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Feb 3, 2004 6:40 pm

Juan Cole on Black Holes ...

Juan Cole has a long post up this morning which responds to a challenge from Matt Yglesias about Arab/Israeli relations. This excerpt says much of it:
the Arab-Israeli stuff is a Black Hole that sucks up time and energy with no obvious positive result, ever. I once compared having anything to do with it to"tangling with the Church of Scientology while living through someone else's nasty divorce." The problem is that everything one says about it is dissected to death until it doesn't mean anything anymore. And, most people in public life have frankly been intimidated into just being quiet about it (including every single sitting member of the US Congress, not one of which ever criticizes any action of the Sharon government [and survives the next election]; this is an incredible degree of political intimidation).
We historians mostly do not believe that nations are natural or inevitable or"right." In this we differ from most of our contemporaries, and have done since at least Renan (who rightly remarked that when a historian studies a nation he must first betray it). Nationalists do not like us to question their pieties, especially their essentialism and attempt to justify the nation as always necessary and always right.
Do read the whole thing.
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Ralph E. Luker - 2/3/2004

What particularly interested me about Cole's post is the material in the excerpt about the historians' assumption of the necessity of critical distance from a subject. That is what seems so lacking in most of what I see published.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/3/2004

It really is a vampire subject: it will suck the life out of you and replace your energy with its own life-sucking interest. I've been sucked in sometimes, of course (as a Jew, I'm particularly vulnerable, and surrounded by the afflicted).

Cole's arguments themselves are so-so, though his critque of Yglesias is pretty good.

I want to see solutions, not blame. That's the position I'm trying to take. It keeps me out of trouble, mostly.

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