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foxwizard ☾

Moral Courage

Is this the standard we accept in society?

A Palestinian child flies a kite on the beach of the northern Gaza Strip (source)

I am used to people not understanding the metacrisis, even if it is collectively the singlemost important topic for the survival of our species. I also understand how some people cannot grasp or comprehend the hyperobject that is climate change, or its exponentialities. These things are hard for most people to ‘see’ or care about in the immediate sense. And we are all so busy and distracted and tired anyways. Someone else will ‘fix’ it. Or the market will. Or something.

But I cannot fathom how people cannot be moved by the direct evidence of the whole-scale killing of thousands of children (and women, men, the elderly) happening right now in Gaza.

I talked of this in my last museletter, and I have received a lot of support from likewise furious and exasperated friends.

I speak often of my quest to co-create a world more curious and kind. This is not just a cute statement for marketing.

Subversive Leadership

Most of my work is also in leadership development. I help teams develop the capabilities needed to quest and lead amidst complexity and the unknown. This requires what we might call “negative capability”. Philosopher Tom Murray summarises negative capability aptly in his paper Knowing and Unknowing Reality:

“Poet John Keats coined the term negative capability for the skill or predisposition of tolerating, or even delighting in, uncertainty, ambiguity, unpredictability, and paradox. I.E. ‘when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts—without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’ (1817). As Keats knew, negative capability is useful well beyond the realm of poetry. Negative capability […] includes the ‘informed and active humility’ mentioned above, in which the sources of indeterminacy are better understood so that knowledge can be more adaptive and resilient. It is not enough to acknowledge that ‘the map is not the territory’ (an injunction not to confuse theories and ideals for reality), but we must understand as precisely as we can how/where/when/why our maps differ from the territory—impossible to do completely but essential nonetheless.”

Suffice to say: I am capable of being in uncertainty; I almost always allow room for doubt. Yet I have never been more clear on this: the whole-scale killing of children and civilians is an atrocity.

And that is what is happening to Palestinians right now.

In response to this not-so-gentle opinion, I have received responses and DMs from older men on LinkedIn that “it’s actually more complex” and that I don’t understand the history and that “Israel’s attack on Palestine is ‘just’” and that I am not a military expert and “war is not beautiful”.

In most instances I realised my appeal to basic compassion with these men was failing; I opted to bow out rather than feed the trolls. “But at least you get to leave this feeling like you are moral and everyone else who sees morality as context dependent as immoral,” one chap sniggered. “How comforting for you to live in a world without any moral ambiguity”.

Mate. I’m the Archwizard of Ambiguity (most fantastic). Most of my life is in ambiguity. But I am so abundantly clear on this.

The Former Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant-General David Morrison once said:

“Every one is responsible: The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our army and the environment in which we work. If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it.”
This also applies to the society we live in. Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our society and the world in which we live. If you become aware of any individual, group or nation degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it.

The standard you walk past
is the standard you accept

Let’s take a brief moment to at least appreciate this very heartening movie from 9 years ago. “Flying Paper is the uplifting story of Palestinian children in Gaza on a quest to shatter the Guinness World Record for the most kites ever flown.” Please watch at least some of this first, so that you can witness the children that the Israel government is killing (with the US government’s backing).

I received this comment on my previous museletter. I don’t like that the slightly squeaky wheel gets the attention here—but I could not walk past this. And am not in the best of moods.

“I read this newsletter on the same day it was reported that Hamas had baked a baby in an oven. The same day I read the most vile, horrible tweet I have every seen in which a Palestinian writer wrote in response "with or without baking powder". Truely horrific!

It was interesting to note in your newsletter you did not once call out the horrific terrorism committed by Hamas. You did not once call out the terrible increase in antisemitic acts in the last few weeks. I wondered why, given you are well aware of them and have a world view centred around kindness. 

Many times in the last couple of weeks I have read and hear from Jewish people that antisemitism never went away, it has just been sitting below the surface ready to rise up again.

In your newsletter you reference the powerful and powerless and I immediately drew a direct connection to language of the oppressed and oppressor; which may have been your direct intent given you sophisticated use of language. The narrow view of the Israel and Palestine conflict through this lens, one used for South Africa and Jim Crow, has been widely used by pro-Hamas supporters in the last few weeks in many communications and has been widely deemed as antisemitic. 

Like yourself, I have been dismayed by the responses to the terror attacks initiated by Hamas and the ongoing war, from people around the world in all sides of politics.

But what has disappointed me the most is folks on the left, and progressive left, in Australia specifically, using language coded with backyard antisemitism wrapped in a Wizard's cloak of social justice.”

Firstly, I appreciate the candour of the comment, and I do not take this for granted. But whilst I might be able to bow out of some conversations on social media, I cannot have this comment remain unaddressed on my own website. So, here’s my response.

Yes the propaganda and disinformation emerging from this is truly horrific; and spreads like wildfire. If you came across the story of ‘babies in ovens’ and/or ‘beheaded babies’ on the day this museletter came out, then know that it had long been doing the rounds. It has a undeniably vile memetic potency that serves to outrage and inflame—but there has been no verified evidence to support these claims.

In chaotic situations like this, we cannot rely upon hearsay

It is best to draw your information from diverse sources as close to the ground as possible—live, unfiltered, uncensored and uncontaminated by political agenda.

And what is a verifiable fact is that the Israeli government is targeting civilians and killing children in their thousands. They are using white phosphorous, bombing hospitals, churches, schools, refugee camps and cutting off food, water and power.

Here are some on-the-ground accounts worth following. I am in awe of the journalists who—knowing that the Israeli government are targeting them—continue to do their work. These are mostly on Instagram because they currently seem to be allowing it. There’s more on twitter but Elon’s API arrangement doesn’t allow for easy linking.

There is a lot more.

And guess what? The U.S, aware of the above atrocities, has just approved a bill for $14.3 billion dollars in aid to Israel (whilst also previously voting against the majority of the world seeking to uphold legal and legal and humanitarian obligations). This from the country that cannot fund public health care for its own citizens.

At this point—for those attuned to the metacrisis—I hope you can see some connections here: the global monetary system is backed by the industrial-military complex and climate change.

Side note: I found this practical guide to combatting zionism to be helpful, as well as this post on 8 common zionist talking points and how to respond.

As for condemning Hamas; of course I condemn any act of violence against civilians. But that was more than three weeks ago, and it not the pressing issue right now.

This Irish politician put it well, highlighting that what Hamas did on October 7th was a warcrime, to be condemned. But what Israel has done every day since have been warcrimes—and every day before that has been an international crime.

I continue to be grateful to the many Jewish people standing against the continued atrocities of the Israeli government, including the Jewish Voice for Peace, the heartfelt words of Dr. Gabor Maté, the intergenerational anti-colonial anti-Zionist Jewish community Tzedek Collective, and publications like Jewish Currents who, weeks ago published an article by Israel historian’s Raz Segal (an associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University and the endowed professor in the study of modern genocide)—A Textbook Case of Genocide.

A few days ago longtime international human rights lawyer (who served as director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) Craig Mokhiber resigned, explaining how:

“[...] the U.N. follows a ‘different set of rules’ when addressing Israel’s violations of international law, refusing to utilize its enforcement mechanisms and thus ‘effectively’ acting as ‘a smokescreen behind which we have seen further and worsening dispossession of Palestinians.’ (source)

Craig Mokhiber also considers this a textbook case of genocide. “I referred in my letter to the case for genocide which is happening now. And, you know, “genocide” is a very politicized term, often abused. But in this case, the hardest part of proving genocide has been proven for us with these very open statements of genocidal intent by Israeli officials, including the prime minister and the president and senior Cabinet ministers and military officials, who in their public statements have indicated very clearly their intention not to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and to carry out the kinds of wholesale slaughter that we are witnessing in Gaza. That is not a justification in international law, saying that there was a combatant there, for that very disproportionate use of firepower against what was a civilian target. And that’s what we’ve been seeing in all of Gaza, from the north to the south.”

I found his notion of hope to be an important reminder. “Where there is hope, it is in civil society. It is in those ordinary people, here in the United States and elsewhere, who are willing to stand up and demand respect for human life and for human rights,” Craig Mokhiber said. “And these kinds of protests in the halls of Congress, before the State Department, in front of the White House, in Grand Central Station, in the streets, everywhere, particularly with this climate that is trying to suppress critique of these current policies, it’s only going to come from civil society.” This means you and I, our friends and our communities.

It is also important to note that there are many within Israel who have the moral courage to stand against the atrocities perpetrated by their government. The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories is an account worth following. “No. A million people in northern Gaza are not guilty,” they stated. “They have nowhere else to go. This is not what fighting Hamas looks like. This is revenge. And innocent people are being hurt.”

Noy Katsman, an Israeli peace and anti-occupation activist whose brother Hayim was killed by Hamas fighters, said in a CNN interview: “The most important thing for me and also for my brother is that his death will not be used as a justification for killing innocent people.” Noy, like many other activists, are now targeted in their own communities for their refusal to see Palestinians as the enemy. (This from Anne Lene Stein, a researcher on peace activism and political science at Lund University—source).

I have Jewish friends, and I love much about Judaism. To claim that opposition to genocide and the mass killing of women and children is antisemetic is a dangerous conflation.

Here is an open letter from Jewish writers:

WE ARE JEWISH WRITERS, artists, and activists who wish to disavow the widespread narrative that any criticism of Israel is inherently antisemitic. Israel and its defenders have long used this rhetorical tactic to shield Israel from accountability, dignify the US’s multibillion-dollar investment in Israel’s military, obscure the deadly reality of occupation, and deny Palestinian sovereignty. Now, this insidious gagging of free speech is being used to justify Israel’s ongoing military bombardment of Gaza and to silence criticism from the international community. 

We condemn the recent attacks on Israeli and Palestinian civilians and mourn such harrowing loss of life. In our grief, we are horrified to see the fight against antisemitism weaponized as a pretext for war crimes with stated genocidal intent.

[continued...]

Don’t fall into the trap of conflating condemnation for the Israeli government’s genocidal intent with antisemitism; it’s lazy and unhelpful. Besides, I’ve seen how some Israeli police treat Jewish rabbis and it is disgusting.

As to my last museletter, “the circulation of elites theory” is not really about the powerful and powerless more so than it is a century-old theory on how power tends to cycle between direct ‘might is right’ leadership (what we are evidently seeing now) and more subtle, indirect forms of leadership (what we may have had a decade ago). But I will admit to having a strong bias against all forms of bullying and oppression.

We have a situation here where—as Dr. Tyson Yunkaporta might put it—“the oppressor hears oppressed complaints about oppression, then claims that is the real oppression”. And this shows up in many forms.

Final part before I wrap this up, the comment concludes “But what has disappointed me the most is folks on the left, and progressive left, in Australia specifically, using language coded with backyard antisemitism wrapped in a Wizard’s cloak of social justice.”

Personally, I still find the continued mass killing of children and civilians to be the most disappointing thing. The Greens are the only Australian political party that is so far standing against the Israeli governments actions. But I love how others are taking a stand, too—like how a coalition of Belgian airport ground crew unions called on their members to stop handling weapons shipments to Israel.

Genocide is not a standard I can walk past.

But for the particularly obstinate who may read this, let me be clear: I would stand against genocide and the mass killing of children and civilians no matter who is doing it. This is only about Israel (and the US) because it is they who are perpetrating this. If Australia, Iran, Iceland, Liechtenstein, a collection of old grannies, any country or group, heck, even if for some bizarro reason all of my friends suddenly endorsed the mass killing of children and civilians—I would stand against it. There is no context in which this is appropriate; and as a complexity practitioner and mostly canny/cowardly fox—it is refreshing to find this moral courage.

I hope you and your friends can find theirs.

Warmth,
jf


Thank you for joining me once again. I really wish I didn’t need to write about these topics. My plan for November was to post a bunch of things on LinkedIn so as to attract more clients for quest leadership programs but, as my friend Dr. Richard Hodge said: “Some things are of more value in life than being clever and commercially smart. This is one of those things.”

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