“The decision to feature Seven Jewish Children at Theater J should be judged not on the basis of the play’s content but, rather, on its value in sparking a difficult but necessary conversation within our community. To preclude even the possibility of such a discussion does a disservice not only to public discourse, but also to the very values of rigorous intellectual engagement and civil debate on which our community prides itself.”
“Necessary conversation”. Debate. Discussion. Ends in themselves. De facto positives.
I don’t think so. I think debate is often fetishised to its own detriment and to the detriment of principles we should uphold as uncontroversial.
This weekend I watched Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth‘, a film about climate change and humankind’s collective responsibility to reduce our emissions in order to safeguard our future in general, and most immediately the future of the people of low-lying countries such as Bangladesh.
It seems obvious to me that each of us has a personal responsibility to the environment and should attempt to act accordingly. I have been able to arrange my life to hardly ever fly or drive, not to eat animal, buy to last, buy sustainably, conserve energy and materials, create habitats, and other measures. Other people will take different measures in different proportions. I could do more – the obstacles are to do with lack of support rather than lack of conviction.
But one of the most interesting parts of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ for me was the discussion about manufactured controversy. Of a large sample of 10% of all peer-reviewed research papers on climate change published during the decade up till 2006 (n=928), there was 75% explicit consensus that climate change was anthropogenic – caused by human activity – and none of the remaining 25% disagreed with this consensus position. (A summary of this study is available in Science Magazine.)
The media’s failure to reflect this may well go down in history as the single largest reason why campaigners who are attempting to get us to value professional journalists in a digital age will be met with sad head-shaking. Gore says that 53% of media reports on climate change gave the impression that the the theory of anthropogenic climate change was suspect.
The most generous explanation (and I’ll ignore the others) for this is that the professional media is permeated with the imperative to provide journalistic balance and that this balance is often interpreted as countering strong voices with opposing points of view. In the case of climate change the result is informational bias.
In J-Street’s case, the imperative is something different. This position on Caryl Churchill is a manifestation of an aspect of J-Street that makes me uncomfortable. It’s not the entirety of J-Street – it’s the part which tries to fend off antisemitism with appeasement. “They say there’s a Jewish lobby? Well, we’ll show them a second Jewish lobby which speaks against the one they hate. We’ll be seen to criticise Israel. We’ll be recognised as US patriots. And then they’ll leave us alone”. The pathos is acute.
The result is that Caryl Churchill’s play which casts Jewish parents as the perpetuators of war and mental infirmity is touted as the occasion for a “difficult but necessary conversation”. To me and others it just looks racist.
And being racist, what is there to debate?