Last month I attended an event dedicated to creativity in the era of artificial intelligence. Tech experts gushed in their reports from the front lines about the most exciting development of the era: creation of texts and images that are redefining the relationship between man and machines.

The lectures were cloaked in an almost messianic aura. We are apparently witnessing the realization of scenarios right out of science fiction, in which smart algorithms replace human beings. The founders of startups promised that the coming year would be “very interesting,” with breakthroughs erupting apace. Some of the speakers forecast that the world in which we live will soon become unrecognizable. The hundreds of people in the audience looked on as if they were sitting in a spaceship traveling through the outer bounds of human adventure.

As at similar meetings that I’ve attended in recent weeks, what was bizarre was that no one mentioned far-right Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir. For a few brief hours, the political disaster that is unfolding in the country never penetrated the futuristic spaceship: One might have thought it was happening at another time, and in another place.

In the meantime, on Israel’s streets, campaign posters are still proclaiming that “Ben-Gvir’s time has arrived.” The racist thug from Kiryat Arba is actually being portrayed as a refreshing change, a great 21st-century discovery. This cognitive dissonance creates a sense of confusion and begs the question of what kind of future we’re actually heading toward. Is it a moment of technological singularity that’s just over the horizon – or a country ruled by Kahanist-halakhic laws? Or could it be a combination of the two?

Politics has returned, political commentators announced following the victory of the right-wing extremist coalition. It’s no longer possible to hide behind distractions, or to ignore the horrible and persistent reality of the conflict with the Palestinians and the occupation. In truth, far-right voters never forgot the Palestinians, and the Palestinians never forgot the occupation. It’s just that over the past decade, the liberal middle class of the so-called State of Tel Aviv has convinced itself that it is living on some kind of high-tech spaceship.

Now reality has been plunked down right before our eyes. We’ve returned to the fundamental political questions of our existence. Consequently, opposition has already begun to be organized: email chain letters and intellectuals signing petitions. But such voices are mainly being heard from the older members of the public – many of the same people who constituted the mainstay of the previous protest movement against Benjamin Netanyahu.

On the other hand, among Israel’s younger generations, the mood is different. A large proportion of these people haven’t heard of the Green Line that separates Israel proper from the occupied territories, and if they have, they don’t know where it runs. Political activity on college and university campuses is minimal; even at Tel Aviv high schools, it’s no longer considered cool to be left-wing.

When I talk to people 40 and under about politics, the common response is a sigh. One such friend told me he was currently occupied with “other issues,” and didn’t have the mental capacity to deal with politics. Another said she was making every effort to repress the whole subject. Many people see emigrating from Israel or retreating into their own private bubbles as reasonable alternatives to political activism. It’s easier to imagine life in another country than to take to the streets.

Fascism isn’t coming at a good time. One can discount that sentiment and call it defeatist and a sign of weakness, but weakness is also a natural emotion. If an effective protest movement of young people does take shape, it won’t be conducted according to the rules of prior, scarred protest movements. One way or another, young people – whether Jews or Palestinians – will need to reinvent politics. They will need to create a new language that also takes one’s personal fragility into consideration.

Reality will raise its head

A sense of division also surfaced in times that were truly dark. I’ve been reading the wartime diary of the Dutch writer Etty Hillesum. In the summer of 1941, when she was 27, she had already lived several months under Nazi occupation and was forced to work at the Judenrat, the “Jewish council,” established in Amsterdam. “Again arrests, terror, concentration camps,” she wrote, on June 14, 1941. But at the same time, she was busy with meditation and introspection, pondering how to develop her writing.

“I wonder why this war and nearly everything related to it barely touches me,” she wrote. “Politics isn’t the most important thing in life,” she told a friend. She had already tired of politics after World War I and now it appeared “hackneyed” to her. What was of interest to her were fashionable psychological theories.

Fortunately, the situation in Israel is light-years away from what prevailed in Nazi-occupied Holland. It’s obvious that young middle-class Israeli Jews don’t face actual danger. But the sentiment Hillesum expressed is still alluring. One could argue that her preoccupation with herself was a sign of blindness or denial – and after all, we know how her story ends (in Auschwitz). But her attitude also reflects authenticity and a certain nobility: It may sound banal, but remaining loyal to oneself in dark times is also a real challenge.

And darkness gathers quickly and seeps into unconscious levels. In an environment that’s becoming bleak and violent, this means one should not compromise one’s moral standards or become inured to the suffering one sees among others. “In any event, we have to maintain the contemporary world of reality and try to establish our place within it,” Hillesum wrote.

We too have to wake up to a painful reality and respond to its call. But ultimately, Israel’s dark and regressive politics needs to wake up to the 21st century. Being realistic means understanding that we live in an era of artificial intelligence and nuclear fusion, of mindfulness and psychedelic drugs. One can only move forward, toward the future.

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Article source: Haaretz | Ofri Ilany | Dec 31, 2022

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000