Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

This month's Spectacle went up three days late. I work three nights on the ambulance and had a one act play festival going up the first week of February. Before I knew it, the deadline for getting the work done had come and gone. The Spectacle is and has always been an avocation, which has allowed me to produce it very nonchalantly, some months without graphics at first, many times with the letters column not up until a day or two later. However, I am proud that despite the disorder that is my life, I have published the Spectacle (and written at least one essay for it) every month for the last 132. There is a simple mechanical virtue, quite aside from the content, in the repetitive effort and even in the timing--I think of the fox's lesson in The Little Prince, which included always appearing at the same time. This makes me so much more simpleminded and and less post-modern than the bloggers, who publish whenever they want and obey no schedule. I am not sure otherwise that what they do is any different; except that they are mostly younger, better looking and have superior software.

See you next month--

Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. If you write to me about something you read in the Spectacle, I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. If you want the letter published, but without your name attached, I will do so. I will not include your email address unless you ask me to. This is in response to many of you who have expressed concern that spammers are finding your email address here. Flames are an exception. They will be published in full, with name and email address. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. Nope, sorry.

Dear Jon:

I have yet to see Munich but with regards to your January essay "Death in "Munich" there is a contradiction within it regarding the issue of moral equivalence. You stated the following:

The ostensible ethics of Munich is clear: that the cycle of revenge killings makes us all paranoid, jumpy and mentally ill and that there must be a negotiated solution. Fine, I agree.

Cycles of violence, revenge, or what have you are, virtually by definition, symmetric and equivalent as life can be. It is a tit for tat for tit for..without end or eventually reason. I also agree.

But then you stated later in your essay:

The accusation some Israelis have made, that Spielberg is postulating a "moral equivalency" between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli revenge killings, is false.

Here you deny that the movie is promoting a moral equivalence. Either the movie is about the cycle, symmetry and equivalence of violence (which would then include equivalence of morality) or it is not. But you cannot have it both ways.Finally your last sentence, in which you feel Munich begs additional questions, ends with:

the possibility that the rationale that "they started it" (even if true) eventually washes out as an excuse, once you have bulldozed enough houses and killed enough children with missiles.

If you feel there is no rationale, no excuse for the Israeli's actions then you are truly projecting onto them an equivalence of morality (and action). (Perhaps Spielberg's eliding the issue of "collateral damage" is a very indirect way of indicating that intending to kill children (as a recent suicide bomber intended at a Hanukah party) is different from "collateral damage". But I suspect it was more a matter of how much he was able to put into the movie.)

With warm regards
Joe Schuster

Dear Jonathan:

I read your article on "Munich" and enjoyed your perspective on the movie. What was interesting was here is a Jewish-American from New York analyzing a film about revenge of Jewish deaths, yet presenting review void of rhetoric. I am curious if your taking any heat from the Jewish community regarding your tying the movie to the present events in Israel?

I am not Jewish but have always felt that the State of Israel survives today due to a no-nonsense attitude regarding retribution and elimination of the threat. I do not condone innocent lives being lost, but at the same time I do not hear the opposing side mourning the deaths of Israeli innocents. The rockets some Palestinians launch into Israel are meant to be indiscriminant. Keep up the good work.

Cheers,Bill Monroe

Dear Mr. Wallace,

I ran into your website incidentally doing some research for a project of my own and looking for the fable of the scorpion and the frog. I found the essay about the scorpion so insightful that I ended up reading through his entire piece on the Prisoner’s Dilemma (Sept. 1995 issue). Thank you for this and the rest of the inspirational material on the website. Up until about two years ago, I had worked for a scorpion, but chose to ignore it at the time. As you so eloquently put it, “I always cooperated in earlier years because I was a naïve optimist”. This indeed was my story during those years. When the scorpion asked me to carry him over to the other side, I hardly even considered asking for any reassurances. Nor did I notice the many frog cadavers swept along the river’s banks. Surprisingly enough, as soon as we made it safely to other side, the scorpion stung me. Two years later, I find myself battling the same scorpion and the same “prisoner’s dilemma” in the courtroom. Your experience based account under “litigation” unfortunately confirms the popular wisdom that this arena can best be called the “scorpions’ den”. Had it not been for some passerby angels who referred me early on to Heinrich von Kleist’s Michael Kolhaas (adapted to the screen in the 1999 movie “The Jack Bull”), I might have drifted onto Kolhass’s (or von Kleist’s) tragic path. My project (which I initially imagined as a book) is my way of warning other people against falling into the same trap I did at the time – call it the “sucker’s payoff” if you will. But how do you know you’re dealing with a scorpion, and especially when you’re young and inexperienced? This is the audience I wish to reach and figuring out the best method to reach it is my challenge. What amazed me in myself and continues to amaze me in many of my ex-coworkers is our ability to shut our eyes in the face of hostility and injustice. Perhaps it’s human nature to choose the Matrix’s “blue pill” and only the few will ever opt for red, but I admire those like you who try to help at least those few finally make their choice.Best regards--

Dear Jonathan:

I was interested by the scorpion and frog story as among other things i am a) a quaker and therefore the dilemma is acute b) I run a storytelling group for people with learning disabilities and think this would be a challenging and interesting text to explore.

2 comments re Auschwitz:

a third possibility is that God is in the world but can only act through us you should forget the film about Schindler and read Keneally's book. it is not a panacea at all and there are no heroes and answers. Schindler was in fact a chancer and conman who treated some people eg his wife pretty badly. But for some reason he seems to have been unable to disregard the humanity of the Jews he personally knew (which links to the point from your Native American friend). In part he saw what he was doing as a challenge and a game, and that's why he was so effective at saving the people he did (and there is no doubt at all that he did, there is eyewitness testimony). What shines through is this direct relationship with other human beings - partly of course he couldn't resist exercising his charisma. The people who make a difference are not necessarily good people or heroes - but they are people who see other human beings as LIKE THEM.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Hey! My 12 year old son and I just "happily" stumbled on your web site while looking for information on the Peloponnesian Wars. How is that for a strange way to come to your site? I wanted to let you know we both read your autobiography. I was very impressed and my son said, "It was pretty good." Coming from a 12 year old that is high praise indeed. We both support what you do and stand for. I was very happy to find your site and will visit it often. Once again thank you. I know this may sound like a cliche but I have NEVER written an e-mail like this...and do you think this will get me on the NSA Watch List? I hope so.

Fondly,Kathleen and Paul

Dear Jonathan:

I am taking a course on finance and came across your article The Internet Bubble. A very nice read in plain language, which explains what happened during the internet Boom/Bust and the forces behind it.

Curious...but what are your thoughts on the housing market? Do you in some way regard the current housing market as a sort of ponzi scheme?

Looking forward to your thought on this matter. Thank you.

Best Regards,
William Monroe