Tuesday, February 22, 2005

As If

I got to talk with two of my Rebeim last night. Twas awesome. First R. (Y) Blau came to speak from Hamivtar on halachik decisions concerning non-halachik matters (a crazy Gush concept). It was interesting, if a bit rushed. Bkitzur, he is very cool.
Then I went over to Jim Blocks and we talked for three hours!(!!). People wonder why I don't go over there more often. The first reason is that he is so frigin busy, but on top of that, how often can I spend three hours doing anything? Twas very sha've. What follows is a rant that I constructed:

When Hobbes sets out on the project of creating the modern nation state (common wealth) he does so by embarking on a completely artificial project. Hobbes himself says in the authors preface to the Leviathan that he is creating this state, because no such artifice exists without the invention of man. The model of "as if" (think ke'ilu) is employed in the beginning of pt. II chpt 18 (elsewhere as well) when Hobbes says that a commonwealth consists of a group of people coming together in agreement, and covenanting to assign a man or body as their ruler. This founding action (myth) of liberalism never actually happened (Locke deals with this [I hope] in the 2nd Treatise section 101), but it is a really good story, so we all accept it. Hobbes even leaves open the possibility that we won't accept the myth, at which point he says "fine, rise up, see what I care?" but if you loose, treason is punishable by torture. If you feel like you have enough numbers, sure go ahead, worse comes to worse and you just go back to the state of war.
It is the "As If" model that I really like. Shani and I were talking this summer and I was saying that there are two ways of looking at history. The first is as a point on a space time map (not a spacetime map). Lat. 42 long. 42 12:00:00a 2/22/05 exists on this plot, I can go there (theoretically) and poke about. The second conception of history is the sequential (diachronic*) view where I know something happened, because historically, it occurred at a specific place and has had implications on my life and the world around me. This would also imply that even if something happened in the first model, it might not necessarily have ant corollary in the second model. How? Well if Joe Chumus lived and died in 322 BCE in the middle of nowhere Arabia, he was not a part of my history, cause frankly, he did not matter. I think the "coke cans" model** of Maamad Har Sinai is a very similar idea. That is we construct the model of history "keilu hu yatza". We create an "as if" model, where we retroject a historical event (which may very well have happened even in the boring first model of history) that has a profound impact on our lives.
This keilu has always bothered me. What does it mean that we imagine ourselves "as if" we left Egypt. We didn't leave Egypt, and even if we ourselves did, we are certainly not doing a very good job of reenacting it. The Muslims go on the Haj, that is a good reenactment. Why don't we go down to Egypt, flee to the Red Sea, and then take hovercrafts to saftey on the Sinai peninsula? That would be a much better "as if". Our "as if" is one of nation building. It is one where we retroject a model as if we were freed from Egypt. Just as in the current model of the liberal as if, it does not matter if and group of people ever created a commonwealth. Our Seder is one where we consider the formative implications of the Yetziah.
Jim said that the secret of all these stories is that they created their nation ex nihilo. Hobbes creates citizens from rational animals in the SON (SOW), Moshe creates Jews from Egyptians (see all the myriad of midrashim about how Jews were on the 49th level of tumah, 4/5 of the Jews dies in makat hoshech, and others which talk about the Jewish depravity in Egypt)and Jesus was a Jew. These are all the dirty secrets we "as if" away, but they are really cool parts of our retrojected history.

*I have never used this word before, but I looked it up, and I think it fits here. It seems to be "one of those words" that academic people-types use.
**Brought to my attention by Miriam G. (because I am just not that smart) via Tamar Ross. The line goes something like: Even if I saw the coke cans from Maamad Har Sinai, it would not affect my emunah.

No comments: