Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Mind of the Political Terrorist by Richard Pearlstein

This book is a fascinating study of the psychological factors that create a political terrorist.  The author sees a pattern in the psycho-histories of a few well known terrorists from the 1970's and concludes that the political terrorist is created out of a narcissistic rage.

Pearlstein explains that the potential political terrorist experiences first a series of what he calls narcissistic injuries and narcissistic disappointments that results in narcissistic rage.  This means that some significant other (a parent or friend) rejects and injures one's ego or circumstances don't go the way one expected and as a result one's ego is sorely disappointed.  These missteps translate into a rage. This rage emboldens the person to enter the political theater of terrorism because there is some sort of psycho-dynamic reward in holding someone hostage or bombing some building which compensates for the narcissistic injuries.

One can not escape the thought that everyone has experienced some sort of injured ego or disappointment, however, the mind adjusts and compensates and one regains one's equilibrium.  The examples of the book profile, however, profound injuries sometimes repeatedly and one feels the pain and anguish that these people suffer, hoping that they would regain their equilibrium.

[One of the cases in the book profiles the Symbianese Liberation Army kidnapping of Hearst Corporation heiress, Patty Hearst.  I relived the moments of gunfire in the streets of Berkeley, CA since I was a student on the same block where she was taken. My roommates and I heard the shots fired thinking that someone was having fun with firecrackers.]

I find the idea of narcissistic rage difficult to fathom: at what point does one become so damaged that one contemplates an act of evil against a stranger?  The relationship between the rage and the terror is odd.  Why should there be a victim of someone else's rage that has nothing to do with one's disappointment or injury?

If Pearlstein is correct in his assessments of political terrorists, then we should appreciate the complexity and fragility of the mind and take a moment to be thankful for one's own equilibrium.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Jewish Emancipation and Self-Emancipation by Jacob Katz

This volume is really a collection of essays that convey a theme and flow in modern Jewish history.  Jewish emancipation does not accomplish the serious integration of the Jewish people into the mainstream of Europe but rather changes the Jewish community by fracturing it internally.  Instead of integrating in Christian Europe, Professor Katz sees Zionism and the State of Israel as a natural historical outgrowth of the failure to integrate.  Creating a Jewish state is really self emancipation.

Moses Mendelssohn and his students that follow had grand hopes of Jewish equality. Even his students recommended changes to blend into the landscape.  Christian Europe, however, expected nothing less than conversion and not integration.  When the Jewish people were steadfast in their religion, acceptance waned, and anti-semitism rose to severe levels.  

Precursors to Zionism present the case of leaving Christian Europe, and settling the ancient homeland with messianic visions.  Rabbis Kalisher and Alkalay at one end of the ideological spectrum and socialistic Moses Hess at the other end share similar visions. In a fractured Jewish community with different ideologies, however, the messianic idea of return resonates with a significant minority.  This idea seems to unify a wide range of people. 

Professor Katz is convinced that the natural result of the failure of Christian Europe amalgamating the  Jewish people is the nurturing and growing Jewish independence into a third commonwealth that now manifests itself as the modern State of Israel. Although the Diaspora remains intact, and Jews around to world continue to accept host culture prejudice, the professor believes that the State of Israel contributes to the self esteem of world Jewry and the distinction in identities between the Jew and the Israeli is not as disparate as it used to be.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek

This book was recommended by Milton Friedman so I read it as part of my education in economics which has been woefully lacking!

This book is significant historically because it was written during WWII and published after with the  formidable understanding of two planned economies: Germany and Soviet Russia: both totalitarian regimes.  Hayek's warning is that the curtailing of civil liberties and the creation of a totalitarian regime can easily come from either the political left or right!  He writes passionately against 'planned' economies that control labor and prices.  He believes in liberty and recommends government oversight against monopolies.

Fundamentally, Hayek teaches that the quest for equality at the expense of liberty will ultimately create a totalitarian state where the individual is meaningless.  He passionately argues that equality is such a powerful concept that putting an influential propaganda program in place will convince the masses of the correctness of a planned economy to redistribute wealth.  Unfortunately, he argues that such a plan is doomed to failure.

The lure of equality is seductive.  The desire to create the ideal society is lofty and praiseworthy.  Hayek shows. however, the difficulty in putting into practice an ideal society.  He shows that government is inefficient and too arbitrary in prescribing equality, that ultimately, an elite few make decisions exhibiting the impossibility of 'equality'.

What I found fascinating about the book was that it was directed originally to an English audience. England was struggling with its future, trending toward a socialistic society.  Hayek warned that liberty must be kept in the forefront of socialism, that markets must be kept open and free to keep the tyranny of Nazism or Communism from creeping into England.

[I was reminded of my stay in Israel as a student years ago, having discussions with socialists from kibbutzim never understanding nor identifying with such a lifestyle that lumped everyone together.  Today, there are very few kibbutzim in the traditional socialistic form.  Many have changed to more capitalistic endeavors.  I can think of another example: Israel's national airline became more efficient and better run when it privatized!]

Hayek argues that planned economies don't work and his hope is that the leaders of the free world will keep the concept of liberty in the forefront.  This book has given me a better perspective and understanding to observe the different political issues that are being discussed today in the USA.  It is interesting to observe where the argument of equality has its lure and is voiced over liberty and vice versa. For example, in the present discussion about raising taxes, one hears comments like 'fair share' implying equality over liberty or in the discussion of gun control, the recitation of the Constitution's second amendment voicing liberty over equality.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Freedom the Choose: a personal statement by Milton and Rose Friedman

After reading Friedman's argument in favor of free market capitalism and his call for the curtailing of government interference of imposing price limits and other market oversights, I realized that my education is lacking.  After reading this book, I realized that my liberal arts education left out important tools to navigate through our economy.  The book gave context to how one fits into the economic world, how one makes a living.  Perhaps, had I been educated differently I would not necessarily be in a liberal arts profession today, that I would be able to navigate in the world of business!  One's education should include at least a discussion of economic models of collectivism and individualism, of socialism and of capitalism.  One would be in a better position to make decisions about one's economic life.

This book makes a cogent argument against collectivism.  Historically, Friedman shows that freedom is greatest in free markets and he is a believer in market corrections.  He argues that our republic rarely allows for market corrections and instead relies on government to make corrections that ultimately fail miserably.  Government controls increase government power and restricts one's personal freedom.

He argues that government gets involved when the market experiences a tragedy  and instead of allowing for obvious market correction, emotions run high and form public opinion demanding an emotional response.  For example, he cites the best seller by Ralph Nader, Unsafe at any speed as an example of exploiting a tragedy and driving public opinion to bring on government controls in the auto industry.  Friedman cites studies showing that the GM Corvair was actually not an unsafe car!  Instead of allowing one to choose to drive or not to drive a Corvair, allowing for one's personal choice and freedom, the car was banned.

Despite the fact that it was written over thirty years ago, the book helps to clarify much of the discussions today: to grow the government through spending or curtail the growth of government through program cutting etc.  Friedman is a firm believer that the former approach will ultimately restrict one's personal freedoms.