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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Better or Worse: Politics and Conceptions of Change

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

All politics are the politics of the future. The one cause that we all champion, regardless of our political orientation, is the cause of the future. All that we fight for is the ability to shape the future.

The fundamental political question is, “Do you believe things are getting better or worse?” Ruling parties tend to answer, “Better”, opposition parties tend to answer, “Worse”. The deeper answer to that question though lies in our perceptions of the past and the future.

The left tends to view the past negatively and future shock positively. It wants change to disrupt the old order of things in order to make way for a new order. It hews to a progressive understanding of history in which we have been getting better with the advance of time, the march of progress mimics evolution as a means of lifting humanity out of the muck and raising it up on ivory towers of reason through a ceaseless process of change.

The right often views the past positively, it sees change as a destroyer that undermines civilization’s accomplishments and threatens to usher in anarchy. It fights to conserve that which is threatened by the entropic winds of change. The conservative worldview is progressive in its own way, but it is the progress of the established order. It sees progress emerging from the accretion of civilization, rather than from the disruption of revolution.

Where the left tends to be unrealistically optimistic about the future, acting like a child running to the edge and jumping off, without remembering all the bumps and bruises before, the right tends to be pessimistic about the future. It tends to be wary of change because it is all too aware of how dangerous change can be.

Youth who do not understand the value of what is around them rush to the left. As they achieve a sense of worth, of the world around them and of their labors, they drift slowly to the right. Age also brings with it a sense of vulnerability. Knowing how you can be hurt, how fragile the thin skin of the body, the fleshy connections and organs dangling within, brings with it a different view of the world. Once you understand that you can lose and that you will lose, then you also understand how important it is to defend what you have left.

The vital mantra of the left is do something for the sake of doing something. Change for the sake of novelty. Action for the sake of action. This carnival drumbeat loses its appeal when you come to understand how dangerous change can be. Personal history becomes national history becomes personal history again as you live through it. Seeing what a mistake change can be as you watch politicians disgraced, causes revealed as fool’s errands and crusades fall apart, is a great teacher of the folly of change for the sake of change.

Reagan’s question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” is the fundamental challenge of the conservative that asks whether the change was really worth it. It is the question at the heart of the struggle between the right and the left.

Are you better off than you were twenty years ago or forty years ago? It’s an uncomfortable question because it has no simple answer. In some ways we are better off and in some ways we are worse off. Examining the question points us to the sources of the problem. The places where the tree has grown wrong, the branches that have to be pruned so that it may live.

The power of this question is that it challenges the narrative of change. It asks us to examine that most basic premise that change is good. But beyond the narrative tangles of those in power and those out of power, is the larger echo of that question which asks whether the world overall is becoming a better or worse place.

This question has deeper resonances. Is history a wheel or a rocket shooting up to the stars? Are we on an inevitable evolutionary trajectory rising up or are we doomed to repeat dark ages, progress and then dark ages again? Beneath all the speculations and theorizing is the grim question, what becomes of us? Not us individually, but our societies, our nations, our civilizations, our accomplishments and our way of life.

Confronting Auschwitz and Birkenau

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

There was a shift in the paradigm of my life after my experience at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the largest concentration and extermination camps operating during the Holocaust.

The cold, hard facts of the Holocaust are well known, but it is only once you hear a survivor tell you their personal story that it truly strikes you how they now appreciate their lives in a way that not many of us do today; some attribute their survival to God, some to faith, to love, to family, to luck.

We are the most likely the last generation to be able to hear these stories from the survivors of the Holocaust and be able to ask them questions. That is a huge privilege. A privilege which I was able to take part with the ‘Lessons From Auschwitz’ program with the Holocaust Educational Trust.

We had been warned by our team leaders that there was no right or wrong way to feel about the experience, but prior to the trip to Poland in November 2012, some may have had some prior idea as to how they would react – for me, it was numbing, absolutely numbing. Expectations were of misery and sadness; the lessons taught were vital for us as “Holocaust Ambassadors,” but also to absorb and reflect upon as human beings.

In both Auschwitz and Birkenau, the atmosphere was very sombre and we all said little as we walked through the camps, supposedly out of respect, or out of sadness, or shock; there was an almost alien sense of peace, as if the silence that had settled over the camps was still somehow alive, as if the sounds heard all those years ago were still echoing within the brick walls. I’ve never experienced an environment so heavy with sorrow, and it frightened me – it’s almost a warning to us as the new generation about to inherit responsibility of the earth, as it could be seen as a display of the consequences of power being given to the wrong hands.

Such was the melancholy atmosphere. The cold was extraordinary; by the time we had reached the Birkenau camp, the sun had almost set and the bitter cold was starting to seep in through our clothing. We tightened our coats and took the long, mournful walk alongside the train tracks leading into the camp. I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the place; rows and rows of identical empty warehouses. The camp was monstrous and almost mechanical; it had no signs of life, of civilization, just building after empty building. It was difficult to imagine how many men had crossed paths here, young, old, wealthy, poor, doctors, lawyers, laborers, all being given the saddest of all fates.

One of the most startling moments, for me, was one of the very first things we came across; the now iconic “Arbeit Macht Frei” wire sign, which directly translates to “labor makes you free,” referring to the physical labor that the sufferers in the camp were to believe would liberate them. But for the majority of prisoners in the camps, their only liberation was death, many of them dying brutally. One could only imagine the faces of the prisoners who saw this sign and understood their likely fates, or the many young children who could not even imagine what lay ahead.

We learned that very young children were almost always sentenced to death, along with their mothers, to prevent the new generation of Jews from surviving, which was awful to hear; I could not imagine a future so awful in which that could happen, or a man so soulless, who might have even has his own children, that he would give or execute such an order. This impression of this total lack of empathy or compassion on the Nazis’ part was horrifying, because it is hard to understand the circumstances in which this would be considered acceptable. Even now, it is obvious to see that we have moved forward in terms of acceptance of other faiths and races and we must preserve this tolerance in our society, but also promote it all over the world.

It is too late for the victims of the Holocaust, and one of the slightly uplifting things about the visit was the Oshpitztin visit, a graveyard for Jews, which clearly demonstrated to me that there was some respect for the Jews, and I was happy that someone had deemed them worthy to be given the blessing of a gravestone, of a resting place where their loved ones could come to mourn them. As we all know, there were far more victims of the Holocaust that could not be given the privilege of a burial, or a grave, but it gave me hope that even in a situation where so many acted so wrongly, there will be others who will do what is right.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/confronting-auschwitz-and-birkenau/2013/01/27/

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