Saturday, August 2, 2014
The Industrial Revolution and the Rights of Peoples in the Middle East
We are still in the middle of the industrial revolution, although most people think it was something that happened long ago. The world has yet to deal properly with the extreme moral changes brought about by the industrial revolution. I want to discuss part of that here.
Before the industrial revolution, 95% of all people were involved in the production of food. This means that it took just about everyone to produce enough food to keep one's group alive. A year or two of bad climate, poor management of resources or many other things could bring disaster on everyone and utterly destroy a clan, a nation, a religious group. Under these circustances, it was considered universally justified to engage in many hostile acts to keep one's own people alive. If you could only survive by taking food or agricultural land from others, that was considered acceptable. If you needed to see your neighbors die so your own group could live, that was acceptable too. Even slavery could be justified on the grounds that if it is okay to kill you, it's not as bad to just make you a slave.
I would like to point out that what I am describing here is essentially what the Nazis described as the concept of Lebensraum. Hitler's real problem with that is that he was just two hundred years too late. In 1939 there were plenty of ways to provide for your people that did not involve taking the means of livelihood from someone else. He clung to a long-abandoned notion of what it was legitimate for a people to do, forgetting that modern agriculture had been accompanied by modern tanks and guns and planes, and the people on the receiving end of his abuse were not about to put up with it.
All of that changed with the coming of the industrial revolution. We have now reached the point where three or four percent of the population can produce the necessary food that it took everybody to provide just a couple of hundred years ago. There is enough food for everybody, and as a result, the major justification for aggressive war and oppression of other groups, that had existed since the dawn of mankind, has gone out the window. It is not an accident, for example, that the banning of slavery in major industrial countries occurred within decades of the industrial revolution- not just in Western Europe and the United States, but in the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1861, contemporary with the Civil War, or the supplanting of the Tokugawa Shogunate, with its medieval rules about the fixed roles of people, by the Meiji restoration in 1868. In fact, where slavery still exists, it is primarily in non-industrial societies (Northern Africa, parts of the Arab world, Pakistan.)*
Colonialism too was a survival of the pre-industrial revolution notion of right and wrong, consisting as it did in essentially allowing yourself the privilege of taking away someone else's means of production so you could have it. However, the ruling classes of the industrial democracies were so enriched by colonial profits that it took a great deal more time and bloodshed before this too was seen to be illegitimate- most of it passing away in the period from the end of World War I to about 1950. But pass away it did- another inevitable consequence of the industrial revolution- and in today's political morality it is seen as just as illegitimate as slavery.
I mention this because of the recent comparison between the Jews' return to their homeland with the European seizure of the Americas.
Before getting on with my comment, I want, however, to discuss one issue that should be obvious: A principal argument against the very existence of the State of Israel is the claim that it is nothing but an example of colonialism, on a level with the Spanish conquering of Mexico, or the British appropriation of India. This is an incredibly flawed comparison, because it is not colonialism when an ethnic group returns to its homeland. Yes, Muslims, and before them Romans, kept Jews out of Israel for over a thousand years, despite their constant individual attempts to return, but that does not change the fact that Jews are the oldest known inhabitants of the region (the Caananites and Philistines disappeared without a trace, and claims by the current "Palestinians" to be their descendants are simply propaganda) and therefore Jews are returning to Israel, not colonizing it. The long time that Muslims maintained a hostile control over the area has obscured this fact, but a fact it is.
Well, back to my subject: At the time of the English and French seizure of North America, the industrial revolution had not yet begun. The English and the French were doing to the Indian tribes what many of those tribes did without any sense of guilt to each other. We would no longer ever accept this behavior from those who consider themselves to be civilized, but as they say, that was then, this is now.
So now to the truth of what is going on in Israel, seen from today's standpoint. Millions of Jews, with the full approval of the world's governments at the time, have returned to their homeland. Irredentist populations that left Israel were not allowed to return, following principles that had been declared appropriate at the end of World War II, just a couple of years earlier. The response of the surrounding Muslim countries has been an endless succession of attempts to take that land away from the Jews.
Under the above analysis, it should be clear that it is the Arabs, not the Jews who are acting in accord with pre-industrial revolution notions of acceptable behavior- using violence to take land away from the indigenous population. To justify this behavior, the two great myths of Palestine were created: first that the "Palestinians" were a recognizable ethnic group whose homeland happened to coincide exactly with the current State of Israel, and second that the Jews, in returning to their homeland, were committing a colonialist abomination on a supposedly homogeneous indigenous population. Stripping away these falsehoods, we see things as they are: Jews are the real "Palestinians-" the people with a true connection to their homeland, and they have a perfect right to live there in peace. Until the Arabs in the surrounding countries agree to this there will never be peace; in fact this agreement is both the necessary and only condition to make peace possible.
* I suppose I need hardly note that these societies in which slavery still exists are almost entirely Muslim. Make what you will of that fact.