Jim Miles: Advocacy, Intellect and Common Sense

By Jim Miles
Special to PalestineChronicle.com

Ramzy Baroud’s current article [1] on the despair of writers and the role of the intellectual in presenting information has proven to be very thought provoking personally. I would not be doing what I am doing now without his support and conviction, yet as with the writer in the article, I have often wondered why do I keep doing this when nothing seems to change. Further, am I preaching only to the converted, or is there perhaps someone out there who has read the material and actually transformed their thinking because of that?

Ramzy takes support from Noam Chomsky, who said, "Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions.” Although it is truly presumptuous of me to say, what I believe is unstated in Ramzy’s essay, after saying “the intellectual is not a cheerleader, nor a poet, and should, no matter where his sympathies lie, remain capable of dispassionately approaching the subject at hand,” is that without passion and conviction, without the emotion and the drive towards advocacy, that intellect would whither and die, it would become a text-book full of dry boring information.

Ramzy is correct, that while I am writing, I try to push aside the motivation that brought me to the computer, and to deal with the subject that has been the motivator very carefully, looking for contradictions, assessing information from various sources, questioning what I don’t understand, qualifying what does not seem to be proven or absolute, continually reassessing my viewpoint, and hopefully, finally, making sense.

Common sense, the sense that says that humans are all equal in their need for food clothing and shelter, in their need for cultural, intellectual, and emotional stimulation so that life is not simply an exercise in survival. That level of common sense indicates that a good portion of the world in absolute numbers is not living a life of ‘humanity’ but is living a life of survival. Yet at the same time, the human spirit still strives towards its refinement as indicated by many accounts that describe the sense of humour, the perhaps fleeting joys of daily living, and the will not to be subjugated to another’s malevolent desires and greedy wants. Too many in the western world, the leaders of the Euro-centric/Washington Consensus view of things, lose account of this as they strive for the accumulation of more and more wealth, not seeing the lack of common sense in depriving others of a peaceful livelihood and depriving everyone of a healthy sustainable environment in order to gratify their own greed and power. Can the intellectual alone overcome this?

The intellectual is not the only kind of writer, nor the only kind of writing, and having one of those moments when I feel that I am preaching to the already converted, other styles of writing can also be used to reach a broader audience. Michael Moore comes to mind, and while he is primarily a visual presenter, he has produced several books that are intelligent if not intellectual and speak more from the common sense perspective. Much of what he writes equates to the common sense of the American people – health care, fair wages, good working conditions, old age assistance and other ‘socialist’ ideas that tend to be strongly supported away from the corporate-political-military power centres.

There are too many writers of course to analyze here, but a recent submission by an American writer, Eileen Fleming, in order that I could review her books [2], made me struggle with this concept some more.

Eileen Fleming has set up her own website [3] and is a strong and passionate supporter of justice and equality within Palestine and represents an element that is faith based and sees much in the way of common sense and truth. She has been passionate enough that she has made five trips to Palestine in order to see for herself and to act for others to support her beliefs in justice and equality, something that I would imagine many intellectuals have not done. While that does not deny the validity of the intellectual as there is much written material to work through, much video material and recorded material to examine, many historical records and current documents that need to be combed over, it does present a different emotional component that would speak to a different audience than perhaps the purely intellectual approach does.

As a Christian, relying partly on the strength of her faith, and looking at the world from a pacifist perspective within her interpretations of the Gospels, Eileen Fleming can carry to some audiences as much weight or perhaps much more than I can to mine. Her trips to Palestine are primarily to support the Christian community, a community that in Bethlehem in particular has diminished significantly under the Israeli occupation. If nothing else it shows Israel to be an equal opportunity occupation force, wishing to ethnically cleanse not only the Muslim Palestinians but all other Palestinians as well, leaving the land available only to the Jewish ‘nation’.

From that, Ms Fleming denounces the Christian Zionist perspective that exists within the United States, decrying their self-fulfilling apocalyptic vision that “embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel. The Christian Zionist program provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.”

The latter line is not a line that I would ever make, yet I fully support it. North America is predominantly Christian, with estimations varying between 10 and 40 million supporters of varying degrees for the Zionist right (Fleming provides a high estimate of 20 million). They are the kind of thinkers that would not likely be persuaded by my train of thought; I’m not sure they would be persuaded by Fleming’s thoughts either, but at least she might qualify as having more validity in presenting the case to the majority as she is arguing from within the religion.

She is not alone in this, as she provides quotes from other church groups that support her perspective. The strongest wording she provides comes from the United Methodist Church in a conference on Unwrapping the Rapture. The members are urged to give “prayerful consideration as to how God will actually judge us for our silence about and complicity in the crushing of the Palestinian people.” This quote and the others comes from the website “Challenging Christian Zionism,” [4] a site that is not intellectual but very much faith based and very much carrying a message of Christian love and understanding. The common sense aspect of that is two-fold. First, the subjugation of another people is to be denied. Second, given the underlying premises of Christianity, it argues logically against the rapture of the Christian Zionist apocalyptic end-times.

Common sense treads upon the territory of morality, another province that is not limited just to the religions of the world but enters into many secular and scientific arguments as well (the latter especially with the more modern sociobiological interpretations of the genetic make-up of behaviours). There is within morality the phrase to “walk a mile in another’s shoes”, indicating that true understanding comes from being able to place ourselves in the other persons position and see life as how they see it. In “The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God,” [5] theologian David Ray Griffin sees this moral concept as the ‘ideal observer’, an ideal “upon which theists and nontheists can agree.” In order to do this the moral observer must “transcend the social and historical context of their particular form of life and particular community and adopt the perspective of all those possibly affected.”

There is much commons sense, much morality in religion, as there is with secularist positions as well. Neither side owns a monopoly on these ideas. There is also much that is not common sense, that is not moral, that only sees the ‘other’ as an outsider, without being able to walk in their shoes, demeaning them, making them susceptible to and targets of violence in many forms.

I have here presented a dichotomy between the intellectual and faith based arguments while understanding that there is a common thread between the two, that of the ‘moral observer’. I write as best I can as a ‘moral observer’, hopefully applying as much common sense as can be garnered from the vast amounts of information and opinions that exist. Even as I write from an intellectual position as posited by Ramzy Baroud and Noam Chomsky, I need to recognize that the ‘moral observer’ is similar to the intellectual who “no matter where his sympathies lie, remain[s] capable of dispassionately approaching the subject at hand.” That line reflects fully the ‘moral observer’ who is “impartially sympathetic” and “impartially benevolent” in the description provided by the theological view of David Ray Griffin.

I do not know if what I write has transformed anyone’s thinking, perhaps at best giving it a nudge and push one way or another, providing another perspective, perhaps as with the idea of the moral observer, building a bridge between what are commonly considered disparate thought processes, that of the intellect and that of faith. At best, I could hope that writing provides support, moral and intellectual, for those working towards justice and equality for all, that I can be an advocate for truth as I perceive it.

Above all then, I write for the truth, for it is the truth that is dangerous to the powers that be, the truth about their secret wars and manipulations to strengthen their own hold on power. The old maxim holds true: the pen is mightier than the sword. That is why the U.S. corporate-political-military structures are so efficient with their media propaganda, keeping the people satisfied with their massively debt ridden consumer lifestyle.

That is why it is important for everyone to keep writing, whether it is faith based, intellect based, a mixture of the two, or in many instances populist writing, the common sense of the common man who wants food clothing and shelter, who wants cultural, intellectual, and emotional stimulation so that life is enriched beyond the basic elements of survival. Letters to the editor, letters to representatives, letters to friends all can have the power to transform. Writing can support the truth and argue against the lies and manipulations of those seeking absolute power and control.

I write because I can. I write to support truth, justice, and equality against those that deny it.


[1] Baroud, Ramzy. “Palestine: Demoralisation and Absence.” http://www.ramzybaroud.net/index.php
[2] Fleming, Eileen. Memoirs of A Nice Irish-American ‘Girl’s’ Life in Occupied Territory and Keep Hope Alive. Outskirts Press, Inc. Boulder, CO. 2007.
[3] http://www.wearewideawake.org/
[4] http://www.christianzionism.org/
[5] Cobb, John B. et al. The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God. – A Political, Economic, Religious Statement. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. 2006.

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