Why Do Some People Castrate Their Existences?

I’m talking to an acquaintance about a middle-aged woman we both know. The acquaintance shares with me that the woman has finally divorced her abusive alcoholic of a husband.

“That’s good!” I say. “Now she can find a normal guy.”

“Oh no,” the acquaintance says. “She’s not that kind of a woman. He is the only man in her life. Even if he dies, she will not be looking for somebody else.”

“But why not?” I ask. “I have a feeling that she was never even marginally happy with him.”

“Of course not. She doesn’t even know what it means to be a woman,” the acquaintance explains. “But he is her husband, and that’s final. And I feel exactly the same way. This is an issue of personal psychology.”

“Or, rather, of psychiatry,” I respond.

“Maybe. But that is how we are.”

You are probably thinking that we are talking about religious, downtrodden women whose culture does not allow for remarriage. But that’s where you are mistaken. These people probably did not see the inside of a church (or any religious facility) once as they were growing up, and I can guarantee that they never read the Bible, the Koran, or any other religious text. They have more than one college diploma each and were always more than independent financially. Remarriage and divorce are completely acceptable in their culture.

We often assume that some people choose to castrate their existences (be it sexually, romantically, professionally, financially, or in any other way) because of their religion, their culture, their family conditioning – in short, the big, bad society. The truth, however, is that some people are simply terrified of life. Religion, family and society are excuses that they use to explain this terror. You strip all of that away, and the terror remains.

I have to confess that I’m pretty shaken up by this conversation. This is such an unapologetic, conscious self-immolation that it scares me. The encounter with the irrational in such a naked, unadorned form is terrifying. I can really understand why people protect themselves by repeating the “we are conditioned by society” mantra.


Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Part I

I keep looking for a source of information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would at least try to depart from the “bad Jews/good Arabs” or “bad Arabs/good Jews” model. Both of these approaches are equally reductive and offensive. Still, I’m getting a feeling that nobody is even attempting to discuss the issue in any other manner. Initially, I had high hopes for Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine but I have to admit that the book has been a serious disappointment. I listed some of my objections to Pappe’s writing here but that was only the beginning.

For some incomprehensible reason, Pappe decided to alienate every Jewish reader – even the potentially anti-Israel and pro-Palestiane one – from the get go. It is hard for a Jewish person to remain open to a point of view that insistently equates the displacement of the Palestinian people from their villages with the Holocaust. I don’t see why it is so necessary to equate two such different events at all. The forcible removal of the Palestinians is a horrible, horrible crime and a huge tragedy. But it cannot even begin to compare to the Holocaust. Pappe tries to make the two tragedies similar by making it hard to figure out that the Palestinians were displaced from their villages without being killed. (It took me a while, for example, to realize that when Pappe says, “Village X was destroyed,” he is forgetting to mention that only the physical buildings were destroyed (or simply damaged), while the people were not.)

Ilan Pappe is altogether very careless about the Holocaust. He discusses it as a reality that has certain bearing on the actions of the international community. He says, for example, that after the Holocaust, any instance of ethnic cleansing in the world becomes impossible to conceal. This is a very strange statement to begin with, since the Holocaust was very obviously not an example of ethnic cleansing but of genocide. As Pappe explains at length, ethnic cleansing does not involve the mass murder of the displaced ethnicity while the genocide does. At the same time, there is no discussion in the book of how the Holocaust might have influenced the Jews. To the contrary, Pappe suggests time and again that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would exist in pretty much the same form had the Holocaust never happened.

For those who manage to keep reading the book even in the face of this cavalier dismissal of the Holocaust, Pappe brings out the argument that will surely convince any person who does not passionately hate the Jews as a group to stop reading. I am speaking, of course, of the trope of the greedy Jew.

For a while, the suggestion of Jewish greediness is made without the direct use of the word “greedy”. This allows a reader to keep convincing herself that she is being too sensitive and is imagining anti-Semitism where there is none. Until, that is, a story of “a greedy Tel-Aviv municipality” that sets out to steal the crop of oranges grown by hard-working Palestinians. And the story of the “monstrous villas and extravagant palaces for rich American Jews” that have been created because of “constructors’ greed” and that are disfiguring the architectural ensemble of Jerusalem. And many other stories of greedy, dishonest Jews who don’t create anything of their own but, rather, steal the fruits of the labor of others. (The words “exploit” and “exploitation” appear constantly in the text to describe the intentions of the Jews.)

(To be continued. . .)

P.S. I would very much like to avoid the third-grade level of discussion of this serious issue that such debates almost always slip down to. This is why I’m asking everybody to refrain from the egregiously unintelligent analysis of who was where “first” and whom “this land initially belonged to.” I have to issue this warning because I looked through the Amazon reviews of the book and this is all I have seen there.

Putin Is Elected President in Russia

The moment Putin got elected as Russia’s not very new President, look what happened to my Stats page:

Usually I have one or two people per day alight on the blog in search of information on Putin’s Botox treatments. Today, it’s 75 already, and it is only 11 am here.

Russian people have a very unique relationship with their political leaders. They both love them and hate them passionately. They also find it very hard to let them go in any significant way unless they die. They have gone and voted for Putin, and now they will have a blast analyzing his photos and ridiculing his plastic surgery.

I’m sure there were a few falsifications during these presidential elections in Russia. At the same time, it is obvious that Putin won fairly, and that most people wanted him as president. On the one hand, there wasn’t a single viable alternative candidate because a true opposition in the country is non-existent. On the other hand, the people of Russia are not ready to let Putin go yet. They will now get a chance to play out their favorite role of eternal adolescents making fun with their online buddies of the strict father whom they both fear and adore.

Those Horrible Boys

Those mean, horrible boys! They are sexist straight from the childhood while the good, patient girls are not sexist at all. See, for example, the following story:

A popular exercise among High School creative writing teachers in America is to ask students to imagine they have been transformed, for a day, into someone of the opposite sex, and describe what that day might be like. The results, apparently, are uncannily uniform. The girls all write long and detailed essays that clearly show they have spent a great deal of time thinking about the subject. Half of the boys usually refuse to write the essay entirely. Those who do make it clear they have not the slightest conception what being a teenage girl might be like, and deeply resent having to think about it.

The only conclusion we can draw from the story is that boys are infected by sexism at a much earlier age than girls and that these boys will continue spreading sexism throughout their lives. Of course, the story acquires a completely different meaning if we consider the following:

1. “Male students are consistently less likely to graduate from high school with a diploma. Nationally, the gender gap in graduation stands at nearly 8 percentage points. Females also earn diplomas at higher rates within every racial and ethnic group examined, with the largest disparity (more than 13 percentage points) found among black students.

2. Male students are much less likely to exhibit an interest in the Humanities subjects both at school and in college.

3. And as a professor of languages and literature, I can assure you that getting the very few male students we manage to attract to the Humanities to write anything on the subject where they need to imagine something quite impossible is a losing proposition every single time.

Conclusion: the suggestion that boys “resent” thinking specifically about what it means to be a girl is ridiculous. Boys generally do worse than girls in high school and they have less interest than girls in the Humanities disciplines in college. As an educator with over two decades of experience in teaching, I am convinced that the “deep resentment” these boys experience has nothing whatsoever to do with girls. Boys are socialized towards the “practical,” “useful” disciplines. As a result, an “imagine something outlandish” exercise is a task they see as a complete waste of time.

Let’s remember that the burden of being a provider for a bunch of other people and finding one’s gender identity through that is still almost exclusively male. Keeping that in mind, I’d also be quite resentful if, instead giving me an education that would allow me to be a good, reliable provider, my time would be wasted on the “imagine you are a big blue balloon” exercises.