Howard Jacobson on the colour purple floater

Alice Walker of “Colour Purple” has been one of the upfront media-friendly flotillistas.  Although I never saw the film or read the book, she is no doubt trading on her moral status.

Howard Jacobson tackles this status head on in this article.

As Jacobson states “It should not need arguing, this late in the ethical history of mankind, that good people can do great harm. One of the finest and funniest novels ever written — Don Quixote — charts the damage left in the wake of a man who would make the world a better place.   Human beings are seldom more dangerous than when they are sentimentally overcome by the goodness of their own intentions. That Alice Walker believes it is right to join the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza I do not have the slightest doubt. But beyond associating her decision with Gandhi, Martin Luther King and very nearly, when she talks about the preciousness of children, Jesus Christ, she fails to give a single convincing reason for it.

“One child must never be set above another child,” she says. A sentiment that will find an echo in every heart. But how does it justify the flotilla? Gaza is under siege, Israelis will tell you, because weapons are fired from it into Israel, threatening the lives of Israeli children. If the blockade is lifted there is a fear that more lethal and far-reaching weapons will be acquired, and the lives of more Israeli children endangered.  You may want to argue that had Gaza been treated differently it would have responded differently, but if the aim of the flotilla is to ensure that one child will not be set above another it is hard to see how challenging the blockade will achieve it. All an Israeli parent will see is a highly charged emotionalism disguising an action that, by its very partiality, chooses the Palestinian child over the Israeli.”

The article is well worth reading, as it critiques Walkers arguments and finds them wanting.  The comments are also very interesting, including the references to Alice Walker’s Jewish first husband and her estranged daughter.

The article also is a reminder of the variety of fallacies that exist, as summarised in  Wikipedia.

In the situation with Alice Walker, the fallacy is probably Appeal to Authority – which states “The first form of the appeal to authority is when a source presenting a position on a subject mentions some authority who also holds that position, but who is not actually an authority in that area. For instance, the statement “Arthur C Clarke released a report showing it is necessary to floss three times daily” should not convince many people of anything about flossing, as Clarke, a mathematician, physicist and science fiction writer, was not a known expert on dental care. Much advertising relies on this logical fallacy in the form of endorsements and sponsorships. A sportsperson or actor, for example, is no more likely than average to have any special knowledge of watches or perfume, but their endorsement of a particular brand of watch or perfume is very valuable in advertising terms.”  That reminds me of a Mad Magazine sketch where a man on TV dressed as a dentist says “how should I know which is the best toothpaste,  I’m just an actor! 

The wikipedia article continues “The second form, citing a source who is actually an authority in the relevant field, carries more subjective, cognitive weight. A person who is recognized as an expert authority often has greater experience and knowledge of their field than the average person, so their opinion is more likely than average to be correct. In practical subjects such as car repair, an experienced mechanic who knows how to fix a certain car will be trusted to a greater degree than someone who is not an expert in car repair. There are many cases where one must rely on an expert, and cannot be reasonably expected to have the same experience, knowledge and skill that that person has. Many trust a surgeon without ever needing to know all the details about surgery themselves. Nevertheless, experts can still be mistaken, wilfully deceptive,  subject to pressure from peers or employers, have a vested financial interest in the false statements, or have unusual views (or views that are widely criticized by other experts) within their field, and hence their expertise does not always guarantee that their arguments are valid.”

With Alice Walker, while she understands suffering among blacks and projects a moral authority, it doesnt mean that she has great knowledge of the Arab Israeli conflict and the rights and wrongs.   She is undoubtably not an expert in the area.

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One thought on “Howard Jacobson on the colour purple floater

  1. It is a pity Chomsky didn’t stick to linguistics, and that he has a platform on Israel about which he is clearly not an expert, just an opinionated self-hater.