For a Liveable Future To Be Possible: First in a series

“We, with our knowledge of conflict and human history; of the consequences of trauma in our lives, watch children cry, and wonder how, out of sight of some new skyscraper, now the tallest building on the planet, we manage with every new generation, to construct a new hell on earth” (author and blogger Peter Wells).

For a liveable future to be possible, here are two fundamental truths: Number one: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” (Confucius). Number two: Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Puzzling, isn’t it, how quickly these are pushed aside when we are confronted with danger, and fear replaces rational thinking. An example of this follows in a blog post by neuroscientist and author Sam Harris titled “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?” Expecting a rational, well-reasoned and supported article, what I found was a casebook example of how fear can and often does trump rational thought and, in so doing, supports positions that are insupportable morally, ethically, and historically. Following are examples from Dr. Harris’s blog post.

Israel’s existence is justified because “the rest of the world has shown itself eager to murder the Jews at almost every opportunity.” “The rest of the world”? He gives no supporting evidence.

About Israel’s behavior toward Palestine’s indigenous population, he admits “the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes” because “they” (the Israelis) “have been brutalized . . . over the course of fighting multiple wars. . . But that is largely due to the character of their enemies.” Israelis, he writes, are “held to a different standard” than the rest of the world. Evidence? Once again, not a shred. Israel, he implies, is a victim state, which justifies its actions.

On the subject of Gaza: “One of the most galling things for outside observers . . . is the disproportionate loss of life on the Palestinian side” which “doesn’t make a lot of moral sense” to him, because “Israel built bomb shelters to protect its citizens” but “The Palestinians built tunnels through which they could carry out their terror attacks and kidnap Israelis. Should Israel be blamed for successfully protecting its population in a defensive war?” He doesn’t think so. Once again, no evidence of having studied the subject with any depth, as I expected he would do. To Dr. Harris, there is only one side, and that is Israel’s.

What he is really frightened (terrified?) of? “What would the Palestinians do to the Jews in Israel if the power balance were reversed? There is every reason to believe that (they) would kill all the Jews in Israel if they could. (They) are trying to kill everyone. Killing women and children is part of the plan. . . If you’re going to talk about the conflict in the Middle East, you have to acknowledge this difference. I don’t think there’s any ethical disparity to be found anywhere that is more shocking or consequential than this” (emphasis mine). Underlying these assertions is his fear of Islam. “If Israel kills a dozen Palestinians by accident” (accident?) “the entire Muslim world is inflamed. God forbid you burn a Koran, or write a novel vaguely critical of the faith. And yet Muslims can destroy their own societies — and seek to destroy the West — and you don’t hear a peep.” “What would the Israelis do if they could do what they want? They would live in peace with their neighbors, if they had neighbors who would live in peace with them.” Again, Israelis are portrayed victims, a peaceful people living in a neighborhood where they are hated. Looking at history, what has Israel done to seek friendship with its neighbors? Nothing. What I have found is genocide and ethnic cleansing, engaged in by Israeli Zionists from the beginning. How is it that a rationalist like Sam Harris doesn’t see this? Overwhelming fear of an Other that is regarded as sinister.

When fear takes hold, it erupts from the amygdala, the part of the brain where fear, anxiety, aggression and PTSD emerge in fight, flight or freeze responses that overwhelm rational thinking. It’s a part of the brain that Dr. Harris, as a neuroscientist, should know well. Yet when emotionally loaded issues like Israel and the Palestinian people arise, he, like so many others, are overwhelmed by fear, which all too often has disastrous results.

For a liveable future to be possible for our children and grandchildren, the kind of thinking evident in Sam Harris’s blog post must be faced and changed, or the tragedies we have witnessed for so long will continue. For a liveable future to be possible, we have to learn to treat everyone with dignity and respect, see others as members of our family, and learn to treat them the way we want to be treated. We are, after all, as humans, members of the same family. It’s past time we learn to live that way.

I’ll be posting on these and other related subjects in up-coming posts.

About gwpj

Originally from Seattle, I now live in Sapporo, Japan, where I write, explore this city, read widely, and ask questions about things that i see as important. I'm also an author, with three novels published ("The Old Man and The Monkey", "Grandfather and The Raven", and "Bear: a story about a boy and his unusual dog"). For more information about my writing, drop by my website, at
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5 Responses to For a Liveable Future To Be Possible: First in a series

  1. John Holt says:

    Interesting article George (as to be expected from you). There’s a saying – “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.” To take no action, to not speak up, to not criticise. There are many reasons for not speaking up – it’s futile, no one listens anyway; it won’t change anything; one voice is meaningless; I don’t want to stand out from the crowd, to be different; I’m probably wrong anyway; I’m frightened of any retribution that might come my way; It is sometimes much easier to say nothing, let them get on with it. It doesn’t affect me anyway. There are many things being accepted by society thee days that I do not agree with, but do I speak out …… sometimes!

    • gwpj says:

      Thank you, John. One thing I like about you is your willingness to speak out sometimes. That and a willingness to live what we believe are more important than we sometimes think when looking around us at a world that appears to be going mad (or has already arrived there).

  2. I liked your post and what you said about a liveable future is true. But you failed to mention to the damage belief in the supernatural is having. For a liveable and enjoyable future, we need to stop the indoctrination of children and send Islam down the same path as Christianity in the west – benign. No one gets hung for apostasy, no one gets killed or imprisoned for blasphemy in Christianity anymore. These are the issues that are making the Israel-Palestine conflict so complex.
    In your attempt to discredit Dr Harris’ view on Israel you appeared more emotional than Sam Harris did. I too read the article, and you ask for evidence of these things yet later on made the apparent assumption that they didn’t happen – Israel have been invaded by every surrounding Muslim nation for decades. They pushed back and survived. The idea of should they be there was lost as soon as Palestinians began killing them in the name of Allah. Dr Harris mentions a very critical aspect of this war / the Islamic jihadist aspect who will never stop until Israel and all other Jews are destroyed. They openly preach this and have done for years.
    You are right to question what would Hamas and Palestine do to Israel if they had a chance – they’d wipe them out. Israel can exterminate Hamas and Palestine within days, but wouldn’t dream of it. The difference is ideology. Coexistence isn’t possible when one side has a religious mandate to kill the other… Just a thought.
    Good post despite me disagreeing with your views. Cheers

    • gwpj says:

      Thank you for your comments rh87. In my view,belief in the supernatural is symptomatic, not causal. The deeper problem is the way traditional thinking divides the world up into “us” and “them.” Traditionally this has been expressed in religious, social and ideological systems of belief. I’ll be covering this in future posts, so look for them.

      When it comes to Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, the situation is quite different, as we’re talking about a Zionist project of nation building in “a land without people” that would restore diaspora Jews to “their” land, Palestine. Palestinian Arabs were largely Muslim, but also Christian. What the Zionist militias did (Irgun, et al) was attempt to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous people, killing over 10,000 and sending 750,000 or more fleeing for their lives. Beginning with its founding in 1948, its Palestinian citizens are identified in Israel’s declaration of independence as 2nd class citizens, without full citizenship rights. Similarities with the US segregation of black people in the South and prejudice against them throughout the US are very clear. It is not a situation I support, and not one I am willing to live with.

      Dismissing Palestinian rage and attacks against Israeli targets as unjustified terrorism against an innocent people strikes me as short-sighted. Blaming it all on Islam as Dr. Harris does is both absurd and unhelpful. What is missing in Dr. Harris’s article is awareness of this history and empathy for what the Palestinians have had to live with on a daily basis for over sixty years. Would you be willing to live with that, rh87? I would not. Would I put up with plain old-fashioned hatred of Jews as a people? I would not and I do not. Regarding Gaza, Hamas is fighting to defend its citizens from a state that has kept them confined to what is described as the world’s largest open-air prison with guard towers, restricted entrance and exit, restricted import of food and medicine, and restricted export of products that it makes. Would you live happily in such a situation rh87? I would not, nor do I support the situation Gaza has had to live with for way too long a time.

      In my view, we as human beings must begin to realize that we are one people, that there is no “us” versus “them”, that, given the destructive power of our weapons, and continuing to organise and identify ourselves as “Us” versus “Them” will destroy all of us.

      We do have our disagreements, rh87. I welcome your comments, even though I disagree with some of them. Please do continue to visit and see what I have to say in future posts about creating a liveable future.

      • Thanks for your reply. I largely agree with you, especially the us vs them divide. I however, although see it as an apparent inherent human trait, it is religion and monotheism which is directly intolerant and inherently aggressive because of the us vs them divide that each religion creates.
        I cannot live with what the citizens of Gaza are having to go through. I’m a new dad myself and the pictures of children suffering is hitting me hard. I don’t however share your view that the Zionist program is the reason for the war at the moment. Zionism is absurd. It’s religious nonsense based on a defunct holy book with very little reliability. The added conjunction that god are on their side is even more absurd. This wasn’t the genuine cause of the move. The British were in control of Palestine at the time and they made the decision to separate Palestine in order to provide a home for the Jews who were suffering from all sorts of discrimination and threats of violence, from the alleged death of Christ to the more modern twentieth century senseless hate. This was of course the case after world war 2 – regardless of the religion. It was the Palestinian attacks which forced Israel to defend herself, causing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to leave Israel and similar number of Jews to migrate to Israel for safety. Israel was then repeatedly attacked by all boar seeing Islamic States, including Palestine. Israel have faced nothing but aggression and the history books show Israel worked tirelessly with Lebanon, Syria and Egypt in order to broker a regional peace. The Palestinian situation is difficult as they have had a government which engaged in terrorist acts while encoding Muhammad since Israel’s creation. Along with Ayatolla Khomeini in Iran, the Palestinian authorities openly preached the destruction of all Jews as an Islamic duty. We see this kind of jihadist extremism regularly and this is why the west and Israel don’t want to negotiate with them.’the poor Palestinians who have suffered the religious indoctrination and are encouraged to consider Israel the enemy against Allah are caught between their religious crackpot government and israel’s desire to guarantee security. Hamas and precious Palestinian authorities have repeatedly refused deals with Israel. Israel didn’t just steal the land, they pushed back against Palestinian advances and took the land as they proceeded.
        I don’t recognise your version of an Israeli ethnic cleansing event as the history books show us it wasn’t the case. The Palestinians believe they have had their land taken away in the same ridiculous way a roman would believe all the ancient roman provinces belong to Italy. I firmly believe. That because of the religious warfare declared on Israel,and the methods used against Israeli civilians on the grounds they were Jews makes there issue of who’s land is it no longer valid. We’ve passed this now and Israel desire peace.

        I agree that the citizens are dying nonetheless and I do hold Israel responsible for them, no matter their reasoning. You must be able to make the connection between Islamic fundamentalism and Hamas. Once you do, it is easier to understand the global reluctance to respond to them. I also reject your notion that Hamas just evolved as a result of Palestinians finding themselves persecuted against the Jews – the Palestinians are there because of what their government is condemning them to. If we take away the religious aspect, we’ll just have people wanting peace for their own lives and their loved ones.
        Islamic ideology on a government level never leads to peaceful outshines. We both agree the violence should stop in favour of a better way of life, we just differ on the cause and the available steps to take…

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