Welcome to White Rose Magazine. Read this issue's free article.

Is Realist Theory Still Relevant?

International Relations theory has often upheld Realism as the best and most useful way to understand foreign affairs. In the aftermath of the messy 2010s and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, perhaps this no longer holds weight.

This content is for Monthly Subscriber and Annual Subscriber members only.
Login Join Now

A Time of Transcendence

When we have true faith, we rise above evil and see the completeness of the divine plan in all events.

This content is for Monthly Subscriber and Annual Subscriber members only.
Login Join Now

Can We Transcend Our Hyper-Partisan Rage?

Half of America is happy to wrap itself in the flag; the other half simply wants to take a knee. Something has to give, because such stark and cavernous divisions are simply not sustainable.

This content is for Monthly Subscriber and Annual Subscriber members only.
Login Join Now

The Challenge of ‘Ever After’

Review of Invited to Life: Finding Hope After the Holocaust, by B.A. Van Sise

Any attempt to present the experiences of Holocaust survivors faces daunting challenges. There’s a delicacy that’s required, entrusted, as one is, with incomparably precious materials. The weight of responsibility, the transcendent standards are ever-present. The worldly, moral question—“What would you have done?”—haunts every representation. 

But there’s no escape in the pragmatic present either, even for a limited project like a book, because life continues to ask, “What will you do?” What will you do with these realities, with these finite lives, each a whole universe? In sharing these stories, how will you give form to what is given into your hands to pass along? To write about such a book, as I was asked to do for photojournalist B.A. Van Sise’s Invited to Life, involves some related challenges, because it must evaluate the author’s success in that fraught and enormous undertaking. 

Van Sise’s first idea, to portray a handful of survivors for New York’s Village Voice, eventually grew into an exhibition, then this hefty, beautifully produced volume. He is most interested in “not what happened to these survivors during six tempest-tossed years long ago, but rather what happened by these survivors,” in other words, the offspring, careers, artworks, and everything else that exists because of them – “proof,” he writes, “of moving on, and moving up, and moving forward.” To write about such a book, then, is to ask, what is happening now to their stories? How have these memories themselves been moved on, up, and forward by the author’s efforts? 

The fragility, singularity, and wonder associated with each survivor’s life must be honored, but not idealized. Idealization is ultimately dehumanization. As much as I, for example, consider the anti-Nazi resistance fighters among the most courageous in history—so when Van Sise quotes survivor Lyubov Abramovich saying, “It is a woman’s job to carry dynamite,” I’m in awe of her inconceivable fortitude—their actions remain those of human beings, as were those of the persecutors. It’s a truism, of course, but its implications, seriously considered, are devastating. (Hence that relentless refrain: “What would you have done?”) 

The fragility, singularity, and wonder associated with each survivor’s life must be honored, but not idealized. Idealization is ultimately dehumanization.

Van Sise successfully faces this challenge. His subjects, however genuinely radiant they may appear in his black-and-white photographs, are granted their imperfections and follies in his short descriptive texts and in their own words. We meet Albert Rosa, whose rage led him to the boxing ring (“The ones who beat me up, I beat them up back”), but also led his wife to leave him; and Aron Bell, most famous for the dramatization of his and his brothers’ story in the 2008 film Defiance, but somewhat infamous, too, for his and his wife’s guilty plea on rather sordid fraud charges in 2007. Nor is there any effort to hide the range of responses inevitably occasioned by the Shoah. Margot Hopfer says, “You know, when you’re eleven you don’t forgive. And I couldn’t. And I don’t, to this day. That’s the hardest.” So, some are angry, some remain afraid, some speak eloquently, some can barely be coaxed to say a few words. 

More generally, Van Sise does achieve his goal. We get glimpses into an extraordinary range of lives fully lived, like those of Eva Kollisch, peace activist, and her wife, Naomi Replansky; of Pearl Friend, who “married a very good man … had a very nice life for seventy-three years, and I raised beautiful children, my daughter, my son, beautiful grandchildren, and beautiful seven great-grandchildren” (“So, what can I have anything to complain?”); of Helena Weinstock, “who survived the camp that killed Anne Frank, … [and] now spends her evenings as a competitive ballroom dancer”; of Yankele Gross and his brother, Beresh, who became Alex and Bill, and created Albee Homes (“When liberated from Buchenwald, he was homeless. In his first eight years in business alone, he put 20,000 families into new houses every single year”); of the two Hungarian photographers, Laszlo Selly and Laszlo Stern, and their competing Laszlo Studios. “He wanted to sue me,” says Stern. “But we met, and we found we had some things in common. And it’s been friendship ever since.” 

Van Sise often pictures his subjects with a child or grandchild, or holding a treasured or symbolically significant object (sometimes with a surreal twist), always against a deep black background—emerging, as he puts it, “from darkness, with the sun to their faces so that their shadows might fall behind them.” Though each and every one should be celebrated for its nobility, some of my favorites are Werner Reich, who seems to hold a puff of smoke in his palm; Ernest Weiss and his flying hat; Morris Engelson and his flying granddaughter; Gabriella Karin and her statues of female figures; Rabbi Nissan Mangel and his grandson, a light between them shining on both; Albert Rosa in his boxing gloves; Vernon Mosheim with his partner, Bob; Lea Radziner, holding her granddaughter for the first time in over a year because of COVID.

Ernest Weiss

Of course, each survivor’s face says more than we’ll ever be able to assimilate. And interestingly, one of the subjects, Laszlo Selly, criticizes Van Sise’s aesthetic by describing his own busier, fluorescent-lit photos of survivors, which he shoots in their everyday surroundings: “They’re raw. … I don’t hide anything.” But I think one could conceive these contrary approaches as sides of the same bigger picture. Both speak to the book’s theme in their own ways: one illuminates the subject’s very soul, the other places them into the wider world. So when Van Sise writes that Selly doesn’t like his, Van Sise’s, photos (adding, “as well he shouldn’t”), he honors that sense of limitation, failure, even impossibility which must accompany every Holocaust representation, if it’s to do any measure of justice. 

Thus impossibility itself emerges as a theme. There’s the impossibility of settling once and for all that most essential question, religion – and so we meet Mireille Taub, whose portrait opens with her statement, “I don’t believe in God … Sorry, God. I believe in justice and humanity,” while in the very next portrait, Rabbi Mangel says, “Absolutely, I do believe in God. … I do not do so in spite of what I went through, but because of what I went through.” There’s the seeming impossibility of what they all went on to accomplish, after what they endured: “All of them lost their homes; many lost their entire families. Many were tortured, many were slaves. The act of getting up in the morning seems impossible, and yet all of them did: built professions, built loves, built families, built lives.” 

There’s the impossibility of expressing what they went through at all, so we get comments like that of Werner Reich: “Everyone asks how it was. I don’t know what they want me to say. Yeah, I was in Auschwitz. It was lousy.” And we hear about impossible decisions: “What does a mother want to do?” asks Anita Nagel Weisbord. “To hold you close. But I truly believe my mother gave birth to me twice: when I was born, and then when she had the strength, and the foresight, to send me away.” 

Finally, there’s the impossibility of the miraculous, set against its omnipresence: “Officially, science does not recognize a miracle, and even open miracles are eventually assimilated into ‘nature.’ But how many coincidences can the mind accept before one starts to wonder?” This is the voice of physics professor Morris Engelson, who “escaped the ghetto dressed as a peasant woman, [and] spent much of the war hiding in barns and attics.” He continues, “Taken to the extreme, we could say that any event, no matter what the odds or how it comes about or who is involved, is a miracle.” 

The first of three guest pieces in the book, by actress Mayim Bialik (the others are by authors Neil Gaiman and Sabrina Orah Mark), is appropriately titled “Modern Miracles.” Of her grandparents Bialik writes, “The fact that I was alive was a miracle to them. Being alive is, indeed, a miracle.” And she reminds us again of the impossibility of any unified, reconciled response: “I had one grandparent who wept all the time. And the other grandparent who never wanted to cry again, so he sang all the time.”

Gabriella Karin

As he writes of his subjects, “none of these stories begin with happily, but they’d all had at least seventy-five years of ever after.”

As I said above, writing about Van Sise’s book repeats to a much lesser degree certain risks that the author himself faced. One mustn’t be too cautious, lest the mess and dirt of real life disappear into aestheticism, or be too sure of things, lest life’s inescapable, perhaps necessary conflicts get rationalized away. So I feel compelled to address one issue I have with the book. The author’s left-leaning slant emerges in various places, usually not dwelt upon or elaborated, our agreement simply presumed. He is obviously entitled to his political views, and politicization of the Holocaust is entirely appropriate, in its place—how else to help ensure “Never again”? But there are profound differences of opinion, especially among American and, it must be said, Israeli Jews on political matters. In this context, Van Sise might have been better either to stay away from these contemporary divisions altogether, or to have acknowledged the inevitable political differences among survivors. 

If, in the end, however, the author manages to convey that these luminous everyday people are more important than anything he might add, he has done his job beautifully. He has been true to his intention: to show existence ongoing, life being lived. For, as he writes of his subjects, “none of these stories begin with happily, but they’d all had at least seventy-five years of ever after.” Now we, with all our personal foibles and preferences and prejudices, are part of their “ever after,” too. How we assume that responsibility—how accurately we perceive reality in its mottled light, how willing we are to forego comfortable simplifications, how faithfully we allow the past to speak to the present and to inform our actions—constitutes our answer to that infinite question: what would you have done, what will you do?

Trashed: Garbage, Barbarism + Spectacle in American Culture

All post-Auschwitz culture, including its urgent critique, is garbage. In restoring itself after the things that happened without resistance in its own countryside, culture has turned entirely into the ideology it had been potentially…. Whoever pleas for the maintenance of this radically culpable and shabby culture becomes its accomplice, while the man who says no to culture is directly furthering the barbarism which our culture showed itself to be.
Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics

Derelict objects could offer a radical critique of history’s myth of universal progress.
Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project

They got a character on there named Oscar, they treat this guy like shit the entire show. They judge him right in his face, “Oscar you are so mean! Isn’t he kids?” “Yeah Oscar! Your a grouch!” It’s like “BITCH! I LIVE IN A FUCKING TRASHCAN!” 
Dave Chappelle

Adorno’s Garbage + Ours

In the wake of the Holocaust, German-Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno took note of the danger of “garbage culture.” He believed that culture didn’t spend much time thinking about the Holocaust and just went about doing what it always had done before Auschwitz.   

Culture doesn’t have a conscience. 

It is more obsessed with aesthetics than ethics.  It is obsessed with creating garbage, and as Adorno noted, it has become an ideology.

What is that ideology?

Today, in America we now understand what Adorno meant. Culture creates garbage by trashing someone or something in order to gain or build fame, acquire wealth, or increase one’s status.   This happens on social media, between influencers, in Hollywood, and especially now, in our highly charged political culture where it is necessary for both sides of the political spectrum to trash each other on a daily basis.

Culture creates garbage by trashing someone or something in order to gain or build fame, acquire wealth, or increase one’s status.

Trashing creates, to play on the thinker Guy Debord, a “society of the spectacle.”  It makes us think that we are members of a society by virtue of seeing and enjoying the spectacle of trashing. Like any ideology, we—in today’s digital world—participate in it, so to speak, virtually.  

This ideology tells us that we “need” to see people or things trashed daily in order to feel meaningful. In our digital world, trashing compels us to gaze at the digital carnage flowing through our social media feeds. It compels us to enjoy the waste of the person (or thing) who (that) has been trashed. Trashing doesn’t only create our “garbage culture” (as Adorno would say) it is, as it were, a kind of fixation on violence and power that requires us to take sides. To echo Adorno, it is a kind of barbarism.

After the Holocaust, Adorno worried about whether culture—because it produces so much garbage—would admit to being complicit in the Holocaust. 

But culture has no conscience. 

We do.

We can say no to the spectacle. We can stand back from the spectacle of trashing, see it for what it is, and say no. We do not “need” to constantly see (and enjoy) things trashed to feel like we are really a part of society.   

Nonetheless, Adorno says that we are in a double bind: “Whoever pleas for the maintenance of this radically culpable and shabby culture becomes its accomplice, while the man who says no to culture is directly furthering the barbarism which our culture showed itself to be.”

We can say no to the spectacle. We can stand back from the spectacle of trashing, see it for what it is, and say no.

Today, we are faced with—in ways Adorno could never imagine—accepting or rejecting the ideology of trash culture. When our culture is obsessed with trash and trashing, barbarism is not far away. By saying no to it, we look to stop barbarism and the destruction of all that is good in America.  

Saying no is an expression of what Susan Sontag would call the moral sensibility, and as Freud noted, saying no is the beginning of freedom. However, saying no doesn’t mean we are trashing someone or something. It is more a way of preserving that which is dignified in humanity. It is an ethical act of moral sensibility, which is now called for because culture is moving in the direction of sensibility and has short-circuited Adorno’s double band. To preserve human dignity, we need to say no to trash culture and no to the spectacle. 

Trashing + the Spectacle

Culture—to use a verb—trashes things constantly, and the trash it produces takes on meaning and instantly becomes beautiful, exciting, and entertaining.   

People love rants these days because of what they do. The bigger the rant and the scene of disruption, the more attractive it is; especially if the rant is obscene and trashy. On the other hand, one doesn’t even need to rant in order to trash culture.  One can just appear in a photo on Instagram and trash it.  

Trashing is a gesture, an ideological signal (if you will) to the society of the spectacle. But the unseen effect (as with any ingestion of garbage) on the users, keeps them from reflecting on what has been trashed and why.  For it to be effective, trashing calls for one’s full attention on the spectacle.

From streaming services to social media, we can see the various ways popular entertainment and this or that influencer trashes ethics, history, and memory. But here is the blind spot: the more they trash these things, the more barbaric we all become.  

Since culture misses this tragic blind spot, culture feigns reflection and acts as if it is moral.  

To be sure, for culture, reflection is more aesthetic and theatrical than actual.   

So when influencers go on social media feigning reflection and deep insight, they make people feel as if they are in on some kind of “truth” or “secret.” As if they are partaking in something that will make them better; people take in trash ideas as if they are participating in something larger than life.  

But the bad news is that this is all an illusion.  It’s an empty spectacle that got you to look and pay attention. Trash culture, as an ideology, seems to be working.

Sadly, this leads to barbarism.   

If the “secret” we are partaking in is based on the act of dissolving the moral fabric of our society and our sense of trust in each other, we will become more and more polarized and barbaric.    

American culture, in many ways, is moving closer to barbarism because culture makes us think that we are thinking or doing something good or meaningful, when all we are doing is destroying something for the sake of destroying it, or for the sake of thinking that in doing so we are truly “woke.”

That delusion—based on an act of violence—can only lead to hyper-partisanship and, ultimately, to increased violence. This ideology divides the world between the people who trash and the people who are trashed.  

When these are your only two options, what becomes of America?

American culture, in many ways, is moving closer to barbarism because culture makes us think that we are thinking or doing something good or meaningful, when all we are doing is destroying something for the sake of destroying it, or for the sake of thinking that in doing so we are truly “woke.”

Sadly, trashing, an act of violence—as we might see on a reality tv show or on the streets—is entertaining and even enjoyable to most people who love consuming it. Just go to TikTok or Instagram Reels to see what is most popular or trending. As the data will show, millions of people enjoy trash and the violent act and spectacle of trashing things.

As the master of Pop Culture, Andy Warhol notes in the Philosophy of Andy Warhol, “some people, even intelligent people, say violence is beautiful.” 

If violence is beautiful, people will want more of it. Trashing is a violent art form of sorts that sews the seeds of division and divisiveness and calls for more of the same.

Kanye’s cultural barbarism

Kanye West has great expertise in creating American culture through “creative destruction.” He has made billions of dollars on the spectacle. His most streamed songs—49 million streams a month on average—demonstrate the aesthetic of trashing.   

Kanye is popular with my children’s age group. While we have taught them about anti-Semitism and talk about it often enough in our house, our children didn’t seem to take it as seriously as we did. But what Kanye did changed all that.   

It was the first time that my children have talked to me and my wife about how they feel about anti-Semitism and how Kanye used it to cast hate and suspicion on us. How could Kanye say anti-Semitic things about me, my family, friends, and people, they wondered?  

We were all astonished. How can this happen again, and in North America?  

Why was Kanye trashing the Jews?

It is wild to think that even if 5 percent of his 50 million fans would stand with him until the end, that would be over one million people who harbor anti-Semitism. They would hear the “truth” he was spitting (even before he said he “liked” Hitler on the Alex Jones Show).    

Kanye told the world in several different media appearances that “the Jews” had some kind of nefarious drive—built into them at birth, in their genes—to swindle people and control the “black voice.” Kanye—in effect—trashed the Jewish people.  

Who wants to hear this garbage? Who wants to be trashed? Trashing a Jew is anti-Semitism. It is exactly what Hilter and the Nazis did in Germany.  

Trashing Jews has demonstrable historical consequences.   

Toxic garbage can get telegraphed to alienated and dangerous people who travel to places like the synagogue in Pittsburgh, leaving 11 dead, or the “targeted attack” in Jersey City of a Jewish grocery and children’s school, killing five. Toxic garbage like Kanye’s rant leads to the beating up of Jews in the streets of Brooklyn and Los Angeles.  

To be sure, the highest hate crimes in NYC are against Jews, not gays, Muslims, etc. There are consequences to publicly trashing Jews. If Kanye cared about history—as Adorno wishes we all did, after Auschwitz—he would be more reflective and ethical; he wouldn’t trash Jews.  

But Kanye, as a major arbiter of culture, wants to trash Jews in order to get attention to his empty spectacle, his claim to have the “truth” and to have revealed the “secret” of the Jews.

However, there is no secret. It is actually barbarism since it doesn’t see Jews as equals, so much as overlords; it contradicts democracy and calls for vengeance. 

Anti-Semitism is the detritus of old Europe, which trashed democracy and notions of equality under the law, made Judaism into its foil, and led, eventually (after countless exiles from countries and cities all over Europe), to the Holocaust.   

But it didn’t die with the Holocaust. When major influencers like Kanye trash Jews and give this hateful garbage an after-life, it lives on…in America.

As we saw with Kyrie Irving and Dave Chappelle, post-Kanye, anti-Semitic trash is becoming normalized. Trashing Jews has value. 

Kanye created this double bind in order to gain power.  

Any resistance to his anti-Semitism was seen—according to his anti-Semitic framing—as a testimony to the “fact” of Jewish power and its will to suppress “the truth,” the secret that Jews, apparently, want hidden: that Jews have all the power, and want to have revenge on the “goyim.” Jews want to enslave and have power over them.  

This paranoid description of what Jews are and what they think about suggests that me, my wife, and children, are dedicated to doing everything we can to control “them.”  

Each morning that’s what I apparently pray for. To be sure, this is the most ridiculous and trashy read on Jewish life imaginable. It seems lifted from a cheap novel. But that’s the point.  It’s a paranoid fantasy.   

All eyes were on Kanye before, during, and after he was deplatformed and became more extreme with his anti-Semitic pronouncements, ultimately saying, on the Alex Jones Show that “I really like Hitler.”

This stupidity, based on trashing Jews, is exactly where Hitler went after he instituted the Nuremberg Laws, stripping rights from anyone who has Jewish blood. Trashing Jews, today, may lead us down the same kind of path, the path of barbarism.

Dave Chappelle’s racism

In the wake of the anti-Semitism coming from Kanye, the Kyrie Irving tweet about From Hebrews to Negroes, a movie that is demonstrably anti-Semitic, and after a march in NYC to the Barclays Center of more than a thousand “Black Hebrew Israelites” (calling themselves “Kyrie’s Army”) saying, as they marched through the streets of Brooklyn, that they are the “real Jews,” we shockingly heard Dave Chappelle tell an SNL audience that Jews have to stop picking on blacks.

Chappelle also said that the Holocaust is behind us. I paused and thought to myself (because I thought he was a reflective and intelligent comedian) that he simply doesn’t understand the epochal implications of the Holocaust, not just for Jews but for the world.  

Dave Chappelle Roasts Kanye West, Jews & Makes Woke Culture Cry during SNL Monologue 2022

Moreover, Chappelle intentionally turned Kanye’s anti-Semitism and Kyrie’s tweet into something arbitrary and went so far as to equate anti-Semitism with free speech, that “the Jews” (the two words one can’t say or will be punished) won’t allow.   

Strangely enough, this is like saying racism is free speech and that Dave Chappelle and all black people should approve of it.  But that is something he would never say.  These double standards are troubling. They are the result of trashing Jews. It leads to more of the same action.  

Chappelle also turned a vulnerable moment for the American Jew—in which they had to defend themselves against rising anti-Semitism prompted by major influencers—into a racist attack.  False and libelous, but it also denotes a dangerous misunderstanding and should give us pause to understand how art and entertainment, through indifference to anti-Semitism and its implications (something that can be learned from the Holocaust Chappelle downplays in this act) can become vehicles for hate.  

Sadly, this kind of trash talk—by a major influencer in American culture—demonstrates what worried Theodor Adorno about culture after Auschwitz.  

Adorno feared that “post-Auschwitz culture” would not allow itself to be challenged by the enormity of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. That since culture was “garbage,” it cannot refine itself and become reflective. Rather, as Adorno says, this trash—what I call the act of trashing—became “ideology.”   

To be sure, the cultural trash he worried about has to do with culture’s indifference to morality (or its fake espousal of it) in its celebration of entertainment and culture. This is an indifference to not just anti-Semitism but to all forms of excess and immorality. As I noted above, trash culture is concerned with aesthetics not ethics.   

Trashing the Jews, saying “I like Hitler,” or suggesting that Jews suppress free speech for fear of having their nefarious secret revealed, is theatrics. What anti-Semitism hates most—which happens, in America, to be the legacy of the Jewish people to modernity—is what Susan Sontag calls the “moral sensibility.”

On Sontag’s distinction between moral sensibility + camp sensibility 

But beauty and riches couldn’t have anything to do with how good you are, because think of all the beauties who get cancer.  And a lot of murderers are good looking, so that settles it.

Some people, even intelligent people, say that violence can be beautiful.  I can’t understand that, because beautiful is some moments, and for me those moments are never violent.

A new idea.

A new look.

A new sex.

A new pair of underwear.

Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

In her famous essay, “Notes on Camp,” Susan Sontag equated modernity with a tension between the Jewish “moral sensibility” and the “camp sensibility.” As she notes, the camp sensibility is indifferent to morality and is dedicated to play, irony, and aesthetics. It has no moral limit. It defies them in the name of artistic and cultural freedom. 

“The experiences of Camp are based on the great discovery that the sensibility of high culture has no monopoly upon refinement. Camp asserts that good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists, in deed, a good taste in bad taste…. Camp taste supervenes upon good taste as a daring and witty hedonism.” (Susan Sontag Reader)

In terms of the tension, Sontag writes: “The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony…. Jewish liberalism is a gesture of self-legitimization. So is Camp taste, which definitely has something propagandistic about it. Needless to say, the propaganda operates in the opposite direction. The Jews pinned their hopes on integrating into modern society on promoting the moral sense. Homosexuals have pinned their integration into society on promoting the aesthetic sense. Camp is a solvent of morality. It neutralizes moral indignation, sponsors playfulness.” 

While Sontag wrote this in the late 1960s, one can see that it has much relevance now, in 2023.  To be sure, the camp sensibility is ascendent over the moral sensibility and dominates much of Hollywood, TV, social media, and the Internet. 

Nearly every major event in Hollywood will include camp to promote woke ideology (as Sontag notes, it is propagandistic and self-legitimating).   

Strangely enough, today, it seems as if the camp sensibility and the moral sensibility have joined forces. Hollywood wears the veneer of the “moral sensibility” in its obsession with diversity, equity, and inclusion, featuring the transgender darlings of the camp sensibility as its shock troops.  

But that morality play is all theatrics. It is the theater of grievances.

Much of the garbage we see today has a lot to do with this tension, which has been imported into most of our culture. For instance, as we saw with Chapelle, he has no qualms with accusing Jews of trying to silence the black artist (a complaint made by Kanye, in his anti-Semitic tirade) on the one hand; or, on the other hand, coming from the anti-Semitic alt-right, seeing Jews as behind the sexual degradations of Hollywood and American culture. 

Hollywood wears the veneer of the “moral sensibility” in its obsession with diversity, equity, and inclusion, featuring the transgender darlings of the camp sensibility as its shock troops.
But that morality play is all theatrics. It is the theater of grievances.

Both sides of the cultural spectrum are dedicated to trashing Jews. They inform what Adorno calls “cultural garbage,” which, strangely enough, sees the moral sensibility of the Jews as a threat. With Chappelle and much else, we seem to have gone beyond liberalism to another place that is obsessed with power, propaganda, and ideology.

In every trash event, it favors aesthetics over ethics. It favors free speech at the expense of any moral protest, including protest from those targeted, the Jews.

The problem is a kind of morality-free aesthetics of trashing, as well as an aesthetic of free speech nationalism that have both run amok. Here, the extreme left and right have joined together, to fight a common foe: the Jewish moral sensibility.

Those who benefit most from trashing see the moral sensibility, which puts boundaries and limits to art and culture or to free speech nationalism, as a threat. They have eschewed all pretenses to morality and historical reflection.  Chappelle’s quip about the Holocaust being over means that Jews no longer have the right to tell black people to not be anti-Semitic.

Today, the trashing of the Jews is no different from denigrating America.  It’s a kind of radical chic that has nothing to do with morality and all to do with being edgy and “neutralizing moral indignation,” as Sontag put it, by trashing America.   

This aesthetic of playful indifference, strangely enough, has also leaked into the alt-right.  People like Milo Yiannopoulos or Nick Fuentes (and Kanye, their student) think it’s cool to be anti-Semitic since being so is the ultimate expression of free speech.  Making jokes about the Holocaust, mocking Jewish suffering, and praising Hitler are all a part of this bratty anti-Semitic camp.   

Both Yiannopoulos and Fuentes look to “neutralize moral indignation” in a fun and youthful way so as to propagandize their cause and spread their ideology. Like much else in the world of trash, it’s a brand and an empty spectacle that shares with its followers “secrets” and “truths” the world, apparently, hides from everyone else. 

Amongst the cultural garbage we are now seeing, there are things that are nihilistic, toxic, and dangerous for American culture. Without real moral indignation, informed by real history, America will, like its camp culture, continue to become a big landfill for all the trash spreading on social media and in Hollywood.    

To play on Sontag, I’d say that those who thrive in trash culture sponsor nihilism and aim to dissolve any sense of dignity that America has left.  It’s telling, on this note, that post-Holocaust figures like Eli Wiesel, Primo Levi, and Jean Amery said that the Nazis looked to destroy the dignity of man. Trash culture has a similar motive, but its path operates on the body in a much more subtle way than the concentration camp.

Those who thrive in trash culture sponsor nihilism and aim to dissolve any sense of dignity that America has left.

Alt-Right: saving America through trashing the left

“Politics is downstream from culture” is an expression that was often used by Andrew Breitbart.  What he initiated, via his media exposure events, was the beginning of an American cultural war.  Who controlled the message? Who controls power in America?  How has the cultural narrative, thus far, been dictated by “the left”?  

These questions, demonstrated by many of the cultural events he staged, made ordinary Americans start losing trust in the mainstream media and prompted them to create their own media. In addition, it made Americans more prone to conspiracy theories and a sense that the nation was being taken away from them. They wanted America back.  

In Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World (2011), Breitbart cites Adorno and others to argue that “Cultural Marxism” had made its long march through our institutions, inciting Americans to be more paranoid and suspicious of education, media, and government:

“The real idea behind all this was to make society totally unworkable by making everything basically meaningless. Critical theory does not create: it only destroyed. As Horkheimer himself openly stated, “Above all … critical theory has no material accomplishments to show for itself.”

Breitbart wanted to show Americans how they were being lied to and how the ideas of Adorno, Horkheimer, etc., were imported into America so as to destroy it:

“Frankfurt School scholar Theodor Adorno was sliding Marxism into the American consciousness by attacking popular trends in the world of art. First teaching at Columbia then later at Princeton, he argued that television and movies were problematic because they appealed to the masses—but television and the movies weren’t catering to the public tastes, they were shaping them, Adorno argued…. All popular art therefore had to be criticized as a symptom of the capitalist system. All art had to be torn down.”

Breitbart then speculates on how all art that destroys art, trashes it, is rooted in Adorno. In other words, Breitbart accuses Adorno of being behind the left’s effort to trash American art and culture. Moreover, he saw academia and the media as dominated by people influenced by Adorno’s ideas and the ideas of the Frankfurt School. America had been infiltrated by “critical theory.”

This sense of national and cultural betrayal stirred up by this book prompted the alt-right to be more savvy and hyperbolic on social media. It also radicalized the left to engage in heavy censorship and vindicated the alt-right, which saw the act of censoring their speech as proof that the left wants to destroy the last vestiges of American culture.  

In the midst of this culture war, something seems to have gone profoundly wrong.   

The garbage being fed to both sides, which try to rival each other in how much they can trash each other, is making inroads for hyper-partisanism, it is also making room for anti-Semitism, turning it into a “free speech” issue. 

On the other end of the spectrum, you have people on the left defending drag story hour, transgender operations, and a culture that has no sense of propriety and dignity. It looks to trash the differences between male and female, trash the innocence of childhood, and trash the nuclear family (amongst other things). It seems to be fulfilling Breitbart’s claim that “critical theory” is trashing America. 

What kind of culture do we see developing out of this culture war? In the wake of so much trashing on both sides, we see an America that is filling up with the ruins of a once great nation.

Both extremes feign morality and show a lack of conscience that, after the Holocaust, is astonishing. Trashing the other side, 24/7, pollutes minds and suggests pathways that only lead to more toxicity.  We need a return to a reflective way of living that doesn’t nourish itself on garbage; otherwise, our American culture is finished. The barbarism that this culture has created will grow.

Reptilian trash, in the name of free speech

We need a return to a reflective way of living that doesn’t nourish itself on garbage; otherwise, our American culture is finished.

JP Sears, who has millions of followers, started his social media career with making videos mocking new-age Californians and their pretentious ways of relating to the world. After experiencing some negative pushback, Sears dedicated himself to fighting media bias and censorship. His videos are hilarious and seem to often hit on how the media is shaped by a certain ideology that benefits American elites. He explores things the MSM omits and deletes from their conversations.

Be that as it may, he recently tweeted out an image of Governor Gavin Newsome who appears to really be a lizard in disguise. To be sure, this is not some arbitrary image. The idea that lizard people are running the world through the elites is an idea that draws deeply on anti-Semitism.  This idea was largely popularized by David Icke.  

It is so popular that it has even gone into this meme. It is an idea shared by many on the alt-right. This draws them into seeing anti-Semitic mockery as normal. It’s sad to see this happen to someone like JP, but it has.  

The elites and the Jews are one and the same for this meme. Jews are the left and are controlling everything behind the scenes. That is the message that is being telegraphed. 

AnOmaly has over a million followers between his feeds on Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube.  There are many occasions when he has revealed his dislike for Jews. When Kanye came out with his anti-Semitic tirades, AnOmaly supported him. He called what Kanye said “facts” and went online to rant about it while, at the same time (like Kanye), saying he has no “hate in his heart toward Jews.”

In this tweet, he suggests that going after Nazis and punishing them is “incredibly weird.”  The desire for justice for those who were systematically killed by Nazis and their accomplices is not “incredibly weird.” Saying that is a way of using hyperbole to reduce the evil of the Nazis to something that no longer has any meaning.

In addition to this, An0maly is also a fan of Nick Fuentes, who is an open Neo-Nazi American Firster. With Kanye, Fuentes made jokes about the Holocaust and praised Hitler on the Alex Jones Show. Fuentes demonstrates the use of social media to make anti-Semitism cool and fashionable, as does AnOmaly.

Soft porn, or Hollywood’s last stand

The last two examples I have drawn up demonstrate how elements of the alt-right trash Jews in order to forward the ideology of anti-Semitism in 2023 America. Without trashing the Jews, these losers don’t have our attention. They want to efface moral indignation in the same way that they want to defeat “the Jews” and blame them for taking away Americans’ right to free speech (which is, for them, equivalent to saying anti-Semitic things without any consequence).

A picture containing person

Description automatically generated

This photo, taken by Judd Apatow at a party for Madonna, asks all members of the party (including Jack Black, Amy Schumer, and others) to do an obscene and pornographic kind of “truth or dare.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBUpN99s1Hg The point of the game was to celebrate debauchery and trash. It is the preface to Madonna’s announcement of her “Celebration Tour.”

But what are they celebrating but the trashing of American culture? If the best it has to offer us, as viewers, is debauchery and dumb comedy, we are certainly at an all-time low.

While this is certainly not an anti-Semitic moment—Jack Black, who “tongues” Madonna as a dare, is Jewish—it is a camp moment that makes no pretense to “moral indignation.” In fact, it is laughing in the face of moral indignation. It trashes it. To be sure, that is the target. The more outraged the moral sensibility, the better.  

Jonah Hill, trashing Jews in “You People”

The last thing I want to note in terms of trash culture is how Jonah Hill in his recent Netflix film, “You People,” trashes his own people. The film has, thus far, reached 53 million households and has had 486.2 million hours viewed thus far. It is currently the number one film on Netflix.  But, more important, for historical context, he does this after Kanye, Kyrie, and Chappelle, on the one hand, and the rise of alt-right anti-Semitism, on the other. To be sure, he is demonstrating how trashing Jews has value in today’s media marketplace.

In the film, Jonah makes American Jews look hyper-sexual, wealthy, white, privileged, and inept. In contrast, he portrays, through the black superstar Eddie Murphy, Black Nationalism in a more powerful light. Today, Murphy has a much greater reach than an advocate of Black Nationalism such as the New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka (who claimed Jews were behind 9/11 and was a virulent anti-Semite). Murphy, playing Akbar, is a much stronger character than the Jewish father.  The same goes for the mother, who comes off as a dithering Jewish mother, while Akbar’s wife is decent and put together.  The writers of the film also allowed the Akbar character to express false and libelous ideas that Louis Farrakhan and other black anti-Semites have said about Jews, claiming they created and profited from the slave trade. That all Jewish wealth is based in some way on the exploitation of blacks. In the movie, this ludicrous idea is not challenged. It is given air-time. It is a way of trashing Jews.

In the film, the aesthetic sensibility is associated with black culture and black power. Jonah Hill panders to black culture while trashing his own. This has, without a doubt, crossed the line since Jewish self-hatred vindicates anti-Semitism. It gives the trashing of Jewish culture and the barbarity that goes along with it, credence. It effaces human dignity.

Concluding reflections

The only thing that keeps America from falling into the deep end is the moral sensibility. But whether it is Kanye, Chappelle, AnOmaly, or Madonna, trashing culture is the goal. The goal is not thoughtful reflection. After all, the main thing is to focus on the spectacle and the garbage message.

The message is about power: who has it and who doesn’t. The truth, however, is that those who control the spectacle and our attention have power and those people are not the Jews; they are these performers.  

Those who trash are those who have power. But each group trashes differently. Which group are you a part of and who will you trash?  This is a war of all against all. It’s the road to barbarism.

That is where we are.  

In the wake of Auschwitz, Paul Celan, the profound and thoughtful Holocaust survivor poet – wrote these lines that show us the lesson he learned from the Holocaust about who he is and who he is for, in the wake of the “scar up in the air” (the crematoria in Auschwitz), in its shadow. He doesn’t stand for anyone or anything; he cannot be seen in the light of the spectacle’s violence, he can’t take part in it. It’s unethical.

In the final lines of the poem, he makes an appeal to the moral sensibility, he stands for you, alone. This suggests that poetry, this poem, after Auschwitz, is dedicated to ethics. This is where we say no to trash culture and yes to human dignity, which starts with, as the Jewish thinker Emmanuel Levinas said, the other. Even, as Celan says, without language (without the words or images that nourish the spectacle):

To stand in the shadow
of the scar up in the air.

To stand-for-no-one-and-nothing.
for you

With all there is room for in that,
even without 

Atemwende, Breathturn, by Celan, 1967

The Path of Personal Transcendence

Looking in from the outside, by many measures, my life has been a failure—an example of unrealized potential resulting from poor (or at least questionable) decisions. But the point of examining one’s own life is to reflect on the events and situations spawned from those decisions and at least try to learn some meaningful lessons from them. If the lessons are valuable, then what appeared to be failure actually may be success.

This content is for Monthly Subscriber and Annual Subscriber members only.
Login Join Now

The Persistence of Wonder

This is the unlikely report of survival—of an artform, of the methodologies that inform it, and the body of knowledge, that it gives form to. It’s a report about the persistence of illumination: the decorative illustration of religious manuscripts, but also the endurance of interpretation in an age that often claims to be beyond history.  …

This content is for Monthly Subscriber and Annual Subscriber members only.
Login Join Now

The Sovietization of U.S. Schools

This, then, is the very heart of the matter: that our schools have become institutions where our children are inculcated in a neo-Marxist driven framework of ethics.

This content is for Monthly Subscriber and Annual Subscriber members only.
Login Join Now

The End of Major Political Parties

Everyone knows that chaos provides a void to be filled. It is high time that classical liberals fill that void once more and establish a new and more just order—yet this requires vanquishing the inequalities so valued by Neo-Marxism and alt-right politics.

This content is for Monthly Subscriber and Annual Subscriber members only.
Login Join Now

Censorship in Science

The problem is that virtually every institution of our culture has been commandeered by activists whose philosophy, I believe, can be summarized as pure Orwellian doublethink: “There is no such thing as objective truth, and we have it.”

This content is for Monthly Subscriber and Annual Subscriber members only.
Login Join Now


You have been given a gift.
It is woven
into the fabric of your being.
Just as you
are weaving your own
vibrant thread in the Jewish tapestry,
a 4,000-year-old quilt
that blankets our people in its weight
of justice and goodness.

You are a branch in a tree
whose roots reach the center
and the beginning of the earth,
the tree of knowledge
in Eden.
For you are dust,
Adama, Adam,
and to dust you shall return.

You are the promise
God made Abraham.
You are every grain of sand,
every star in the sky,
and every speck of dust.

You are the wildest dreams of Isaac and Jacob,
of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.

You felt the sweat on your back
and the crack of the whip.
Blood and frogs,
hail and darkness.
You are from the Exodus,
and 40 years of wandering.
How did you feel
when you left Egypt?

You are descended from the kings of Israel,
born of struggles and strategy and swords.
You are from David’s slingshot,
from the pebble that defeated Goliath.
You are from Saul’s battles,
from the Beit Hamikdash, Solomon’s temple.

You are prophecy revealed and redemption yet to come.

You are from the Babylonian exile,
Greek Hellenization,
Roman destruction,
Islamic Jihads,
medieval blood libels,
the Spanish Inquisition,
centuries of pogroms,
and the Holocaust.
You are from the ghetto, from the shtetl,
from the gas chambers and crematoriums.
You have been buried in mass graves and Jewish cemeteries.

You are from Canaan, Judea, Palestine, Israel.
You are from the trees in the Golan Heights and the salt in the Dead Sea,
from the dust in the Negev and the sand on Tel Aviv beaches.
The wind on top of Masada
and the silence in the Bar Kochba caves,
exist for you.
You are from the Temple Mount
and the stones in the Western Wall.
You are from seeing God in the sunsets of Tzfat
and hearing the voices of your ancestors echo in the Judean Desert.

You are from Zionism
and dreams
and hope.
You are the hope, the 4,000-year-old hope, HaTikvah.
You came on the Aliyot,
boats and weeks at sea
to pioneer the land of your people.
You are from the Yishuv, from kibbutzim and moshavim and ma’abarot.
You fought the War of Independence,
the Yom Kippur War,
the Six-Day War.
You are from Hamas missiles and Hezbollah tunnels,
the bullet that spilled blood
onto a folded copy of Shir LeShalom.

You are from the tallit,
from the stripes on the Israeli flag,
from the Star of David, two triangles,
the strongest shape in nature
combined to represent the strongest people in existence.
You are a warrior and a soldier,
a rebel and a veteran.
You are a Cohen, a Maccabee, a converso,
a sonderkommando, a refugee, a chalutz.
A survivor.
You have lived a million lives,
and will live a million more.

You are from the 13 attributes of God,
the 12 tribes of Israel
and the 11 stars in Joseph’s dream.
You are from the ten commandments,
The nine months with child,
and the eight days to the covenant.
You are from seven days in a week.
You are from six books of Mishnah
and five books of the Torah.
You are from four matriarchs, three patriarchs,
and two stone tablets.

So, when I ask, “Echad mi yodea?”
you can say, “I know one.
One is my God in heaven and earth,
and I was made in His image.”


Had HE planned our persecution but disclosed its purpose, Dayenu.

This content is for Monthly Subscriber and Annual Subscriber members only.
Login Join Now