Liberal Cognative Egocentrism on The Augean Stables – A day late again

Hussam Abdu at the Hawara checkpoint March 24, 2004

Richard Landesover at the Augean Stables, who is my go-to-guy for all issues millenarian, Israeli/Palestinian media bias, and such hip new nomenclature as “liberal cognitive egocentrism” and “demopathy”.  Richard had a post up Oct 31st  [yes I’m that far behind the power curve]  entitled LCE and the Arab-Israeli conflict: Arab mothers are just like everyone.  I’m going to use this as a way to broach the subject of Cognitive Egocentrism here at Meme Merchants.

In an article in Ha-Aretz, where he [Paul Halsall] argues a stylish pomo-poco case that the prisoner exchange reveals Israel’s racism, Alon Idan makes a number of statements that reveal the counter-empirical assertions that necessarily underly his argument:

Yet behind this feeling of superiority [at how much Israelis value life more than Palestinians] lurked a murky, inverted truth. The fact is, the release of one Israeli soldier for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners is not normal; certainly it does not represent an inferior love felt by a Palestinian mother for her son compared to an Israeli mother…. This equation derives from the way we, not Hamas, view reality: 1,027 Palestinians are worth one Jewish life not because the Palestinians minimize the importance of their own lives, but because we diminish the value of their lives.

Certainly. I remember hearing the same from Ted Koppel at the outbreak of the intifada. Hosting a program in which he had to have the Israelis separated from the Palestinians – on the insistence of the Palestinians – he responded to one Israeli claiming that the Palestinians wanted war: “I don’t believe that for a minute. A Palestinian mother cares about her children every bit as much as an Israeli mother.”

It was indeed these dogmatic kinds of politically correct statements that led me to formulate the expression “liberal cognitive egocentrism.” This kind of thinking, which Edward Saïd insisted we – not the Arabs – adopt, is a major element in the cognitive war that Islam wages against us, and creates an extensive epistemological confusion in which we cannot identify the problems or analyze how to resolve them. The editors of the NYT, and their major columnists like Friedman, Kristof, and Cohen, all participate in this liberal, PC dogma, and accordingly, find themselves constantly ignoring reality and coming up with ludicrous solutions. (As Pierre Taguieff pointed out long ago, when all the fishes swim in the same direction it’s because they’re dead.”)

This is a pretty difficult thread in that Richard is taking a position that there may be some real differences between Palestinian culture and modern society, at least presently, that are tangible even in such sacrosanct institutions as motherhood that need to be faithfully and accurately analyzed, especially in terms of what he refers to as Cognitive Egocentrism and how that reflects in the Western media and society.

From The Augean Stables:

Cognitive Egocentrism:

The projection of one’s own mentality or “way of seeing the world” onto others, e.g., the teenager who is obsessed with sex, and assumes the same about everyone else. In the current situation of globalization, cognitive egocentrism has its greatest impact in the political relationships between people coming from civil societies and those raised in prime divider societies. Since the basic political principle of Prime divider societies is “rule or be ruled,” “do onto others before they do onto you,” political actors from those cultures assume the same zero-sum, domineering intentions in their opponents (the “enemy”). Since the basic political principles of civil societies is “I’ll give up trying to dominate and trust you to give it up as well,” “if I’m nice to you, you will be nice in return,” assume positive-sum attitudes in their opponents (the “other”). The current situation testifies to a dangerous mis-apprehension that works to the distinct disadvantage to civil society. The media, in particular, as the representative of civil society, emphasizes its role as empathizer, often failing to defend civil society, even exposing it to danger.

The more specific version of Cognative Egocentrism under discussion in Richard’s blog post is the Liberal Cognative Egocentrism:


The projection of good faith and fair-mindedness onto others, the assumption that “other” shares the same human values, that everyone prefers positive sum interactions. In a slightly more redemptive mode, LCE holds that all people are good, and if only we treat them right, they will respond well. This is a form of empathy that, like MOS, aspires to the radical victory of justice, and robs the “other” of his or her own beliefs and attitudes. It projects onto rather than detects what the “other” feels.

My experience of LCE in terms of the recent discussion at the Augean Stables.

“I don’t believe that for a minute.  A Palestinian mother cares about her children every bit as much as an Israeli mother.” ~ Ted Koppel

That may be true in the sense of the words “as much as”, but as far as I can tell Palestinian mothers and society in general care about their children very differently than other mothers I know in the Western world – sad but true.

There are real differences between the modern world and the world of traditional cultures, that are very difficult for moderns to comprehend, and when those differences take on pathological differences the cognitive dissonance it creates with our own value system may cause us to excuse the inexcusable – as I think is the case with the Palestinians.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have felt very conflicted about the Israeli-Palestinian situation for as long as I have known about it, which for me dates back to the Yom Kippur War and Henry Kissenger’s shuttle diplomacy – grade school for me.

On the one hand I believed that after the Holocaust that Jews need a permanent homeland of their own, Israel, but at the same time the Palestinians in Gaza and the West bank need something better than permanent occupation by the Israeli Army.

I don’t know what the answer is or how it is to be achieved.

I sympathize with the rights as human beings, needs and travails of both sides in the conflict, but in the last ten years I have become increasingly sick of the way the Palestinians have come to be treated like PETS by their sympathizers in the Western world – that is the Palestinians were never allowed to bear responsibility for their own actions – the logical but unstated implication being that they cannot hold themselves accountable for their own actions – and that all responsibility for the violence and chaos in the region necessarily devolves to the Israelis.

This discussion causes me to remember watching Brooke Goldstein and Alistair Leyland’s 2006 documentary, “The Making of a Martyr” probably in 2007.  [It has since become hard to find online but can still be found at:

Hussam shortly after imprisonment

Watching the film for the first time, I found it very depressing and discouraging to watch this bizarre [to me] story of Hassam Abdo the 15 year old would-be suicide bomber who surrendered himself at an Israeli Army Checkpoint in the West Bank [Hawara] unfold – I really did not want it to be true.

Then the documentary makers interviewed Hussam’s parents at their home in Nablus and at about minute 14:00 the interviewer ask Hussam’s parents about his future after Israeli jail.

Interviewer [to Hussam’s parents]:  What will he do when he gets out of prison?

Mother:  He needs a lot of care, a lot of my love.  I am going to hold him close to my heart, and never let him go out to the street.  I want to take extra care of him.

Father: He is a grown man now.

Mother:  He will never grow up, he will always be my baby.

I remember distinctly feeling this great sense of relief and elation, “Palestinian motherhood!!  There is Hope!”

Wasfiyeh Idris (left), mother of Wafa Idris (right) ~ Family Photo

Then a few minutes later the film makers are interviewing the mother of Wafa Idris, the first female Palestinian suicide bomber who detonated a 22lb backpack bomb she was wearing outside a Jerusalem pizzeria in 2002, killing one elderly man and injuring 100 others.

Wasfiyeh Idris in 2006

At minute 21:00

Interviewer:  Amid all of these events, did you feel proud of her?  Are you glad she is a martyr?

Mother:  She did nothing bad, by God.  My mind tells me she did nothing wrong.  It is something that raises the head.  However, when I remember her I start crying, and people say I should recover and not to cry.

It broke my heart – you have to watch this to understand it – this poor old woman, all alone, sickly, heartbroken, saying what her “mind” told her.  It was heart wrenching to watch her tortured conflict as she tried to resolve what her “mind” was saying with her broken heart.

As an aside, it has to be noted that Wafa herself was married earlier in life to her first cousin, had a miscarriage and being unable to have children afterwards, was divorced by him leaving her marginalized in her own society and unable to fulfill either of the two primary roles women in traditional society are granted to perform.  In a sad irony, the cultural practice of consanguineous marriage may have left her particularly vulnerable to recruitment for her new role as martyr.

Then in the the alley way outside the home were Wafa’s nieces.

"So many times did I ask my mother to allow me..."

@ minute 22:00
Niece:  Wafa was a hero.  You know she did a martyrdom operation.  She raised our heads…  So many times did I ask my mother to allow me to carry out a martyrdom operation but she said no, no,  no.  She said if 40 or 50 Jews were killed they would still come just as before.

@ minute 22:00
Other Nieces:  I want to be a martyr….  I want to be a martyr…. Every girl wants to be a martyr….  We would all like to become martyrs.

This was very despairing for me.  Throughout the whole movie you never see a single instance where a Palestinian shows any ability to show moral culpability for their actions, show any ability to empathize with the deaths of their enemies, or are able to “see the common humanity” of actual individual Israelis.  You hear of some parents who forbid their young sons from taking part in suicide bombings or rock throwing, but you are left to wonder why.  When you hear the Palestinians talking for themselves, their language is sterilized of responsibility or remorse.

This really floored me – what do you do as a thinking, caring, well intending human being in the face of this type of a moral pathology?  The inevitability is that a great many more Palestinians will die because of it and peace may never come while such a pathology continues to prevail.

Spengler [David Goldman] in his new book “How Civilizations Die” in the chapter on Civilization Failure and Suicide has a few choice words on Suicidal Resistance in War, “Across epochs and cultures, blood has flown in inverse proportion to the hope of victory”, – well worth reading.

What becomes of a culture where the pathological script of resistance becomes so strong and so self-sealing that becomes seemingly impossible to change the script to less self-destructive one?

I am not trying to make the point that Palestinian mothers do not love their children, let me make that perfectly clear, it seems apparent that they do; however, it seems equally as clear that some other pathological factor is at work that allows them to rationalize the martyrdom complex as acceptable, and the perpetration of suicide bombings of their own children  and the murder of other children and innocent civilians like themselves –  where as in outside societies the martyrdom complex and suicide bombings of civilians is considered beyond the pale of civilized conduct.

If one could extend the concept of the ‘script pathology’ from level of personal psychology to the cultural level, that being if something goes wrong during the general developmental period the self, or a society, where the self/society is learning to identify ‘self’ with ‘other’ for the first time the result is a ‘script pathology’ a series of distorted, untrue, unfair ideas and scripts about one’s self and others that can lead to harmful or self-destructive behaviors.  In psychology cognitive therapy is what is usually used to address this particular problem.  What is the appropriate cultural therapy for that I wonder?  I don’t think it is to allow the self/society to continue to blame the ‘other’ for all of its ills.

On this blog we can have a rough and tumble dialog, we can think our rhetorical opponents are wrong, or full of shit, crazy, maybe racists – whatever – but we can all have this conversation and what ever our political positions we can still view each other as human beings with rights and a life and that it would be wrong to harm him, or her, and that we can all hold real human concern and empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians, we can have some level of self-examination.  This does not seem to be the case in Palestinian culture today – at least as best I can determine from the evidence I see flowing out of that region of the world.  I hope that I can be shown to be wrong, it’s not a happy thought.

The question is what do you do about a society that has, for what ever cruel reasons, has become essentially sociopathic, that is incapable of remorse or regret and insensitive to the life of the individual except as an element to be used in the national struggle rather than the point of the struggle, and then enforces this level of behavior on all members of society?

It is very cruel, but seem true, put people in an insane situation and many will do insane things – the true heroes are the ones who maintain their humanity.

I am reminded of the character of Hannah Schmidt in Bernard Schlink’s book The Reader,  that when confronted at her post war trial with the reality that she and her fellow prison guards had allowed a group of Jewish prisoners burn to death in a church rather than release them lest there be “chaos”, her ultimate defense for her and her fellow guards actions was,  “We were responsible for them!” – what a perfect statement of the madness of war and how conflicting and pathological scripts can over ride man’s humanity towards his fellow, even to the ruin of her society.

War is crazy making.



Hussam after a year in prison.

Some parting dialogue from the movie:

Zakaria Zubeida [former leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade]
@ Minute 33:20

We refuse [child martyrs] the first, second, third, even the fourth and fifth time,  until the child reaches a point where he will use a knife if no one gives him a bomb belt.  Who would stop him?  Who?  There is no way to stop him.  You would be considered a spy and you would be blamed.  This has become the culture of Jenin.

Young Boy as Youth Camp
@ minute 37:00

Boy:  …but those who do say, “Let’s go and die… death takes place just once in everyone’s lifetime.”  They go places [where] they can collect stones and start throwing.  For them this is the only way to resist.

Interviewer:  Wouldn’t it be possible to have peace and coexist with Israel?

Boy:  Peace with Israel… impossible.
Boy:  If God will, it will be.
Boy:  That’s impossible.  It’s either Jihad or martyrdom.  Either victory or martyrdom.

Camp Staff Member:  [laughing]  Reminds me of my children…

Psychologist Dr. Shafiq Masalah
@ minute 38:00

Dr. Shafiq Masalah:  This means that those individuals [the children] who are willing to bomb themselves, in fact do not feel themselves as individuals.  The bounderies of their bodies is enmeshed with the group, so it is not their body that is bombed.

Narator:  According to Dr. Masalah’s research Palestinian children are embracing the collective struggle over their own individuality, leading some to commit grisly acts without any personal consequence, and we are beginning to understand why.  Obviously they were not immune to the brutality and the indignity of the Israeli occupation, but they were also being manipulated in a very cynical and dangerous way by Palestinian and Arab media stoking the culture of Martyrdom….

Unless other wise noted, all photos from “Making of a Martyr” © a2b Film Productions 2006

1 thought on “Liberal Cognative Egocentrism on The Augean Stables – A day late again

  1. Pingback: Poison in the Well of Culture-slightly off topic reflection on Collective Guilt | The Coraline Meme

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