The Great Divide

A few days ago, I listened to a speech by a former friend of mine who had blocked me totally out of the blue, back in February, a few months after she had made aliyah. The two of us were very close while we still lived in the diaspora. She even had written a post about how proud she was of me for following my heart and making aliyah and posted it the day of my trip, almost a year ago, on my Facebook wall. When she finally made aliyah herself a few months later, something in her immediately changed. It was as if her eyes opened to a new reality, a reality that didn’t include me and what she probably perceived as my “limited” view. I was the one who reached out to her to invite her for coffee, and she suggested one day I was not free. I was in full-time Ulpan at the time and couldn’t swing it. She never contacted me again, and a few months later I was blocked out of the blue.

It seemed very strange to me that the second she landed on foreign soil, she wanted nothing to do with me. It wasn’t just me, it was a few friends of mine who also had what she felt was a very “limited” view. She began hanging out with the peace activist crowd and reveling in the Jerusalem arts scene. However, she didn’t block all her right of center friends, just a select few of us. Those of us she blocked, what did we all have in common? We all had science backgrounds.

What had happened with her re-ignited a question I had always asked myself: why is it that science-minded people gravitate to Israel, while arts-minded people gravitate towards Palestine? It can’t just be because of our scientific innovation – that is too shallow for a truly science-minded person. I noticed this discrepancy time and time again, among olim who come to Israel oozing with trademark artistic idealism and fervent Zionism, only to start “talking to the other side” and turning into a post-Zionist “out of compassion.” I see it even on college campuses. If tribal loyalties (e.g. Muslim, Arab, Palestinian, Orthodox Jew) were put aside, it was glaringly obvious that those who felt no tribal stake in the conflict intuitively picked sides along arts-science lines. SJP and JVP were dominated by arts, communications, liberal arts, and humanities majors. Israel supporters seemed to be mostly getting degrees in business, laboratory sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

I noticed as well that the palestinian side knew this very well, which is why they catered their materials towards arts-minded people. Their fliers had creatively drawn murals to appear more grassroots, the Apartheid Wall, rather than looking like the scientific poster boards of the pro-Israel side, featured an artistic mural that showed rather than told. Many of their speakers were poets and artists, and many events tied the creation of art to their message. This was a case of what came first, the chicken or the egg. Do artsy people gravitate towards Palestine’s artsy message, or does Palestine cater its artsy message because it knows artsy people are more likely to eat it up?

Some clues became clear to me when I looked at the outcomes of many pro-Israel events that intended to target the artsy population, those organized by Artists for Israel and other like-minded groups. While it had an emotional impact on those who already supported Israel, many artists stayed firm in their views. It left me wondering: why?

As someone who has lived in both worlds, with a bachelor’s in physiology and a masters in a humanities-related field,  I was incredibly curious why this divide existed, and pondered it greatly. It was only when I heard my former friend’s speech at Talk17 a few days ago that it hit me.

Artists and scientists have a fundamentally different way of thinking.

Scientists believe in objective reality. We – and yes, this was when I realized that I’m truly a scientist at my core – believe that there is only one objective truth, and that we must come to it via the scientific method. We need to state what we are trying to find, what we suspect might be the answer, and then prove it or disprove it after a series of research or experiments. Scientists are motivated by facts and are trained to put their emotions in a box in order to not allow them to bias their experiments. When they analyze the facts, they see proof that Israel has a stronger claim. The sob stories of suffering Palestinians don’t influence their perception of reality because they only serve to distract from the truth, not bring it to light.

Artists believe in a subjective reality. Art itself is very subjective, as is evidenced by how many people can paint the same still life or landscape in a variety of different styles. They see reality as in the eye of the beholder, and see it as important to honor each and every reality. They also tend to be moved by their hearts rather than their brains, and susceptible to emotional manipulation, since they believe reality is subjective rather than objective, and there is no objective reality for emotional manipulation to contradict. If someone counters a defense of the settlements with “but have you ever spoken to a Palestinian?” they are probably an Artist, because to them subjective experiences and stories are more important than facts.

Some people claim that they are amphibians to those two words. I too thought I was, until I discovered the fundamental differences in thinking that placed me square in the Science category. To think artistically or scientifically is like being right-handed or left-handed. Yes, we always use both hands, and some may do so more than others, but nearly all of us have a dominant hand that we instinctively turn to, as we would a dominant way of thinking that is probably shaped by our upbringing and education (my mother, who had the biggest influence on me growing up, was a math and computer science major in college, and very strongly skews scientific). There is a tiny minority of people who are ambidextrous, who can change their way of thinking depending on the situation.

Scientists tend to think in generalizations, because we rely on empirical data. Our attitude is, if the experiment is done enough times with the same result, then we are inclined to assume it is the truth. If in a fictional study, 97% of Muslims surveyed are antisemitic, then we, who tend to think very probabilistically, assume when we meet a Muslim that they will be antisemitic. We don’t treat them badly because of it, we just hold it in the back of our minds, and when we are talking about the group as a collective, we tend to ascribe to it the traits of the majority.

This black and white thinking drives artists crazy. As a result, it seems almost as a form of rebellion against the Scientist mentality, they hang on to every exception, and focus so much on the exceptions that they often miss the forest for the trees. That’s why when someone says, “oh come on, not ALL palestinians are like that” when someone is implying that the Palestinian leaders don’t want peace, we can safely assume they are engaging in the artist’s way of thinking. Virtue signalling, or the belief that every individual truth is different and equally valid? Perhaps a combination of both. To artists, the heart is the most important thing, whereas to scientists, the mind is, so asserting one’s morality is a worthwhile task to them. I am not saying that the mind isn’t important to artists or the heart is not important to scientists, I’m saying this is a question of mind-centered or heart-centered thinking.

If you want to determine in two seconds where someone fits, ask them what’s worse: being wrong (or incorrect) though kind or being hurtful though correct. Artists don’t want to hurt feelings, scientists don’t want to distort facts. Artists embrace otherness for its own sake, whereas scientists like patterns, rules, and consistency.

When I heard my former friend’s talk, I got a sense of why she blocked me: my way of thinking must seriously grate on her. When she moved to Israel, like most artists, she relished the opportunity to explore as many alternate realities as she could. She started talking to palestinians and suddenly was swayed by what they said. Like most artists she was engulfed in a world that genuinely believed that if only we just listened to them with a full heart there would be peace, and that it’s people with harsh black and white ideas that ruin it for the rest of us and that opening our minds will set us free. She used art as a vehicle to explore Otherness, to delve into alternate realities, and to acknowledge the humanity in each one. It isn’t about truth it is about ideology, as the notorious anti-Israel fraud Ilan Pappe said, and ideology is built as the culmination of exposure to multiple realities to create an amalgam, or the decision based on analysis of facts to follow a particular stream of thought. Artists don’t even believe in Truth, as they believe that each human being has his or her own truth, so they rely on ideology as a compass. They make decisions seeing the world not as it is, but as they want it to be.

But artists are bored by facts, and as such they don’t feel that facts work. They want to feel that they are making a difference on the ground, through sitting together and hearing each other out, accepting a compound reality and making peace through art. For heart-centered artists, what is most important is how it makes them feel, and creating a peaceful illusion that has absolutely no downstream effects or implications on the creation of actual peace feels good, so it is worthwhile.

While artists may get so caught up in subjectivity that they lose their common sense, in other words are so open-minded their brains fall out, scientists sometimes get so lost in facts, logic, and reason that they may appear callous and neglect some of the very important peacemaking that happens on the ground between people. It takes all kinds to make a world, and artists and scientists need each other to balance each other out.

It’s important to discern which group people belong to in order to determine how to optimally advocate to them. It is also important to come up with materials that appeal to both types of thinkers in order to cover the largest ground.

So, which type of thinker are you? Take this quiz.

14 thoughts on “The Great Divide”

  1. Daniel Sterman

    I’ve held this theory myself, more generally about right-wing versus left-wing politics, but stemming from the subject of Israel. Then it got upended by the election of the most anti-fact president in American history – by the right wing.

    1. That’s why I look at it in terms of arts or sciences, since even artsy republicans tend to support the Palestinians.

    2. Not really. His victory was supported by patterns and evidence. Many scientific people picked it, exactly for that reason. He appealed to people in just those terms – don’t worry about the flowery ideas of everyone loving each other, and being nice. Focus on having jobs, steady income etc. As I understand, the idea of scrapping Obamacare was also presented as “why would you want to pay more for someone else’s healthcare?

  2. Lex– right on target (as usual!), and your last 2 sentences are the most important here. Any advocate– for any cause– needs to speak to people “where they are”. It’s actually quite uncommon to see someone of a scientific background supporting the anti-Zionist cause in America, unless they themselves are Arab (or just anti-Semitic). As you pointed out, far more common among those standing chanting “from the river to the sea….” are the social science or humanities types; and on campuses, the anti-Israel jihad gains little traction among either faculty or students in the sciences. So indeed the effort needs to be better targeted at the non-scientific thinkers, those for whom feelings trump facts (pun intended).

    Paradoxically, in America, not only are most people lacking a decent science background, many are actually ANTI-science. (See under: climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, and creationists). Yet some of these people– because of religious faith– are among the strongest supporters of Israel. So you have the separate issue of ideology as perhaps a more determining factor. Similarly, in Europe, scientists who have been born, raised, and educated in a leftist milieu will have their worldview colored by that more than by their way of thinking. Which is why you have dedicated leftists who can think rationally about science also believing Ilan “who knows what facts are?” Pappe.

    Ultimately, it’s a matter of what works best to “move the needle” of public opinion. Facts for some, feelings for others.

  3. I have the exact same observations…. one appealing aspect of the left is that if the facts don’t agree with your desires, you can simply invent new ‘facts’.

      1. Where does “journalism” fall?
        (Of course “journalism” nowadays is different things to different people – in line with your previous post on this page).

  4. A good point.
    There’s much one could say, but I’ll leave it at this.
    The biggest problem with being too “open-minded” is the willingness to open one’s heart to empathize with anybody, without critically assessing the character of the person with whom one is empathizing.
    For example, members of the Na-zi party in the aftermath of the Allied victory would have been heartbroken, and legitimately so. The pain is undeniably real! But of course, to avoid being a neo-na-zi one has to bear in mind that these suffering Germans brought their pain on themselves by adhering to a despicable ideology and by violently subjugating and committing genocide, until those victims fought back and defeated the aggressors. Would a leftist of today open their hearts and minds to those grievances? (You don’t have to answer that…)
    In other words, even history’s greatest monsters experience suffering. But one has to draw a line in the ethical sand.
    The success of the so-called-Palestinians is in their ability to “genuinely feel” and emote their pain, and do so in liberal-sounding terms, while managing to side-step the context. Well, that, and the Jew factor when it comes to what people are willing to believe.

  5. I enjoyed the test. Except for the hobbies question. There is not one that I wouldn’t rather chew my own elbow. Also, lol, I took the test a few times, changing up the answers each time, got scientist each time. I took it as a challenge to prove that I was capable of emotion. But you beat me.

  6. I think for science minded people, it is the weight of evidence, rather than just facts, that is important. They are similar, but not the same. Evidence can include emotional decisions, as long as the stronger, factual evidence carries more weight.

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