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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Framing the argument

I've finally begun to understand why little of substance ever gets honestly debated - much less decided - in the public forum:  You see, people aren't interested in defending their ideas... their convictions... their most closely held beliefs.  They simply want to score easy wins by making the opposing camp appear cruel, stupid and/or insane. 

People have been worshiping for so long at the alter of public relations and spin doctoring that they can't imagine the need to do more than frame their arguments in the most disingenuous, intellectually lazy/dishonest terms to carry the day.

This isn't a right - left thing.  In fact, this trait is perhaps the only thing that spans the entire political and religious spectrum:

Staking out the 'Pro-Life' label is obviously intended to imply that the only alternative position is 'Pro-Death'. 

Claiming the mantle of 'Peace' is a transparent attempt to make everyone else out to be blood-thirsty war mongers. 

Invoking the holiness of Jerusalem as your justification for burning dumpsters and attacking policemen isn't going to keep one kid (including your own) from becoming a fagot if that is what G-d has in store for him.  But by the same token, indulging in extremes of public displays of affection and pornographic attire that you wouldn't dare bring into your parent's living-room or your office does not make everyone you offend guilty of wanting to punish you for being gay.

Trying to trump the 'Land for Peace' debate by citing the religious prohibition against giving away even one inch of 'Eretz Yisrael' is ludicrous in light of the scores of adjustments that have taken place along our borders over the years without so much as a peep from the religious camp.

By the same token, labeling someone 'unpatriotic' and 'selfish' for refusing to obediently abandon their home/community/livelihood is a cruel oversimplification and conveniently ignores both the human and security consequences of making hasty territorial concessions.

I could go on, but I won't.

People... I know it's a lot more work, and will require you to actually defend your precious positions... but none of the issues are as simple to define as you'd like them to be. 

If most of what you think, feel and believe can fit on the narrow real estate of a bumper sticker or be expressed in the terse, rhyming cadences shouted at a demonstration, please don't flatter yourself that you are part of the solution.    You are, in fact, willfully perpetuating the problem.

Almost everything I see wrong with the world... and particularly with this country... can be traced to this juvenile (and essentially lazy), practice of vilifying and attacking whoever/whatever is perceived as standing in the way of your goal rather than carefully laying out your agenda for honest evaluation. 

If you honestly can't conceive of extenuating circumstances under which the other guy's position might be tenuously defensible and yours ever so slightly flawed... then you have no business debating issues in the real world. 

I don't imagine I can change the style or substance of public discourse... but I promise you this:  If you try that sh*t around me, we're done.  Full stop.


Posted by David Bogner on November 19, 2006 | Permalink


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I'd love to know what brought that on...

I hope it wasn't something *I* said.


Posted by: wogo | Nov 19, 2006 12:24:43 PM

Ironically enough, "If you try that sh*t around me, we're done. Full stop." fits on a bumper sticker.

Have you been to the Good Neighbors blog, yet?


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | Nov 19, 2006 1:53:28 PM

I think this is the best Public Service blog you've ever written---maybe because it expresses exactly how I've felt for a long time but I hadn't figured out how to express it so succinctly. Listen up, everyone!

Posted by: aliyah06 | Nov 19, 2006 2:09:45 PM

Can I get a "hear, hear!" please?

If you want to hear a great harrangue along your lines directed right at partisans, check out Jon Stewart's lambasting of the folks on CNN's crossfire. Debate only works as a means of forwarding public policy if compromise is an option.

Posted by: efrex | Nov 19, 2006 3:25:03 PM

Anti-Israel leftist!

No, I don't really mean this but this is what I have been called time and time again from many (mostly Diaspora) Jews (despite, like you, making aliya and sitting (to be crude) "right-of-center")

You are 100% correct.

Posted by: amechad | Nov 19, 2006 3:41:11 PM

Um... I was just goofing around with your sister in the last thread. I don't even think there was an actually issue on the table.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Nov 19, 2006 4:59:24 PM

Wogo... I'm not in a finger-pointing mood. Yet. Suffice it to say that I am getting a bit tired of some of my jblogging cohorts spouting the last thing they heard/read at a demonstration.

Yehudah... No. Link?

Aliyah06... I actually didn't mean to publish this. I sometimes end up writing rants/screeds with no intention of hitting the publish button. I was a bit sleep deprived today and screwed up. Once it was already out there...

Efrex... Thanks for sharing the link.

Amechad... Completely off topic... but I'm interested in something. When you first came here did you self-identify as "right-of-center"? My sense is that you have been slowly drifting across the center divide.

Doctor Bean... While you sometimes cross the line, there is almost always humor and/or an exposition of your views. No, this isn't about you.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 19, 2006 5:21:36 PM

Full stop.

This is off topic, but in Naval Parlance is there a partial stop?

Just wondering.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 19, 2006 6:03:24 PM

trep - There are people who call themselves Clinton Democrats. I call myself a Netanyahu Likudnik. I voted Likud in the last election and if an election were held tomorrow, that is the party list I would vote for again.

There is what I would love in an ideal world and there is what pragmatic reality and academic studies in conflict resolution, media, and a graduate degree in Israel studies leads me to believe is the best option. Or, as Yossi Klein Halevi wrote: "One of my frustrations both with Israel at war and the U.S. at war is the polarization between a left wing that prefers to hide behind wishful thinking rather than face political reality and a right wing that tends to indulge in contempt for Islam. I can't feel comfortable in either camp. I end up defending Islam against the right and defending the war on terror against the left."

Posted by: amechad | Nov 19, 2006 6:12:59 PM

Jack... No, not specifically in Naval Parlance. However, if one were to examine your EEG during the nanosecond between when you read this post and when you decided on your response... that brief spike of electrical activity would probably qualify as a 'partial stop'. Simply put... it would be the brain-activity equivalent of coasting through a stop sign... what I think they call a 'California stop'. :-)

Amechad... I often feel like that... although I rarely find myself defending Islam anymore. I figure if the majority of its own adherents aren't willing to stand up and complain about what is being done in their name... why should I?

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 19, 2006 6:17:32 PM

I only wish that there were a partial stop in this noggin. The damn thing goes full speed ahead, without regard for icebergs. ;)

In regard to the post it was well done. Few people are really interested in considering positions outside of their own.

It is easier to live in a black and white world. Simple questions and simple answers.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 19, 2006 6:22:12 PM

One of the frustrating things about Israel and which adds to the isolation and polarization here is that everyone is directing their own message, which works for their own people, at the other camp, to whom it means nothing.
And each side walks away thinking it scored major points!

Posted by: Fred | Nov 19, 2006 6:53:14 PM

Demonizing the opposition: Hard not to do when it's obvious the Left is taking us straight to hell at top speed.

However my recent near total betrayal by the so called leadership of the so called Right here in my country certainly has taken the wind out of my political sails.

Methinks I should have stuck with religion and eschewed politics all along. Problem is, most now have left so far behind, any real religious conviction, the sort that informs every aspect of one's daily life, that politics has become the substitute for religion.

I am trying to quit politics. I'll vote but that's it. Speaking only of men within the bounds of a particular democratic nation: If men loved God they would love each other and work for the common good. Just can't deal with the second half of that equation when the world refuses to recognize the first.

We have lost the glue that binds peoples and nations. That we no longer even accept just what IS the agent that allows men to tolerate each other means that division and chaos is our fate.

It was always a tenuous conglomerate in any era. Dissolution is now imminent.

Posted by: Scott | Nov 19, 2006 8:00:34 PM

The stakes are very high here in Israel. That is why, I think, that debate is so intense and that we have little patience for the subtleties of the other's point of view. On the other hand, the passion in which we debate shows how deeply we care about what happens in this country - and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Posted by: westbankmama | Nov 19, 2006 8:12:44 PM

Well-said, as always, David. It's maddening to see it, and unfortunately, I do think it will always be part of the "public discourse".

Posted by: Lachlan | Nov 19, 2006 10:25:25 PM

There was a recent Dilbert cartoon where Dogbert said something like "there's no point in talking to people. Either they already agree with you, or they're stupid". It really does seem that's about the limit of political discussion these days.

That's why I like to write about words - much less political...

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Nov 19, 2006 10:45:23 PM

Well, the widespread preference of pure rhetoric over substantive discussion is probably true just about anywhere, not just in Israel. However, I think I would rather have this sometimes shallow plurality of views than a single overwhelmingly dominant view on issue as in many European coutries (according to polls, at least). While it seems that no bridges can be build if the two sides are more interested in listening to themselves than to each other, I think there's more of a possibility for moderation than in a country when there is no "other", no possibility of other, where the social standard is absolute conformity.

Posted by: Irina | Nov 19, 2006 11:03:57 PM

Do you Daniel Gordis's writings? He wrote that pre-disengagement, his car had both a blue and an orange ribbon on it -- when he got quizzical looks, he said that his family was split on the matter, and that those on the blue side weren't so sure those on the orage side weren't correct, and vice versa.

If more people were like that, our society would run much smoother. In fact, I think one of the most harmful aspects of the social discourse here is that it seems that most people (or at least most public figures) are absolutely convinced of the rightness of their opinions, and don't see as valid concerns some of the issues brought up by the other side.

To bring in a religious reference, it is said that we generally hold like Hillel because his disciples were humble, and always mentioned the opposing opinion before their own

BTW, the link to that article is:


Posted by: Almost Jerusalem | Nov 19, 2006 11:34:26 PM

Hey, but you got to admit there are some pretty clever bumper stickers out there. : )

Posted by: jaime | Nov 20, 2006 4:10:02 AM

While a very true post, I think that there actually are plenty of - if not most - people in the public forum who really do care to discuss and debate issues to get to a solution. Unfortunately, it is the others who hijack the discussions and draw everyone into fights (look at some of the most popular blogs).

Posted by: Ezzie | Nov 20, 2006 4:15:38 AM

Whoops - cut off.

It would do us all lots of good to simply not allow ourselves to be drawn into such worthless discussion, and simply only have discussions with those - who we may completely disagree with - who truly want to come to a solution. (In general, I think this blog does a pretty good job of it when I actually get a chance to read the comments.)

Posted by: Ezzie | Nov 20, 2006 4:17:31 AM

"All men are created equal" fits nicely on a bumper sticker -- as do, "Give me liberty or give me death," and "Ask not what your country can do for you." In fact, in Hebrew, the shema fits on a bumper sticker with room to spare.

So see, there's no sin in being succinct; the sin is in vilifying those who (for what they believe are very good reasons) happen to disagree with you.

But the temptation to vilify one opponents is very appealing, since it's so very liberating -- it frees one to act as badly as he pleases, since he does so for only the best of motives. Torquemada surely believed himself an angel of mercy, busy about G-d's work of saving Jews from the fires of Hell. No doubt this saintly man lamented the extreme measures it took to get so many of the Jews to see reason.

Posted by: Bob | Nov 20, 2006 5:43:08 AM

I've lately had to quell much of my ridicule-laden sarcasm in a lengthy discussion I've been having with an (a) atheist (b) member of PETA, who (c) believes humans are merely animals. Our correspondence has been invaluable, and I've managed to present information that supports his position and leads to deeper probing of my own positions, while at the same time arguing for my position as the best, reasonable one.

He has not been reciprocating however, and can only see the strengths of his position.

Which means I'm right, eh?

Posted by: wrymouth | Nov 20, 2006 6:44:26 AM

Ezzie--I'm not sure that most people want to really discuss the issues of the day in order to find a solution. Otherwise, why would some of the blogs that mostly side swipe the issues be so popular? One of the most popular blog authors out there spends more time agitating people into a frenzy than he does actually suggesting any solutions.

Posted by: Fern | Nov 20, 2006 8:13:07 AM

It wouldn’t make sense Trep, If a Jew would love their fellow Jew more than they love there religious convictions… a solution for internal peace? on another branch of peace didn’t Golda Meir so rightfully observe that there would be peace in Israel when Islamic fundamentalists love their children more than they hate the Jew?

A very intricate society you have there.

Posted by: Rami | Nov 20, 2006 8:19:03 AM

Well said, that man!

(And re that YKHL quote which Amechad brought up- I'm in a similar position, I defend Israeli actions to Palestinians and Palestinian actions to Israelis. Which is why the people who make Acamol love me so very much.

Posted by: PP | Nov 20, 2006 8:32:38 AM

@ Irina:
In my opinion, there is no such "single overwhelmingly dominant view" in European countries.
The poll-results are merely turned into bumber sticker slogans, leaving out the non-saleable bits. If you read the originals, you will probably find them disappointingly reasonable.

Posted by: Chris | Nov 20, 2006 2:04:05 PM

Jack... The problem is that there is no black and white world outside our heads.

Fred... Nicely said.

Scott... I'm picturing you walking around with a big sign saying "The end is near". Am I far off? :-)

Westbankmama... You and I are usually pretty close in viewpoints but I gotta part ways with you again on this. There are abusive husbands who will tell you that they beat their wives because they care about them so much and are therefore unable to control their emotions. I don't buy it.

Lachlan... I'm glad you liked it. I was a little worried about using the 'F' word. Kinda like a white guy tossing around the 'N' word. Of course this only occurred to me a few hours after the post was already up so I couldn't really do much but wait for someone to call me on it. :-)

Dave... You must be very selective about the words you write about because they can also be quite politically charged.

Irina... Being a typical American, my knowledge of European trends is basically non-existent. Wish I could share my views.

Almost Jerusalem... While I applaud the sentiment behind the two ribbons, it strikes me as being both for and against legalized abortion. At some point you really have to pick a side on disengagement. You want to be pro-disengagement but anti-headlong rush and pro-settler, I can see that. But the central issue didn't have a fence on which to sit.

Jaime... Yeah, but when people's lives are at stake do you really want to have a bumper sticker deciding the outcome?

Ezzie... The problem is, too many of the shouters are in decision-making positions now. If you don't debate them they get their way (which is what they count on).

Bob... I have no problem with brevity. But if 'Love your Neighbor as Yourself' were enough, we wouldn't have all those thousands of laws on the books to deal with how people need to behave in an organized society. :-)

wrymouth... I have long since stopped debating people who are constantly in 'transmit mode'. They don't read what you write/say and only wait for your next breath so they can continue spouting their dogma. Trying to teach people like that is like trying to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.

Fern... Are you [sniff] saying this isn't a popular blog? [sniff] ;-)

Rami... Yes indeed.

PP... You are a glutton for punishment. See my comment to wrymouth about teaching pigs to sing. You have picked out two breeds of pigs to try to educate! :-)

Chris... Thanks for weighing in. As I told Irina, I know little or nothing about European trends.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 20, 2006 4:35:50 PM

Fern - True. But that's also because a) people love watching train wrecks, b) we all get sucked into stupid discussions, whether we like it or not, and c) people keep returning to such blogs many times a day to respond to the attacks back and forth. How many "different" people really read those blogs? If you look closely, comments are dominated by the same people over and over. Contrast that to this blog, for example, which has 29 comments by 25 people on this post.

Trep - On blogs or in real-life? I don't think any blogs really are "decision-makers". In real-life, I'm not sure that that has changed over the years. The shouters need to be ignored, ignored, ignored, both on blogs and in real life.

Posted by: Ezzie | Nov 20, 2006 4:48:51 PM

Ezzie... When I spoke about the shouters/decision makers I was referring to the political leadership of the country, not bloggers. Have you ever witnessed a session of the Knesset? eye-opening, to say the least. A bunch of playground bullies trying to shout each other down is the way a friend once described it.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 20, 2006 4:58:45 PM


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | Nov 21, 2006 10:57:01 AM

David - Yes, I have. It's a true shame. Of course, in the US, they just don't bother to show up in the first place. I'm not sure which is worse.

At least in Israel, there's somewhat of a movement to revamp the way MKs are voted in. The problem is, people don't seem to act on it when it comes to actually voting (likely because there's usually a dire need to vote a certain way in elections). If they could just get one or two elections that were about something other than war/peace, perhaps it could change...

Posted by: Ezzie | Nov 21, 2006 6:37:22 PM

OU Kashrut ALERT!

Oops, the OU is at it again. Once again they certified an unfit item as Kosher, this time its Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

To let the OU know how you feel about this latest Kashrut fiasco you can contact them at the eMail addresses and phone numbers below.

OU Contacts
Information contact:
Frank Buchweitz
E-mail: [email protected]
(212) 613-8188

Registration contact:
Miriam Ganz
E-mail: [email protected]
(212) 613-8198

IPA Washington
(202) 513-6484 Fax: (202) 289-8936

(212) 613-8124 Fax: (212) 564-9058
E-mail: [email protected]

(02) 5667787 Fax: (02) 5617432
E-mail: [email protected]

Outrage Against OU Decision to Honor Ehud Olmert
12:17 Nov 21, '06 / 30 Cheshvan 5767

(IsraelNN.com) Protesters, including religious Jewish immigrants from North America who were evicted from their homes during the Disengagement and wounded by police brutality at Amona, will protest the Orthodox Union’s decision to honor Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at their annual convention in Jerusalem.

A protest rally under the banner "Hey OU - Olmert isn't kosher" will take place outside the convention. “I find it hard to comprehend why a Torah organization would want to invite a person who has practically declared war on the National Religious camp in Israel,” protester Steve Schwartz wrote to the organization. “Your organization's actions are a slap in the face to your fellow religious Jews in Israel.”

The protest will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday outside Jerusalem’s Renaissance Hotel during the time Olmert is scheduled to address members of the large Orthodox organization. For information call (052) 842-1203

Posted by: OU Kashrut ALERT! | Nov 21, 2006 10:03:35 PM

Well said. Except...

"Almost everything I see wrong with the world...can be traced to this juvenile (and essentially lazy), practice of vilifying and attacking whoever/whatever is perceived as standing in the way of your goal rather than carefully laying out your agenda for honest evaluation. "

Paris Hilton?

Posted by: mcaryeh | Nov 28, 2006 7:05:54 AM

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