Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Jews then, Jews now, Jews shopping

-Working on the "background" chapter of the diss. In other words, the not-so-much-in-the-way-of-original-research one. Also, the falls-well-outside-my-area-of-expertise-time-period-wise one. (The Bible? The Middle Ages?) But still, it's very important for framing the rest of my (I promise utterly page-turning) project. But there's something kind of relaxing about summing up that which has already been done, and it's great fun to learn about things I haven't been reading about and taking courses on since forever, but that are actually quite central to the bigger questions I've been trying to address all this time.

-OWS, a left-wing movement with the word "occupy" front-and-center, has, shock of all shocks, embraced the Palestinian cause. Everyone's been mulling over the Jewish angle to OWS basically since it started. Do the now-famous Yom Kippur, uh, festivities clear OWS of all possible charges of anti-Semitism? Not exactly - Jews have been members of not-so-Jew-friendly movements in the past, and hatred of Jews hasn't been about hatred of Jewish religious practice since approximately forever. But yes, the great enthusiasm of so many Jews for the movement suggests it is not, in fact, the new Nazism. If it were a thoroughly anti-Semitic movement, then no, there probably wouldn't be such a great big space for Jews in it.

My own mulling has consisted in part of making a mental note that a good number of the 1%ers standing with the 99% struck me as expressing a particularly Jewish (even though not all are Jewish! plenty, I think, but not all!) kind of rich-person self-hatred. The kind that comes from being the offspring of New Money, a sort of guilt that comes with comparing one's own zillionaire parents (who may seem stingy, not on account of being Jewish, but on account of having grown up poor, and having all their current status deriving from their bank accounts) with the more noblesse-oblige, philanthropic, charity-gala parents of one's prep-school classmates. The kind that comes from having a lot of money, but having never fully integrated into rich-people culture (such as the evidently all-white country clubs some of my non-Jewish private-school classmates seem to attend at each of their many vacation-home locales - thank you, Facebook, for keeping me posted!), and thus finding one's self socializing largely with those well outside the 1%. If you're a part of an of-course-we-own-all-this-crap-for-it-is-our-birthright landed aristocracy, it feels natural to you that you have the place in life you do.

Again, let me emphasize that Jews are far from the only group with this pattern, that if anything these days other groups experience it more, and - and this ought not need stating - plenty of Jews (ahem!) do not face the moral dilemma that comes with waking up one morning with a million-dollar trust fund. But this did strike me as being one rather salient Jewish angle, one that explains the involvement even of those who've experienced this dynamic, without coming from families that are, technically-speaking, anywhere close to the 1%.

And Israel kind of does enter into it, insofar as when experienced by Jews, this guilt manifests itself in part as feeling ashamed at the parents' generation for supporting the Jewish state - basically an ethnicity-specific version of the equivalent generation in any group cringing at its parents' voting Republican. Problem is, there are some very good lefty reasons to think that Jews ought to keep on having a state. But this is only a problem if there are terribly many young, lefty Jews who think that.

-Admiring, wavering. It comes down to whether or not we are, in fact, buying a car any time soon. If so, no frivolous purchases allowed. If not, it's not as if I do any spontaneous shopping, dining out, meeting friends for drinks, etc., etc., etc. now that I live in the woods, so I probably could afford these. But to wear... where? Walking Bisou? To a nearby library? What is this thing called "attention to dress," and how does it relate to my current life?


J. Otto Pohl said...

I am not convinced OWS is a leftwing movement. They seem to be much closer to 19th century populism then 20th century socialism. What exactly about them do find leftwing?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

J. Otto,

They identify and are identified as left-wing. Left-wing people and groups are the ones participating. They're situating themselves as the liberal alternative to the Tea Party. This is controversial?

J. Otto Pohl said...

I have seen them identified as left wing, but not seen them identify themselves as such. But, more to the point they have not advocated for leftist positions. They are not calling for the collecitization of agriculture or nationalization of industry. There are no pictures of Lenin, Mao, Ho, or Castro such as characterized the New Left of the 1960s. The fact that some are pro-Palestinian a cause that has always been associated with the right and far right in the US makes it even more fuzzy. What exactly about OWS is at all similar to the Stalinists and Maoists that controlled the US left in the 1930s and 1960s?