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Moloch in the Middle East
Systems analysis predicts this doesn't end. Ever.
You have a right to be outraged about Hamas raping and murdering thousands of Israeli civilians this week, to include raping concert goers and beheading babies. You have a right to be outraged about Israel bombing Palestinian civilians, including children, over many decades. You have a right to be outraged about illegal settlements and terrorism and assassinations and beheadings. You are free to weigh each on a Scale of Suck and use either the numbers or the horrors to put your finger on the scale to pick a side in Israel/Palestine. I don’t dissuade you from doing this. I may even be doing the same thing privately.
This is not an equivalency article. This is not an article about choosing the more moral side in a war. Unlike everything else you’ve read in the past week, this article is going to lose its publication subscribers, so writing it will cost me money. I’m going to write it anyway, because what’s going on right now in the media, and on the ground, is perfectly explained by prior HWFO material and therefore too perfect an opportunity to pass up to make sense of things like rape, baby killing, etcetera, which seem nonsensical.
To make sense of any of this, you must first take the time to realize that your sensemaking apparatus has been compromised, as has that of everyone with whom you disagree on this topic. Next, you must pause your rage long enough to realize that all this behavior on both sides is rational to them, when you look more narrowly at who the sides actually are. To do these two things, I ask you not to start from a position of moral equivalency at all, but rather to set the morality aside long enough to think about media mechanics and game theory, after which time please feel free to pick your morality arguments back up and use them as you wish.
By the time we’re done, we shall see that not even divine intervention could end this conflict, because the conflict flows from mathematics and systems theory. Further, this would be true whether I was on one side of the conflict, or the other, or neither.
Gaza and the Sensemaking Crisis
One of the chief features of the Sensemaking Crisis is information overload. Too much media to parse. Social media exacerbates this, because it contains millions of participants seeking out the most extreme content to amplify, often without cross checking it against the truth, and sharing it within echo chambers. Since consumers get their information from their social feeds, the feeds are automatically curated to reinforce their prior opinions with the most bombastic thing available to reinforce it, since that’s what gets shared. The sharing leads to money made by the media makers, so to be successful in the business, you produce bombastic things. This has been true since at least 2018, drives the modern USA culture war, drives the increased separation of the tribes, and makes everyone involved (except for yours truly) a hell of a lot of money. Even if a successful media producer didn’t agree with what he or she is saying, he or she would still say what the echo chamber wanted to hear. Everything you read or see is produced through this lens, and this lens exists for all issues and all topics. Israel/Palestine, being an issue/topic, is no different.
The people who disagree with you about Israel/Palestine occupy a different echo chamber. A different information bubble. They have a model of the world that is different from yours not because they’re necessarily insane, but because they have different givens. These givens include curated media supporting one or the other prior about what’s been going on. They include different understandings of the cause of evil in the world, granted by different religious, national, or secular indoctrinations. They include things your friends are saying, and your propensity to agree with your friends for social acceptance. They are deep, and intractable, and you cannot escape them. Nor can those awful evil people with whom you disagree about this or any other topic.
If you disagree with someone about Israel/Palestine, try thinking of them as misinformed instead of evil, and then deeply contemplate the information bubble they’re likely to be in, as compared to yours. And then consider contemplating yours. Then consider doing it about everything else too, not just Israel/Palestine.
This is not an equivalency argument, and if you think it is, read this section again. No two acts could possibly be exactly morally equivalent, and I’m sure with enough analysis a case could be made and defended that one side or the other is more moral in this conflict. But if you take a moment to skip that procedure entirely and look at the game theory behind the veil, you’ll see that the morality actually doesn’t matter. This sort of thing was going to happen no matter what and will inevitably happen again.
Nash Equilibrium of Suck
The history of the Israel/Palestine conflict is so tortured and complicated that I’m going to skip it. My choice to skip it will probably make anyone with a morality position on this conflict freak out so badly they throw their phone in a ditch, but I’m skipping it anyway because the current equilibrium state of affairs is divorced from the history of it, although certainly backwards-applicable.
Hawks maintain power through war and fear. The two most potent tools in the hawk arsenal are violence and information bubbles. The fact that their violence gets shared by the other information bubble more than their own is a feature to them. The Sensemaking Crisis is their tool. This analysis works for Israel/Palestine, for 9-11, for the Vietnam War, and many other conflicts besides.
The greatest analysis flaw going is the presumption that the leadership of Israel and the leadership of Gaza, who are both various flavors of “Hawk,” want peaceful resolution at all. A peaceful resolution dispossess them of power, while violence keeps them in charge. It is therefore entirely rational for Hawk A to inflict violence on the civilians under the care of Hawk B, bolstering their enemy’s support while expecting a retaliation, because that retaliation will inevitably bolster the support of Hawk A. That would be true in any national belligerent dynamic. Each of the respective Hawks form a symbiotic relationship with each other’s violence, so they both maintain power.
Another currently popular misconception is the general definition of “losing” a conflict. Rest assured Gaza is going to get creamed on the ground here in a bit, and “lose” the offensive by any “third generation warfare” definition. But that’s not actually losing to a Hawk. To a Hawk, peace is losing. If both sides are Hawks, then perpetual war is win-win.
Did Hamas do this to promulgate perpetual war, instigate attacks against themselves, and drag others into the conflict on moral grounds on both sides? I don’t know, and couldn’t know, but if that was their goal, they couldn’t have executed it more perfectly. The best possible way to get young men mad is to rape and kill young women, and the best way to get women mad is to behead babies. This Youtube video does a great job of going through that.
Did Bibi prop up Hamas over Fatah to drive a wedge between the different Palestinian factions, knowing that it would promote more violence to solidify Likud in power? I don’t know and couldn’t know, but if he did do so his choice would be rational given his square in the game theory matrix. My feed (or, rather, my echo chamber bubble) is full of memes like this. Are they real?
What of the theories that Bibi had foreknowledge of the assault and allowed it to happen to bolster his position as National Hawk and justify his inevitable military response? Are they real? They could be, but the very same thing was said about 9-11 and Pearl Harbor. Were those real too?
I don’t know if any of those were or are real. But seen through the lens of game theory they would all be rational choices for a Hawk to make, because Hawks trade blood for power. Each of these three claims has the same viral social media juice to them, because they’re plausible for the same reasons.
I advocate peace. I abhor baby beheadings, gang rapes, and people getting shot and bombed. If I could sprinkle fairy dust on the Middle East and end their wars, which become our wars, I would do so. I’m not foolish enough to claim any variety of moral equivalency exists out there, nor would I attempt to even begin to place all the awful stuff on God’s Scales to determine the answer without beginning the task with God’s Omnipotence.
But I unfortunately cursed myself by learning game theory, and I know how the current Media Engine of Freakoutery works, so I know that even if I had dirigibles full of God’s Own Fairy Dust to use on the project of Israel/Palestine peace I know even that wouldn’t work. All a Hawk would have to do is bomb someone, to reinforce the other Hawk across the wall, and the Nash Equilibrium of Suck appears once again.
There will never be peace in Gaza. The mathematics of Moloch demands war.