On Culture, Identity, Art and the Election
A Peripatetic Personal Essay On Diverse Topics Including, But Not Limited To, Barack Obama, 3rd Wave Identity Politics, Contemporary Art And My Life Among the Jews
[this is kind of a massive essay trying to pull together numerous strands of thought. You can read the rest of it after the jump or download a PDF of it HERE.]
I. Hybridity, Identity, Consciousness and the Election
The process of reading is complicated. Think about it – first you have to understand the idea of letters. Each shape (letter) is a visual representation of a sound, a collection of shapes creates a sequence of sounds that, when spoken, form a word. The word is a symbol representing something that may or may not exist in physical reality. Sequences of words strung together create sentences that imply relationships between the ideas/objects that that words represent. We must engage with the written word, glean its agreed-upon meaning, parse that meaning cognitively, combine it with our experience and knowledge, interpret it and then bring that interpretation back into the world. Far out.
What a profound shift it must have been to move from an oral to a written culture! How did people adapt to this mediation of experience through symbols? Reading is a solitary activity. Where once all stories, knowledge and experiences were transmitted verbally from person to person, now they are written down to be interpreted in silent dialogue between reader and page. It is an entirely different way of being in and experiencing the world. On the one hand written culture is mediated and removes us from direct experience, on the other hand it allows for abstraction and the development of a more complicated and intricate form of intelligence. Writing also creates an external form of memory, thus changing our experience of history and time.
In 1994 I recorded a spoken word piece called “Paranoid Lunchbox” in which I said of the Internet: “We are being transformed” – and so we are. The information age ushered in by the Internet is changing the way we are in the world. From mash-ups to sampling, to the multiplicity of cable channels to iPods to YouTube, the cut-and-past aesthetic of early modernism has become the lingua franca of our daily life. We live in a state of de-contextualization, cognitive dissonance and juxtaposition – both intentional and accidental. People in this new global society – even whole populations – traverse geography with unprecedented ease of mobility. Whether they are migrant workers or high-end financiers they move around the world bringing their culture, religion, styles, attitudes, traditions and beliefs with them. And if these cultural “memes” aren’t transmitted through physical proximity, they are transmitted via networked media as information. Never before have so many people been so mobile and so connected, around the world, at all times.
Just ten years ago one could barely have imagined where we have come. We are being transformed and it is truly astonishing – we are at a historic moment as profound and significant as the shift from oral to written culture. And while to many of us it seems natural and almost ludicrously self-evident to use the terms hybrid, multimedia, platform-agnostic, integrated, on-demand and intercultural to describe this continually evolving and emerging new reality, there are many who are frightened by it, who fear change, who fear the implications of personal agency, who would drag us back to the Dark Ages of tribalism, sectarianism, religious fundamentalism and oppression.
Some of us believe in human perfectibility, that the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom is part of an eternal endeavor to better the condition of all mankind, to bring about a more just, compassionate, wise, abundant and peaceful world. The impossibility of creating a Utopian society does not negate the value of striving for it.
Others believe that mankind lives in a state of sin, that Judgment Day and The Rapture are nigh, they enthusiastically embrace an apocalyptic eschatology in which every current ill of the world is celebrated as a prelude to The End Times.
To quote the old folk song, “Which side are you on?”
This is the choice we are presented with in the upcoming election. It is beyond politics, it is about a paradigm shift, it is about embracing the future or fighting against it and, simply put, Barack Obama is the future.
He not only symbolizes the new world, he embodies it. People have said he is “post-race” – he’s not. He isn’t post-racial or beyond race – he hasn’t made race “irrelevant” at all. Just by virtue of existing in the public sphere he has forced the conversation to change by refusing to accept external contextualization. Barack Obama embodies a mode of hybrid identity that seems self-evident to many young people and terrifies older people who are deeply invested in existing identity frameworks, power structures, xenophobia and the Politics of Fear.
Obama is both black and white, American by birth but Global by lineage and experience, he projects ease and familiarity in mediated spaces and, we are told, is equally comfortable and engaging in person. He comes from modest means but has used education as a vehicle for social mobility, thus combining homespun practicality and grounded-ness with intellect and cosmopolitan sophistication. He simultaneously projects approachability and respect, informality and gravitas – and he constructs his identity on his terms. Most notably, he rejects the victim narrative of 90’s-era Identity Politics and instead represents what I call Third Wave Identity Politics.
Third Wave Identity Politics is marked by hybridity, informed questioning of received traditions and personal agency. Third Wave Identity Politics says that personal identity is a combination of many factors – genetics, environment, inherited culture, acquired culture and choice. We can thoughtfully investigate our inherited culture and adapt it to our liking, comment on it, embrace it and reject it at the same time. The essential self exists beyond these external identifiers – it is our responsibility as moral agents to determine things for oneself and act accordingly.
To many, this idea is threatening. But this hybridity – being both black and white, local and global – is the way today’s young people have always experienced the world – multiracial, multicultural and on-demand. Their identities are not singular, they are hybrid; partially inherited and partially by-choice, young people today have actively constructed their identity almost since pre-adolescence, changing it at will and representing the idea of “self” differently in different contexts. And this attitude now applies to race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and any number of other components of identity.
To acknowledge that the world as we now experience it lacks absolutes and fixedness is not the same as embracing moral relativism. Terrorists are still terrorists; murder is still bad; Justice, as they say, must be served. But embracing hybridity reinforces the responsibility of every individual to question received “truths” and act accordingly.
One often hears conservatives dismiss multiculturalism, peaceful co-existence, integration and other humanistic philosophies as naïve, “pie in the sky” idealism. These philosophies are anything but idealistic; they are, now more than ever, pragmatic responses to reality. We live in a complicated world where economics, mobility, media and information bring disparate cultures, religions, traditions, beliefs, even civilizations, into unexpected and sometimes difficult proximities. This is our world and we have to learn to live together in it. Strict adherence to religious or ideological absolutism predicated on demonizing an “other” will never serve the greater good of mankind.
Never before in my life have I felt with such conviction that a single moment held such profound significance. This moment is not just about America – it is about the history of civilization. The American Experiment is predicated on the ideals of the Enlightenment, it is the culmination of Western Philosophy – and its existence is a testament to faith in progress and human perfectibility. Though we have often faltered, still, until the past eight years, it seemed that we were pursuing those Enlightenment ideals. But after eight years of despotism, irresponsibility and reckless disregard for the well being of society, that great experiment is in danger of failing.
This is an extraordinary moment – it is rare that a global power such as the United States stumbles so spectacularly on the world stage, it is rare that a global economy goes belly-up. In this election the stakes are high – the fate of the nation hangs in the balance. We can choose to affirm the ideals of liberty, freedom and justice for all; pluralism, Democracy, inclusivity possibility and the notion of “From Many, One” – we can embrace the future – or we can choose to continue along the reactionary path of small-mindedness, greed, pre-emptive aggression and decline.
Living in fear perpetuates fear. The problems of our planet’s imperiled ecology, economic disparity, global starvation, drought, financial disasters, epidemic disease and ongoing genocide will not be solved by the tyranny of fear – only by the audacity of hope.
II. Hybridity, Identity, Arts + Culture
The notion that our mode of being in the world is being profoundly transformed influenced my approach to this year’s PRELUDE. As we were planning the 2008 PRELUDE Festival we kept coming up against this idea of context and place – specifically live performance in a museum context. Why did live performance in a museum seem to resonate so much more strongly? Why, culturally, did live performance in a museum context, seem to engender more serious discussion and intellectual discussion – not to mention value in the marketplace. What was it about museums – particularly contemporary museums such as The New Museum, the Walker Art Center or the Wexner Center – that made live performance seem more like Art and less like Entertainment?
This led us to investigate contemporary museum practice to learn how they had changed and why. All roads seemed to lead back to Harold Skramstad’s article “An Agenda for American Museums In the Twenty-First Century” in which he asserted that museums should, “engage actively in the design and delivery of experiences that have the power to inspire and change the way people see the world and the possibility of their own lives.”
Ever the etymology geek, I headed to the dictionary to discover that the origin of the word museum is “a place sacred to the Muses.” I was astonished and delighted – it made so much sense! Contemporary museums embrace and reflect the contemporary experience. The “art” is not necessarily in any one form or even an object – it can be video, live art, sculpture, painting, interactive, digital, installation and sometimes just an idea. It is placed together in unusual juxtapositions, often without extensive explanation. And while a good museum provides the visitor with catalogues, audio guides and other interpretive tools, ultimately we move through these spaces autonomously. We are free to engage with the art as we will, to make our own meaning, to discuss with our peers or a docent, to just “be in the experience.” The art may affirm our existing ideas and beliefs or it may create questions – but the fundamental experience of the contemporary museum is one in which the visitor has personal agency and must take responsibility for comprehending, synthesizing and assimilating the information.
And that is why, to some extent, contemporary performance and avant-garde theater exist so well in the museum context. Cutting-edge live performance and theater strive to reject the conventions of Modern Drama, Psychological Realism and conventional narrative structure. They endeavor to engage us in new and different ways that, hopefully, reflect the experience of being in the world as it is now. Contemporary performance is often aesthetically hybrid – video, digital art, dance, theater, music, sound design are frequently used simultaneously and in unexpected ways. It is also culturally hybrid. One might see a work from the Western canon radically deconstructed, reinterpreted and interpolated with elements from other cultures and civilizations. Things will happen out of sequence, the language may be elliptical and poetic. It is often highly theoretical and the presentational aesthetic often upends our expectations of the dramatic experience.
Here too, Third Wave Identity Politics comes into play. Playwrights such as Young Jean Lee and Thomas Bradshaw both explore Identity Politics in scathing, satirical and surprising ways. Lee, who is Korean, and Bradshaw, who is Black, both create work that takes the accepted narratives and stereotypes of their respective cultures and rips them apart. They eviscerate the hypocrisy on both sides of the Identity issue – putting the assumptions of both racists and minorities under a microscope and breaking them down.
The experience of watching their work is stunning, surprising and ultimately cathartic. We are both implicated by our own biases and prejudices and empowered to move the dialogue forward away from race or culture, to embrace hybridity and agency in relation to cultural identity. What makes the work innovate is its complexity – it implicates and makes you complicit, even as it entertains and shocks you. Not to add fuel to the now-dying fire, but it was the utter lack of complexity, nuance and innovation that made Ann Liv Young’s recent Bagwell In Me so disappointing. We are in the midst of challenging, sophisticated and profound renegotiations of race and cultural identity; to suggest that applying 80’s-era sensationalist presentational aesthetics to outmoded stereotypes is in some way innovative or challenging is just plain wrong.
The convergence of contemporary museum practice and Third Wave identity politics has led to another fascinating phenomenon – the culturally specific contemporary museum.
In the spring I flew out to California for the opening of the new Daniel Liebeskind-designed Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, a culturally-specific contemporary museum whose opening exhibit is called In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis.
From the museum’s website:
In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis explores the continuing relevance of the story of creation in Genesis Chapter I. For this exhibition, the Museum commissioned new installations by seven significant contemporary artists: Alan Berliner, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Ben Rubin, Matthew Ritchie, Kay Rosen, Shirley Shor, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. These works, ranging from multi-media and sound installations to computer animations, projections, and wall drawings, are presented in a unique dialogue with a compelling array of historical works, some rarely seen in public, and never before seen together. Featured works include: illuminated manuscripts from the Medieval and Renaissance periods; 18th and 19th-century drawings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and William Blake; modern and contemporary works by Auguste Rodin, Marc Chagall, Barnett Newman, Jacob Lawrence, Ann Hamilton, and Tom Marioni. The exhibition is uniquely designed to create a lively dialogue between the new installations by the contemporary artists and the historical representations of the story of creation.
A companion exhibit was a sound installation curated by John Zorn called The Aleph-Bet Project featuring the work of Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Erik Friedlander, David Greenberger, Chris Brown, Z’EV, Terry Riley, Alvin Curran, Christina Kubisch, Marina Rosenfeld, Raz Mesinai, and Jewlia Eisenberg.
Visiting the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco made many of the ideas I’d been wrestling with around art and context tangible in a new way. For the first time I was seeing my own culture (Judaism) as something more than an irrelevant, oppressive received narrative. I was experiencing my Jewish identity in a new way – one in which I had agency, one in which the signposts and symbols of modernity provide access, to the material rather than cognitive dissonance. I felt revitalized, energized and engaged – here was a new way of embracing what had previously been no more than an irrelevant and archaic burden on my identity.
While in San Francisco I attended a panel with the artists of the Genesis exhibit moderated by Robin Cembalest; upon returning to New York I started researching culturally specific contemporary museums only to discover an article of hers in ARTnews where she writes of the challenges faced by the new National Museum of the American Latino.
Like many other culturally specific museums the NMAL is hoping to attract young audiences who, in this day and age, are often too media-savvy and sophisticated to accept simplistic tropes of nationalism or cultural chauvinism. Young people want to be culturally proud and celebrate their heritage, but they don’t want to do it in ways that seem hokey, old-fashioned and unsophisticated. Thus culturally specific museums are embarking on the challenging task of engaging with identity in a contemporary context – not merely as inherited history and customs, but as it is lived.
The article isn’t available online – and I seem to have misplaced my copy of the summer issue ofARTnews – but I urge you to seek it out. Cembalest has obviously given this issue a lot of thought – in April 2008 she moderated a panel called “Re-Envisioning Difference: Notes from the Forefront of Culturally Specific Museums” at Chicago’s Spertus Museum, which like the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is one of a number of Jewish museums attempting to embrace contemporary aesthetics and ideas.
The Spertus Museum was founded at the Spertus Institute in 1968 with a donation of Jewish ceremonial objects from the collection of Maurice Spertus. It was a more-or-less traditional museum of Jewish history and culture until 2008 when they completed the construction of a huge new building and shifted their focus to the contemporary.
The museum’s inaugural exhibition was The New Authentics: Artists of the Post-Jewish Generation. The exhibition brought together many artists for whom “Jewish” is not their primary identity and explored how “associations with Jewish culture intermingle with issues of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, politics, history, and nationality, posing questions, challenging boundaries, and defying easy definition.” This was the context for Cembalest’s “Re-Envisioning Difference” panel, using this exhibit to explore the challenges and the missions of culturally specific art museums in the 21st century.
Shortly thereafter Spertus mounted an exhibit called Imaginary Coordinates which brought the theoretical culture clash between tradition and contemporaneity to a very real confrontation.
Here is the description from the Spertus website:
Imaginary Coordinates is inspired by antique maps of the Holy Land in Spertus’ collection. The exhibition juxtaposes these maps with modern and contemporary maps of this region, all of which assert boundaries. It brings these together with objects of material culture and artworks that question national borders, as a way of charting new spaces, fostering conversation, and imagining new communities.
Imaginary Coordinates is Spertus Museum’s contribution to Chicago’s citywide Festival of Maps. In the year that marks Israel’s 60th anniversary, this exhibition offers a space in which to reflect, debate, and engage in civic dialogue
Which doesn’t sound too controversial until you realize that, essentially, it is showing how and where the Palestinians were displaced.
Of course, not too many people know how controversial the exhibit was (or wasn’t) because after about two weeks (I think) the museum was forced to close the exhibit under pressure from the Chicago Jewish community. Imaginary Coordinates was deemed anti-Israel and politically unacceptable. Ironically art exhibits and dialogues like this one are held openly and often in Israel itself, but the North American Jewish community will not brook any dissent.
So here we have a culturally specific contemporary museum forced to close an exhibit because some of the major communal institutions funding the museum are deeply invested in the dominant narrative of identity and feel existentially threatened by any questioning whatsoever.
Of course nothing is ever that simple. I’ve heard that the situation could have been handled better on all sides. The museum could have done more preparation, education and outreach, they could have chosen a better time to mount the exhibition than during Israel’s 60th Anniversary. The communal institutions could probably have been a little less draconian in their response. But ultimately it is not about right or wrong, either/or – what is instructive here is that the conflict over changing notions of identity, agency and community is real. It permeates every layer of society, everything from economics to culture to politics and beyond. How are we going to negotiate identity and create context in a multicultural, non-contextual world?
III. My Life Among The Jews
What brings me to this investigation of Culturally Specific Contemporary Art and Third Wave Identity Politics is that I am now on standing on the fault line both generationally as I age out of the “desirable demographic” and professionally.
I recently took a position at a Jewish cultural organization, not through any profound personal transformation or religious awakening, but more for health insurance, stability, and the opportunity to work in a good environment with nice people.
But moving into a Jewish cultural environment has been psychologically challenging in fundamental ways. I fled suburbia (and my suburban Jewish ghetto) as soon as I graduated high school, intent on finding an alternative America where I could be free, never to be subjected to the inward-facing, insular, self-centered, fear-based, myopic worldview that comprises so much of the institutional American Jewish experience. So it is ironic, even surreal, to find myself deep in the heart of that which I had tried to escape. Thrust into confrontation with my past – and past selves – I became obsessed with finding a way to intellectually integrate all these ideas and experiences: contemporary museum practice, culturally specific artwork, hybridity and identity, politics and my personal Jewish experience.
Surprisingly – or perhaps not so surprisingly – it was my experience at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco that pulled things together for me. One of the opening exhibits was called “Being Jewish: A Bay Area Portrait” which was a mural of community photos and objects reflecting the diversity of Jewish life in the Bay Area. It was a little bit hokey, but also touching in a way. So I started my tour through the museum thinking about Jewish identity in America and what the alternatives are to the dominant narrative predicated on the monolithic conceptual twin pillars of Israel and the Holocaust.
Then I moved through In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis and the experience deepened considerably.
I played with Alan Berliner’s clever interactive piece “Playing God”, I was entranced by Ben Rubin’s great sound/sculpture installation called “God’s Breath Hovering Over the Waters (His Master’s Voice)”, Shirley Shor’s “The Well” and Trenton Doyle Hancock’s “In the Beginning There Was the End, In the End There Was the Beginning”. The exhibit was so thoughtful and unexpected – a lot of interactive, digitally informed art that brought this ancient text to life in expansive, relevant and immediate ways. I started to think about media, technology, history, text and information. I started thinking about computers and networks – social networks, touring networks, computer networks– when suddenly it all converged in this idea: The Jewish Diaspora as a pre-technological global networked society.
It was like a bolt of lightning! For thousands of years the Jewish people lived in Diaspora – they’re kind of the Original Diaspora People.
According to Wikipedia:
First mention of a Diaspora creation as a result of exile is found in Deuteronomy 28:25 “thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth”, and started to develop from this original sense when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek; the word “Diaspora” then was used to refer to the population of Jews exiled from Israel in 607 BC by the Babylonians, and from Judea in 70 by the Roman Empire. It subsequently came to be used to refer interchangeably, but exclusively to the historical movements of the dispersed ethnic population of Israel, the cultural development of that population, or the population itself.
And here we are in the future, living in a global, networked society; a society where economic and social forces have made Diaspora a common experience – where balancing assimilation and cultural preservation are a part of most people’s lives. Jewish culture embraces hybridity in languages such as Yiddish and Ladino, in music like Klezmer, in cuisine and countless other ways, Jewish culture is a central idea that has morphed and adapted as it has moved around the globe.
I began to wonder what we could extrapolate from the Jewish Diaspora Narrative that would be relevant to today’s global society and how Jewish identity itself could evolve to embrace Diaspora and complexity.
It was not too long ago that Jews were an extraordinarily disenfranchised and oppressed minority. They were forced to live in ghettos, prohibited from owning land, barred from many trades and professions, subject to regular pogroms and generally persecuted, vilified and “other-ized” as a matter of course until the late 19th century. In fact, it was not until 1791 that the Jews were first emancipated in France, 1871 that they were emancipated in Germany and 1917 in Russia!
A not-so-humorous but startlingly relevant footnote:
“There were some Jews nevertheless who feared that if the liberals succeeded in breaking down the impediments to assimilation the existence of the Jewish community would be threatened. Many Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews feared that emancipation would not be in the best interest of Judaism or the Jewish people. They worried that many may perceive legal equality as an opportunity for secession, and that the proliferation of intermarriages could lead to the extinction of Judaism.”
It reminds me of the title of Pamela Sneed’s book of poems, “Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery.”
But anyway – think about it. We’re talking roughly sixty-five years between the Emancipation of the German Jews and the Holocaust. Sixty-five years – not even an entire lifetime – between being recognized as equal human beings and being nearly eradicated from the face of the earth. Imagine if 65 years after the Civil War, in 1930 or so, the United States had attempted to exterminate African-Americans.
So there is an enormous opportunity to look at the Jewish Diaspora narrative and explore how that is relevant in contemporary society as a whole, in the EU with the influx of non-Western cultures, in dealing with prejudice and genocide around the world and in building a tolerant, multicultural, global society. Here are some of the key questions surrounding Jewish Emancipation in the 19th Century:
How could a community-based religion like Judaism fit into a society based on individual rights? How could a religious minority long considered theologically and socially inferior realize equality? How could a religious minority survive and thrive in an increasingly secular society? These issues comprised what would come to be known as “The Jewish Question” in the modern period.
Of course, while this could be an enormously valuable conversation to have, it would require that both Jews and non-Jews alike re-contextualize Jewish identity and experience, move beyond self-interest, anti-Semitism and stereotypes towards a more expansive vision of the Jewish community.
Re-contextualizing Jewish identity in terms of Diaspora creates uncomfortable questions around multiculturalism, assimilation, religion vs. culture, Ashkenazi vs. Sephardic vs. Mizrachi, in addition to all kinds of authenticity and identity issues that challenge the oversimplified narrative of Ancient Israel – Eastern Europe – Germany – Holocaust – America/Israel. What happens when you make Jewish history, religion, culture and identity complicated, nuanced and debatable?
Given the historical persecution of the Jewish people one can understand institutional American Judaism’s reluctance to reject the victim narrative and embrace questioning and hybridity. It is, to no small extent, tribal solidarity and vigilance that have insured the Jews’ survival through the millennia.
In today’s America that intense tribalism is waning except among the Orthodox. As American Jews become more affluent and assimilated, the presence of prejudice and violence seem less palpable. And unlike some other culturally specific minorities, Jews aren’t always readily identifiable by sight; it is easy for Jews to assimilate and just not be Jews anymore. So mainstream Jewish organizations are falling over themselves trying to figure out how to get these assimilated American kids to identify as Jewish, do Jewish things, join the community, marry Jewish and have lots of babies. In Jewish institutional language that is called “continuity.”
If you can’t incur a sense of obligation and you can’t guilt the kids into it and you can’t scare them into it, what do you do? In the wake of several studies (all conducted by the same guy, mind you) – Jewish communal institutions have discovered that culture is an effective access point to Jewish life for young people.
So institutions spend money, time and resources trying various cultural initiatives to engage young people. And what they discover is that – surprise, surprise – young Jewish Americans are mostly multicultural, outward-facing, interdisciplinary, hybrid, inclusive and complicated just like most of the their non-Jewish peers. By supporting “new” culture to reach out and engage unaffiliated young Jews, the institutional world is both revitalizing modern Judaism and inviting questions about identity that they aren’t prepared to answer – hence the Spertus controversy over representations of Israel.
The dominant portrait of Israel that the mainstream American Jewish community would like to convey is outdated and inadequate. While the party line is frequently “Israel Right Or Wrong” – it is an increasingly difficult position to justify and one that even Israelis – especially Israelis – are reluctant to embrace. Americans – Jews and non-Jews alike – have demonstrated a marked aversion to subtlety and nuance. Yet with Israel, as with any complicated geopolitical situation, nuance is required.
Remember that Jews were not emancipated in Germany until 1871. Theodor Herzl, a Viennese journalist and the most recognized figure in early Zionism, wrote his seminal work The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat) in 1896. Herzl was very assimilated, barely Jewish at all in a religious or even cultural sense. But he had been a newspaper correspondent in Paris covering the Dreyfus trial, and was energized by the virulent anti-Semitism he witnessed. He called for the formation of a Jewish nation state as a solution to the Diaspora and to anti-Semitism.
This is, of course, in the context of 19th Century European Nationalism:
“Nationalism was the most successful political force of the 19th century. It emerged from two main sources: the Romantic exaltation of “feeling” and “identity” and the Liberal requirement that a legitimate state be based on a “people” rather than, for example, a dynasty, God, or imperial domination.”
So the drive towards Statehood was both a response to virulent, ongoing persecution and an embrace of the ideals of the day. Prior to Statehood Jews were condemned for being rootless cosmopolitans, untrustworthy because they had no homeland and thus no honor or loyalty. After the Holocaust the need for a Jewish state was inarguable. Of course, the journey from the idealism and promise of 1948 to the modern day has been fraught with mistakes and violence that has led to the Jews being reviled as imperialist aggressors.
The truth, as always, is infinitely more complicated. Israel is an extraordinary country. Like the United States it was built on ideals, by people fleeing persecution, and it continues to attract immigrants from all over the world. It is an incredibly diverse, multicultural country, with all the challenges that entails. But you wouldn’t know it from the startling lack of nuance or understanding on both sides of the debate.
That being said – this is not meant to be a lengthy discourse on Israel but a case study in the evolution of societal organization and philosophies; an illustration of the significant shift that is occurring in societies around the globe and the widening cultural and generational divide.
On one side is tribalism, xenophobia, fear and violence, a desperate attachment to fixedness and the absolute. On the other side is globalism, pluralism, inclusion and hope, a belief in the possibility of peaceful coexistence by acknowledging difference. One side is holding on to the past, the other looking to the future.
No matter what your race, religion, nationality or culture, now is the time to choose – this upcoming election is not just an election, it is a referendum on American society and values, it is a referendum on how we want to be perceived and how we want to behave, what kind of world we want to live in and how we, as Americans, will influence other nations around the globe.
Hybridity is becoming the defining characteristic of human experience and it is being represented in art, culture, philosophy, media and technology. We are moving from a written culture to a visual, interactive culture. Our minds are changing, our relationship to the world around us is changing and our relationships to each other are changing. We are being transformed and we can choose to fight it and accept the worst or we can acknowledge it and work for the best.
It is up to you.