Friday, October 26, 2012


10 Heshvan, 5773
October 26, 2012

When I was a freshman in college, Rabbi Eli Schochet asked a question that stuck with me: “Scott,” he said, “how are you surviving the East Coast intellectual culture?”

He meant: was I surviving in a society where intellect is the medium of competition for status? Where I’m from, there are plenty of status indicators, but who sounds smarter isn’t generally one of them.

Though many ridicule Los Angeles culture, I want to point out that the smart competition isn’t a boon to humankind. Rabbi Schochet (who is very, very smart) derided the intellect games. He felt that they were wind without a sail – pointless and without gain.

I thought about his question during the debates, not just because I learned nothing, not just because strategy devoured thoughtful content, not only because I had to turn to a political comic and a loudmouth pundit for thoughtful consideration, but because, as the debate was live-tweeted, I saw us all (myself included) seize rather than listen.

We do not listen to words anymore, we only seize upon them. Anything said in the public, political sphere becomes a chip in the game, points on the board, fodder for our truth management (an unfortunate D.C.ism) and a facebook meme. We look to our leaders to enforce our opinions, not to ask meaningfully of us. Their words exist to avoid obstacles and outstrip the opposition. We aren’t running candidates; we’re running horses.

I wish that I had some grasp on how to change our reality; I find myself caught up in the cycle I’ve described. All that I have to offer is Talmud: “Rava says, first a person learns Torah, then s/he picks it apart.” (Talmud Brakhot 63b) Perhaps a moment of understanding before salvos would make a difference.

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