Trying To Do Something Important In Student Demonstrations

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The big news story these last few days has been the pro-Palestinian encampments at American universities.  With the intensive involvement of the students in these encampments, many people are comparing this situation to the student demonstrations at the time of the Vietnam war.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  In the case of Vietnam, male students had a lot of skin in the game.  Depending on their place in the lottery, many of these male students were sent to fight in Vietnam in a war that they didn’t believe in.  It was not a war, unlike World War II, in which the issues were clear, and which inspired Americans to go fight the enemy, before the enemy came to the American mainland to fight and conquer Americans.  Were the Viet Cong primarily agents of the Soviet Union and part of a grand Russian scheme to surround the United States with enemy regimes?  Or were the Viet Cong primarily a localized revolutionary group, as some felt, interested in bringing a better life to the Vietnamese peasant?

Now in the case of the Israel-Hamas war, no one is asking Americans to directly participate in any way.  Americans are being asked for financial support and this, of course, is what all the fuss is about.  Students want their universities to divest from corporations that have investments in Israel.

It seems to me that Americans loved Israel and Israelis as long as the Israelis were the underdogs in their wars.  But as it became apparent that Israelis were proving to be quite effective fighters in their various wars with the Arabs, new images of the all-powerful Jews began to supersede the images of the weak helpless vulnerable gnarled old Jewish peddlers on the surface of people’s consciousness, and this has generated feelings of envy and resentment.  The support of modern American students for one of the most evil sadistic antisemitic forces in the history of the world is based on their own antisemitic feelings surging to the fore, as a result of the successes of the Israeli military which, in turn, are generated from the skills and confidence they feel from their incredible revitalized intellectual grounding.

And the real reason that Jews are pictured as so threateningly all-powerful, is because not only are the American students envious of the Israelis’ battlefield successes, but because, at bottom, these students feel so impotent themselves living in their numbness, living in their experiential vacuum.  Here the Israelis are risking their lives fighting their countries’ enemies, fighting for their very survival, while the affluent American youth are making and preserving no significant imprints on the surfaces of their fields of experience. Instead, these young Americans just float along in the vacuums of their screen realities participating in major events vicariously through watching them on movies, television, computers, smartphones and tablets.

In general, Americans love to identify with the underdog, because it gives them the opportunity to participate in leaving what to them is a larger imprint on their fields of experience, even when their contribution is only a partial imprint.  And look at the attention American students have received in their participation in the encampments at American universities.  It has given them the illusion of doing something meaningful for the Gazan cause.

The more American students earnestly try to be part of meaningful imprints through their participation in protests with regard to the Israel-Hamas war, the more their actions are doomed to ultimately fail in their desires to prepare for death, in their attempts to be an integral part of what they hope will be important historical events.

For those of you who are familiar with many of my past articles, the question is do any of these discussions remind you of any of the previous situations we have reviewed.  The answer should have been yes. There are  similarities between the followers of Trump and the followers of the Gazans.

However, I am going to start with one dissimilarity.  The followers of Trump know who their leader is.  There is a great deal of ambiguity with regard to the leadership of the Gazan university movement.  Probably, it is because there is no one leader and different universities have different leaders, maybe even collective leaderships. On the other hand, there is a great similarity in the true believer nature of the followers in both movements.  In truth, the followers in both movements fight back the numbness that they experience by participating in a movement where they can leave collective imprints along with others.  To fight their numbness and their accompanying sense of impotence, they give up the importance  of their individual sense of self and allow themselves to merge with others in order to leave one big organic imprint.  On the left and on the right, people are learning to give up their individual senses of self and become selfless zombies as they fight hopelessly to make and preserve meaningful collective imprints to prepare for death.

© 2024 Laurence Mesirow


Acerca de Laurence Mesirow

Durante mi estadía en la Ciudad de México en los años setenta, me di cuenta que esta enorme ciudad contenía en sus colonias distintos "medio ambientes vivenciales", que iban desde muy antiguas a muy recientes; desde muy primitivas a muy modernas.Observé que había diferencias sutiles en la conducta de la gente y en sus interacciones en las diferentes colonias. Esta observación fue fundamental en la fundación de mis teorías con respecto a los efectos de la tecnología moderna sobre los medio ambientes vivenciales y sobre la conducta humana.En México, publiqué mi libro "Paisaje Sin Terreno" (Editorial Pax-México), y luego di conferencias para la U.N.A.M. y la Universidad Anahuac. También, presenté un ensayo para un Congreso de Psicología.Ahora que mis hijas son adultas, tengo el tiempo de explorar mis ideas de vuelta. Le agradezco mucho a y en especial al Sr. Daniel Ajzen por la oportunidad de presentar mis ideas.

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