Narratives, Facts, Pathologies

Perhaps because this trip is Canadian, there is a lot of emphasis on “perspectives”. Everyone’s understanding is just their “perspective” and no one’s perspective is true and no one’s is false.

I love the idea of a “perspective”, because I think it’s an incredibly powerful way to talk about a piece of understanding. According to Nietzsche, perspectives are values, and preservation-enhancement conditions of will to power. In other words, perspectives are the transcendental condition for engagement in the world, and with other people, within motivational frames by which the world is shown up and dealt with by us.

But, I don’t think perspectives are all of equal worth. I think perspectives engage with other perspectives – they meet each other, and affect each other, transform each other. Because perspectives are values, I think they are essentially something moral. Our perspective on a situation is at the same time our moral stance towards it, which includes at the most basic level whether it is a situation which demands our attention or not. It’s great to have an open mind – but that means being open to transforming one’s perspective in relation to other perspectives which challenge us. I don’t believe “having an open mind” means not having a perspective, not having a take, a grip on things. It means that your grip isn’t so tightly wound that you can’t hear when it is being put into question. I think when your grip because this tightly wound, this is a form of pathology.

Pathological narratives are narratives which frame the situation we are in in a way that is so inadequate to the reality of the situation that we are forced into a series of ever-complicating lies in order to keep out the criticism which might otherwise force us to change our narrative.

Today I encountered two aspects of personal narratives which feel pathological. One was when talking to a Rabbi who works for Rabbis for Human Rights, when he said that the terrorism of the Irgun was justified by the manner in which the British were preventing unlimited migration of Jews to Palestine. The other was talking to an Israeli soldier who told me that the ethnic cleansing of palestine never happened.

Whether and why these beliefs are signs of pathological narratives is something I could only say with much more investigation. But I am already getting the strong sense that “conflict” (problematic term – better “sustained oppression”) is actually maintained through these and other lies. And I don’t mean lies in the “factual” sense, although that too – what I mean is that they are/might be lies in the sense that people who hold them are forced to close themselves off from reality in order to maintain faith in them.

One way people maintain faith in their lies is through the idea of multiplicities of perspectives. This is also a great way to make a situation more complex than it is – just assert the situation “is complicated”, and you’ve removed yourself from responsibility for anything you might have thought you could do. Of course you can’t do anything; the situation is complicated.

On the other hand, I don’t want to paint the people I met today as wholly gripped by their narrative to the point where they were impossible to engage with. Both the Zionist Rabbi and the Zionist militant expressed doubt – the rabbi at the idea that the situation is a “conflict” rather than “colonization”, and the soldier at what he thought of refusenicks.


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