On the July/August issue:
To the Editor:
The politicization of food, as detailed by Noah Rothman, is lunacy (“You Are What You Don’t Eat,” July/August). In reading about the Mexican-cuisine food truck, I thought: Do Mexicans, or any other people, have some copyright on their cuisine? Where is this idea laid down in any law or treaty?
Woke critics presume to speak for Mexicans, while most actual Mexicans make no such complaints. They are not harmed by “appropriation.” Indeed, if anything, they benefit because more Americans get to savor the delights of Mexican food, so the cultural standing of Mexico and Mexicans in America is enhanced. All over the world, and through history, people have been appropriating one another’s cuisines to mutual benefit.
To the Editor:
Noah Rothman’s essay on food was fantastic. I’ve had countless conversations about the power dynamics behind the puritanical behavior Rothman writes about. There is no power as intoxicating as that derived from scolding someone in the name of a perceived moral truth. Bloviating to a captive dinner audience about the sins of their class offers pleasures similar to aggressively enforcing mask policy on the uninitiated. “Not only are you ignorant, but I am enlightened. Do as I say, and you, too, can live in the light, though not before your public penance and retreat into perpetual deference.”
Such scolding speaks to the foundational difference between “small l” liberals and progressives. Liberals want to protect the fairness inherent in a free society; progressives want to enforce rules leading to “equity.”
Noah Rothman writes:
Thank you, Peter Samuel. A point I made repeatedly in The Rise of the New Puritans: Fighting Back Against Progressives’ War on Fun is one you noted above. Often, the puritanically inclined progressive social reformer defers to a complex academic theory of how cultural stimuli affect society over the observable and tangible effects of those stimuli.
Cop shows that helped solve cold cases must meet the axe, for example, because they have the theoretical potential to license bad behavior among police officers. As Mr. Samuel notes, the blending of cultural traditions exposes more people to those traditions, broadening everyone’s horizons in the process. But this objective good must apparently be sacrificed in deference to a hypothetical ill.
I appreciate Peter Schwartz’s comments as well. There is self-satisfaction to be found in the ghastly contortions to which the puritanical progressive submits himself. Self-discipline is a practical trait, which is why this segment was excerpted from my chapter on prudence. It is in the imposition of this exacting code of conduct that the problem lies. In fact, if you resist their exhortations to sacrifice earthly pleasures, it likely reinforces puritanical progressives’ belief in their own sophistication.
The pursuit of an ordered society is where modern progressivism diverges from 20th-century liberalism. And while conservatives can surely sympathize with the desire for a common culture, seeing it manifest in the absolutist vision of today’s progressives exposes the folly of monoculturalism.
To the Editor:
Serious esearch bout post-traumatic stress disorder, unlike the media versions that Christine Rosen details, uses definable criteria for identifying the condition’s causes, estimating its prevalence, and measuring its severity and duration (“How Trauma Became a Political Tool,” July/August). There is general agreement that after most traumatic events, including natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and the like, PTSD occurs in approximately 15 percent of those who experience the event, with higher numbers among those who are actually injured and lower numbers among individuals farther away from the site. Its duration varies by environmental and personality factors.
The conflation of PTSD with symptoms such as occasional nightmares ignores the definition of PTSD as a cluster of symptoms that interferes with the person’s functioning in daily life, including cognitive, emotional, social, and physiological processes. It also facilitates claims to PTSD by people who, as Rosen shows, are merely experiencing the vicissitudes that are common in life.
Not very long ago, people prided themselves on their resilience, their ability to deal with and overcome even severe adversity—including traumatic experiences—and were respected on that basis. Whining and exaggerating harm and disappointment were not generally rewarded or lauded. “Trauma inflation” has changed that, to the detriment of individuals who are encouraged to publicize, magnify, and treasure their setbacks, and of society, which is increasingly misled about the potential of recovery and thriving.
Christine Rosen writes:
Peter Suedfeld is correct to note the importance of the distinction between clinical diagnoses of trauma (and post-traumatic stress disorder) and the growing use of the term to describe experiences that are not at all traumatic. This does undermine efforts to encourage resilience and, as he notes, leads people to exaggerate harm, focus on negative experiences rather than on healing, and—particularly in recent years—seek validation online for their claims of suffering. The feedback loop this creates, whereby people are valorized for claiming to be trauma victims, is pernicious not only for the individuals caught in it but also for genuine trauma victims, whose needs and concerns are diluted by this trauma-talk.
Israel and the Arabs
To the Editor:
Gil Troy’s history of Israel’s challenges certainly underscores important developments downplayed by popular media (“A New Way to Look at Israel and the Arabs,” July/August). Yet his otherwise persuasive article understates concerns about Israel’s commitment to a peaceful two-state solution.
Troy’s perspective looks to more peace and prosperity for the Middle East based on pragmatic strategies of entente and rapprochement even while leaving the matter of viable Palestinian statehood unsettled. Might there be some benefit in also revisiting an older, neglected way of looking at Israel and its neighbors? Namely through the lens of coexistence between Jews of the Diaspora and generations of Palestinians, both peoples Semitic and both once dispossessed.
Jonathan Rau Chaplin
To the Editor:
Gil Troy’s article on Israel was excellent. It’s worth noting, however, the threat posed by Israel’s internal conflicts. Many Israeli youth are demoralized by what they regard as a bleak future. They have trouble making ends meet because of, among other things, the cost of housing.
The government coalition was working well while it lasted. But the country is not looking forward to a fifth election in fewer than five years. At least half the populace fears the demagoguery or the divisions sowed by the indubitably brilliant Netanyahu, while the other half reveres him and could not care less about whether he was corrupted by power.
Additionally, the drain on the state created by the nonworking Haredi population is a growing problem.
Arabs aside, Israel faces daunting challenges. The divisions in the population bring to mind the internal rifts that plagued the Jews thousands of years ago.
David C. Nathanson
Gil Troy writes:
I thank both respondents for accepting the article’s invitation—to start debating Israel’s history and current reality in new ways, beyond the suffocating, heavy-handed obsession with some monolithic, never-changing, Arab–Israeli conflict. A broader-minded, more accurate approach to history will yield a broader-minded, more accurate approach to current realities.
I wish I could simply say “amen” to Jonathan Rau Chaplin’s vision. True, much common culture, religion, history, and geography bonds Jews with Palestinian Arabs. But only one side of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict boycotts, demonizes, and refuses to normalize relations—and it’s not the Israelis. Mr. Chaplin’s “lens of coexistence” will remain clouded with the hatred of anti-normalization Palestinians. And as long as Palestinians remain dominated by terrorist dictators, and the Palestinian Authority remains addicted to “pay to slay,” the two-state solution will be distant.
Instead, let’s lean into the bottom-up genuine coexistence of the Abraham Accords and brainstorm ways to leverage what I called “Peace More”: building trust from the grass roots, and eventually sweeping Palestinians into a growing, then lasting, peace. It’s more productive than perpetually shouting “Peace Now,” despite the prevailing political winds.
I am optimistic. The more we chip away at the various Arab–Israeli conflicts, the closer we will come to a just and rational solution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
I share most of David C. Nathanson’s concerns. His focus on Israel’s domestic challenges today and tomorrow justifies my invitation to tell a richer story about what all of Israel experienced yesterday. But I don’t share his pessimism. I, too, am demoralized by so many elections, so much instability, too much demagoguery, and too much corruption. But those corrosive forces are balanced by many constructive forces that make Israel ever more functional.
The Future of EVs
To the Editor:
Here is a contrarian response to James B. Meigs’s assertion that Joe Biden overemphasizes the virtues of electric vehicles (“Biden Goes Electric,” July/August). President Obama didn’t prioritize them enough.
Conservatives can be forgiven for their skepticism that EVs will help keep the earth from warming, but they are more than a decade late in recognizing that EVs actually serve two fundamentally conservative goals: strengthening national security and advancing competitive free-market economics.
Just as energy-policy considerations factored into the American response to 9/11 two decades ago, so the same dynamic is at work today in the response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
For decades, we have accepted the monopoly status of a single commodity over all global transportation—the lifeblood of the economy. For as long as the oil monopoly persists, bad actors—be they Russia or Iran—will benefit from the economic growth that increases demand. Or worse, as we see today, they will benefit from the instability that raises prices,
Obama missed an opportunity for the U.S. to own the auto indus-try in the 21st century as it did in the 20th century. More than a decade ago, it became clear that energy-storage technology could bring the diversity and competition of electricity markets to transportation. China recognized this and created a national strategy on electric vehicles that today allows it to control much of the supply chain for batteries. The Obama administration had the opportunity to make the bailout of GM contingent on a path to electrification. This would have given the U.S. a start in the industry.
In spite of Obama’s missed opportunity, and Biden’s attempts to promote unionism, conservatives should embrace EVs as a way to bring market competition to transportation fuels and reduce the influence of adversarial regimes that profit from their monopoly.
James B. Meigs writes:
Michael Granoff makes a good point about electric vehicles bolstering our country’s energy independence. As I hope my column made clear, I’m excited to see American companies building capable EVs that make sense for some consumers. More people driving electric means lower emissions and less demand for liquid fuels. But I don’t think promoting EVs should be the focus of America’s energy policy, or, as Mr. Granoff suggests, a major goal of U.S. industrial policy.
Governments, as a rule, aren’t very good at picking which technologies will become vital in the future. Too often, when governments try to mandate particular technologies—or invest in the companies that build them—they wind up backing the wrong horse. Remember Solyndra? Barack Obama’s energy department thought that California com-
pany’s innovative solar-panel design looked like a winner. The company soaked up more than $500 million in taxpayer dollars before going belly-up in 2011. In Germany today, businesses and consumers are paying a brutal price for their government’s 20-year policy of favoring wind and solar power over all other energy sources.
So, no, I don’t trust government experts to make decisions about technology trends. The government
can help by funding basic research. Better yet, it can remove the obstacles that prevent markets from working efficiently. If the U.S. wants to boost the electric-vehicle indus-try, it should streamline regulations
that hold back domestic manufacturing. And if it wants to help us be less dependent on erratic overseas energy sources, it should stop blocking pipelines and natural-gas drilling. While we’re at it, let’s roll back the rules that make it hard to build new power lines. All those EVs are going to need lots of cheap electricity. Electric cars are great for
some drivers, not practical for others. But the government shouldn’t be forcing anyone to buy EVs (as California’s Governor Gavin Newsom seeks to do), nor should it force manufacturers to build them. Leave those decisions to the market.