Wednesday 24 July 2013

Should we be quiet about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

There are plenty of things we may get agitated or angry about, but there are few things that concern us directly. This is probably more true in politics than in any other part of life. We hold strong opinions and voice these unhesitantly when it comes to political issues, often without asking whether this matters to us imminently. 

The internet may have accelerated this phenonmenon not least by widening the realm of those able to contribute. But does this make for better debates and, perhaps even more importantly, for better solutions to problems? 

One element of any debate is how we remain emotionally engaged to any issue at hand and, at the same time, retain a critical distance to those very emotions that seem to guide us for better or worse in forming our opinions. So the question arises: what does the expression of our opinion contribute exactly to any given issue? And if we conclude that it does little to further the debate, should we just shut up? 

Philosophers tell us that the biggest stumbling bloc on the road to a balanced debate is our lack of knowledge. That does not just include factual knowledge, but experiential knowledge as well. We are simply not party to all things human in this world, and hence rely on third party reports. Why should this distance to experience matter? Let's take an example. 

We all have strong opinions on what the root causes are of the Isreali-Palestinian conflict, as well as on how to solve it. Many of these opinions may be formed after onerous and honest research into the facts of the issue. Yet, few of those who have strong opinions on the matter have probably visited either Isreal or Palestine, and probably even fewer have lived there for a sustained period of time. 

So, where does this leave our debate on the issue? I believe that, given that human understanding always operates with limited knowledge, we need to look at other principles that may guide us what we ought to do in highly controversial issues that have no immediate relevance to our own lives. 

One such principle is perhaps about how to prevent bringing our emotions to bear on a situation that have less to do with the parties involved than with our own circumstances. It seems that no one is helped if we articulate our own opinions in a way that reflect mainly our own perspective rather than that of the parties involved. Consequently, perhaps the best we can hope for is to be conscious of how anger at perceived injustices mainly answer to the needs of our own psyche. Consequently, if our anger does little to contribute to solutions, perhaps we should refrain from anything that may inflame the conflict between those involved in a dispute. 

Does this mean that we should never voice our views on any issues unless we are directly involved? Certainly not. Parties to disputes are often just as guilty to widening the parameters of the debate as we are by looking for support in the most unlikely corners of the world. What the world thinks matters in searching for solutions to local problems. 

However, overall, I suspect, there is little to be gained from weighing into a debate that matters to us only through our emotive responses. In a sense, all we do then is to speak to our own emotional needs. That does not sound like a good guide in navigating the complexities of political problems. 

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