THE GENERAL JEWISH PERSPECTIVE
I believe the 21st century can be the century in which one’s Jewishness will no longer be a burden or barrier, or constitute a sacrifice. The century in which Jewish individuals can realize their human potential without sacrificing Jewish ambitions and realize their Jewish potential without sacrificing human ambitions. I believe that no other people on earth is better prepared by virtue of education, temperament and proven historical adaptability to face the challenges of the space age and globalization. Two thousand years of travail have prepared the Jews for these challenges.
Globalization has transformed the Jewish People from underdogs into favorites. But to fully benefit from this new situation we must stop fetishizing our past. Classical Zionism sought to use the past as an inspiration to build a better future. Yet in recent years much of Jewish life has been characterized by the desire to sacrifice the future in order to rebuild the past.
We seem to be incapable of properly analyzing world trends and their possible influence on our future. There seems to be a collective refusal to recognize that present technological and political developments are going to impact us in the 21st century. Many of the problems that agitate Israel and World Jewry derive from our inability to reevaluate our circumstances in conjunction with world developments. Israel, especially, appears to be out of sync with the political and moral evolution of the democratic developed world it so wishes to be a part of.
The task of the futurist is not to predict, but to try to envision achievable desirable futures and to formulate strategies by which we might achieve such futures. We are not speaking about deterministic or inevitable futures but rather about desirable futures determined by us. The task of the Jewish futurist is to state two self-evident truths: 1) the Jews are part of world developments whether they like it or not and that 2) the future is more important than the past. We cannot live in the past but we will either live or die in the future. We cannot change the past but we can create a better future.
David Ben-Gurion once remarked that the past 1,000 years of Jewish history were important but that the next 1,000 years are more important. In other words, the past – its glories and its sufferings – can never be anything but an inspiration for our future. If we make it anything else, if we make it an idol to be worshipped, we threaten our very survival and by doing so betray those past generations we claim to celebrate and respect.
This obligates us to ask relevant questions. For example, how is technology likely to affect the social, economic, political, spiritual and Zionist development of Israel and the Jewish People? How social developments are likely to affect technological developments and what opportunities and hazards does this present to Israel and the Jewish People? What are the likely ramifications of the new global economy in general and for the Jewish People in particular? How are global political developments likely to affect the long term planning and policy making of Israeli and Jewish organizations? And how are internal developments within the Jewish world likely to affect the character of world Jewry? I stress the word likely since room must be created in our thinking for “wildcard events”: unexpected and unanticipated events such as the attack on the Twin Towers and the subsequent "war on terror". More specific issues include Israel becoming the world's largest Jewish community and the continuing growth of hostile Moslem populations in Europe and North America.
Progressive countries and companies around the world have made futurism and anticipatory thinking a systematic part of their planning. Ongoing educational projects within organizations are dedicated to developing futurist habits of thought. Researching the future implications of current developments and intuiting possible future developments engage thousands of the best minds around the world. Creating scenarios of possible alternative futures and conducting simulations of how to behave as we engage the future are part and parcel of the long term planning of any organization worthy of its name.
In light of all this it is remarkable that the organized Jewish world has not actively adopted the mechanisms and methodologies of these new developments. It is doubly remarkable since so many Jewish individuals are prominent futurists, since Zionism is the quintessential futurist ideology and since some historians attribute the very invention of the concept of the future to the Jewish worldview – a worldview that describes a God who is the maker of the entire universe, acting within history to create a better human and cosmic future – a view that makes the prophets proto-futurists.
Futurist thinking differs from long term planning. The planner discerns demographic trends and suggests building more old age homes or creating more gerontological services for an aging Jewish community. The futurist asks what will be the implications of the Jews becoming the oldest ethnic group in the United States: how will this affect Jewish political power over the next decades? How will it affect support for Israel? What will it mean culturally, psychologically and spiritually when Israel becomes the largest Jewish community in the world? What will be the political status of world Jewry when the Moslem population of the United States surpasses the Jewish population and becomes increasingly organized and wealthier?
Ironically, the greater the success of past methods of problem solving and habits of thought the greater the difficulty in envisaging alternative futures. We educate our children about our horrific past but do not provide them with tools with which they can envisage themselves in a more hopeful and optimistic future. We have hundreds of Holocaust museums and monuments and less than a handful of frameworks that deal with the Jewish future – frameworks that few Jewish policy makers are even aware of. Consequently many of our young people today are often filled with foreboding and ever declining levels of Jewish ambitions.
People who address the future through a spiritual filter of despair, pessimism and hopelessness will almost certainly create a future of despair, pessimism and hopelessness. People who acquire the tools and the habits of thought that enable them to envisage alternative futures of hope and fulfillment will become optimists possessing creative energy and belief in the value of their efforts. They will thus have a better chance to create a better future. It is a simple rule: pessimists create negative environments and optimists create positive environments. In popular terminology it is called “the power of positive thinking” and while denigrated by haughty intellectuals we all know it is true.
This leads us to a specifically Jewish problem: “The Nation That Dwells Alone” syndrome. The populist and ignorant misuse of this biblical phrase has caused the Jews no end of mischief. Its application in Israel’s present political and economic situation could be a recipe for disaster.
The Jews have an ancient tradition of dividing the universe into two parts. There are four hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone and hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe and we divided all this into "Jews and Goyim”. In Israel we have carried this even further. We have created a new geography. The planet earth is divided into the Land of Israel and outside the Land of Israel (“Ha’aretz” and “Hotz l’Aretz”). Some years ago my six year old son asked me if Brazil was in “Ha’aretz” or “Hotz l’Aretz”. This would be amusing if not for the fact that these geographical concepts seem to be held by senior Israeli policy makers who talk about the world and Israel as if they were two separate places and Israel was not part of the world. In recent years we have created a new division: Israel and the Jewish World. On the one hand is Israel and on the other hand is the Jewish World.
As dismayingly déclassé as it may seem, we must recognize that the Jews are part of the universe. If a star super-novas within one thousand light years from our solar system the Jews will die also, not only the “Goyim”. Israel is part of the planet Earth. If the hole in the ozone had continued to widen we would have solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forever. And if wind patterns had been different when Chernobyl exploded Israel would not have had an agricultural sector for the subsequent fifty years.
Israelis are also part of the Jewish People. The aspirations, ambitions and dreams of the young modern Jew from Tel Aviv, Degania or Dimona are not substantively different from the aspirations, ambitions and dreams of the young modern Jew from New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, London or Paris. Even the younger generations of Israel’s non-Jewish minorities have begun to develop the same aspirations and ambitions as their Jewish counterparts. If we do not recognize and understand the essential similarity between young Israelis and Diaspora Jews we will not be able to build a social, economic and Zionist policy that rationally addresses the problems, challenges and opportunities of modern Jewry, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora.
We must recognize and acknowledge that the individual Jewish human being is the center and focus of our concerns, that the individual is a finite, one-time entity compelled to fill his or her life with meaning within an infinite universe. If we do not recognize this we will continue to alienate growing numbers of young Jews, who will not perceive spiritual added-value in being Jewish. Young Jews will see no reason to cultivate Jewish ambitions and this period will be seen by history to have been the last sad chapter of the Jewish historical drama.
In all my work about the Jewish people I attempt to answer two questions: 1) what means and habits of thought must the Jewish People cultivate in order to guarantee their survival and 2) why should a young non-orthodox university trained Jew even be concerned about remaining Jewish? These two questions are intertwined one with the other and constitute the two major components of a strategy of meaningful Jewish survival. Survival depends on power: physical, intellectual and spiritual. For human beings in general and Jews in particular, physical and spiritual survival cannot be separated. If the physical body of the Jewish People does not survive then it goes without saying that the spirit of the Jewish People cannot survive. Alternatively, if the spiritual energy of the Jewish People cannot be developed in a manner conducive to the needs and interests of the young, non-orthodox, university trained Jew, then the Jewish body will not be able to create and sustain the energy it requires to survive.
The Jews have never accepted the Platonic/Cartesian dualism of body and spirit that has characterized Christianity. The Jews do not deny the body or separate spirit from body or place the spirit on a higher plane than the body. For the Jew, spirit and body are not two distinct entities. They are, rather, two aspects of one being – the human being. The Jew says, “If there is no bread there is no Torah”. In other words if there is no body there is no spirit.
If rationality is what separates the human from the animal and constitutes the primary tool of human survival, it cannot be contrasted to spirituality. Spirituality is not by its nature irrational, as much of New Age mysticism would have us believe. It may be non-rational but for the Jew it can never be anti-rational. For if there is no Torah without bread and if we can only obtain bread by the rational application of our minds, then there can never be Torah (spirituality) without rationality as the primary principle of our society, and of the individuals that compose it. The analytical method employed in Talmudic study is rational at its base.
The very term spirituality may be problematic. Jews have been forced to use Greek/Christian terminology, which may not be suitable to the Jewish worldview; as a consequence of being a minority culture subsumed in a Greek based Christian culture.
For the Jews to survive as human beings they must conform to the rules of survival of all human beings within the context of the particular historical socio/economic reality in which they exist. For the Jews to survive, as Jews, there must be a serious physical/intellectual/spiritual added value for the modern Jewish individual, in return for the added effort it takes to remain Jewish. In other words, the physical and spiritual options of the individual Jewish human being must be increased as a result of his or her Jewish identification.
But neither Jewish added value nor Jewish survival can be achieved in contravention of the rules of human behavior as these manifest themselves in the 21stcentury. On the contrary, the Jews must conduct their struggle within strict conformity to the economic, technological, social and political norms of the modern democratic post-industrial reality. But conformity is not enough, else why be Jewish at all? Jewish identity must add new dimensions to one’s humanity if it is to promote Jewish ambitions amongst our young, non-orthodox, university trained Jews. A Judaism that requires one to subtract dimensions of one’s humanity in order to remain Jewish will not encourage these Jewish ambitions; it will encourage assimilation.
Consequently, a Space Age Jewish civilization must be based, first and foremost, on the optimal self-fulfillment and self-realization of the individual. It cannot be based on the self-sacrifice of the individual. In the Space Age no society can long survive, let alone flourish, if it bases itself on the self-immolation of the individuals that comprise it, since every society is but a reflection of the collective self-fulfillment of the individuals that comprise it.
Not only are individual human rights an inherent value in themselves, pertaining to the very nature of the human being as a human being, they are now a utilitarian necessity for the collective survival of society as a whole. The tremendous real time changes and human skill requirements of the global space age society require the optimal empowerment of the individual and the optimal encouragement of the individual’s rationality in order to enable him or her to make their optimal contribution to society. In the space age individual egoism is a societal virtue and individual self-sacrifice is a societal sin. That is why I began with the individual and built everything else on the bedrock of what the individual rational human being needs. When we speak about the future of the Jewish People we must first begin with the Jewish individual.
- The Individual is King: this was the central principle of revisionist Zionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky. His Labor Zionist counterpart Berl Katzenelson, defined Socialism as the upliftment of man, and advocated individual self realization. Neither referred to the Platonic ideal of the human being but rather to the concrete real human being. Many 19th and 20th century ideologies have sacrificed the concrete human being in favor of the abstract idea of the human being. The experience of Communism has demonstrated that this approach is a recipe for disaster. Communism sacrificed millions of real human beings in the service of an unsubstantiated, abstract, concept of an ideal humanity. This must be a cautionary warning for future social commentators.
- The Community: No human being is an island. No one can live alone and certainly no one can fulfill their individual capacities and give meaning to their lives in isolation. We live in communities. What kind of communal frameworks and communities do we need to enable us to realize our capacities and give fulfillment to our lives? In Israel the Kibbutz was to have been the proper answer to this question. But its own Platonic problem was its undoing, as it pursued an unsubstantiated kibbutz ideal instead of asking what real live individual kibbutzniks required in order to realize their human potential.
- The Economy: No community dwells alone. It survives within an economic framework. What kind of economy is capable of sustaining the kind of community that would enable us to realize our capacities? It would be a dynamic, innovative, productive, profitable economy with an ever-growing number of options reflecting the striking opportunities of human potential within the new global reality. A sluggish, undynamic, unprofitable, unproductive economy hostile to the new global reality and limiting our options will not suffice. An economy can be super efficient and because of its social ideology still tolerate immoral social situations such as: inequality before the law, racial discrimination and grinding poverty. But an inefficient economy can never sustain, over the long term, a moral society no matter what the abstracted, idealized, “moral” intent of its social ideology. In such a situation the declared social values become objects of contempt and cynicism and produce a social reality opposite to what was intended.
- The Society: No economy survives in isolation; it is subsumed within a more general social reality. What kind of society do we require which would enable us to sustain the kind of economy we need without selling ourselves to economic considerations only? I have never agreed with either Adam Smith or Karl Marx that human beings are motivated solely by economic values. The human being is also economic and motivated greatly by economic values and any social ideology that ignores this and does not enable and encourage a dynamic economy is guaranteed to fail. For the individual will strive to realize him or herself no matter what and a dynamic modern economy is necessary for this. In this I oppose the new anti-modernists as represented by the fundamentalist Greens, who express the wish to return humanity to a pre-technological reality.
- The Culture: Humans are primarily cultural and symbolic. We are psychological animals motivated by the abstract as much if not more than by the material. Unless we understand this we cannot understand the political history of the past several decades. How was it for example that Reagan won 60% of the vote when close to 60% of the voters, in poll after poll, supported social policies which reflected the Democratic national platform? How was the Thatcher phenomenon possible when 70% of the English public still identified themselves as working class at the height of the Thatcher era? The answer is that both Reagan and Thatcher conquered the national symbols, the prisms through which each people saw its own identity. Reagan co-opted patriotism and religiosity and projected a friendly humane humor, the quintessential American. Mrs. Thatcher, the iron lady, projected an image of a world role and values that apparently many post-imperial English were nostalgic for. In addition she played the petit bourgeois character of the English working class for all it was worth when she all but gave away council flats to their tenants thereby satisfying the “my home is my castle” creed of most Englishmen. You cannot understand “Solidarity” all but destroying the Polish economy and lowering living standards, in order to make Poland ungovernable by the communists, the army or anyone else that did not reflect the will of the Polish people to achieve national independence and freedom. The first Palestinian “Intifada” lowered living standards by 50% for abstractions such as national independence and sovereignty. And Israeli politics has reflected the American reality for the past three decades; a majority vote for “Likud” led governments while in the polls a majority support “Labor” policies. The reason? The “Likud” has conquered the national symbols. If culture forms the basis of both society and economy then what cultural values and symbols are required to sustain the economy and society we need in order to fulfill ourselves as human beings?
- The Country: What kind of country do we need? We need a country that creates human added value within the context of the global reality of the 21st
- The World: What kind of world do we need and what are to be our relationships to that world: of our community, our economy, our society, our culture and our country? For no country or nation dwells alone, it never has, it does not now, and given the new global reality, it certainly never will.
This is my intellectual framework when writing about any issue.