Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

The psychology of tikkun

Tikkun in Hebrew means to mend or heal, and tikkun olam (pronounced tee-koon oh-luhm) means “world repair” or to repair the world. It is the title of one of my valued journal subscriptions, the excellent Tikkun, which just landed in my mail-box (Nov-Dec issue). In traditional Jewish thought, tikkun is achieved through tzedakah (justice and righteousness) and g’milut hasadim (acts of loving kindness), which are wonderful guiding precepts.

As it happens, this November-December issue of Tikkun – a magazine of the progressive Jewish and multi-faith community edited by Rabbi Michael Lerner – marks the 20th anniversary of the magazine. Happy Anniversary and warm congratulations!

Combining progressive politics and spirituality in an innovative fashion, the good people associated with Tikkun have also spawned other important initiatives such as the Network for Spiritual Activists which have aimed to form a crucial counterweight and alternative to the Religious Right in the US and their misuse of religion.

For myself, reading Tikkun–as well as reading other important Jewish writers on the peace, Palestine and Israel question, be they secular Jews or practising–is an important counterweight to the exposure to and participation in valid criticism and condemnation of Israel.

As justified as it is, it is not as if participating in this is somehow a kind of blood-sport I actually enjoy, far from it. I would rather Israel simply stop acting worse than apartheid South Africa (see Chris McGreal for his two-part comparison earlier this year), and grow up. Incidentally, the wonderful Tony Judt has penned a thoughtful short article with only a slight variation on this very title on Israel, well worth a read.

Others, such as Gilad Atzmon, Jacqueline Rose (The Question of Zion, Kathleen Christison and Jostein Gaarder have also sought to explain the communal neurosis by which Israel seems to be afflicted. Yet Israel is far from a typical state and what ails it will require prescriptions that are also far from typical. I’m really wondering whether traditional boycotts will work. It strikes me that a lot of g’milut hasadim may well be required to deal with what amounts to a collective psychosis. As many us well know, when every legitimate criticism and reasonable call for a cessation of its outrageous behaviour is perceived as an attack, interpreted as anti-semitism or just wilfully ignored, we have an unusual challenge on our hands. Normal censure will just not work. In the latest issue of Tikkun, Rabbi Lerner himself conspicuously mentions ‘trauma’ in a comment on this psychological dimension of Israel, with which I may not altogether agree with but think it is worthwhile to consider:

“Israel has the greater power and hence has a greater responsibility to take the first steps toward genuine teshuva (repentance), atonement, and reconciliation. However, Jews remain a traumatised people, unable to see their own moral responsibility because we perceive ourselves to be constantly threatened with repeats of the traumas of the past two thousand years. So what can be done?”

“First”, Lerner continues, “the world has to stop attacking Israel and instead acknowledge unequivocally its responsibility in creating a traumatised subject, the Jewish people. Second, the Palestinian people need to renounce violence, unequivocally and unilaterally. For those of us who are Jews, all we can do is repent, pray for a healing of the Jewish people, and work towards that healing in every way we can.”

Putting to one side my disagreement about renunciation of violence (Palestinian advocates and groups have used creative, non-violent strategies against the armed brutality of the IDF), what was pause for thought for me was this idea, which some of my own Jewish friends would disown, that the Jewish people are a “traumatised subject”. I do not take this to mean individually of course and it applies far less to contemporary Jewish communities outside of Israel. What it does apply to and where this ‘condition’ is amplified into the national consciousness is in Israel where Jews are a collective four-fifths of the self-styled Jewish state.

Does the psychological dimension really need to be explored and understood if this deep-rooted conflict is to be grasped properly? People like Jacqueline Rose, who have written at length on the topic, certainly think so. Others have joined her in engaging psychoanalysis in examining the Israel-Palestine conflict.

For those who may disdain the application of psychological concepts to the study of politics (I certainly do not) or think it represents a patronising assessment of Israel’s bullying behaviour, Israel’s spokespeople are themselves often the first to cry victim and claim this status, whether for political gain or simply because that is how they truly still feel.

By way of allegory, I offer a no-frills assessment from an astute anonymous respondent that is surprisingly resonant.

This perceptive comment recently stood out like a beacon among the usually derisive or all too commonly hateful messages (in themselves quite revealing) appended to articles in the Ha’aretz comments section.

Posted by an Ernst from Amsterdam in response to Amira Hass’ article ‘Can you really not see?’, he writes:

The bully beats up his neighbours because his parents were murdered by their neighbours in another city. He isn’t surprised to see how hated he is. He says to himself: ‘my family has always been hated and will always be hated by all neighbours. I only defend myself against possible new murder attacks against me’, he argues.

As soon as he would realise that his neighbours are like him, people that want to be treated with justice and respect, his problems would be resolved. But he doesn’t want to know this, because knowing this would completely change his world view and his daily life, and the thought of that scares him even more.

Changing ones habits is very difficult, especially for a traumatised person. Only a person that has the complete trust of the traumatised can help him. In this case, the uncle from the US would be the best help for the patient, through the difficult period of self-analysis and self-healing.

The dim voice of his conscience (Hass, Levi) is not enough.”

Notwithstanding my reservations about the collective psychological fitness of the “uncle from the US”, this straightforward comment pretty well sums it up.

Notwithstanding also a tendency to overcompensate for a past personal propensity towards material determinism (its the political economy background) and perhaps a current fetishizing of the psychological factors (!), it is interesting to read about the role of consciousness in conflict and conflict resolution/ transformation, and how the material manifestation of fighting for control of oil only reflects this. On this, I end with a thought-provoking letter in Tikkun written by Peter Gabel, which is worth reproducing in its entirety:

“War is about socially induced paranoia that reciprocates back and forth via imaginary threats to humiliated beings who cannot make authentic contact with one another.

Each person on each ‘side’ is withdrawn into him/herself fearing the anxious ping of rejection and humiliation, then hyper-identifies with an imaginary ‘we’ under threat from an endlessly projected imaginary ‘them’. There is no grounded Thou, just repetition of skidding off into collective flight out of fear of humiliation, on both ‘sides’.

This can lead to a realpolitik ‘need’ to get your hands on the other guy’s oil. That can be a subordinate part of the rotating paranoia, where ‘they’ have the oil and ‘we’ need to keep our self-owned machines going.

But if it were really just about oil, we would adopt a different course–namely, we would seek to calm things down and make peace with the big oil countries, and extend generosity and human recognition toward them, appreciating the human beings there in their true humanity, in which case they would share the oil with us. They would! (Yes, via the market at present, but so what).

So its not about oil. Its about the fear of humiliation and the attendant pathologies that come from fear, not as a mere psychological matter, but as a legacy of a profound collective, mutually enforcing isolation.

When the Left keeps repeating that it’s all about oil, it participates in the schizophrenia which treats the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld types as craven materialist robots, instead of leaders of a disposition, a frightened way of relating to the world.

Instead of kicking the Bush administration out of office and replacing it with correct geo-political robots whom we would approve of who would, say, recognise the sovereignty of oil-producing countries, we must heal the distorted human consciousness that produces it by thawing out the paranoid dynamic I describe with love, authenticity and an appeal to the spontaneous desire within social space to recover from the bad dream of paranoid existence and actually Be Here Now with the other beautiful human beings on the planet.”


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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"