Sunlit Water

July 14, 2006

Why Silence Is Golden

Filed under: Culture — by teofilo @ 3:38 pm

This isn’t really a political blog, and I certainly don’t want to wade into the mess that is the Israel/Palestine issue, but the comment thread to this Unfogged post on the recent flare-up contained some discussion of the meta-issue of why people (specifically liberal American bloggers) are so reluctant to talk about it, especially in contrast to the non-stop opining about Iraq, and I’d like to expand a bit on one of my comments there.

The interesting thing about that discussion was that there were two separate explanations being offered for the silence.  Some people, myself included, said that it was not so much that those bloggers didn’t have opinions on the issue, but rather that it’s so contentious and emotional that it’s safer to just stay away.  Others replied that no, many people really don’t have strong opinions, because this isn’t really our mess as Americans (unlike Iraq, which is), and besides, who knows how to fix it and who’s to blame?  These people seem to be largely speaking for themselves, and I admit that their perspective makes a lot of sense and is probably largely the cause of the general avoidance of the issue among American liberals.

My remark about a “religious/cultural divide” refers, of course, to the fact that the people making the “we really don’t care” argument aren’t Jewish, and don’t have any sort of strong personal connection to this issue.  The people who have opinions but keep quiet about them, conversely, are (mostly) Jews, particularly those whose opinions may be out of the Zionist mainstream that dominates American Israel policy.  I’m thinking in particular here of Josh Marshall, Ezra Klein, and (to a lesser extent, since he has done occasional posts that make his views clear) Matthew Yglesias.  I’m sure there are many other bloggers who do the same thing, but these are the ones I read.

For people like this with large audiences but possibly heterodox views on a divisive, emotional issue, it really is a better choice to keep quiet most of the time rather than risk the torrents of angry comments and e-mail that inevitably come no matter what you say.  This current crisis, however, has reached a point where it’s no longer feasible to just keep quiet, so a lot of people who otherwise avoid the issue have been writing interesting but predictably controversial posts that reveal some of their baseline assumptions.

I also prefer to avoid this issue, and I’m definitely not going to go into it now, but I’ll just say that I don’t necessarily agree with all the views in the posts I’ve linked.  It is good to talk about this stuff every once in a while, though, just to see where everybody stands.



  1. Oh. FWIW, I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t care; I was saying that the subject feels so overwhelming and that I care, but I don’t see how my caring makes a bit of difference because the situation seems so hopeless. My reading of your cultural divide was that my not feeling a connection to place makes my caring abstract, rather than personal (which I think is largely true), and also means that I don’t have a foundation to ground my read of the situation on, if that makes sense.

    Comment by bitchphd — July 16, 2006 @ 2:30 am |Reply

  2. Sorry, “we really don’t care” wasn’t a very good way to phrase that; I don’t mean to imply that you folks don’t care about the situation, just that, as you say, it’s rather abstract and difficult to form an opinion about if you’re not personally connected to one of the sides.

    It’s not exactly a connection to place, I don’t think (at least, not for everyone); I’ve never been to Israel and I don’t actually feel a particularly strong connection to it. It’s more a matter of the cultural expectations and biases that you grow up with. Jews are taught to care about Israel deeply and personally, and that tends to heavily influence our read of the issue no matter what opinions we eventually form on it. The same for Arabs with Palestine. For people in neither group, there isn’t that long background of being taught to think and care about the issue on a deeply personal, emotional level.

    That’s what I think, anyway. Others may not agree.

    Comment by teofilo — July 16, 2006 @ 2:46 am |Reply

  3. Yeah, I agree about the personal vs. theoretical caring thing.

    Comment by bitchphd — July 19, 2006 @ 11:40 pm |Reply

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