The talk of axes (of good, of evil, of civilisation, of chaos) is such a painful mis-characterization of the thing. It is a jargon of political discourse, sure, and a useful emotional catchphrase to whip up support. But it is not useful to the actual understanding of the state of things... it seems to me that it blurs the real elements, on the contrary, into an abstract definition of good and evil.

What is on the table is not good or evil, order or chaos, civilisation or barbarism. It is two different visions of the world, one of which includes (admits, even welcomes) the total annihilation of the other. The global jihad folks dream of the global Caliphate... it is not chaos, nor instability, it is a different civilisation altogether; a world order that has no place for democracy, the rules of statehood as we know them, or international law as we know it. A New Order, does it ring any bells? it should. In particular for any Jew.

But beyond that. This vision of the world has many incarnations, not just within Islam -- this is just the one that is more physically visible and virulent now. Chaos is a very mistaken word for it, because although it may use chaos as a means, chaos is very much not the end. The end is in fact order, a terrible order -- an eternal order, based on the words of a deity as spoken out of the mouth of its priests: no place for anything else. A perfectly ordered world where what does not conform is expunged, expelled, destroyed.

Make no mistake. This is not Islam, not just within Islam. It has been happening in most other religions (it has been a constant current of all major religions probably since the beginning of time, but the circumstances never made it globally pre-eminent before).

It is the drive to create orderly fortresses free of the contamination of the unholy. We have seen it rise in Israel too in the last couple decades, among Jews; the Haredim were content to live in their self-imposed insulation, within their echo chamber, only damaging their own children by denying them knowledge of the outside world; but now they strive to make the whole of Israel Haredi.

It does not matter if this vision of the world aims at complete world domination as it does when grown within Islam or Christianity, or it aims just at establishing fortress-states of purity as it does when grown within Hinduism or Judaism. It does not matter how much the goals are obfuscated by greed, material need, narratives of oppression/liberation, ethnic nationalism, inequalities, and the numberless ploys of other actors who hope to gain advantages from the struggle. It does not matter that the deities are different, because the spirit is one.

And it is this spirit that is the enemy. The enemy of democracy, of the rule of law as we know it, of the rules of statehood as we know them -- of everything that was born of the Enlightenment, born then for the first time in the history of humanity, this precious thing that has been alive for not even 300 years, a widespread and spreading Age of Reason. Modernity, something which I deem worthy of being embraced in spite of all its faults, the Enlightenment of which Haskalah and its child, Zionism, were also born.

Not order and chaos, not civilisation and barbarism. Two opposite and irreconcilable visions of the world.

It will be a long fight yet. Our vision, which does not allow for "by whatever means necessary" may seem weakened by the prohibition to wage violence indiscriminately and by the shame and rebuke that is the consequence when excessive force is applied, or when horrible acts are endorsed. Without this, though, it would cease to be itself. We will have to persevere -- even while watching many of our own, drunken on post-modernism or Cold War propaganda, lionize their own executioners, and others, drunken on dreams of omnipotence, throw more and more desperate people into the arms of the enemy.

Hope cannot die.

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I think a lot of the blame has to go to the Garden of Eden version of human history. (And not just the fundamentalist version; there are plenty of secular belief systems which have descended with modification from the original.) The belief that once upon a time we were living in Paradise (no, it was a bloody, brutal world long before humans ever existed), that we were kicked out of it due to some easily identifiable villain, and if we can only (to use the biblical language) utterly destroy the Evil side, the Good side will live happily ever after. The would-be purifiers have tried to make it work so many times with every version of evildoer imaginable, and not once has it delivered the promised results. So how does that worldview remain so enormously popular? Maybe TRUE "Thou shalt utterly destroy them" has never been tried?

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That worldview remains enormously popular, I believe, after 50 years of searching an answer to that question, because humans (in spite of all the appearances of rebelliousness) love visions of absolute order within which they can feel righteous and be absolved from doubt and choice. And besides, humans have a problem with accepting suffering as part of life (I do not mean the suffering caused by other humans, but death, illness, accidents, natural disasters, loss); it feels unjust; therefore it must have a reason, or at least an end to be hoped for in the future. Whence, the endless dreams of universal salvation through some form of ritual and practice, more or less benign.

It comes I think at least in large part from our need for safety, which is never satisfied even in the most rationally safe conditions (testimony to this, the present victimhood culture). It comes from prehistory, when humans lived in a constant state of mortal danger. But so many of our evolutionary drives push towards this.

And true "Thou shalt utterly destroy them" has been tried, and several times succeeded, but it does not matter. Because different and new "evils" are identified, under other names and different garb, even without any direct filiation from the precedent. Purity is a dream that reincarnates on its own, as it lives at the back of our minds: and if it does not find a ready object to fight, it will create it.

Jonathan Haidt wrote, over a decade ago, a book that sheds light on some of these issues, The Righteous Mind (https://tinyurl.com/q8Kv37gZc).

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Oct 14, 2023·edited Oct 14, 2023

Looking forward to listen to this conversation tomorrow. After being banned permanently from Twitter/X for using irony and finding myself washed ashore on BlueSky, I miss the good people from Persuasion.

I hope you will consider joining this platform, which is still in its early stages with 1.5 mil users. However, there is a calm, constructive atmosphere and I believe a great potential for debates.

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Oct 16, 2023·edited Oct 16, 2023

An excellent conversation. I was shocked and disappointed at the end, though, to hear Yascha Mounk speak with apparent approval and desire for the so-called "one state solution". I believe that we saw this week exactly the implications of that, implications of which, I think, most proponents of the proposition on the far Left are well aware, and which they tacitly endorse. I hate to think that Mr. Mounk makes common cause with them.

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I'm wondering by what moral calculus Israel should be forced to allow Hamas to continue to hold onto and torture its men, women and children, because the cost in Gazan lives of saving them would be too great.

I also wonder, given that it's really the West that holds Israel to standards it never applies to itself, what the West is going to do. Will it continue to keep Hamas afloat with donations while their captives suffer unimaginably?

Also, I understand that you guest is an Israeli leftist. Fine, but it should come with some kind of warning label, given that calling the judicial reform "anti democratic" is a matter of dispute (it's also wrong, but I don't expect you to take my word for it any more than his).

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