Proportionality, Psychic Harm, and the Day After (guest post)


“Once we count psychic harm, it looks like Israel’s war might be proportional. But it could be proportional only if the Israelis aren’t imposing on basically all Gazans a greater psychic burden than the psychic burden that Israelis hope to avoid,” which could be the case “if Israel takes it upon itself, as soon as possible, to reassure the Gazans that Gaza will not only be rebuilt, better than before, but that it will be set free as part of a two-state solution.”

In the following guest post, Alec Walen, professor of law and philosophy at Rutgers University, discusses the significance of psychic harm—primarily the psychic harm of living in terror—for an adequate moral assessment of the Israel-Hamas conflict and for an understanding of what Israel should do in Gaza.

It is part of the ongoing series, “Philosophers On the Israel-Hamas Conflict“.


[Käthe Kollwitz, “The Mothers”]

Proportionality, Psychic Harm, and the Day After
by Alec Walen

As I write this, there is a pause in the fighting in Gaza, and it is not clear whether Israel will resume its efforts to depose Hamas. But it seems likely that it will. Thus, I want to address the question: Can it wage war to depose Hamas without causing disproportionate harm? By appealing to the idea of psychic harm, I want to argue that the answer is: Maybe. But of course, there is psychic harm on both sides, and for Israel’s war to avoid causing disproportionate damage, it will have to take proactive measures to ensure that the psychic harm in Gaza is minimized if and when it topples Hamas.

To be clear, I am discussing proportionality ad bellum, not in bello. I have no doubt that some of the innocent civilians Israel has killed in Gaza were killed in disproportionate attacks. Such attacks are to be condemned. But my concern is with the war as whole. Even if disproportionate attacks were the exception so far—a topic on which I remain agnostic for now—and even if Israel exercises maximal care for noncombatants from this point forward, we need to know if the overall amount of harm Israel would cause in deposing Hamas is proportionate to the good that would result from doing so.

If we count just the death toll on both sides, then I think Victor Tadros was right when he wrote in an earlier post that Israel’s “response is … already disproportionate.” On the one hand, if Hamas is left in power in Gaza, it would almost certainly regroup, rearm, and strike again. It might even be able to strike with a more deadly attack next time. But short of acquiring a nuclear weapon—which one assumes it would not want to use in land it wants to occupy—it is hard to see how it could cause more than a few thousand deaths in the foreseeable future. By contrast, Israel has already caused over 12,000 deaths in Gaza, most of whom, it seems fair to assume, are non-combatants. And if it continues until Hamas is fully removed from power in Gaza, it will have to kill thousands more. In addition, the toll of thirst, hunger, stress, displacement, poverty, and disease will surely kill multiples more. Suppose a reasonable estimate of the total death toll is approximately 30,000. Saving a few thousand lives from a potential attack cannot justify so many deaths. Deaths to deaths, Israel’s war is grotesquely disproportionate.

But deaths are not all that matter. Psychic harm matters too. Hamas has shown that it is undeterrable. Thus, if Hamas remains in power, it seems likely that it is only a matter of time until it attacks again. Living with that terror is a significant tax on the souls of Israelis, and this should count in the proportionality balance. Of course, as already noted, the psychic harm on Gazans should count too. But I want to start with the Israeli appeal to psychic harm to show how it could make the war proportional.

The thesis that more abstract harms can be relevant to proportionality was the subject of work by Thomas Hurka in 2005, and by David Rodin, Cecile Fabre, and Jeff McMahan in a collection published in 2014. The focus of these discussions was the possibility of invasions that did not impose concrete harms like death, torture, and rape, but more abstract harms like taking territory or undermining sovereignty. The latter three philosophers were more skeptical than Hurka of the idea that the prevention of such abstract harms could justify killing. But even if they are correct, I think there’s an important middle position between killing, raping, and torturing, on the one hand, and interfering with territory and self-governance, on the other. And I think living in a protracted, well-grounded state of fear that one or the people that one cares about will be killed in an attack counts for that middle state. The fear need not be that one will likely be killed. The fear need only be a source of ongoing significant trauma, based in the thought that a substantial group of people just a few miles away are plotting and building the capacity to carry out a brutal attack that could target anyone in the country and that will likely kill thousands.

Of course, one person cannot justifiably kill another as collateral damage to prevent herself from having to live in a state of traumatizing fear. But I think numbers matter when the harms are close enough in magnitude to be “relevant.” Indeed, I think that if we look into why preventing torture and rape count as reasonable bases for using lethal force, we see that it’s not just the momentary horrible experience and violation that matter; it’s the ongoing psychological damage such experiences impose on people. This sort of trauma can add up so that if enough people face it, then it will be proportional to cause a lesser number of deaths to innocent people if that is an unavoidable side-effect of preventing that amount of serious psychological harm.

Could this apply to make Israel’s war on Hamas proportional? There are roughly seven million Jews living in Israel now most of whom seem to feel—based on my own informal discussions with Israelis—that living with Hamas operating on its border is “intolerable.” I interpret that to mean that the sense of insecurity it induces in them gives them a good reason to wage war on Hamas, aiming to depose it. To take that idea seriously, we have to suppose that they think that avoiding that insecurity is important enough to justify causing the collateral damage that will come from deposing Hamas. If we assume that will be around 30,000 deaths, then the implicit ratio the Israelis are invoking is something like one collateral death for every 200 Israelis who would otherwise live in a state of profound insecurity. That number needs to be adjusted, however, for those Gazans who will necessarily, no matter how the war ends, carry a similar, if not greater, psychic burden because of the war. Those who lost loved ones in the war presumably fit this description. Let us assume ten Palestinians will carry that burden for every Palestinian who is killed. Let us add to that the number who are injured and who will carry that burden for the rest of their lives. Suppose that number is five times higher than the number killed. If we add those numbers together, we get about half a million. If we offset the number of Israelis with a claim to avoid a psychic burden by that number, the number of Israelis whose psychic burden counts will still be close to six million. The ratio would still be something like one collateral death for every 200 or so Israelis who would otherwise live in a state of profound insecurity. I find that I cannot reject that as an unreasonable balance. In other words, once we count psychic harm, it looks like Israel’s war might be proportional.

But it could be proportional only if the Israelis aren’t imposing on basically all Gazans a greater psychic burden than the psychic burden that Israelis hope to avoid. But isn’t it clear that this war is in fact imposing a greater psychic burden on basically all Gazans? There are currently over two million people living in Gaza, and given the death, destruction, and displacement caused by the war, it would seem crazy to suggest that the war has not caused more psychic harm to those two million people than it might alleviate for Israelis. This would seem to negate the potential for Israelis to appeal to psychic harm to make their war proportional.

There is a possible response to this objection, but before getting to it, I want to address two objections to the idea that Israel can cite the psychic harm from the threat of Hamas on its side of the balance.

One objection to this argument is that to live in Israel is to live with such threats. Hamas is not the only threat. Hezbollah too would like to wipe Israel from the map. So would various other groups, including the Iranian regime. Israel cannot possibly eliminate these threats, so it should not be allowed to cite the extra threat from Hamas as a reason to kill Gazans.

To me the most important response to this objection is this: To live with a neighbor who wants to destroy you is bad enough, but to live with a neighbor who is undeterrable is much worse. For an analogy, consider the difference between living in a city with an ex who you know wants to hurt you, but who you think is also deterred by the threat of criminal punishment from doing anything crazy, and living in a city with an ex who you know is so committed to doing you harm that no threat of punishment will deter him. The other powers all seem, so far at least, deterred by the power of Israel (backed up by the U.S.). For Hamas, this is not the case.

Another objection is that there is no need to get to the issue of proportionality because the necessity condition is not met. It is not met because there are less harmful ways to reduce the terror from Hamas. It can either be degraded or contained.

The response to this objection is that it seems false. Israel has degraded Hamas, killing or imprisoning its fighters or leaders before, and it has come back stronger. And it has tried containing it too. It has had a blockade in place since 2007, aimed at preventing Hamas from arming itself; the attack of Oct. 7 showed that the blockade failed. And even if better border security might have contained that attack, making this war unnecessary, Hamas can learn from past mistakes and find new ways to attack. It is not unreasonable to think that Hamas must be deposed for Israel to prevent it from attacking again.

So let us return to the issue of the psychic harm the Israelis are causing by waging this war. How could the misery the war is inflicting on Gazans not fully offset the psychic gains for the Israelis? The answer is that it could count for less if, for most Gazans, it is much more short-lived psychic pain than that which the Israelis would otherwise suffer. But the only way for it to be much more short-lived is if Israel takes it upon itself, as soon as possible, to reassure the Gazans that Gaza will not only be rebuilt, better than before, but that it will be set free as part of a two-state solution. The alternative, in which Israel simply goes back to occupying Gaza, imposing daily humiliations on the Palestinians, would leave the Gazans with at least as much psychic burden as that which the Israelis seem to want to cite to justify their war.

The current Israeli government, stocked with genocidal extremists, could not possibly offer the Palestinians a reasonable two-state solution. But Netanyahu is now deeply unpopular in Israel. If, the day after the war, Israel can rid itself of this government and install a better one, one that is committed to respecting the lives and psychic needs of Palestinians as well as Israelis, it may be able to salvage the justifiability of this war (at least in terms of proportionality).

No reasonable person thinks a two-state solution will be easy to achieve. Neither the Palestinian nor the Israeli public seems to be in favor of it. Hamas is now more popular than ever among the Palestinians, because it fights for their dignity. And while some Israeli governments in the past have proposed a two-state solution, it seems that they never had a popular mandate to do so. But war can change things, making viable options that were once impossible. Israeli citizens should seize this opportunity to change course and make good faith efforts to establish a two-state solution, and outside powers that have some influence in the region should do what they can to pressure Israel to pursue that path towards peace. If it does, it may find Palestinian partners. But if does not, then it deserves condemnation for waging a disproportionate war.


COMMENTS POLICY

 

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ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
2 months ago

The arguments of this piece are seriously incomplete, for two reasons. (1) Gaza is not simply a “neighbor” as it would be if a two state solution had been instituted years ago. Israel has a special duty of care towards Palestinians, as Saba Bazargan-Forward has pointed out (especially if Israelis are not going to accept that “apartheid” is an apt description for the present system).
(2) it is very strange to focus on psychic harm and not discuss the considerable psychic (as well as physical) harms to Palestinians prior to October.

Junior faculty
Junior faculty
Reply to  ComeOnNow
2 months ago

To add to this: Nothing I have read about trauma or PTSD suggests that they are likely to be treatable by promises. Let alone promises from hostile foreign governments that things will get better later right after they are done killing many thousands more people. The people in Gaza are experiencing extreme trauma currently: seeing their friends and family killed, living in fear of air strikes, experiencing nearby attacks. The long term psychic harms this is causing are surely enormous, and wouldn’t be easily treatable even if peace and a two state solution were achieved tomorrow. If we are calculating up all the psychic harm, the ongoing effects of this trauma should be in the calculations.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  Junior faculty
2 months ago

Thank you, Junior faculty. Well put. I agree.

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  ComeOnNow
2 months ago

Re 1: I am trying to take a neutral position on all lives and all psyches. The special duty of care applies, I think, to avoiding unnecessary harm, changing the amount of sacrifice Israeli soldiers must take on while trying to achieve their ends. But it does not affect proportionality, where all who are not liable to harm count the same.
Re 2: proportionality is forward looking. If the people being counted here are not liable to harm–and I think none are–then the backwards looking point is irrelevant. It matters to general questions of justice, but not to the point I was making.

Saba Bazargan-Forward
Saba Bazargan-Forward
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

Alec, so on your view, the difference between: acting in a way against non-liable parties (by causing or allowing a harm) in order to a) save your own child, versus b) saving a stranger’s child, is irrelevant to proportionality?

Last edited 2 months ago by Saba Bazargan-Forward
Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  Saba Bazargan-Forward
2 months ago

Put it this way: I may not act in a way that kills your child to save my own. Save-save is different, but that’s not what’s at issue.

Saba Bazargan-Forward
Saba Bazargan-Forward
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

I agree that saving your own child by killing someone else’s would exceed what a parental duty would permit.

In any case, the kind of neutrality you’re suggesting b/w harms to Israeli civilians and harms to Gazan civilians is actually more progressive than I think many here realize: elsewhere, others, have suggested that Israeli’s special duty to its own allows partially discounting Gazan lives; but that’s not what you’re advocating here, which I think is laudable.

Bradley Strawser
Reply to  Saba Bazargan-Forward
2 months ago

I agree with Saba. I think trying (as difficult as it is) to weigh the harms to both non-liable Israeli civilians and non-liable Palestinian civilians equally when we attempt this complex proportionality calculations is both laudable and correct. That is, I agree that Israel’s special duties (whatever those may be and whatever the strength of those duties may be) to their own do not justify a discounting of harms to non-liable Palestinians. And your argument, Alec, does not do that, which is both laudable and a significant strength.

Whether psychic harm can have this kind of weight (I think it can), and how & whether we can reliably make any epistemically confident enough forward looking claims based upon it as part of the proportionality calculus (I’m dubious) is where I think it gets very difficult. But I think these difficulties are almost entirely due to epistemic predictive limitations. In principle, though, your argument here seems plausible.

It has interesting connections, as you note, to earlier work by Fabre and Rodin and many others on kinds of ‘lesser’ non-physical abstract harms; and my own recent work in the last two chapters of *Bounds of Defense*. As you’ll recall, there I contend that these ‘lesser’ more abstract harms, such violations of a group’s autonomy, can justify lethal harm; so it would make sense that things like psychic harm — and so much more, in fact — should also be “in the pot” of considerations for these calculations too. If we can do that fairly (i.e. count the psychic harm to all non-liable people equally — Palestinians and Israelis alike) then — in principle — it seems like we must take such considerations into account.

Zona
Zona
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

What raises the question of proportionality if not questions of justice? (I’m not sure what distinction you’re making with “more general”)

Simon
Simon
2 months ago

To calculate proportionality, should we focus on actual fear / distress, or on the amount of fear / distress that would be rational given the evidence? The probability of dying from a terrorist attack in Israel is low compared to other causes of death (~8000 Israelis die from smoking every year). An actual fear criterion would probably make strange predictions in thought experiments where a group of people is extremely afraid of something innocent.

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  Simon
2 months ago

I agree that totally irrational fears should be discounted. But I don’t think Israelis who fear future attacks from Hamas if it is left in power are being totally irrational. They are targeted. It is human nature to take being targeted as more disturbing than other risks.

Simon
Simon
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

It is important to distinguish fear of death from fear of the marginal badness of a targeted versus nontargeted death. Israelis are experiencing more distress from targeted deaths than from smoking / other causes of death. Since smoking is more than an order of magnitude more deadly than terrorism, you’d need death by targeting to be more than an order of magnitude worse for the person than an ordinary death, to get this pattern of distress to be rational. I think this is not true, and so I think of targeting as a confound that distorts rational responses to threats.

Bradley Strawser
Reply to  Simon
2 months ago

Simon, I’m not sure.

That is, I think it could actually be the case that (say) being hunted down and murdered is, indeed, an order of magnitude worse than (say) dying from smoking or other more “normal” and banal means of dying (like a car accident or a heart attack, etc.).

I’m undecided — and you could be right that it is entirely irrational, or there’s something about this form of harm that distorts our rational responses in such a way that we fail to rationally weigh them.

But… Maybe not. This intuition feels stronger and I think there could be something to it the moment I think of my loved ones. The thought of my children dying is horrific — via any means. However, my children *will* someday die. And so the thought of them dying from a ‘natural’ cause (or perhaps I should say ‘banal or ‘normal’?) compared to them being murdered horrifically by terrorists really does seem significantly (morally) different. How *much* different or more significant? I have no idea. I need to think on it.

Simon
Simon
Reply to  Bradley Strawser
2 months ago

I think the main reason death is bad is that it deprives the person who dies of ordinary welfare goods. If a targeted death is 10x times worse than ordinary death, this would then imply that the targeting is 10x more important than the lifetime of welfare goods that one is deprived of. So it would be more important than almost anything in life.

I think it is also clear that these extreme reactions to terrorism are not number sensitive. If smoking killed 10x times as many people as actual, you’d still see extreme reactions to terrorism, that were stronger than reactions to smoking. So if the reasoning continues, the badness of targeting would be 100x or 1000x as strong as the value of all ordinary welfare goods that make up a life.

Bradley Strawser
Reply to  Simon
2 months ago

So, then, why do you think we see these extreme reactions to the badness of terrorism (and similar deaths) compared with other forms of death? (And, across history, there seems to be a long thread of this across human thought and across cultures.)

Do you just chalk it all up to irrational emotion?

That might be all it is, but is it plausible that the extreme reactions to these things is tracking something real morally?

Simon
Simon
Reply to  Bradley Strawser
2 months ago

I think there could be *something* to it without the attitude being correct. Maybe these kinds of deaths are 20% worse, but I don’t think they are 100-1000x worse. Our emotional reaction is completely number insensitive, but ethics is number sensitive, so it would be really hard for that emotional reaction to end up correct. We might expect our emotional responses to be number insensitive if there isn’t strong evolutionary pressure to make them number sensitive

Bradley Strawser
Reply to  Simon
2 months ago

Simon, I agree that our emotional reaction to various things is number insensitive. But I think that for many kinds of moral things, our emotional reactions are *right* to be number insensitive. Moreover, and more importantly I suppose, I think that while — yes — ethics itself is certainly number sensitive on many things, there are also critical parts of ethical reality that are intrinsically number insensitive. This “something” in our intuitions on the worseness of certain kinds of deaths, may be one of those areas. And if so, we have an incommensurability problem. We are not going to resolve these questions here. But if you agree that there is perhaps “something” our intuitions are tracking across these cases, and it’s not mere irrational emotion, then that at least is a surprising point of agreement I’m glad to hear.

Simon
Simon
Reply to  Bradley Strawser
2 months ago

Another way to test the relative badness of targeted deaths vs ordinary deaths would be to look at other kinds of targeting. Terrorists don’t only kill: they also maim etc. If targeted deaths are significantly worse than ordinary deaths, then presumably targeted maimings are significantly worse than ordinary maimings. But now consider: would you rather lose an arm (or hand, or finger, etc) via targeting, or die via lung cancer? I’m guessing you’d rather lose the limb via targeting than die an ordinary death. But this is incompatible with a 100-1000x targeting multiplier.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
2 months ago

Thus, if Hamas remains in power, it seems likely that it is only a matter of time until it attacks again. Living with that terror is a significant tax on the souls of Israelis, and this should count in the proportionality balance.

If the Israeli occupation remians in existence, it seems likely that the humilation, arrests, land grabbing, killings, house demolition and destruction of any notion of national determination that Palestinians undergo on a regular basis will remain. Living with this terror is a significant tax on the souls of Palestinians (as well as their bodies), and this should count in the proprtionality balance when considering October 7…Actually scratch that. October 7 was a terrorist attack that should be condemned unconditionally and to which notions of proportionality cannot apply. Proportionality, as we all know thanks to enlightened Western philosophers, only applies when it is about Western-allied state actors commiting mass murder.

Last edited 2 months ago by Yazan Freij
frightened grad student
frightened grad student
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

To someone who calls themselves a “pragmatic Zionist,” that significant tax on the souls and bodies of Palestinians is worth paying.

TakingLivesSeriously
2 months ago

The gymnastics philosophers and liberals are willing to do to justify the mass killing and displacement of an Arab population is truly impressive.

I don’t know how any Arab philosopher will feel comfortable in any philosophy department for the next few years…

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
2 months ago

That’s absurd. If anyone, it’s Jewish philosophers who will be made to feel uncomfortable at most universities.

TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

For different (legitimate) reasons, I’m pretty sure both Jewish and Muslim philosophers will feel uncomfortable at the end of this. I hope they learn to stand together. We’re more likely to understand one another.

frightened grad student
frightened grad student
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

Zionist groups, in precisely the same manner as conservative groups, have purposefully given every Jew on campus paranoia about being persecuted. I know because I myself have experienced it. In reality, Israel is supported by the entire world both politically and financially, and speaking out on behalf of Palestinians has ended careers and gotten people fired. Even more if you are Jewish; you might find yourself persona non grata by an entire community. The comfort of man does not overrule moral responsibility: that is indeed the most important part of the Jewish moral tradition.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  frightened grad student
2 months ago

I guess you haven’t seen any of the footage from campuses recently where Jews were harassed or attacked, or where a level of anti-Semitic hate speech was tolerated inconsistent with the amount of other hate speech usually tolerated, or the many statements by whole departments or large numbers of faculty blaming Oct 7 on the Jews. It’s not paranoia if it’s actually happening. If you say “Oct 7 was legitimate resistance, so no such thing as innocent victims,” you’ll be applauded for your bravery; if you say “there’s a morally significant difference between how the IDF operates and how Hamas operates,” you’ll be branded a colonialist supporter of apartheid.

frightened grad student
frightened grad student
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

I have both seen it and experienced it firsthand. It does not actually have any bearing on what I said. You’ve written “it’s not paranoia if it’s actually happening–” this tells me you either do not understand what I’m referring to, or are acting in bad faith. There is no global anti-Semitic conspiracy to take down Israel using American colleges, but this is precisely what Zionist groups on campus tell their students. And akin to said Zionist groups, you wish to conscript other Jews into defending Israel by somehow tying our existence into the “need to defend Israel.”

Well, as a Jew I reject that. I do not care about any possible morally significant difference. The fact of Jews feeling uncomfortable or being attacked has no bearing on whether Zionism in Israel is a just cause. The word “innocent victims” is a bizarre phrase to use in a society like Israel where everyone single person is told they have a duty to be part of the military vanguard. A society were ordinarily people are given guns and told to settle, told to resolve their differences with Palestinians violently.

You might not know all of this but I do because I have close contact with Israel. If you open your eyes to the reality, you’ll be reasoning on far more solid ground.

And it is not a matter of “blaming Oct 7 on the Jews.” It is a matter of Israel’s policies being directly responsible for the events of October 7. The majority of Israelis actually agree. That this makes you uncomfortable is not an anti-Semitic crime.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  frightened grad student
2 months ago

I think you’re the one acting in bad faith, since you’re caricaturing what I said, so I’ll disengage now.

frightened grad student
frightened grad student
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

A blatantly hypocritical thing to say; your previous comment was complete caricature. You cannot tell me you are acting in good faith while categorically denying that people have lost careers and jobs for supporting Palestinians. That is plainly a lie that you are telling.

Ray V
Ray V
Reply to  frightened grad student
2 months ago

The context matters a lot though.

Do you remember the tiki torch march and the synagogue shootings?

There are millions of eyeballs on antisemitic views every day on Twitter. Elon Musk is spreading them. Plus Qanon is completely interwoven in antisemitism.

Lord only knows what is happening on the far right places or Telegram and whatever.

Nazis are inserting themselves in practically every online conversation about Israel/Palestine.

Not Jewish but I can recall nothing like this happening when I was younger.

People seem pretty primed to hate the Jews again.

It annoys me when there is selective attention to the supposed threat Muslims are to Jewish people simply because some people want to suck up to Elon Musk to defend Israel, when he’s lobbing antisemitic bombs daily.

But how is it possible to doubt antisemitism made a complete comeback? And likely the focus on Israel is an accelerant?

Since the same white supremacists are a threat to Muslims, and also because Trump is their pal AND Israel’s pal some Jewish groups choose to ignore them.

I don’t know what to say about such people and maybe the groups you’re talking about are the ones trying to whip up the paranoia.

But it’s not paranoia is people are out to get you and to me it looks like some people truly are out to get the Jews.

Jordan Bridges
Jordan Bridges
Reply to  Ray V
1 month ago

I was at the “tiki torch” marches on August 11th and 12th in Charlottesville, where I was doing my undergraduate. It was my first (counter) protest. I have experienced a great deal of antisemitism growing up. If anything, my Judaism makes me more committed to resisting genocide.

Jordan Bridges
Jordan Bridges
Reply to  frightened grad student
1 month ago

Thank you for saying this. I’m a Jewish antizionist, and my ancestors came from majority Arab countries. It’s been a difficult time.

Python
Python
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

absurd? really?

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Python
2 months ago

Yes, I thought that claim was absolutely unwarranted, that’s why I said that. Every day since Oct 7 I see another news story about hate speech on campus, and it’s not directed at Arab academics (nor should it be of course).

giulia
giulia
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

“Every day since Oct 7 I see another news story about hate speech on campus, and it’s not directed at Arab academics”

News outlets select what stories to cover, and how to cover them. We all know this. It is also no secret that the coverage of Israel/Palestine provided by the US mainstream media is heavily slanted in favour of the former. So it is not surprising that antisemitic harassment incidents are covered and denounced – as indeed they should – and that islamophobic incidents are not.

So: I don’t for a minute doubt your assertion, but I also think it says more about US news outlets than anything else.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  giulia
2 months ago

In the age of cell phone video, it’s amazingly implausible that there is an epidemic of anti-Arab demonstrations on anything like the order of magnitude of the anti-Jewish demonstrations. The Vermont shooting was all over the news (as it should be).

giulia
giulia
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

Hi, I’m afraid I don’t fully understand your response. First, you mentioned ‘news stories’ so I took you to be talking about just that: stories that are reported in the news, where by ‘news’ again I assumed you were thinking more CNN and less Facebook (e.g.). If indeed that’s what you were referring to, then my point seems to stand: of the gazillion videos, informal first-person reports, etc that float around the internet every day, news outlets select some from which to build a report, and ignore the rest.

If on the other hand you were talking about ‘news’ in the much looser sense of ‘stories (videos, first-/third-person reports, etc) that appear on my social media feed’ then it is really not surprising that (in your case, according to what you report) all you see are stories about manifestations of anti-semitism. Echo chambers are a thing…

Final clarification: I’m not making any claim about exactly how many instances of anti-semitic/anti-arab demonstrations have occurred. It may be that numerically speaking there have been more of the former, or not — I don’t know. But I do think there is evidence of significant increases in hateful demonstrations on both ‘sides’. The link I included in my previous comment provides some data points about the upsurge of manifestations of anti-arab sentiment; it is not the only source that documents this; I don’t think there is any reason to regard it as untrustworthy (if you think otherwise, please tell me what your reasons are).

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
2 months ago

I plead guilty to this: to trying to sympathize with Israelis. But I also try to sympathize with Palestinians. I am not unconditionally supportive of this war. I think the disproportionate attacks should be condemned. I think the occupation as a whole should be condemned. But I think Israel does have a right of self-defense. Q: what are the limits of proportionality, given such a right. It is a legitimate question.

Kaila Draper
2 months ago

Hi Alec.

I have to disagree strongly with your views here.

I don’t think the psychic harm of losing a loved one to violence is in the same ballpark as the psychic harm of living with the sort of insecurity that, sadly, Israelis suffer. Both are very serious, but I would regard the former as orders of magnitude worse. Add to that the trauma of being in the midst of the violence of war, of losing one’s home and neighborhood, of being displaced, of suffering extreme economic hardship, etc., and it seems to me extraordinary to suggest that Israel might prevent more psychic harm than it inflicts by waging the current war.

I also don’t think jus ad bellum can be so neatly abstracted from jus in bello. One cannot justify going to war if one plans to wage that war with a series of disproportionate attacks.

I am not an absolutist about murder–in extreme circumstances murder (by “murder” I am mean to include killing innocent bystanders even as a side effect of doing something else) can be justfied–but I don’t think the sort of speculative benefits to which you are appealing can come close to justifying the mass murder unfolding in Gaza. Even if Hamas is deposed, trying to weigh the costs and benefits of that for Israel and the rest of the world should give anyone pause.

As you know, I reject the whole double effect framework that your argument presupposes, including the restricted claims principle you have defended. I am in a minority of just war theorists in that regard, but sometimes the minority is right.

Last edited 2 months ago by Kaila Draper
Michael Kates
Michael Kates
Reply to  Kaila Draper
2 months ago

Thanks for this reply, Prof. Draper. Is there a specific article where you lay out your reasons for rejecting the “double effect” framework you mention in this comment? If so, I would be interested to read it.

Kaila Draper
Reply to  Michael Kates
2 months ago

Thanks for the interest. There is a chapter in my book, War and Individual Rights, that is called “Liberating Just War Theory from Double Effect”.

Michael Kates
Michael Kates
Reply to  Kaila Draper
2 months ago

Thanks so much!

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  Kaila Draper
2 months ago

We can continue to disagree about the DDE and MP. But I take your point about incomparable levels of suffering very seriously. It’s the thing that gives me most pause about my thesis. All I can say is that IF–and it’s a big if–Israel can find its way to a viable and just two-state solution after this, then I think the long-term suffering of MOST Palestinians in general will go down substantially in such a way that the long-term suffering of MOST Israelis facing endless attacks from Hamas can be compared. Duration matters.

Matthew Noah Smith
Matthew Noah Smith
2 months ago

One feature of being a settler under conditions of colonialism, or of being some undominated figure in the metropole sympathetic with the settlers, is the inability to adopt the perspective of the dominated, the colonized. There is an entire subdiscipline in philosophy exposing early modern authors like Locke and Kant and Hegel for their inability to see the full humanity of the colonized. Essays like the one above, and many of the essays published on here, presuppose the Israeli perspective as the starting point, as the authoritative point of view, and treat the Palestinian perspective as a secondary matter that intrudes on the authoritative point of view. The Palestinian perspective is something to be dealt with, not a point of view from which we begin, that gives the initial conditions for how we assess the other point of view.

The starting point for these discussions is the (desperate?) urge to find a justification for the Israeli assault on Gaza, which has led to massacres of Gazan children. In other words, Walen begins with a philosophical aim: How can we justify the massacre of Gazan children? And then he appeals to a series of nifty philosophical moves to find a liberal middle ground that might make those massacres ~maybe~ permissible (if only all Israelis could be more like American liberal Zionists!).

To discuss psychic harm in this conflict without discussing *the very practice of the essay above* which is the standard practice in the West, namely, the practice of treating the Palestinian point of view as too exotic to be the *starting point* of our reasoning is very telling.

What would the reasoning look like if we began from the Palestinian perspective? Could Hamas’s hideous massacres of innocents on 10/7 – no different really than the IDF’s hideous massacres of innocents since 10/7, except that Israel has killed approximately 5000 more children than Hamas did – be ~maybe~ justified if we *started* with the Palestinian perspective?

What if we discussed psychic harm in the context of the Israel/Palestine conflict but centered the discussion on the Nakba and the Occupation and all of the routinized murder, dispossession, and humiliation that defines the Occupation? What if we did not treat the Palestinian experience as secondary, as something against which the Israeli experience is cast? What if instead we began with the generations of suffering and lost hope imposed on Palestinians by various powers, from their Arab neighbors to the UK to Israel. What if we asked, “Is it permissible to use violence to overcome 75 years of psychic harm, even if that violence has the predictable side effect of unleashing disgusting, monstrous vengefulness?”

Are you horrified at someone even considering that the Hamas raid was justified? My guess is that you are. But my other guess, based on what I’ve seen on here and throughout the discipline, is that most of the members of our profession are not at all horrified at the dozens of professional philosophers who desperately, searchingly, constantly work to defend the Israeli assault on Gaza, even if it is to provide a conditional defense like the one above. Dozens of people from our discipline are working overtime to construct elaborate justifications for a military assault that has predictably resulted in thousands of children suffering hideous deaths, and which will predictably result in many more children suffering or dying from illness due to displacement and the destruction of infrastructure. I am as disgusted by those people as I would be by colleagues who seek to defend the mass murder of Israelis on 10/7.

At a certain point, we have to begin with the Palestinian perspective, we have to ask what right the Israeli perspective has to intrude on it before the Palestinian experience has been fully articulated. What would our moral reasoning look like then?

An adjunct
An adjunct
Reply to  Matthew Noah Smith
2 months ago

indeed. what if we reverse the analogy below?

“To live with a neighbor who wants to destroy you is bad enough, but to live with a neighbor who is undeterrable is much worse. For an analogy, consider the difference between living in a city with an ex who you know wants to hurt you, but who you think is also deterred by the threat of criminal punishment from doing anything crazy, and living in a city with an ex who you know is so committed to doing you harm that no threat of punishment will deter him. The other powers all seem, so far at least, deterred by the power of Israel (backed up by the U.S.). For Hamas, this is not the case.”

David Wallace
Reply to  Matthew Noah Smith
2 months ago

“Are you horrified at someone even considering that the Hamas raid was justified? My guess is that you are. But my other guess, based on what I’ve seen on here and throughout the discipline, is that most of the members of our profession are not at all horrified at the dozens of professional philosophers who desperately, searchingly, constantly work to defend the Israeli assault on Gaza, even if it is to provide a conditional defense like the one above.”

Is this distinction especially surprising? It is a very standard and very widespread view about the ethics of war that it is categorically wrong to use torture or rape, and categorically wrong to intentionally target civilians or indiscriminately attack them, but that it is a more complicated matter to judge the ethics of attacks on military targets that foreseeably but unintentionally harm civilians, even in large numbers. That standard and widespread view may be wrong, and can certainly be challenged, but it’s not surprising to see many people assuming it.

In the extended and rather heated discussions of this issue on DN over the last few weeks, I have seen few if any commentators defending the claim that it would be morally acceptable for Israel to intentionally target civilians. Rather, a lot of the disagreement has been either on the factive question of whether Israel is doing so or on the more contested issues of proportionality and necessity. (At the very beginning of these events I also saw occasional attempts (not here) to defend Hamas on factive grounds – questioning whether civilians were intentionally killed or whether widespread rape and torture actually occurred – but these disappeared very quickly, presumably because the evidence quickly became fairly conclusive.)

Indeed, I would be horrified at someone even considering that the Hamas raid was justified – I *have* been horrified at the occasional commentator on DN who *has* considered it. But I would also be horrified at someone even considering that it would be justified for Israel to deliberately kill Gazan civilians in retaliation (or indeed rape, torture or mutilate them). I don’t think I’ve seen any philosopher advocate that view.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Oh yes I am sure Palestinians would find solace in the fact that academic Western philosophers are NOT advocating for the morality of their deliberate murder by Israel, but only justifying their murder by the tens of thousands as well as depriving them from basic necessities and rendering them homeless due to arguments of ‘proportionality’ and ‘necessity’ which are somehow are only ever used when Western-allied state actors are the ones doing the murdering.

David Wallace
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

I didn’t say anything about who would find solace in anything. Matthew Noah Smith made a specific point; I replied to that point.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Let me paraphrase my reply for you then: Any attempt to justify the mass murder of Palestinians (as well as other crimes against them) by Israel due to arguments of ‘proportionality’ and ‘necessity’ is AS horrendous as attempts to defend the morality of their deliberate murder. The two cases are effectively the same. Only enlightened liberal Western academic philosophers who specialise in mental gymnastics can claim that these two cases are different in any meaningful way.

Last edited 2 months ago by Yazan Freij
David Wallace
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

My point is just that the existence of a difference follows from very widely held, very longstanding views about morality and war. Of course that’s compatible with those views being wrong; it’s even compatible with those views only being defensible through ‘mental gymnastics’. (It’s not compatible with ‘only enlightened liberal Western academic philosophers’ being able to espouse those views, since lots of non-philosophers believe them – and indeed they’re standard in Western military training). There is nothing specific about the Israel/Palestine issue here: the ethics of ISIS’s actions and the Western-backed Iraqi military response to ISIS fit the same framework.

Kaila Draper
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Not contradicting anything you are saying here, but I do want to assert (not argue here) that those widely held views are an emperor with no clothes. They are also so very convenient for powerful states to use as a cloak of respectability for their own acts of mass murder while denying any potential justification to non-state actors who resort to terrorism. They may be assumed at one’s own moral risk, but don’t expect those not mesmerized by the West’s just war traditions to not assume the opposite. Again, this is not directed at you personally as opposed to anyone who makes the assumptions in question.

Last edited 2 months ago by Kaila Draper
David Wallace
Reply to  Kaila Draper
2 months ago

I’d meant to note you as an example of someone who rejects this framework, since you did so elsewhere in this same thread. I’m not asserting any first-order position on the framework: I don’t think I have anything very interesting to contribute on that issue.

Kaila Draper
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

yes, I didn’t think that you were.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

It is my fault for reading your reply as an endorsement of the view. Instead, you were just saying that it exists and is common among Western philosophers and is standard in Western militaries. (I am sure this is a coincidence). For the sake of further reading, would you happen to know of examples (preferably recent) as to when arguments from proportionality and necessity were used in favor of anti-Western actors? My feeling is that these arguments are only used to justify whatever atrocities the West and its allies commit.

David Wallace
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

Yes, I’m not endorsing the view. (Nor am I rejecting it: I don’t normally give my first-order views on issues outside my area of expertise on DN.)

As to your question: I think it’s come up occasionally (sometimes tacitly) in discussion of Russia’s actions in the war with Ukraine. Russia is doing lots of things that are war crimes, and of course the war as a whole is unjustifiable, but the basics of how they are fighting maneuver and artillery war usually aren’t criticized as criminal. I can’t immediately find a good link though.

Of course, it helps that Ukraine in turn is fighting by-and-large legally, e.g. by evacuating its cities and not trying to conceal its forces amongst civilians.

A lot of the wars the West has been involved with since 9/11 have been against opponents who actively conceal themselves in civilian areas and court collateral damage, but it’s not as if the West just made up just-war theory in response to that strategy – whatever the rights and wrongs of that framework, it’s much older than the current era of counterinsurgency warfare. (Though it also very strongly constrains the counterinsurgent actions of modern militaries relative to the premodern norm, as I understand it.)

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

It is odd that you say that you don’t give your first-order opinion outside your area of expertise but then assert that of course “Russia’s war is unjustifiable as a whole”. Your inability to find good links is disappointing, as I would have found it peculiar to see a Western academic philosopher justify the deaths of Ukranian civilians on grounds of proportionality and necessity. This would have been a nice counterargument to my thesis that Western philosophical justifications of war always miraculously align with the interests of Western governments.

Regarding just war theory being older than the current age of counterinsurgency, that is true of course. But as Cheyney Ryan said in a comment on a previous thread, talk of “proportionality” and “discrimination of combatants” was theorized by the just war theorist Paul Ramsey to justify the US atrocities during Vietnam War, so it is really not a miracle after all that these arguments always target the West’s enemies.

David Wallace
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

It is odd that you say that you don’t give your first-order opinion outside your area of expertise but then assert that of course “Russia’s war is unjustifiable as a whole”.

Fair. I should have said that I don’t give it in places where I think the answer can reasonably be seen as controversial or non-obvious. I think Israel’s invasion of Gaza is morally complicated whereas Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not. I accept that to some extent that’s already a first-order view, albeit a hedged one!

I would have found it peculiar to see a Western academic philosopher justify the deaths of Ukranian civilians on grounds of proportionality and necessity.

I would be amazed to find that, but that’s not what I meant. No-one who thinks the Russian invasion of Ukraine is unjustified will think the deaths of civilians – or indeed combatants – are all-in-all justified. But I took you as asking for something narrower (perhaps I misunderstood). The way Russia has fighting the maneuver and artillery aspects of its war (as opposed to other aspects) has in general, as I understand it, not been called out as criminal under jus in bello. (Conversely, someone who thought Israel had no defensible military objective in attacking Gaza would regard Gazan deaths as unjustified even if the IDF committed no war crimes in pursuing that attack.)

Bradley Strawser
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

Only enlightened liberal Western academic philosophers who specialise in mental gymnastics can claim that these two cases are different in any meaningful way.”

That just seems clearly false as an empirical matter.

Many, many people, across the world — and many cultures and societies across the world and across the centuries — think the cases are different in a morally meaningful way. Abstract away from the specifics of the Hamas/Israel war, and both of those groups moral failings, to the more general moral question, and I think that’s even clearer.

You may argue that there is, in fact, no meaningful difference between the kinds of acts — and many have! By all means attack the DDE. But to simply claim that “only enlightened liberal Western academic philosophers who specialise in mental gymnastics” are the ones who think these are meaningful differences is patently false.

Kaila Draper
Reply to  Bradley Strawser
2 months ago

Hmm, I don’t think it’s quite that simple. Traditional formulations of DDE, however widely embraced, do not withstand a moment’s scrutiny. That’s what has launched the mental gymnastics of liberal Western academic philosophers. They are the ones who have tried to formulate new versions of DDE or have sought to replace DDE with principles like MP or RCP, etc., desperately trying to make the damn thing work. Partly motivating the mental gymnastics are a set of moral intuitions about cases that might seem like they require something like DDE to explain and justify them. Granted those intuitions are widely shared, even cross-historically and cross-culturally. I share them too. But in my view, other, better accounts of those intuitions are available, that have nothing to do with DDE or anything like DDE. And such intuitions do not carry over to the crucial kind of cases, violence in war.

Suppose I am innocent but will be convicted and hung if I do not destroy some evidence. I can kill the officer in the evidence room directly as a means to gaining access to and ultimately destroying evidence or I can kill the officer indirectly by exploding a bomb that is intended to directly destroy the evidence but will foreseeably also kill the officer as a side effect. Those are my only options. The idea that the one is impossible or nearly impossible to justify but the other merely requires a positive balance of good over evil is

Bradley Strawser
Reply to  Kaila Draper
2 months ago

Kaila you are arguing against things like “foreseeable but unintended” claims the DDE (and other approaches) make. So be it. (Your arguments against the DDE are nuanced, as are many others, and we won’t be resolving that here.)

My point was simple, and not intended as a defense of the DDE or those intuitions undergirding it, but rather that *people have these intutions.* And that’s actually what you just said: “Partly motivating the mental gymnastics are a set of moral intuitions about cases that might seem like they require something like DDE to explain and justify them. Granted those intuitions are widely shared, even cross-historically and cross-culturally. I share them too. “

I take your point — even without conceding that larger debate — that perhaps those intuitions don’t carry to things like violence in war. Fair. That’s part of our job to debate out.

My point in my above reply was simply to point out that it is false to say that “only enlightened liberal Western academic philosophers who specialise in mental gymnastics” think these kinds of cases are meaningfully different. That’s just false.

Kaila Draper
Reply to  Bradley Strawser
2 months ago

Fair enough. I took Yazan’s claim as overstated for rhetorical effect. I am uncertain how close to the truth that claim is. I will say that I think academic philosophers tend to exaggerate the extent to which even the average person finds cases like the two in question to be “meaningfully different”. I don’t have that intuition. My students rarely do, and I try not to let my views shape their responses. Time for a little experimental philosophy I guess.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Bradley Strawser
2 months ago

Care to provide some empirical evidence to support the “empirical” claim that you are making?

David Wallace
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

The distinction between intentional targeting of civilians and their being harmed as the foreseen consequence of attacking a military target is in the Geneva conventions, written into the domestic law of many countries, encoded in the rules of engagement of many armies, acknowledged by the ICC, recognized whenever a human-rights group does a war-crimes investigation, and appealed to daily by lawyers and politicians discussing this and other conflicts. Right or wrong, it’s adopted far beyond philosophy.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Bradley has claimed that this intution is shared by many non-Western cultures across different epochs, and I requested evidence for this. Pointing out to laws, conventions and legal practices drawn by Western legal theorists hardly constitutes evidence for the diffusion of this distinction beyond Western philosophy.

David Wallace
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

Okay, we might be at cross purposes. I thought the “empirical claim” you wanted evidence for was Bradley’s claim that it is false that only certain western *philosophers* accepted the doctrines in question. It looks as if you meant his subsequent, broader claim that these ideas are cross-cultural more generally. That I don’t know about. I could quite believe that they are of relatively recent invention; but,then, the whole idea that there’s anything bad at all about killing the other side’s civilians is a relatively recent invention.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

It is also unclear whether this intuition is even shared by people in the West (as Kaila points out) outside the community of just war theorists whether philosophers or jurists.

Last edited 2 months ago by Yazan Freij
Kaila Draper
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Hi David. I think your reply is irrelevant (assuming Yazan Freij was denying a meaningful moral difference between the two cases). One might reasonably think that the distinction between intending and merely foreseeing (or directly and indirectly targeting) is legally useful in terms of reducing the costs of war without thinking that there is any intrinsic moral difference between intending and merely foreseeing the deaths of innocent bystanders in war. I myself think it is useful as law, but I am skeptical of the claim that most people, on reflection, see enough of an intrinsic moral difference between the two to affect moral decision-making.

David Wallace
Reply to  Kaila Draper
2 months ago

This is a fair point, although (i) I’m sympathetic to the idea that the very existence of a valuable legal norm creates some moral obligation to conform to it; (ii) I think intuitions might be clearer when one considers actually-sadistic intent, as when an attacker commits rape and torture.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

There have of course been members of the Israeli government and the IDF, and their spokespeople, who have said it’s justifiable to deliberately kill Gazan civilians in retaliation. In fact it has been said they should all be wiped out. Or in some cases it’s been said accuracy and discriminating between civilians and Hamas doesn’t matter much, or at all (some claiming all Palestinians support Hamas, which is obviously false). Should it concern us that the actual forces directing and fighting the war don’t look like they are being guided by (sufficient) moral constraints (in fact sometimes disown such constraints)?

David Wallace
Reply to  ComeOnNow
2 months ago

Indeed there have, and that should be condemned. (Happy to condemn it myself right here, for the trivial amount it’s worth.) I said that I hadn’t seen any *philosopher* advocate that view.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

My point wasn’t that you should condemn people saying these things. I expected you would. I was asking whether it undermines claims you and others have made that the military actions in Gaza have been justified.

David Wallace
Reply to  ComeOnNow
2 months ago

I don’t think I have claimed that they are justified. (I have criticized arguments that they are obviously *un*justified when I thought they failed on logical and factual grounds.) I quite agree that the statements we are discussing are deeply troubling and highly relevant – though not dispositive – in assessing Israel’s intentions. (Though by the same token, I think the explicitly genocidal language used by some of Hamas’s senior leadership is highly relevant in assessing Israel’s security situation.)

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

You say that these statements are “deeply troubling and highly relevant—though not dispositive—in assessing Israel’s intentions.” But I think the question is whether these statements *in combination with Israel’s actual military actions* (esp. the huge number of civilian deaths) are dispositive. We all the time appropriately infer people’s intentions from a combination of what people say and what we see them do, and it’s rational to form beliefs (sometimes knowledge) on this basis even without certainty. I don’t expect you to agree with me as to what we ought to rationally conclude in this instance, but let’s be clear about where we are at.

David Wallace
Reply to  ComeOnNow
2 months ago

I agree with the general framework. As you expected, I draw somewhat different conclusions from the details of their military actions, for reasons I’ve discussed in earlier threads and won’t repeat here.

(I also think that there is a real danger of the situation evolving towards genocide even if that is not what is happening now, and that these appalling statements ought to make one more worried about that danger; Omer Bartov’s comments, linked in DN’s ‘heap of links’ are insightful and troubling on this.)

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Thank you for mentioning Omer Batov’s work and expressing this concern that there is a real danger of the situation evolving towards genocide. If you expressed such concerns at an earlier time in the many discussions on DN to which you contributed, I missed it, but that may well be my fault. I can’t fault you for wanting to think through matters carefully, but even though I am also a philosopher who usually enjoys and promotes abstract, conditional reasoning (and will continue to do so in many contexts), I can’t help feeling that there hasn’t been enough careful attention being paid to evidence on the ground in these DN discussions (evidence not just from this recent conflict but also from prior to this conflict).

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  Matthew Noah Smith
2 months ago

This is an ad hominem. End of reply.

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

Don’t quite understand how. He’s saying it would be surprising if liberal philosophers adopted the mirror image of your position, starting from a Palestinian view of events as they have unfolded since 1948. That isn’t ad hominem–it’s just a way of saying that it is possible to look at this whole question from a different point of view.

Bradley Strawser
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
2 months ago

No.
Rather, he said, of Alec:
 In other words, Walen begins with a philosophical aim: How can we justify the massacre of Gazan children?”

But that was not Alec’s philosophical aim at all. And it’s one hell of an insult to Alec to claim, falsely, that it was.

That’s an ad hominem. It is not directed at Alec’s argument, but him and his motivations.

Matthew Noah Smith
Matthew Noah Smith
Reply to  Bradley Strawser
2 months ago

He wrote:

“But I want to start with the Israeli appeal to psychic harm to show how it could make the war proportional.”

Edit: “the war” here refers to a campaign that has predictably massacred thousands of children. So I glossed “the war” that way, at least in part to highlight that this is how the war is experienced by many of the most vulnerable Gazans.

Last edited 2 months ago by Matthew Noah Smith
Castorp
Reply to  Matthew Noah Smith
2 months ago

No idea how this is an ad hominem attack. He literally says that his goal is to show how the war might be proportional.

Last edited 2 months ago by Castorp
Castorp
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

It’s a pity that Walen is not engaging with this post. Even if one thinks that part of it is ad hominem, there’s so much more that it’d be important to deal with, if one actually held this position. Like this, for example: “At a certain point, we have to begin with the Palestinian perspective, we have to ask what right the Israeli perspective has to intrude on it before the Palestinian experience has been fully articulated. What would our moral reasoning look like then?”

Castorp
Reply to  Matthew Noah Smith
2 months ago

I am so glad that you are pointing this out. The discussion threads on this topic have horrified me for exactly the reasons you lay out here. I can’t believe the knots people will tie themselves in in order to justify the systematic displacement, starvation, and bombing of a people living under occupation.

The real problem with the calculation in this post, as others have pointed out, is that it takes absolutely no account of the psychic cost of the occupation. This is probably because liberal Americans like to ignore the occupation whenever possible. But it cannot be ignored for those living under it. The calculation of psychic costs (if such a thing is even possible, or if the mindset guiding it is even desirable) put forward here achieves its goal well: starting from a “clean slate,” from which the systematic displacement of Palestinian people has just been erased, it finds that perhaps this newest round of displacement and ethnic cleansing is not as bad as it might seem. If there was ever a day when philosophy was about questioning the status quo, about unsettling what people take for granted, about interrogating the claims of the powerful, we are apparently very far from it.

William Bell
William Bell
2 months ago

This post is trying to plot a path towards a more legitimate war more-or-less by (i) bracketing the actual conduct of war (proportionality ad bellum only) while admitting the government throughout the war has no interest in improving on that, (ii) magnifying Israeli peace of mind both above Palestinian peace of mind but also Palestinian mass death, (iii) supposing the Israeli opposition to be something it’s not (interested in a just peace), and (iv) supposing the current military operation to be a viable path to a conciliatory government in Gaza, which even in the (imho not probable) scenario where Hamas is dispersed is ludicrous.

Some of this is plainly just normatively silly. But most of it betrays in my opinion, a worldview where the state of Israel has unlimited chances at redemption, whereas Palestinians are imagined to be passive and lacking internal states. Perhaps above all it feels incurious, it feels like all the rhetorical moves used by our politicians to change the subject, but put into a philosophical style where one helpfully notes the empirical questions you’ll be bracketing, a more sophisticated rhetorical technique for the same end.

Michel
2 months ago

Is this not just a version of the repugnant conclusion, where the aggregated but minor interests of a large population outweigh the more significant interests of a much smaller population?

Concerned Masters Student
Concerned Masters Student
2 months ago

I took the liberty of changing around some of the proper nouns (and a few other things) in this article. It’s quite illustrative how well it works!

“Could this apply to make [Rhodesia]’s [counterinsurgency] on [ZANU-PF] proportional? There are roughly [700,000 Whites] living in [Rhodesia] now most of whom seem to feel—based on my own informal discussions with [Whites]—that living with [ZANU-PF] operating [within/around] its border is “intolerable.” I interpret that to mean that the sense of insecurity it induces in them gives them a good reason to wage [counterinsurgency] on [ZANU-PF], aiming to depose it. To take that idea seriously, we have to suppose that they think that avoiding that insecurity is important enough to justify causing the collateral damage that will come from deposing [ZANU-PF]. If we assume that will be around 30,000 deaths, then the implicit ratio the [Whites] are invoking is something like one collateral death for every 200 [Whites] who would otherwise live in a state of profound insecurity. That number needs to be adjusted, however, for those [Blacks] who will necessarily, no matter how the [counterinsurgency] ends, carry a similar, if not greater, psychic burden because of [the counterinsurgency campaign]. Those who lost loved ones in the war presumably fit this description. Let us assume ten [Blacks] will carry that burden for every [Black] who is killed. Let us add to that the number who are injured and who will carry that burden for the rest of their lives. Suppose that number is five times higher than the number killed. If we add those numbers together, we get about half a million. If we offset the number of [Whites] with a claim to avoid a psychic burden by that number, the number of [Whites] whose psychic burden counts will still be close to six million. The ratio would still be something like one collateral death for every 200 or so [Whites] who would otherwise live in a state of profound insecurity. I find that I cannot reject that as an unreasonable balance. In other words, once we count psychic harm, it looks like [Rhodesia]’s [counterinsurgency campaign] might be proportional.”

Seriously though- I implore you think about whose perspective you are privileging here, and what that does to an argument that may or may not be logically cohesive (I’m not in a position to say whether it is or is not). Just because Israelis feel a certain way doesn’t mean they are justified in their feeling, and especially not in acting violently on it. I believe you could use all of the arguments you laid out to justify a number of campaigns/conflicts that we rightly regard as completely unjustifiable, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Rhodesian Bush War (the example I used), and the Apartheid counterinsurgency campaigns. Even if the Israeli response is proportional to their distress- all distress is not made equal, and that matters.

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  Concerned Masters Student
2 months ago

Two things. One: you recast everything in the example except plausible numbers. And number matter. Two, background context DOES matter. I think there’s no excuse for Israel to be occupying the territories as it does. It’s a horrible injustice. But I also think it’s important to keep in mind that if Israel did not defend itself, it would have been destroyed and its Jews slaughtered. The Palestinian Arabs and the neighboring Arab countries waged war on it from the get go, and the latter multiple times since. Nonetheless, I think it has a right to exist, and it needs to defend itself to do so. I don’t know enough about the situation of whites in what used to be called Rhodesia. But I’m pretty sure they weren’t looking to hold onto a white majority province where they could live in safety. I’m pretty sure they needed to oppress or get out. They got out. I think the situation in Israel is simply different.

Junior Faculty
Junior Faculty
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

“if Israel did not defend itself, it would have been destroyed and its Jews slaughtered”

It’s always hard to evaluate counterfactuals but it seems clear that, prior to 1948, there was no mass slaughtering of Jews. Perhaps Israel’s declaration of independence changed these facts so that, as of 1948, Arab countries around Israel would have slaughtered Jews, had they defeated Israel in war.

Regardless, Israel is not here defending itself from any of those countries. It is “defending itself” from an insurgency carried out by an occupied population that are decidedly not citizens of any of those countries.

Mark S.
Mark S.
Reply to  Junior Faculty
2 months ago

“It’s always hard to evaluate counterfactuals but it seems clear that, prior to 1948, there was no mass slaughtering of Jews.”

This is neither “clear” nor true. Cf. the 1929 Hebron massacre.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Junior Faculty
2 months ago

“prior to 1948, there was no mass slaughtering of Jews” Seriously?

Concerned Masters Student
Concerned Masters Student
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

This comment is clearly specific to the context of Palestine. And yes, in Palestine there was nothing even remotely equivalent to what we would today consider ethnic cleansing or genocide of the Jewish people- that was a distinctly European phenomenon, lest we forget.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Concerned Masters Student
2 months ago

1929 massacre was not in Europe. In any case, the European activity is relevant to this discussion, and the 1948 war was an attempt to replicate the European activity.

Concerned Masters Student
Concerned Masters Student
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

You can’t actually be comparing the 1948 war to the Holocaust in good faith, can you? One of the most preposterous statements I’ve read in relation to this preposterous conflict.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Concerned Masters Student
2 months ago

It was an attempt to eradicate the Jews, so it’s not like there’s no basis for comparison, but no, that actually wasn’t the point I was making.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

That’s just false. The 1948 war was launched as a response to the declaration of independence of Israel on the day of the expiry of the British mandate in Palestine. A terriroty that had until that point a vast majority of Palestinian Arabs. Trying to somehow turn this into an anti-semitic attack instead of a legitimate political response against a minority denying the political rights of the majority is a pure European projection and comparing it to the Holocaust is just sick.

Last edited 2 months ago by Yazan Freij
Python
Python
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

Agree fully. This was an incredibly morally irresponsible statement of Aeon Skobble’s

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

Surely you know that the British Mandate resulted in 2 states, one Arab and one Jewish. One group was fine with that, the other was not. I’m not the one who’s sick.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

Oh stop with the outright lies already. The’ mandate ‘did not result in any state whatsoever. What you are referring to is the 1947 UN partition plan which was justly rejected by the Palestinian Arabs because it granted them only 45% of the total territory despite forming the vast majority of the population and would have resulted in a classic case of ethnic cleansing. And yes. I stand by my comments. For someone who claims to be so concerned about the welfare of Jewish academics, drawing comparisons between the Holocaust and the 1948 war is so sick in many different levels. But of course, that is not surprising since Zionists keep showing always that they do not care about actual anti-semitism. The official reception that the outed anti-semite Elon Musk received in Israel is only the latest example.

Last edited 2 months ago by Yazan Freij
Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

You’ve misread my earlier comment, as did the anonymous person, but in any case there’s no denying that 1948 war was eliminationist.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

Of course there is no denying that the 1948 war was eliminationist: It resulted in the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of Palestinian villages and the expulsion of 750000 Palestinians which UN resolutions granted them the right of return but one state (guess which) keeps refusing. So we know who aimed at eliminating whom.

Last edited 2 months ago by Yazan Freij
Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

So it’s your contention that the Arab nations that attacked Israel were totally fine with the existence of Israel? I think that’s false. They went to war to eliminate Israel. Also, the people you describe as having been expelled left at the urging of Arab and Muslim political and spiritual leaders at the time, but then were not allowed into Jordan or Egypt. Plenty of Arabs did not flee of course, and remained citizens of Israel. That’s not how ethnic cleansing works. If Israel were into ethnic cleansing, there wouldn’t by Arabs in the Knesset or running businesses.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago
  1. They were not fine with the existence of Israel because Israel is a political project of an ethnostate that aimed from day one at ignoring the political rights of the majority. This is NOT the same as saying they were anti-semitic who wanted to kill or eradicate the jews because they were Jewish.
  2. The Palestinian refugees were forced to leave due massacres by the Zionist militias. It is irrelevant whether the Arab leaders urged them to leave or not. After the war ended, they had a UN-backed right of return that was never implemented by your favourite outlaw rogue country.
  3. The Palestinians were not allowed in neighbouring Arab countries ? What are you on about ? Another outright lie. Literally millions of UN-registered Palestinian refugees live today in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt (even Iraq previously). I am starting to think that you are delberately spewing lies to confuse people since literally everything you say can be easily chcked with a simple online search.
Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

Also, to deny ethnic cleansing happened because some Arabs remained and can “have businesses’ and serve in the Knesset is questionable to say the least. There are Armenian and Assyrian members of Parliament in Turkey today as well as Jewish members of thr French Parliament. No sane person would use this to deny the genocides that have befallen these communities.

Also, some information for you, the Arab population that ‘remained’ was subject fot many years to martial law unlike the Jewish population. They even nneded a special permit to move from one city to the other. Some discriminatory laws like the law of absentee properties are still used against them.

Castorp
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

If America is a racist country founded on ethnic cleansing, how could it be true that there are black members of congress?!!

Last edited 2 months ago by Castorp
frightened grad student
frightened grad student
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

“If Israel did not defend itself, it would have been destroyed and its Jews slaughtered–” this is conjecture, not fact! Conjecture parroted by the worst elements of the Israeli right-wing. Israel took Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian territory, which triggered war. You are not a historian, yet you are speaking authoritatively.

Same Junior Faculty
Same Junior Faculty
Reply to  frightened grad student
2 months ago

I just wanted to step in to clarify my original point. I worded things poorly. Clearly the Hebron massacre was an event in which Jews were slaughtered en masse, and I did not intend to deny this.

What I originally meant by “mass slaughter” (which some commenters understood from the context) was that there was no extended systematic campaign to eliminate or ethnically cleanse Jews from Palestine, nor was there any real indication that such a campaign would be started, had Israel not come into existence in the first place.

I remain agnostic (as I did in the original comment) about whether these intentions changed once Israel came into existence.

SquidProQuo
SquidProQuo
2 months ago

This approach to ethics and harm only makes sense if we think that the world began existing yesterday. In a realm of only effects and no causes, we would of course have to tally harms both psychic and real on a scoreboard, which would potentially show that there is a justifiable path forward for Israel’s fight against Hamas, but this doesn’t at all get into the reality of the situation. The “genocidal extremists” running the Israeli government aren’t some sort of complicating factor, they’re a manifestation of the colonial nature of this sort of project. It strikes me as trying to weigh the harms caused to both sides of a conflict between some Native American tribe and American settlers. To just compare and contrast whether the Settlers could minimally harmfully destroy their opposition just turns to whole issue into a numbers game to abstract away from the aims of both parties.

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  SquidProQuo
2 months ago

Actually, you’re exactly right. It does make sense only if we think going forward. That’s because I’m assuming that most of the people affected are not liable to harm. Hamas is liable to harm, because they not only attacked unjustly, but they threaten to do so again. In addition, I think there’s an argument to be made that Israel’s armed forces are liable to attack insofar as they perpetuate unjust oppression of Palestinians. But most Israelis are NOT liable to attack, nor are most Palestinians. Throwing around labels like “colonialist” only obscures matters. Most Israelis were born there. This is their country. Now… given that most are there and want to have their own country, what are they permitted to do to defend it against terrorist attack? That’s my question, and it’s forward-looking.

SquidProQuo
SquidProQuo
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

The concept of colonialism can hardly obscure matters any more than pretending that there are just two neighboring populations which contain violent groups bent on destroying the other in a void. The institutions, groups, and populations in question are in the states that they’re in and act in certain ways based on an important historic context. I use the example of early America though I’ve seen someone elsewhere use Rhodesia as an example, but both of those can fit the same set of justifications and ethical frameworks, the ethical scores are unintentionally set up so as to be in favor of occupying and oppressive forces.

frightened grad student
frightened grad student
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

“Throwing around labels like ‘colonialist’ only obscures matters.” No, it is merely inconvenient to your argument. The colonialist ambitions and policies of the Israeli right-wing are indeed pertinent. Frankly, it is absurd to suggest otherwise.

andy
andy
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

As you say, it’s absurd to treat colonialism as a reason to disregard the rights and interests of Israelis who themselves have no causal responsibility for the colonial past. But the attention to that past calls further attention to the siege, occupation, and continuing colonization (settlement) in the present. I think that any just response to the Hamas attack has to be preceded by one of two things:

  1. Complete, permanent, and unconditional withdrawal to within the green line, including ending the siege conditions on Gaza (e.g. its access to the sea) and reparations for the descendants of refugees, or
  2. Formal annexation of Gaza and the West Bank, granting full citizenship to all of its current inhabitants and something like reparations for the descendants of refugees.

I say ‘preceded’ because the occupation is, obviously, the root cause of the violence of Hamas and the violence Hamas was responding to. The Hamas attack can basically be understood as a war crime in the context of resistance to the ongoing occupation and progressing colonization. Since Israel does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC regarding its treatment of Palestinians, I admittedly don’t know what the best avenue for redress would be regarding the many war crimes of Hamas, the IDF, and other parties to the conflict.

andy
andy
Reply to  andy
2 months ago

To clarify this a bit: what Hamas did to Israeli civilians is an injustice, but that does not mean there is necessarily a fitting punishment. This becomes clearer if we take a more distant example–say, the Algerian resistance to French occupation. The Algerian resistance killed civilians, and this was arguably wrong. But, from a distance, it seems a bit absurd to have asked, “What could the French occupation justifiably do to protect themselves?” The only just thing they could do was to end the occupation.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  andy
2 months ago

This is not analogous, since Israel doesn’t “occupy” Gaza. They left over a decade ago.

andy
andy
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

The UN does not treat the occupation of Palestine as two separate occupations (nor did Hamas, incidentally, which pointed to West Bank settlement expansions as a major part of its motivation). You could say that Gaza has not been occupied but instead been under siege, which is an act of war, but that doesn’t alter the main coordinates of the analogy.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  andy
2 months ago

Actually the UN still classifies Gaza itself as occupied contra what Skobble is saying.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

One B, folks.
If Gaza is “under siege” that must imply that Egypt is complicit. I don’t think the Sadat-Begin entente went as far as that.

andy
andy
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

Of course Egypt is complicit. You could even read about this instead of talking about Sadat and Begin. It’s not clear what point you think you’re making.

TF Rector
TF Rector
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

That is not correct. Israel exercises sufficient “effective control” over Gaza to count as an occupying power, according to the UN, EU, ICC, ICJ, ICRC interpretations.

frightened grad student
frightened grad student
2 months ago

I doubt both the philosophical and the political value of doing moral accounting to see whether Israel should continue its actions. Israel has failed in all its policies and has created a volatile situation for itself– anyone who doubts this must simply believe Israel does nothing at all, which would nevertheless also be an evidently failed policy. The problem with the premise of “psychic harm” is that it is a subjective and loose concept. Indeed, we should be very skeptical of its deployment, and any moral claim you might make premised on that concept. I might argue that you do me tremendous “psychic harm” by saying “I like bananas,” but that does not make me justified in finding you blameworthy for saying “I like bananas.” Israelis might argue the very existence of Palestinians causes them “psychic harm” (and a worryingly large amount do), but that does not mean their actions are justified or proportional. I don’t think any serious moral philosopher would wish to argue such a point. Yet you take the concepts of “psychic harm” and “burden” for granted, without question. As a professor of law and philosophy, I think you have the duty to be skeptical and deflationary; otherwise, you make yourself complicit.

No, I do believe the moral argument is much more simple. Israel’s government has an obligation, and it has failed in that obligation. Its policies have failed, and the culprit is a right-wing movement which most Western states had no qualms calling a “terrorist movement.” If Israelis did not want to take this obligation on, they simply should have done things differently. They, along with Western states, should not have encouraged a right-wing movement which forcibly disenfranchised Palestinians, made them powerless refugees, and sabotaged every single positive process. The killer of Yitzhak Rabin was so popular amongst the Israeli far-right that the Knesset passed a law preventing a pardon from the president of Israel. The current Israeli Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir had a picture of a man who massacred Palestinians, a man venerated today by Israeli settlers.

I’m apologize for the harsh words, but Dr. Walen’s post has nothing to say and nothing to offer. It is merely a sad indication of cowardice, a cowardice all professional philosophers seem eager to demonstrate as the Israeli state drops bombs on displaced refugees it considers human refuse. That is the truth of Israeli politics, Dr. Walen. Proportionality might enter your head, but it does not matter to the Israeli right-wing and you must accept that. If all Palestinians disappeared tomorrow, a vast majority of Israelis would celebrate. You must accept that as well. Otherwise, you make yourself complicit. As it says in Rosh Hashanah 16: “a person is judged every day.” And as it says in the Sanhedrin 4, “whosoever destroys one soul, it is as though he had destroyed the entire world.” How will you be judged today, Dr. Walen?

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  frightened grad student
2 months ago

Oy. Look, make a caricature of the point about psychic harm. And you find evil all on one side. Everything you say about the Israeli right wing is true. But there is much evil in Hamas and those who support Hamas. At the same time, there are many innocents on both sides. I would like to see a just peace. I would like to see Hamas deposed. I would like to see the Israeli right wing deposed. Israel is still a democracy. It may yet depose its right wing and pursue better policies. Hamas had a stranglehold on Gaza. It would not be displaced peacefully. Or so it seems to me…

frightened grad student
frightened grad student
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

That is not a serious response. I didn’t mention evil. I said Israel as a civil society is responsible for the disaster it has created for itself by virtue of its terrible policies. To even mention evil illustrates to me that you are not interested in treating this as a political issue, but merely a good opportunity.

As I’ve made clear, this makes you complicit. You could use your position and audience towards goals that do not involve trying to work backwards to invent justifications for Israel. As I’ve said in my comment, nothing you’ve said is important to the Israeli right-wing nor does it have any relevance to their goals. Israel is still nominally a democracy but its people and defenders (this includes you) nevertheless irrationally hold on to policies which are a net negative for everyone. I question the moral and rational judgement of anyone who believes Israel’s actions have anything to do with reducing harm or deterrence. If the reality of Israel’s political situation does not matter to you, then again — what precisely is the point of all this?

CHEYNEY RYAN
CHEYNEY RYAN
2 months ago

In October 1956, Israel, Britain, and France launched an attack on Egypt for the purpose of reclaiming the Suez Canal, which the Egyptian government had just nationalized. Israeli Air Force Mustangs attacked Egyptian positions throughout the Sinai, Arab villages along the Jordanian border were placed under curfew resulting in the killings of 48 civilians in the village of Kafr Qasim.
This is commonly referred to as the “Second Arab Israel War”, as it was the first major conflict after 1948. It engendered one of the major political crises of the era, the “Suez Crisis”, involving President Eisenhower’s condemnation of the Israeli/British/French action. (It led to the resignation of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden.)

It is known in the Arab world as the “Tripartite Aggression”. Coming so soon after the establishment of Israel, it bolstered the perception of Israel as an avatar of Western imperialist interests in the Middle East.

I have found that this whole incident tends to be forgotten in the story of Middle East conflict. But in light of it, one might argue that the Egyptian public had every reason to experience the kind of “psychic harm” that Alec describes–in this case, from the uncertainty that Israel might join other imperialist powers once again to attack their country, or otherwise violate their sovereignty.

Should such psychic harm factor into an argument over whether, or how, Egypt should attack Israel–to root out the cause of its aggression?

In reality, this was a factor in Egypt’s subsequent military actions against Israel, which most of us–including Alec–regard as illegitimate.

The fact of the matter is that these sorts of arguments can go on forever, each side appealing to the psychic costs of the endless conflict as justification for pursuing such endless conflict further. But of one thing we can be certain: no amount of military action will bring the kind of security that will relieve Israel, or anyone in the region, of the psychic harms that threatened military actions bring. At some point, they will have to set aside all this balancing of “harms” against “harms”–all this quantifying of kidnapped grandmothers and dead children and shattered souls—and ask what a truly human solution to this conflict would look like. 

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  CHEYNEY RYAN
2 months ago

I appreciate the historical reference Cheyney. I’m not sure I buy the modus tolens. It depends on whether Israel really was out to aggress against Egypt. I doubt it, though I don’t doubt that the European powers were. Could Egypt launch a preemptive war against all the powers, assuming Israel would at least come to the aid of the Europeans? Well, in the immediate context of the “tripartite aggression” I suppose they could. But then all the other conditions kick in: would it just be a pointless spilling of blood (reasonable prospect of success); necessity, and so on. I think these things are highly contextual.

Of course, if we could find a way to find a truly human solution to the conflict, one that works without war, That Would Be BETTER. I don’t see one. But, to be honest, I’m pretty pessimistic that Israel can behave well after this war too. And if it can’t, then condemnation is due them for the war.

Christa Peterson
Christa Peterson
2 months ago

Siege is an act of war and Israel has had Gaza under siege for 16 years. Fighting Israel is very popular among Gazans because they have a right to self defense and living and dying at Israel’s whim is hellish. It’s not just Hamas that is undeterrable, it is the 2 million people Israel is holding in an internment camp. People hate that. Israel will not be able to slaughter them into hating Israel less. The international community should of course give Palestinian authorities the normal incentives to not commit war crimes, but that would require bringing them into the international fold, which is unacceptable to Israel.

Castorp
Reply to  Christa Peterson
2 months ago

A good point. So much work in ethics of war discussions gets done by presuppositions that aren’t made explicit. In this case, it’s a presupposition that “the war” began after October 7, and so our calculation must begin there too. But the Palestinian people have been under conditions of war for years. The “psychic damage” to them (not sure this is a useful way to look at what’s going on) is probably incalculable – or at least, extremely high – if we proceed in the way Walen suggests.

I have a hard time figuring out the point of this intellectual exercise, though. Do anyone really find this argument comforting or helpful? What does it help us to see? Does anyone actually believe that Israel is – or would ever be – waging a war based on this concept of proportionality?

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  Christa Peterson
2 months ago

Of course Israel can’t slaughter them into hating Israel less. But they didn’t love Hamas before the war. The polls indicated that Hamas was, in fact, fairly unpopular. My point was: if they can depose Hamas AND if they can then find a 2-state solution, then the war may, retroactively, be declared proportional… if they can keep the future deaths relatively low. There’s a lot of ifs there; I get it. In fact, I’m pretty pessimistic. I’m inclined to think the war will prove to be grossly disproportional. And I’m not at all in favor of supporting the Israeli regime’s occupation of Palestinian land and people. I’m ONLY looking to see if there’s a way in which the war could, if done “properly,” be overall defensible.

CHEYNEY RYAN
CHEYNEY RYAN
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

Alec – But shouldn’t the question be whether the Israeli action IS defensible, not whether it MIGHT be defensible given some hypothetical conditions? For the question facing us now is whether it IS defensible. I can imagine making a case for any war X that it MIGHT be defensible, on certain hypothetical assumptions. America’s invasion of Iraq MIGHT have been defensible, if we hypothetically assume that there were in fact weapons of mass destruction (which there weren’t). And in reality, your condition that the parties can find a two-state solution is truly hypothetical, given that the government currently waging the war is opposed to such a two-state solution in word and deed; plus there is the further fact that Israel’s current actions might make the possibility of a two-state solution even LESS likely.

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  CHEYNEY RYAN
2 months ago

The last point is particularly relevant. The current actions might make a 2-state solution less possible. But despite the chorus here who think that Hamas was ready to make a permanent truce with Israel, I for one don’t believe it. I’ve read their charter. I’ve read the updates. They are fundamentally committed to the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state there. Moreover, given the glee with which they slaughtered Israelis, I don’t think for a minute that they would be gentle and fair rulers if they were able to take over. So… I’m working with the hypothesis that there is No 2-state solution with Hamas.

There is ALSO No 2-state solution with Netanyahu and his extremist, right-wing cabinet. What’s different from the Iraq situation is that Israel has it in its power, as a democracy, to elect a new government (that’s not the case in Gaza, which has not been a democracy). And, as I pointed out at the end of my piece, Netanyahu is now very unpopular. So… what comes next? I don’t think any of us knows. If what comes next is a government dedicated to finding a 2-state solution, then we’ll see what the Palestinians, when not governed by Hamas, do. But that if is not like “if there are WMD.” It’s a choice that is in the power of Israel to make.

TF Rector
TF Rector
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

Even MORE relevant is Cheyney’s main point, that we ought to focus on “whether the Israeli action IS defensible, not whether it MIGHT be defensible given some hypothetical conditions?” You really owe a response to this. You chose to use your platform and disciplinary authority to help keep the question of this despicable massacre’s moral permissibility publicly “open”—and many of us, as I read these posts, wonder why. Are you really in any serious doubt about the issue?

Hermias
Hermias
2 months ago

I think I’m just restating Simon’s comment in different terms but:

The view seems to take a subjective view of well-being. Westerners post 9/11 were/are terrified by terrorism, but this didn’t provide good reason to (invade Afghanistan, airport security pantomime, etc.), even if these acts would have alleviated the terror-feelings, because really what is bad for your well-being is being at actual risk of harm, not perceiving oneself as being at risk of harm.

As with 9/11, the actual risk of Hamas doing this again is low, because the Israeli security forces will be in a greater state of preparedness.

There are just so many historical examples of people being sucked into in a cycle of violence by terrorist outrages. I get it, I’d be out for blood if I were Israeli, but it’s a trap.

Vengeance is mine [not yours] – The Lord.

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
2 months ago

To summarize: If we suppose that it is rational of Israeli Jews to be forever deeply afraid of extermination by Hamas (despite offers of permanent truce and having the most powerful military in the region, one of the most powerful in the world, and facing an irregular force in a walled-off ghetto); and we assume that, after decades of killing, apartheid, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, land theft, land destruction, home demolitions, and blockades, all followed by killing tens of thousands and displacing millions, Palestinians will lose all of their fears because Israel might completely change course and go against its stated intentions by building a just 2 state solution; then it might be the case that the war meets the proportionality requirement, because the psychic harms will outweigh the blown up by bombs harms. Of course lots of the specific acts would remain war crimes, but in principle it could be a just war.

Got it.

Not the sort of intellectual exercise I would think most useful in the face of mass state murder, but Alec recently declared that, unlike me, he’s a real philosopher. So perhaps that explains it.

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  Mark Lance
2 months ago

Don’t be nasty Mark.

Matthew Noah Smith
Matthew Noah Smith
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

Outside of the final two sentences, how did Mark err? Was it just a matter of emphasis? Of word choice? Or is there something deep Mark has failed to capture in his abstract of your argument? Or is it just the tone? Mark got it pretty much spot on but dammit he was not courteous enough.

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
Reply to  Alec Walen
2 months ago

I have accurately summarized this piece. I’ve noted that you consider this sort of thing, unlike talks that accurately portray the conditions under which Palestinians live and draw moral conclusions from that, to be “real philosophy,” as was your explicit claim when I pointed out that you were both lying and being racist in your generalizations about the Arab world. And your response is that I’m being nasty.

Well, Alec, I am much more concerned with how the parents of the thousands of children whose massacre you are deflecting from feel about my tone. Frankly, though I was not nasty in that comment, I think there are occasions in which nastiness is very much called for.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Mark Lance
2 months ago

“Offers of a permanent truce” Like the one that was in place on Oct 6?

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

The permanent truce that Hamas offered was contingent with the establishment of a viable and soverign Palestinian state. This is the same solution advocated by almost all countries in the world including all of Israel’s allies but that is outrightly refused by one state (guess which again). So no, not like the 6 October situation when Israel thought it could keep ignoring Palestinian political demands forever.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

I agree, they should not ignore the demands that Israel be eradicated and all Jews killed, which is what Hamas is dedicated to. I’ll assume you’ve read their charter, but in case people following this thread haven’t, that’s what it says. When people say they want to kill you, it’s prudent to believe them. So any truce offer coming from people dedicated to killing you is likely to be insincere.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

Another outright lie. Here is what the charter says:

16. Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project not with the Jews because of their religion. Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine. Yet, it is the Zionists who constantly identify Judaism and the Jews with their own colonial project and illegal entity.

For anyone who wants to read it in full/
https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/hamas-2017-document-full

David Wallace
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

I take it the issue is in part whether Hamas’s revised charter should be seen as a genuine and profound change of heart or as a marketing move. (I assume you would agree that their 1988 charter is very explicitly antisemitic.)

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Speculating about people’s ‘real’ and ‘hidden’ intentions is useless. What we can do is analyse the official charter and the statements by Hamas officials before 7 October but especially after. As far as I know, no racist or anti-semitic rheoteric was made. On the Israeli side, however, there is no need to speculate on hidden intentions since many Israeli officials have made explicitly racist and dehumanzing statements about Palestinians.

David Wallace
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

“Look how many I killed with my own hands! Your son killed Jews!… I killed 10 with my own hands! Dad, 10 with my own hands!”

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Which Hamas *official* made this statement again ?

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Surely you know that we could trade horrifying comments from both sides all day. There are numerous videos of Israelis – soldiers, settlers, civilians, even some government officials – saying that the goal is to wipe all Palestinians out of the entirety of Palestine.

The main point is that all this is silly. International agreements aren’t based on trusting good intentions. They are based on legal agreements, verification, deterence, and ultimately a relationship that is to the benefit of both. Did the Brits and France suddenly trust each other after 1000 years of more or less monthly wars? Dig up some of that rhetoric.

Given the actual historical crimes, it is pretty clear which side in this is taking the larger step of trust.

David Wallace
Reply to  Mark Lance
2 months ago

I agree that there are horrifying comments from both sides and I don’t want to argue that one side is worse than the other. I was replying to the claim that Israel has no reason to be concerned that Hamas – or factions within Hamas – have exterminatory intentions, which I don’t think is reasonable. (And absolutely: Palestinians in turn have reason to be concerned that Israel – or factions within Israel – have exterminatory intentions.)

I would say – and I’d be interested in your view here – that one of the prima facie problems with the truce Hamas offered some while ago is that it *doesn’t* seem to have verification options in it. That is: Israel would trade concrete and verifiable moves for a declared ceasefire that could be ended at any time. Contrast the Good Friday agreement, where the IRA and loyalist terror groups agreed to third-party verified destruction of weapons. If something like that was offered as part of Hamas’s hudna offer, I haven’t seen it.

Last edited 2 months ago by David Wallace
Mark Lance
Mark Lance
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

That is something that is negotiated, right? (A wild-eyed radical might also ask whether Israel – as the party that has killed vastly more innocent people over the years – would also accept inspections and destruction of weapons.) But obviously the details of something like that are not what gets put into an initial offer. (For example, every discussion between the PLO/PA and Israel has begun with the assumption that the Palestinian “state” would be de-militarized. Scare quotes, of course, because this means that it isn’t a state.) And yet Israel has dismissed all these moves out of hand while continuing settlement expansion that makes the whole idea of a 2 state solution impossible. And that is under Labour every bit as much as Likud.

Python
Python
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

This was the comment made by a (extremely reprehensible) young man–not Hammas official

David Wallace
Reply to  Python
2 months ago

That young man is indeed reprehensible, but the reason is not mainly that he said “I killed 10 Jews”; it is that he did, indeed, kill 10 Jews. And he did so as an intended part of an operation planned by Hamas officials.

I’m genuinely unclear what the supposed exculpation of Hamas leadership is supposed to be. The nearest I can manage is:

“Our intent on October 7 was to rape, torture, kill, and mutilate as many people as we could, irrespective of creed or color. It has come to our attention that a minority among our forces chose to preferentially rape, torture, kill and mutilate Jews. We deplore this racist and anti-Semitic behavior, which does not reflect our values. and will be taking internal disciplinary action to ensure that any future acts of rape, torture, killing and mutilation that our forces commit remain true to our principles.”

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

No REAL evidence for rape, torture or mutilation. and NO. Israeli journalistic stories about second hand narratives do not count. These started the DEBUNKED “40 beheaded babies” that all Western media propagated for weeks.

David Wallace
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

I’m not going to bother engaging further with anyone who tries to defend that claim. We’re getting into ‘jet fuel can’t melt steel beams’ territory.

Last edited 2 months ago by David Wallace
Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago
Last edited 2 months ago by Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

The UN decides to form a committee to specifically investigate allegations of sexual abuse committed in Israel. What does Israel do? Refuse to cooperate and present forensic evidence and claim that the UN is biased. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/un-commission-investigate-hamas-sexual-violence-appeal-evidence-2023-11-29/

Last edited 2 months ago by Yazan Freij
Castorp
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

When someone says something like this,
they have already bought into the image of Palestinians as barbaric, merciless savages. But this image has been actively constructed by Israel and Western powers at least since the time of the British mandate. It’s not conspiracy thinking to question the veracity of the claims that David Wallace takes for granted, about rape, torture, mutilation – claims that others on this thread have repeated almost reflexively, claims that are almost impossible to question in this situation. Actually, assessing whether this image is accurate – if there is evidence for its inadequacy – is what philosophy demands. Especially when we’re saturated by garbage news about the conflict that doesn’t consider the Palestinian perspective unless it is forced to.

By the way, Haaretz just came out with a report about the exaggeration of claims made by Israeli officials about October 7:

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-palestine-war-personnel-false-information-7-october-attack

Last edited 2 months ago by Castorp
David Wallace
Reply to  Castorp
2 months ago

I don’t take anything ‘for granted’, and I certainly did not and do not trust the reports that emerged in the immediate aftermath of the October 7th attacks. The fog of war is thick and initial reporting of any mass-casualty event is always unreliable (a lesson that also applies to reporting from Gaza). But we are now two months on from those attacks, and there is now overwhelming evidence for torture, mutilation of the dead, and – most of all – of widespread sexual violence. (Though I repeat myself: sexual violence *is* torture.) At this point, it requires conspiracy-theory level reasoning to deny that these things occurred.

(And it does not ‘dehumanize’ Palestinians, or threat them as savages, to recognize this: these things have happened many times in war, and will happen many times again. It requires work to prevent them even in disciplined armies: the idea that one can say to one’s forces “slaughter indiscriminately, young and old, man and woman and child – but do so humanely and while respecting the sexual autonomy of women” and expect a good outcome is pretty risible.)

This is a depressing but clarifying coda to the original thread. It is possible to recognize the atrocities that occurred on October 7th while still condemning Israel’s retaliation, while claiming that the overall horrors inflicted on the civilian population of Gaza by the IDF dwarf October 7th in moral significance, indeed while placing ultimate responsibility for the unfolding catastrophe on the current Israeli government, on all Israeli governments, or even on the very concept of Israel. All of those are intellectually and morally defensible positions (which is not to say that I agree with them). But it is neither intellectually nor morally defensible to close one’s eyes to what really happened on October 7th. Those who do close their eyes are not worth engaging with on this issue, and I won’t be bothering to reply to ‘castorp’ after this post.

Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  David Wallace
2 months ago

Castorp talks about the Haaretz piece but he links to the Middle East Eye piece supposedly reporting on it. Had someone so concerned about the prevalence of garbage news searched the actual source of this “report”, they would have found the original piece entitled “Hamas Committed Documented Atrocities. But a Few False Stories Feed the Deniers”. Sadly and ironically, the second sentenced is confirmed by the use that Middle East Eye and Castorp make of the article itself. The original article explicitly says: “A variety of evidence is available on Hamas’ cruelty, which includes the murder of parents in front of their children and children in front of their parents. There were sexual assaults, rapes and mutilations, while some victims were bound and some of the dead were desecrated. Some homes were burned with the people still inside.None of this is in dispute.” Which is exactly David Wallace’s point.

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-12-04/ty-article-magazine/.premium/hamas-committed-documented-atrocities-but-a-few-false-stories-feed-the-deniers/0000018c-34f3-da74-afce-b5fbe24f0000

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
2 months ago

There is a great deal of evidence of rape and other sorts of sexual violence in the attacks, along with other war crimes.
There has been a clear propaganda effort to embellish these crimes with other ones and to downplay the number killed by Israeli fire.

Honestly, I don’t see how there is any rational dispute over either of these claims. I also don’t see how any of this bears on Alec’s attempt to obfuscate the current war crimes happening in Gaza.

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

No REAL evidence for rape, torture or mutilation. and NO. Israeli journalistic stories about second hand narratives do not count.

I’m very surprised Justin has allowed this comment on DN.

As Davis Wallace says:

we are now two months on from those attacks, and there is now overwhelming evidence for torture, mutilation of the dead, and – most of all – of widespread sexual violence. (Though I repeat myself: sexual violence *is* torture.) At this point, it requires conspiracy-theory level reasoning to deny that these things occurred.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

Article 7: Moreover, if the links have been distant from each other and if obstacles, placed by those who are the lackeys of Zionism in the way of the fighters obstructed the continuation of the struggle, the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).

Article 28: Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people. “May the cowards never sleep.”



Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

This is the old charter from 1988 which was updated in 2017. Keep up

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

I’ve seen zero evidence that they have renounced those views. Oct 7 only makes me _more_ sure they haven’t.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

“It is not the eyes that go blind, but it is the hearts, within the chests, that go blind”.

andy
andy
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

Gaza has been under siege since 2006. 197 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank between Jan 1 2023 and October 6 2023. On October 6, an IDF soldier shot dead a 9-year-old boy in the street in Jenin.

Last edited 2 months ago by andy
Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  andy
2 months ago

They shot two kids today in Jenin also. One aged 9, the other 15. A video exists of one of them getting sniped in the middle of the street while running and trying to take cover. Maybe Skobble should watch it

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

Of course there was no truce agreed to on Oct 6 and, as Yazan and Andy said, Israel was engaging in the usual steady pace of assassinations. But presumably educated people just throw out this utter nonsense because a gesture at how evil Arabs are is supposed to be enough to justify anything.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  Yazan Freij
2 months ago

One B, folks. I’m starting to think you’re doing that on purpose.

Aeon J. Skoble
Reply to  andy
2 months ago

Under siege by Egypt as well? You’re aware that Gaza borders Egypt.

andy
andy
Reply to  Aeon J. Skoble
2 months ago

Yes. The government of Egypt has agreed with Israel to enforce the blockade.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
2 months ago

I would be interested to hear what Alec Whalen and David Wallace think of this evidence, from an important new journalistic investigation. “The bombing of power targets, according to intelligence sources who had first-hand experience with its application in Gaza in the past, is mainly intended to harm Palestinian civil society: to “create a shock” that, among other things, will reverberate powerfully and “lead civilians to put pressure on Hamas,” as one source put it.”

If true, this is terrorism, right?

https://www.972mag.com/mass-assassination-factory-israel-calculated-bombing-gaza/

Alec Walen
Alec Walen
Reply to  ComeOnNow
2 months ago

True, state terrorism. Unjust action. Undermines Israel’s case to be justified in this war. Combat always involves trying to influence the psychology on the other side. But it should be aimed at the military directly, not at civilians.

David Wallace
Reply to  ComeOnNow
2 months ago

If true, then disgraceful and totally unacceptable.

Matthew Noah Smith
Matthew Noah Smith
Reply to  ComeOnNow
2 months ago

None of those who have spilled unseemly quantities of ink dreaming up baroque justifications for the mass slaughter of Palestinians will waste even a dram of ink publicly admitting their errors. They will do as Israel does: “It wasn’t my fault!” Amazingly, they will now start blaming Israel. Unsurprisingly really given how carefully they conform to Israeli modes of justification.

As the 972 article linked above reveals – and which was obvious to anyone paying attention – the IDF is bombing indiscriminately and thereby massacring children and other non-combatants. It is also possible that the IDF is bombing as part of a terror campaign. Again, many of us who were looking at this through eyes that did not rigorously adopt the Israeli point of view could see that clearly.

What is worse is that Israel is massacring Gazans under the cover of preventing another 10/7-style Hamas attack. And yet a recent Haaretz article and a recent NYT article both show that Israel could have prevented the first attack, the one that started it all, had they only made a small effort to do so:

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/30/world/middleeast/israel-hamas-attack-intelligence.html

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-11-20/ty-article-magazine/.premium/the-women-soldiers-who-warned-of-a-pending-hamas-attack-and-were-ignored/0000018b-ed76-d4f0-affb-eff740150000?fbclid=IwAR2Ytijmq8BLi9rEyCd5OXBeCwSXDtfOJuPBRzP8Rbw6ePntol6dIIgIX9g&v=1701052182197

In other words, there is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to bomb Gaza to prevent another Hamas attack. Israel had all the tools to prevent the first attack and retains those tools to prevent a second attack. Not a single baby had to die.

And so every justification for this terrible war falls away. It turns out that it was a pointless, racist massacre, one of the most violent, intensive efforts in ethnic cleansing in recent history.

Philosophers and law professors who used their professional bona fides to provide intellectual cover for Israel’s mass murder and mass displacement of Palestinians should be ashamed of themselves.

ABD
ABD
2 months ago

Hi Alec, I find the numbers part of this piece a bit hard to follow. Can you provide a specific amount of Palestinian citizens you think it would be appropriate for the IDF to kill? Are you saying that around 30 000 deaths would be fine? Or could you justify more? If the IDF surpasses that amount will you start arguing that what Israel is doing is unjust and that they should stop? Or would there be new and more ‘psychic harms’ to consider? I’d just like to get clear on the numbers because we’re about halfway there, so going past 30 000 Palestinian citizens seems entirely possible. It would be nice get to some clear numbers so that if the Israel does pass those numbers, we can get a sense of if the arguments are about actually assessing what’s proportional or about justifying whatever Israel decides to do.

Justin Fisher
2 months ago

The original post’s focus on deterrability strikes me as odd. This can be brought out by fleshing out the author’s analogy to an undeterrable neighbor.

Suppose I’ve been treating my neighbors horribly for years, effectively keeping their house under siege, and all their appeals to outside powers have fallen upon deaf ears. Eventually some of my neighbors can’t stomach this any more, so they attack and perform unspeakable deeds to some inhabitants of my house. I am understandably afraid, in part because I can see that my threats of treating them even more horribly won’t deter them from doing this again. To avoid this ongoing “psychic harm” to my family, I turn around and heavily attack my neighbor’s house, trying to target the few people who had attacked mine, but also foreseeably causing great collateral damage to innocent people inside, including great psychic harm. But I vow that once I get done causing all this harm, I’ll then stop horribly mistreating my neighbors, and thereafter shift to a peaceful “two house” solution, so the great psychic harm I’m causing them now will eventually become less bad.

As far as I can tell, the original post implies my attacking my neighbors in this way would be a perfectly justifiable act of self defense. In contrast, I think my attacking my neighbors in this way would clearly NOT be justifiable. Instead, I must strongly consider an alternative course of action in which I stop treating my neighbors so horribly, and stop adding fuel to the ongoing resentment that motivates some them to sometimes get fed up and do unspeakable things to my people. The fact that they’re “undeterrable” by my threatening to treat them even worse is beside the point — so long as they would respond well to my stopping treating them so horribly, then that’s the avenue I morally must pursue, and it would be completely unjustifiable for me to further escalate a cycle of violence that my own past misdeeds had done much to perpetuate.

(I think there’s a clear analogy to the current situation in Palestine, but to be clear, I’m not making any assertion here about just how tight this analogy is, in part because I honestly don’t know how good the prospects for peace would have been, at various relevant stages, had Israel chosen to stop horribly mistreating Palestinians and offered a genuinely respectful two-state solution instead. My present point is just that the original post left out some clearly-relevant moral considerations, especially regarding the possibility that my “undeterrable” neighbor might nevertheless be responsive to my choosing to treat them *less*horribly*. Also to be clear, I’m not in any way claiming that the neighbors’ unspeakable deeds were morally justifiable, just that they were a predictable consequence of how I had been mistreating them.)

Gregory McKenna
Gregory McKenna
1 month ago

Interesting video rebuttal on this: How to Justify an Atrocity (youtube.com)

Ben
Ben
1 month ago

The comparison of Palestinian and Israeli psychic harms seems absurd to me.

Let me give a hypothetical. Which of these situations would you rather choose:
(1) Moving to Israel for years.
(2) Living in a fear of dying from daily bombing raids for months, being displaced from ones home, and having a significant chance of having a friend or family member die.

Admittedly, there are approximately 4 times more Israelis than Gazans, increasing the psychic harm of the first situation. Nonetheless, I very much doubt people would take a quarter of the trauma from option (2).