the Dubai hit is the same thing that bothers me about our Torture Program/Torture Memos. If suspending the Geneva Conventions and torturing POWs was the right thing to do, why didn’t we come out and say we were doing it? If assassinating Mabhouh was such a noble act, why didn’t Netanyahu announce it the day after it happened? ‘Yesterday, our agents tracked down and killed the noted Palestinian Terrorist, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.’ What they are saying instead is, ‘We don’t know who killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, but whoever did it, it was a really great idea – fully justified.’

But the bottom line is that this Dubai hit brings up something that I don’t want to know – that there are people in the world who are still willing to play  the kind of games that actually threaten the fate of the whole planet. There’s another "Cold War" in the Middle East. I wanted us to be over that when the Berlin Wall came down – and we’re not. Israel and the Palestinians are in a smoldering "proxy" war fueled by Iran and Syria, maybe others. Israel and Iran are in an arms race, including a nuclear arms race. Espionage and counter-espionage are rampant – the currency of their politics. This business in the Dubai hotel isn’t what really upsets me. It’s a snapshot of something that I don’t want to see. The irrational, illogical war games aren’t just in the extremists of al Qaeda and the Taliban. They’re in the fabric of the whole region – including the Israelis, our allies. Strong emotions really do drive logic, and the emotions in the Middle East are the most lethal ones – contempt, hatred, paranoia, sadism – the emotions that are impervious to any sensible solution. I didn’t want to have to acknowledge that. The Dubai assassination knocks a big hole in my denial…
    February 25, 2010 | 6:01 AM

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