“What is the most important thing in life?”

The answer, according to a hunter-gatherer: 

  • “Meat.”
  • “Honey.”
  • “Corn porridge.”

That is the order he gave them in. He paused between stating each. But the first answer came without any pause. And the last one would’ve been introduced during colonialism.

To emphasize his point, he later said, “If we have meat, honey, and water, then we are happy. Thank you, friend.” He didn’t bother to add the corn porridge in the second answer. Corn porridge is probably only what they eat when they have nothing else.

Then further on, the interviewer asked, “What is your biggest struggle?” Guess what the hunter-gatherer’s answer was. “Meat.” It really does all go back to meat, although they did explain the importance of water as well. Honey is a nice treat, but they kept coming back to meat.

This hunter-gatherer was really obsessed with the baboons they were going to hunt that night. He was quite excited about it. Those baboons on the rock in the distant meant meat.

Meat makes the world go around, including the fear of becoming meat. The first answer to their greatest fear was, “Lion.” Eat or be eaten. The hunter-gatherer’s whole live is obsessed over the next kill and avoiding being killed.

Honey is pleasurable and good quick energy. Plant foods can be eaten in a pinch or for variety. But, for humans, lack of meat in the wild means death.

The Human War On Cat Drugs

When our uncle died recently, we cleaned out his house and it was quite the job. He had been a bachelor his entire life and had lived alone in that large house since the 1970s. He left behind many things, including some cats. One cat, a calico, was found in the house by the emergency workers and she was brought to the vet. When we got there, a couple of outdoor cats were needing to be fed. One of those cats, orange and white, was our uncle’s buddy and would follow him around; according to the neighbor. We were able to catch him, but not the other grey cat. Then several days after working in the house, we heard a noise when we sat down on the couch.

It turns out another cat had remained hidden for about a week after our uncle’s death, as some water and spilled treats were still around. This kitty is a black and white female who we named Betty. She was the third kitty to be caught and adopted. After bringing them back to our house, she was bullied by her feline housemates. It turned out the other two cats preferred being outdoor kitties, anyway; and so we sent them to a farm. Because of some clawing issues, we thought we might have to get rid of Betty as well. She was also such a scaredy cat that we hadn’t been able to touch her since bringing her home. But, on the morning the other cats were to be sent away, we were finally able to pet her. So, we decided to give her a chance to see how she was without the other kitties. It turns out she is a sweety, if still skittish, although less so over time.

One of the things she loves most in the world, besides constant petting, is eating the leaves of a dracaena plant we’ve had for 30 years. She’d prefer to have several leaves every day, if we’d let her. Even though she has shown no ill effect, we decided to make sure the plant isn’t poisonous. Many websites declare the plant toxic, but it doesn’t seem so straightforward once further investigated. In one of the articles that warned about the plant, it pointed out that there was no evidence of toxicity and yet still the warning was emphasized, just to be on the safe side. It was written that, “However, while the Dracaena is poisonous to cats, they likely won’t consume too much as it’s quite bitter. Furthermore, the plant is only mildly to moderately toxic, so ingestion won’t be deadly. According to the ASPCA, no death from Dracaena plant consumption has been reported to date. […] There are also no lasting effects related to the poisoning” (Donna-Kay, Dracaena Marginata and Cats – Is the Dracaena Toxic to Your Feline?).

So, what is the issue? The main one is the cat might vomit. But then again, cats will vomit from eating grass and licking their own fur. Cats vomiting is not exactly a sign of anything unusual going on. What are some other symptoms of supposed dracaena poisoning? There is loss of appetite, dilated pupils, and lethargy. Hey, wait a second, that just sounds like a drug; similar to marijuana, except losing appetite rather than gaining it. No wonder my kitty loves this plant so much, although she has never gotten lethargic as she is quite spunky. But when she wants her dracaena leaves, she begs for them. And it seems to make her extremely happy. How could anyone be opposed to the happiness of a sweet little kitty? Nancy Reagan says, Just say no! Yeah, whatever. They used to say that smoking marijuana would make people go psychotic, commit crimes, and kill people. Plant chemicals have been under a long war on drugs. Why foist our human delusions onto innocent non-human animals? Why must poor little Betty suffer for the sake of our unfounded fears?

The only possible issue is that the leaves contain saponins, a common plant chemical, specifically a bio-detergent (breaks up lipids and so useful as a soap). They are considered natural toxins, as the purpose of them is to discourage creatures from eating them. They are plant defense molecules, but they are generally harmless to mammals, except at very high levels. Plants are full of all kinds of defense chemicals. Those like Dr. Steven Gundry advise not eating certain plants or preparing them carefully to reduce the concentration of what are called antinutrients. Saponins are simply one variety of antinutrients. The thing is dracaena doesn’t necessarily contain any more plant antinutrients than many common vegetables humans eat, from the brassica family to the nightshade family. We couldn’t see any information that dracaena is a particularly toxic plant or that it has excess antinutrients compared to any other plant.

Technically, all of the antinutrients have toxic qualities and there are cases of people dying from eating large amounts of certain plant foods — a poison is in the dose. But such deaths are rare. Largely, it’s the antinutrient aspect that is the concern. “Like lectins, saponins can be found in some legumes—namely soybeans, chickpeas, and quinoa—and whole grains, and can hinder normal nutrient absorption. Saponins can disrupt epithelial function in a manner similar to lectins, and cause gastrointestinal issues, like leaky gut syndrome” (Melissa Sammy, Should you be eating anti-nutrients?). Saponins are also found in kratom, gynostemma, sarsaparilla root, licorice, avocado, spinach, asparagus, oats, agave, yam, and approximately a million other plants imbibed by humans and other creatures. It’s insects, in particular, that don’t like saponins; as central purpose is as an insecticide.

Cats, humans, and other mammals consume plant chemicals all the time, including saponins. This is an intentional activity, as plant chemicals can also have medicinal effects (ed. by Kazuo Yamasaki & George R. Waller, Saponins Used in Traditional and Modern Medicine). A cat might be drawn to eating saponin-rich leaves in order to kill parasites, suppress viral infections, reverse bacterial overgrowth, and clean out their intestinal system. Some saponins have also been found useful for treatment or reduction of symptoms for many conditions: cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, fatty liver, etc; and COVID-19. Also, they lower cholesterol, modulate the immune system, and act as an anti-inflammatory. Medicinal plants like ginseng have saponins as active compounds. In fact, dracaena is used medicinally: “Many of the dracaena saponins are steroids and contribute to the use of this plant as a form of traditional medicine in west Africa” (Helga George, Is Dracaena Toxic to Cats or Dogs?).

So, it’s not exactly implausible that cats might use dracaena as a drug, either medicinally or recreationally. Ginseng with its saponins is an extremely popular and effective adaptogen and nootropic. People take ginseng not only because it improves their health but because it gives them energy, improves neurocognitive functioning, and makes them feel good. Yerba mate is another stimulating herb with saponins. All animals use plants to change their internal chemistry and functioning. That is the role of plants, as nature’s chemical factories. Saponins come in two main varieties, triterpenoid and steroidal; the latter of which are structurally similar to some human hormones, and presumably the same applies to other mammals like cats; but the triterpenoids are also biologically active.

But one doesn’t want to be eating large amounts of saponins all the time. Traditionally, people would rinse and soak saponin-rich plant foods or use other methods in order to eliminate some of the saponins and so make them less harmful. Some suggest simply being more careful about which plant foods one eats. Then there are those who advocate removing plant foods altogether. There pretty much isn’t any plant foods that don’t have one antinutrient or another in them. As for saponins, some potential negative effects are — besides as antinutrients: disrupting fat metabolism, increasing intestinal permeability, cleaving cholesterol, disrupting endocrine function, and toxicity to cells. The problem is that, if this is reason for your cat to not eat dracaena leaves, it’s also the same reason for you to not eat hundreds of plant foods you’ll find at the grocery store and farmer’s market.

There is a lot of debate about antinutrients. And the evidence is mixed. But, generally, they aren’t deadly. Or rather, if they’re going to kill you, it will likely come slowly over many years of overconsumption. No one really knows if these plant chemicals are a net benefit or a net risk to human health. We know even less about cat health. Cats in the wild would nibble on all kinds of plants. And various species of felines have lived all over the world for millions of years. They are highly adaptable creatures. Generally speaking, they probably aren’t going to keep eating any plant that makes them sick. Every claim about dracaena being toxic is pure speculation based on absolutely zero knowledge of any proven evidence or mechanism of dangerous toxicity. That isn’t necessarily to say one should be entirely unconcerned. Maybe try to limit your cat’s consumption. But if and when your cat chomps down on a dracaena leaf, you probably don’t need to immediately call your vet in a state of panic. Just watch your cat to see if it’s fine.

It’s interesting that the warnings are so consistently and widely repeated, based on no facts or known cases of harm. The main thing seems to be that some cats act ‘intoxicated’ and therefore they must be in a state of potentially threatening toxicosis. By that logic, you should call 911 every time you see a mildly inebriated person. So, why does this warning get repeated? Most of the websites are from veterinarians or other official websites related to health, toxicity, and pets. In their formal capacity of authority, they are going to be cautious, even when there is no rational reason for caution. If a veterinarian gives out a warning of toxicity about a non-toxic plant, the worse that happens is someone unnecessarily throws away a perfectly fine houseplant. But if a veterinarian tells someone that a plant is safe or simply has no known toxicity and an animal gets sick as a result, that could lead to bad results for their reputation and career. Yet this is in stark contrast to how mainstream health professionals for humans usually dismiss claims that saponins in plants are anything to worry about, even though there are real concerns in some cases.

On a personal level, we do take our cat’s health seriously and would do nothing to intentionally harm her. This is about risk-benefit analysis. The case for risk is weak and minimal, but there are some potential real negative outcomes. Is it any more dangerous than a human drinking a beer or eating spinach? No one knows. From the perspective of the precautionary principle, one might simply remove the plant from the equation, just in case with the idea that it’s better safe than sorry. Then again, Betty just loves her dracaena leaves, one of her few joys in life, right up there with watching chipmunks out the window. But as the responsible human caretakers, we are in the position to make a decision on Betty’s health and happiness. It’s not like she’d likely fall into despair by the loss of her beloved dracaena habit. Even if risk could be calculated, how much risk is pleasure worth? Certainly, pleasure can’t be calculated. If we were making this decision for ourselves about a plant that had saponins in it, we’d definitely think twice before imbibing every day. Yet, we enjoy the buzz from our multiple cups of coffee a day, yet another plant drug that contains antinutrients, including saponins. Too much coffee is probably harmful as well. We are feeling uncertain and undecided about what to do with this dracaena plant.

* * *

6/13/21 – We finally gave into fear-mongering. Or rather we rationally sided with the precautionary principle. We couldn’t find any scientific evidence or even anecdotal evidence that dracaena is harmful for cats. The closest we came to evidence of any sort is that it’s traditionally used as medicine in Africa. And it’s interesting to note that Africa is one of the origins of the modern domesticated cat. Presumably, some of the wild cats of Africa evolved with dracaena. It would be interesting for someone to study the habits of these wild cats. Do they eat dracaena? Do they enjoy it? Do they get ill? Do they die?

Anyway, we don’t know where this “old wives tale” came from. And we don’t know why veterinarians, medical professionals, those in pet-related fields, and animal lovers are promoting this seemingly unfounded rumor and spreading apparent disinfo. But, based on the precautionary principle, we feel compelled to give tentative credence to the notion that such evidence might exist, even if the dozens of websites we looked at cited no such evidence. It’s maybe better safe than sorry. The only downside is Betty’s temporary unhappiness. We removed the dracaena plant yesterday morning and since she keeps looking for where it went. She’ll probably have forgotten about it by the end of the week. So, she’ll have to find a new addiction or replacement. Maybe she’ll, instead, eat more food to fill the void in her life, become fat, and then die of metabolic syndrome.

Jokes aside, we honestly do take seriously the potential risk of plant toxins and antinutrients. We’ve intentionally gone strict carnivore for periods and, even when not carnivore, we limit the kinds and amounts of plant foods we allow in our diet. Tonight, for example, we picked out the pork and left the beans, although we did take a heapful serving of cabbage (the dark leafy greens are a nod to my past paleo diet and the influence of Dr. Terry Wahls). In line with Dr. Paul Saladino and others, we’re really not sure that plants offer much benefit to human health; and probably even less to cat health; although the harm is likely minimal if plant consumption is occasional. Then again, there is also the happiness principle or at least the pleasure principle. We’re certainly not trying to take away the small joys from Betty’s life. But we do follow an anti-addiction philosophy and, admittedly, Betty is acting a bit addicted to her cherished dracaena leaves. At the rate she was eating it’s leaves, we’d probably have to buy a new dracaena plant every month or two.

To demonstrate the seriousness of our intentions, we’ve cut out almost all sugar and starches from our diet. The only exception is very rarely some honey, wild berries when in season, and maybe baked goods if made by someone we personally know. The neighbor lady made cookies for taking care of her cat and so we ate one of them. Yet, typically even at birthday parties, we’ll abstain from cake and ice cream because it’s just store-bought crap. Make cake and ice cream from scratch and that is a whole other matter. The thing is we used to be carb addicts and so we are now on an extremely low-carb diet. On a typical day, we get near zero carbs of any sort. Sure, even meat has some carbs in it, if rather meager in amount. The most carbs we typically might get is from cheese, but we tend to eat aged cheese which only has 1 gram of carb per 1 ounce. We still get cravings that we fulfill with stevia, yet another plant, and even that bothers us because it seems to keep the craving alive. We went a period of time without even stevia and it was interesting how some of the simplest of things could taste sweet. Without sweeteners to dull the tongue, the carbs in dairy jump out on the palate.

Unrelated to helping Betty kick her dracaena habit, we went on a caffeine fast this week and withdrawal was a doozy. We were in a state of near continuous semi-unconsciousness for a couple of days, until our body kicked back into gear with producing its own dopamine again. We really hate the feeling of being addicted to anything. Should we force our Puritan abstention on innocent Betty who just wants her next hit of dracaena goodness? Obviously, if she is addicted, she doesn’t mind it. And it’s not like it negatively affects her life or employment. All she does is lay around the house anyway. She seems to prove the war on drugs propaganda. She is a lazy loser who is wasting away her life while more productive citizens carry her weight. But she brings added value to the world in her own way. Oh well. She’ll get over it, hopefully.

Still, it’s hard to shake the nagging feeling that the idiotic warnings, however improbable, might have some merit. Still, one has to wonder how there could possibly be zero known evidence, at least unknown to the fear-mongers and rumor-mongers, if it truly was a dangerous plant. Cats, of course, are one of the most common house pets and dracaena is one of the most common house plants. If dracaena was dangerously toxic, there should be thousands or hundreds of thousands of cases of dracaena poisoning of cats. The lack of evidence, in this case, could be taken as a massively overwhelming evidence of lack. Why should the precautionary principle give deference to irrational fear? It shouldn’t. But there is an off chance that the fear could be rational. After all, how could an endless number of experts be wrong? That is kind of a stupid question for anyone familiar with the replication crisis and public health epidemic related to the field of diet and nutrition, which does overlap with the contentious issue of plant antinutrients.

For whatever it’s worth, maybe Betty and the rest of us will drift back toward a strict carnivore diet. We did a meat fast (i.e., meat-only diet) this winter and last. And maybe we’ll do it again, particularly eliminating caffeine and stevia as well, if only as another experiment. In doing so, we could join Betty in solidarity by sacrificing all of our plant pleasures, such as our love for avocado and olives. It’s good to clear the system out once in a while to get the sense of how plants are affecting one. Yet it doesn’t mean we have to be anti-herbivore forever. Betty doesn’t seem to like cat grass, but maybe we can find some similar plants she could safely nibble on, if not as addictively as her dracaena plant.

“We created this beautiful dream, but we imposed a nightmare on somebody else.”

One could debate details, historical and current, back and forth. Since my days as a young Zionist and, later, as a member of Jews for a Just Peace, I have often done so. I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, the accumulated mutual pain in the Middle East is so acute, “a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless cycle of perpetration and retribution.”

Dr. Gabor Maté, Beautiful Dream of Israel has Become a Nightmare

The quote in the title is a statement made by Dr. Gabor Maté. It comes from a talk that is part of a longer interview by Russell Brand. The beautiful dream is that of Zionism. The man speaking is Dr. Maté, a Jew and an infant survivor of the Holocaust. Many in his family died in Nazi death camps. Early on, he spent time in Israel and Palestine, and so he saw the conflict firsthand. After an idealistic youth, he became disillusioned about Zionism, although not disillusioned about humanity.

Besides speaking on a personal level, he is also an expert on trauma and addiction. He has a compassionate attitude about how humans get trapped in harmful patterns, but he also has an uncompromising moral position. Unresolved trauma can be dangerous, particularly at the level of a large population. In the interview, he said: “I can understand the warmth that Jews have for Israel; I used to be in that same camp. I can understand, after the horrors of the Nazi genocide, how we desperately want some protection. I can understand all that. But none of that excuses what we are doing… There are no two sides…in terms of power and control and its pretty straightforward. There was a land with a people living there and other people wanted it, they took it over, and they continue to take it over, and they continue to discriminate against, oppress and dispose that other people.”

The early Zionists had a slogan, “A land without a people for a people without a land.” Dr. Maté mentions this and points that all of the Jews knew the land was not without a people. Many Jews, he says, knew this and so argued against Zionism. His conclusion is that it inevitably was a “colonial project” involving the imperial powers at the time. He goes so far as to call it “ethnic cleansing” that he says is continuing. He asserts this is undeniable to anyone like him who has studied the history and who was there to see what actually happened. There is one thing he doesn’t mention, though. Maybe some of the Zionists took that slogan seriously and literally. The fact of the matter is many Israelis have not treated Palestinians as if they were people. In nearly every case of human oppression throughout history, the victims are portrayed as animals and brutes or as non-animals, or as simply not existing and not mattering — unheard and unseen.

Rhetoric is powerful, particularly beautiful dreams that become enmeshed in shared identities. They can feel empowering even, but they can also lull us asleep and we might find ourselves in nightmares. “Don’t be afraid to be disillusioned”, Dr. Maté says to his son. “It’s better to be disillusioned than to be illusioned. And don’t be afraid to be disidentified. Don’t identify with something outside of yourself to the extent that you become uncritical and blind.” Later on in his talk with his son, he emphasizes that ignorance is not an excuse. “So that the question for a lot of people these days is not what do you know — because it’s true, if all you do is you read the mainstream media, you’re not going to find out very much — but what you could find out if you wanted to. So, don’t be afraid to be disillusioned.”

In watching another video on the Some More News Youtube channel, someone going by Beretta249 left a comment. It’s a good example of how someone becomes disillusioned with Zionism or else how someone loses sympathy with those wielding it as a dangerous and deadly weapon. This person stated that, “For me this “conflict” got uncomplicated when I saw the IDF firing artillery, like modern 150mm guns, into Gaza. That isn’t precision. That isn’t proportional. That’s firing artillery into a city. That’s random slaughter. Like firing a shotgun into a fishtank” (Uncomplicating The “Complicated” Palestine/Israel Conflict – SOME MORE NEWS). The worst part is this random mass violence mostly kills children, the most innocent of innocent.

The jerry-rigged rockets used by Palestinians are cheaply designed, unprofessionally built, lacking in any guidance system, highly ineffective, and rarely kill anyone. Comparing those Palestinian rockets to the near carpet-bombing the Israelis do is like comparing firecrackers to bazookas. When those committing mass atrocity and crimes against humanity invoke, “The Holocaust!”, one’s only response is to shake one’s head in sadness and despair. Anyone with a soul and a beating heart can’t help but become disillusioned. Such trauma-induced psychosis strains one’s capacity for compassion and understanding, but we have to try to heal these wounds if the cycle of violence and victimization is ever to stop.

Some further quotes from that video:

187 Trauma and Israel (with Dr. Gabor Maté)
from Under The Skin with Russell Brand

Gabor Maté
from Promised Land Museum

* * *

Here is another interview with his son, the journalist Aaron Maté, where Dr. Gabor Maté discusses the related topic of antisemitism:

“From the beginning, there were Jews who said: Yeah okay we need a state, maybe. And we have a right to seek protection. But the reality is that, in Palestine specifically, there’s already another people. And there’s no way to create a Jewish state in Palestine without doing violence to the local population. And so, from that perspective, Zionism becomes a colonial project. It can only be achieved at the expense of the local population and only by cooperating with the leading imperial imperial power of the time which is Britain which which controls Palestine after the First World War.

“And so, within the Zionist movement, there’s this debate, right. There’s this giant slogan, “A land without a people for people without a land”, intimating that Palestine was an empty land. But the Zionists knew right from the beginning that there was no land without a people. And both Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion, in almost identical words, said that when the Arabs fight against us it’s not terrorism; it’s nationalism. They’re fighting for their own land just as we would in their situation. So they were clear about this.

“Then you get the horrors of the Second World War and the worst and the most horrific imaginable expression of antisemitism and racism in history. And now you have the identification of the Jewish state with Jewish survival and the fight against antisemitism. So that. when a lot of the Eastern European Jews who emigrated to Palestine then came up against the Arabs the local Arabs who (for previously valid reasons as Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky pointed out) opposed to take over their land, they just saw them as another bunch of antisemites.

“So there’s been this confusion right from the beginning. Now it’s become much stronger in recent years as more and more people are in the world have woken up to the reality of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that took place in 1948 and has really been taking place ever since. And so now the uh the charge of antisemitism is being raised against just about any critic of Israeli policy. So it no longer matters that whether somebody actually is making a legitimate criticism or whether somebody’s coming from an antisemitism place. The two are confused quite deliberately, I think, by propagandists who who serve the interests of Israeli policy. And that means a lot of the mainstream Jewish leadership in North America. […]

“When you identify with something, whether for economic or emotional or political or any combination of reasons, and you make yourself the same as that, then when that’s criticized you’re going to feel criticized. And so what I’m saying to people is: Don’t be afraid to be disillusioned. It’s better to be disillusioned than to be illusioned. And don’t be afraid to be disidentified. Don’t identify with something outside of yourself to the extent that you become uncritical and blind.

“I read a book by Albert Speer who was Hitler’s architect and armaments minister, I think. He spent 40 years in jail as a war criminal in Spandau after the war. And, in his biography, he talks about that everybody is always asking me or my generation what we knew about what was going on; the crimes, the antisemitic and anti-people anti-human crimes of the Nazi regime. And he said, the real question is not what we knew but what we could have known had we wanted to find out. And he gives a couple of examples which are more detailed now where he had very strong clues that something horrible was happening in the east (i.e., the death camps), but he never pursued the clues. He didn’t want to find out. He didn’t actually know. I believe he didn’t know, but he could have known. He didn’t want to know.

“Now that’s the same dilemma for all of us The difference being that these days you can read the Israeli histories of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In fact, there’s a book called the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by the Israeli historian Illam Pape who had to leave Israel. H lives in Britain now. He came under such hostility. You can read the articles of Gideon Levy in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, that details it almost daily, the horrors of the occupation. You can go online and see any number of Israeli soldiers talk about what they had to do and how they are ashamed of what they did in the occupied territories. So that the question for a lot of people these days is not what do you know — because it’s true, if all you do is you read the mainstream media, you’re not going to find out very much — but what you could find out if you wanted to. So, don’t be afraid to be disillusioned.”

Gabor Mate on anti-Semitism and Zionism
by Phil Ebersole

“He said he has gone through three disillusionments in his lifetime—with Hungarian Communism, with American exceptionalism and with Zionism. Disillusionment is painful, he said, but it is better to be free of illusion than a slave to it.”

Gabor Mate on the misuse of anti-Semitism and why fewer Jews identify with Israel, an interview for The Gray Zone.

America in denial: Gabor Mate on the psychology of Russiagate, an interview for The Gray Zone.  With transcript.

* * *

“We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world.”

Beautiful Dream of Israel has Become a Nightmare
by Dr. Gabor Maté

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?

There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.

The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.

Israel wants peace? Perhaps, but as the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, it does not want a just peace. Occupation and creeping annexation, an inhumane blockade, the destruction of olive groves, the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, torture, daily humiliation of civilians, house demolitions: these are not policies compatible with any desire for a just peace. In Tel Aviv Gideon Levy now moves around with a bodyguard, the price of speaking the truth. […]

My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing.

Addiction is a Response to Childhood Suffering: In Depth with Gabor Maté

John Lavitt: Given the history of such patterns of institutionalized evil, does evil actually exist? Isn’t such evil beyond being just about childhood trauma? Having survived the Nazi genocide, aren’t you sometimes worried that it could happen again?

Gabor Maté: If you mean can it happen again, it has happened again. We have seen massacres of human beings all over the world. We have seen it in Rwanda, we have seen the Americans slaughter half a million Iraqis, we have seen Israelis slaughter Palestinian children, we have seen American soldiers wiping out men, women and children in Vietnam and get away with it, and we see the horrors perpetrated by the Islamic state in the Middle East right now. While nothing on the industrial scale of Auschwitz has happened since then, in terms of human violence, cruelty and a complete willingness to make other people suffer, that has continued ever since. 

So am I worried that something like Auschwitz will happen again? I don’t think history repeats itself in that way. But it doesn’t have to take Auschwitz. You don’t need Auschwitz for humans to be deliberately and viciously cruel to one another. We see that all the time. Now, does evil exist? Yes, evil exists. Evil not as a kind of abstract force or as an embodied devil, but as the expressions of human pain that finds some release in creating pain in others, and that’s unconscious. The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says evil does not have an absolute existence, but has a relative existence rooted in the human unconscious. If you look at people who are willing to perpetrate such things, you look usually at traumatized people.

John Lavitt: […] As a Jewish man who lost family in the Holocaust, how do you reconcile your love of your family’s tradition with such a state of affairs? Isn’t Israel similar to the survivors of trauma that you write about? How can Israel return to what you define as a lost dream?

Gabor Maté: John, I thought this was going to be an interview about addiction. Why are we talking about the Middle East?

John Lavitt: Gabor, my interviews are focused on addiction, but they are not just about addiction. I examine as much of the history and writings of the subjects that I interview, and I try to find the most engaging and powerful questions based on my findings. This root of this question is not because I have a flag to wave in terms of an agenda. Rather, when I read the article, it affected me deeply, particularly the part about wanting to ask your friend, “Can we not be sad together?” That truly moved me as a Jewish man also conflicted by the actions of Israel, thus giving rise to the question. 

Gabor Maté: Okay, I got it, John, thank you for answering my question. In relation to what you asked, you can’t return to dreams. Dreams are not real by definition. The idea that you could somehow beautifully and cleanly create a refuge for European Jews by taking away the land from the local inhabitants was never more than a dream. It could never have been done. The only way you can ever take land away from the people that live on it is to kill them or to expel them and oppress them. That’s reality. 

People were willing to do that because they thought the European Jews had suffered so much that that suffering gave them the motivation and the right to make others suffer. Right now, we are dealing with the impact of that decision, and the way it’s going, we’ll continue to deal with it for decades to come. For me, it’s not a question of returning to a dream but a question of waking up from a dream. We have to wake up from the dream that it was ever possible to find a beautiful solution to the European Jewish problem by creating suffering for people in the Middle East. We have to wake up from that dream. It was never possible. 

Not only was it never possible, the people that did it knew it was not possible. Privately, they talked about it. Publicly, they pretended otherwise. And I’m talking about going back a hundred years or more. They knew there was another people there. They knew that there was no land without a people. In terms of what that means in the present, we’re not talking about expelling Israelis, we’re not talking about any particular solution here, but if you want to find a solution, let’s wake up from the dream and certainly let’s wake up from the dream that many Jews have that you can continue to keep doing this and somehow it’s going to turn out okay. It’s not going to turn out okay. We are creating intense suffering for other, and we are going to create intense suffering for ourselves. 

* * *

From a different interview, Dr. Gabor Maté talked of Jordan Peterson’s “suppressed rage”. We were reminded of that because of his focus on trauma. Peterson obviously has unresolved issues that get projected onto others and get expressed in dark views of humanity.

Peterson makes verbal threats, writes of violent fantasies, praises bullying, claims slavery is the natural state, pushes fear-mongering, and preaches conspiracy theories. The latter is seen with his ranting about “cultural Marxism” which originated in Nazi Germany as an antisemitic conspiracy theory called Jewish Marxism or Jewish Bolshevism.

This is what is so sad about Peterson constantly warning about Nazism and portraying the left as Nazis. He is a crypto-Nazi that, because of unresolved trauma, is playing out trauma in his political visions and reactionary demagoguery. This pattern among reactionaries is sadly all too common.

Maybe unsurprisingly, Peterson gives unquestioning support to Israel. He equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. And he regularly retweets Ben Shapiro who supports war crimes against Palestinians, going so far as advocating that Gaza be carpet bombed.

Peterson believes that peacefully protesting for Palestinian freedom is antisemitic oppression. Apparently, to his mind, Apartheid is freedom and the only freedom Palestinians deserve is to submit to being ruled over by those more powerful. As George Orwell put it, “Slavery is freedom.”

This is what makes Dr. Maté different in talking from experience. Peterson, as an ideologue, only knows these issues from secondhand sources and so they become fodder for his demagogic rhetoric. But to Dr. Maté, the Holocaust and Israeli Apartheid are personally real in his experience.