Konstantin Kisin’s Delusions Are On Life Support

An October 22 article by Konstantin Kisin at The Free Press — a publication founded by Bari Weiss, a pony whose one trick is anti-“woke” culture war theatrics — immediately went viral. Its popularity on the Right is suggested by the fact that its title, “The Day the Delusions Died,” trended on Twitter the following day. Kisin begins with the old cliché about conservatives as “liberals who’ve been mugged”: “A friend of mine joked that she woke up on October 7 as a liberal and went to bed that evening as a 65-year-old conservative.” 

Having started with a cliche, Kisin goes on to explain his liberal friend’s conversion to conservatism by reference to right-wingers’ favorite embodiment of pseudo-gravitas and source of faux profound bromides since William F. Buckley died, Thomas Sowell. Specifically, he cites an evergreen theme of the right: “human nature.”

You see, Kirin says, we disagree about politics because we disagree about human nature. 

Those with “unconstrained vision” think that humans are malleable and can be perfected. They believe that social ills and evils can be overcome through collective action that encourages humans to behave better. To subscribers of this view, poverty, crime, inequality, and war are not inevitable. Rather, they are puzzles that can be solved…. This worldview is the foundation of the progressive mindset.

By contrast, those who see the world through a “constrained vision” lens believe that human nature is a universal constant. No amount of social engineering can change the sober reality of human self-interest, or the fact that human empathy and social resources are necessarily scarce….

Hamas’s barbarism — and the explanations and celebrations throughout the West that followed their orgy of violence — have forced an overnight exodus from the “unconstrained” camp into the “constrained” one. 

Many people woke up on October 7 sympathetic to parts of woke ideology and went to bed that evening questioning how they had signed on to a worldview that had nothing to say about the mass rape and murder of innocent people by terrorists.

Kisin illustrates Sowell’s distinction with reference to immigration, stressing progressives’ belief that Western countries could absorb unlimited waves of immigration without suffering social or cultural harm. Instead, Western populations have run up against the reality that immigrants from non-Western societies bring all kinds of nastiness like crime and terrorism: “we have no idea whether the people coming are 80-year-old Armenian retirees or jihadi terrorists plotting another 9/11.”

The terror attack by Hamas has driven home, for many “formerly deluded” leftists, the home truths that Western civilization is the source of “some of the most stunning scientific, technological, social, and cultural breakthroughs in human history, America and her allies are “the only places in the world” where liberal and progressive values “are even considered values,” and the West stands as a bulwark against “chaos and barbarism.” 

Kisin’s article might impress people with little to no knowledge either of actual history or of their own societies. But in reality it amounts to little more than a statement of his own unexamined delusions of his own. And despite their appeal to the ignorant, they don’t stand up under scrutiny.

Let’s start with the inconvenient — for Kisin — fact that violent crime rates among undocumented immigrants are half those of native-born U.S. citizens. And despite conservatives’ dog-whistles about crime rates in Democrat-controlled “urban areas,” predominantly white rural areas experience astronomical rates of violent crime. Even with large “Blue” cities removed, the gap in violent crime between Red and Blue states persisted. The top 20 counties, for rates of gun violence, are all in the rural South.

States of the former Confederacy have a high rate of violent crime going back to the 19th century, in large part because of cultural values inculcated in the white population. As Jeff Asher, Ben Horwitz and Toni Monkovic write,

A New York Times article in 1998 pointed to “a divergence that has persisted for as long as records have been kept” in which “the former slaveholding states of the old Confederacy all rank in the top 20 states for murder, led by Louisiana, with a rate of 17.5 murders per 100,000 people in 1996.”

A study of judicial records from 1800 to 1860 found that the murder rate in South Carolina was four times higher than in Massachusetts. More than a century later, in 1996, the ratio was similar. And in 2018, the murder rate was 7.7 per 100,000 in South Carolina and 2.0 in Massachusetts — again, about four times higher.

In the 1800s, the South tended to have more “frontier justice,” in which people took the law into their own hands, as well as more “honor justice,” in which signs of disrespect could advance to fatal encounters like duels.

The combination of Second Great Awakening religion, an environment of settlers and slave patrols, and the Scots-Irish “culture of honor” have, between them, left a toxic legacy. I know it’s hard to believe that glowering white men in Oakleys, with Punisher and Molon Labe stickers plastered on the back windows of their oversize penis-substitute pickups, might be disproportionately prone to senseless, irrational violence — but here we are.

Kisin’s idealized vision of the culturally advanced West and Israel, and their unique respect for the sanctity of human life, also doesn’t stand up to the actual history of Israeli terrorism. The founding act of Israel was the Nakba, in which, Mohammed Haddad writes,  “Zionist military forces expelled at least 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands and captured 78 percent of historic Palestine.” 

Between 1947 and 1949, Zionist military forces attacked major Palestinian cities and destroyed some 530 villages. About 15,000 Palestinians were killed in a series of mass atrocities, including dozens of massacres.

On April 9, 1948, Zionist forces committed one of the most infamous massacres of the war in the village of Deir Yassin on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. More than 110 men, women and children were killed by members of the pre-Israeli-state Irgun and Stern Gang Zionist militias.

For an antidote to all the high-sounding Israeli rhetoric about “standing against barbarism” and “the most moral army in history,” just watch this clip from the independent film Tantura — named for a coastal Palestinian village which was erased in 1948 — in which elderly Israeli veterans of the Nakba confess to their crimes against humanity.

These are crimes of the same kind, and on the same scale, that Milosevic was tried for at the Hague. In particular, the massacres carried out by Zionist militias like Irgun and the Stern gang (e.g. at Deir Yassin) show that Hamas has no special bragging rights on this score.

And lest anyone dismiss this as a regrettable but no longer relevant legacy of the founding era, we should also take note of the terrorist actions of Kahanists and other death squads on the West Bank up to the present day. Consider, for example, attacks by settler terrorists on Palestinian villages in recent years, including one in which a Palestinian baby was burned alive, and subsequent settler celebration of the fact. 

Or consider the genocidal rhetoric in Israel in recent weeks, following the October 7 massacre. Knesset member Ariel Kallner, for example, called for a “Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48.” Israeli President Isaac Herzog denied the distinction between Hamas and any innocent civilians in Gaza, proclaiming the collective liability to punishment of the latter. Amir Weitman, an analyst at the far-right think tank Misgav, has actually written a position paper calling for the “resettlement and final rehabilitation in Egypt of the entire population of Gaza.” The original tweet by Misgav was taken down, but it’s preserved at Internet Archive (English translation here).

Attempts to distinguish the “most moral army in the world” and “the only democracy in the Middle East” from the “human animals” of Hamas are especially disingenuous, given the fact that Israel covertly aided Hamas in its early days in hopes that a fundamentalist challenger to the secular PLO/Fatah would undermine the Palestinian cause and the viability of a two-state solution. And despite his hostile rhetoric for public consumption, Netanyahu’s own relationship with Hamas has been more collaborative than confrontational. 

In fact, the same is true of the West as a whole, on a much larger scale. Contrary to Kisin’s picture of a besieged West standing against an onslaught of unprovoked chaos and barbarism from without, the West has promoted disorder in the Middle East ever since the end of WWI. It started with the division of the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire into British and French mandates at Sykes-Picot, in violation of T.E. Lawrence’s promise of a united Arab state in Greater Syria, and the destabilizing encouragement of large-scale Zionist settlement of Palestine under the Balfour Declaration. The British actively supported the Saud family’s fortunes in Arabia, laying the foundations for the massive expansion of radical Wahhabist (the sect of Al Qaeda and ISIS) ideological and political influence in the decades since. The United States, much like Israel, backed the Muslim Brotherhood as a fundamentalist counter to the secular influence of Nasser and the Baathists. It also fostered the growth of Al Qaeda by destabilizing Afghanistan and aiding the Mujaheddin guerrillas, and then destabilized a secular, non-sectarian state in Iraq (without which the subsequent rise of Al Qaeda Iraq and ISIS would never have happened).

In fact the ethnonationalism fueling so many Middle Eastern conflicts is itself an imported Western ideology. An affinity for one’s own ethnicity, language and culture, and hostility to those perceived as outsiders, is near universal. But the idea that state is a State of the X People, and every People deserves such a state — on a one-to-one basis — is almost entirely a creation of the French Revolution and its aftermath. It was the revolutionary regime of 1789 that elevated the Nation to the status of a deity, defined the particular langue d’oil dialect spoken in the Île-de-France as “French,” the official language of a “French People” which included not only the speakers of countless other langue d’oil dialects, but Provençal, Bretons, and other nationalities. This ideology triggered a wave of similar nationalisms across Europe — including the Zionism of Herzl — and spread to the Arab populations of the Ottoman Empire.

If anyone needs to be schooled on “human nature,” it’s Kisin. Recent events in Israel and Gaza provide some pretty clear lessons on it, which he has failed to learn. If anything, the terrorist attack by Hamas shows that decades of oppression and hopelessness can turn brutalized populations into monsters. In a 2002 interview Palestinian psychiatrist Eyad El Sarraj cited studies, as well as his own clinical experience, showing the correlation between suicide bombing as an adult and traumatic childhood experiences of violence and humiliation at the hands of Israeli occupation authorities.

Let me tell you first that the people who are committing the suicide bombings in this intifada are the children of the first intifada — people who witnessed so much trauma as children. So as they grew up, their own identity merged with the national identity of humiliation and defeat, and they avenge that defeat at both the personal and national levels.

…During the first intifada, studies showed that 55 percent of the children had witnessed their fathers being humiliated or beaten by Israeli soldiers. The psychological impact of this is stunning. The father, normally the authority figure, comes to be seen as somebody who is helpless, who can’t even protect himself — let alone his children. So children became more militant, more violent. People are the products of their environment. Children who have seen so much inhumanity — basically the Israeli occupation policies — inevitably come out with inhuman responses. That’s really how to understand the suicide bombings.

…[S]uicide bombings and all these forms of violence… are only the symptoms, the reaction to this chronic and systematic process of humiliating people in effort to destroy their hope and dignity…. Before I left Gaza this time, one of our child psychiatrists at the clinic told me how some of the children he is treating tell him about how they are passing their time — not with games, but trying to manufacture mortar [sic] — figuring out how they can do it by hand. 

Similarly — as the behavior of Israeli settlers described above shows — acting as oppressors turns people into monsters. The only way anyone who is not a sociopath can endure the psychic strain of being an oppressor is by compartmentalizing their own behavior, and dehumanizing their victims.

Finally, for anyone to pontificate with a straight face about the “progressive” and “liberal” values of the West compared to the “barbarians” of the Global South, considering the scale of the monstrous crimes committed by the West against its subject populations during the years of colonial rule and since. Consider the atrocities committed in the Congo under King Leopold’s rule, and again by Moise Tsombe after independence with Belgian support. Consider the massacres and torture by the British during the Mao Mao uprising in Kenya, or by the French in Algeria. Consider the millions killed by coup regimes and death squads supported by the United States since 1945. And then multiply these many times over.

Ultimately, if we’re looking for revelations about the depravity of “human nature,” we need look no further than Kisin himself, who reveals — albeit inadvertently — the depths to which someone is willing to sink in legitimizing the atrocities of the powerful. 

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