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Discrepant Punctuation

Reader comment on item: Debate about possible war between Israel and Hamas

Submitted by Joel M Miller (United States), Nov 13, 2012 at 18:20

Daniel -

You reasonably declined to get into a contest of "who hit who first" (sometimes called the problem of "discrepant punctuation"), to focus on what's happening now and what's likely to follow. But the image of an overwhelming wrong committed in the past, sustained by crass power, tolerated by an uncaring world, and in urgent need of redress, is enormously compelling to most people, who are simply not going to examine circumstances closely. It's probably worthwhile to develop succinct and emotionally appealing explanations of Israel's historic and legal claims, the moral difference between offensive and defensive war (and the consequent legality of territorial claims), the sorts of societies that are in conflict in the ME, etc.

Do you know "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt? His analysis of the multiple psychological foundations of morality is eye-opening, and goes a long way to explaining why even half-crazed rants (backed by inflammatory stock imagery!) tend to win over reasoned argument. Basically, according to Haidt, an appeal to "Care/harm" (of individuals) covers most of what Westerners feel as morality, with "Freedom/opression" covering most of the rest. These themes were, of course, beaten to death by "Gaza" and "London". (A caveat: Haidt's multiculturalist conclusions from his analysis seem not to follow at all - his lefty-liberal past are not as far behind him as he imagines).


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