Jun 2011 Journal

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Letter from Israel: A classic case of cognitive dissonance

We watch the news on TV, where we are informed that murder and mayhem, death and destruction are raging all around us. Regimes are changing in the wake of mass demonstrations, some more violent than others, in several countries nearby.

But we look out of the window and see blue sky, trees and plants, peaceful homes, happy families. Our lives continue along their customary pleasant paths, made even more enjoyable by occasional outings to plays and concerts, visits from children and grandchildren, full stomachs, and the constant entertainment provided by the various media in our homes and at our fingertips. It seems to me like a classic case of cognitive dissonance.

How do we manage to live like this? Here in Israel, it is particularly acute, but I believe that in an age of global communications it must - or should - concern every person in the civilised world. Is this what it was like for ‘the man in the street’ in Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union? But under those regimes the element of intimidation and fear was an integral part of the potent mix. On the whole, we in Israel do not share that experience except when we read or hear of acts of terrorism perpetrated just a few miles away from where we are living. Probably our greatest fear is of being caught by a policeman for speeding on the highway or getting a parking fine.

We elect politicians and pay taxes so that others can deal with the major issues that overshadow our lives. What is going to happen in Egypt? What is going on in Libya? How will things end in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen? Not to mention Lebanon and Iran. Is it good for the Jews, or not? Is it good for the civilised world? Who can tell? Presumably – hopefully - there are experts out there who are examining the situation, analysing the facts and offering scenarios as to where the various upheavals are going and what their consequences might be.

What’s the use of worrying, as the song goes. We can, if we want, stay awake at night wondering what is the right course of action to take as an individual and as a country, but what would be the good of that? Here in Israel, it feels as if we are an island of stability and sanity in a world that is in turmoil. But to what extent can one trust the media?

Not so long ago, our TV screens were full of the violence wreaked in London by rampaging groups who broke, damaged and ravaged shop-fronts, ATMs and buildings. It was not a pretty sight; nor was the violence of the police as they attempted to restore order. A visitor from Mars might have thought that that’s the way things go in Britain, just as people who don’t live in Israel or are not familiar with life here might think that every night people are butchered in their beds or blown to smithereens on buses.

Perhaps the way the events in the Middle East are portrayed in the media has helped to make them a self-fulfilling prophecy, providing fuel for the incendiary inclinations of a few extremists, distorting the true picture of what is happening. But of course we have no way of telling, and all we can do is sit back in our armchairs, sip our whisky or tea, as the case may be, and wait and watch as developments unfold.

Let’s just hope that the people who are supposed to be looking after our interests are not quite as confused as we are.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

previous article:The ‘German malady’ (review)
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