This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.
Individuals are free to act on their moral convictions. But a secular government doesn't have that option. Keep that idea in mind when you look at the conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Governments are artificial systems designed by humans. When humans want to include a moral dimension in their government they design a system that has a particular religious belief at the core. That's what Hamas did. So far it isn't going well.
Israel, on the other hand, is a secular government by design. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think the government of Israel has anywhere in its charter the requirement to act according to any particular moral code. The point of a secular government is to maximize the wellbeing of its citizens. If a secular government started acting on morality instead of practicality the politicians in charge would be voted out.
When observers criticize Israel for lopsided violence against Hamas, or building settlements on disputed lands, or hoarding all the water in the region, or any of the other heavy-handed actions against the Palestinians, it is usually described according to some moral filter of right and wrong. That is missing the point. Israel's secular government doesn't have the option of acting according to ANY moral standard, much less the one you have in your head that is informed, in all likelihood, by incomplete information.
The government of Israel has one of the rarest national opportunities in history. Thanks to periodic rocket strikes and other ongoing aggression against them, Israel gets a semi-free pass from the international community to gobble up disputed lands and substantially increase the size of their future nation. In such a situation, the secular government of Israel that is chartered with maximizing the wellbeing of its citizens is wisely using the attacks against them as a political cover while they exert control over disputed land and water resources. If a secular government ignored this historic opportunity it would not be acting the way the system was designed to act.
Hamas has the opposite situation. Their government is built around a moral code that is informed by a religious belief. You might not agree with that code, but in the view of Hamas they are acting along moral lines when they attack Israel as the infidel "occupiers."
So let's all stop fantasizing that the government of Hamas and the government of Israel can make a lasting peace via traditional peace talks. To do so would mean one of their governments is operating outside its intended design. American efforts to broker such a peace are just for show. No one expects peace because the systems of government that Israel and Hamas each selected make that impossible. You can't have peace unless one of the two governments involved is replaced by an entirely new system that is designed in a way that allows peace to even be an option.
One could argue that governments of any design simply follow the will of the people, and the people can, if they want it badly enough, force the government to change its design and its mission. That is certainly true in principle. But there is one thing that makes it nearly impossible to change your form of government in a positive way: an external enemy. And both Israel and Hamas have an external enemy in each other.
We all know by now that any negotiations over details such as land, resources, and security are a waste of time because the two governments are designed in a way that guarantees permanent low-level conflict that benefits Israel more than Hamas.
You could think of the conflict between Israel and Hamas as a game of paper-rock-scissors. Hamas picked a rock government and Israel picked a paper government. Paper beats rock 100% of the time. You won't have peace until both parties' governments are rocks or both parties are paper or both parties are scissors.
So how would one solve the problem of a morality-based government that was designed to be immune to practicality (Hamas) versus a secular government that has a clear interest in continued low-level conflict (Israel)?
I think this is an information problem masquerading as a religious difference. If you provide both sides with the right information, eventually the citizens will find a way to reform their government.
Imagine an international body such as the United Nations suggesting that instead of directly negotiating peace, each government must agree to be measured for its effectiveness across a broad range of parameters relative to the wellbeing of its citizens. Under this proposal, both governments would be required to report monthly on trends for the health, income, happiness, and education of their citizens. And those reports would be provided to the citizens of each nation in a way that no one could ignore. (You would need international auditors of course.)
What this approach does is cleverly divert attention from the unsolvable question of who God wanted to live on a particular patch of dirt to the perfectly practical and somewhat measurable question of how well the two competing systems of government are providing for their people. We humans are irrational creatures, so we are influenced most by what we see and hear the most. My hypothesis is that morality will trend in the direction that makes the citizens healthiest, safest, and happiest so long as they know which direction to head. Public information about the effectiveness of each government will create great pressure for the government that performs the worst to change.
As a citizen of the United States, and subject to lots of propaganda disguised as news, I assume Hamas has the government system most in need of improvement. And I further assume that the citizens under Hamas would have less support for their current system if they were exposed to continual comparisons to more effective systems. Over time, citizens can be trusted to evolve their ideas on morality in the direction of their self-interest.
A big advantage of this approach to peace is that it causes folks to focus on the real problem which is that Hamas has a dysfunctional system of government by design. If the world reminds them of that fact often enough, using comparative data instead of rhetoric, and refuses to participate in the charade of fake peace plans, perhaps there will be some movement toward useful government reform. Israel shouldn't object to this process because in the short run it makes them look good and it will take a long time before there is any meaningful change. That gives them time to gobble up all the land and resources they can get before peace even becomes an option. Their system of government is designed to do just that if it is working properly.
Summarizing my main points:
1. Hamas and Israel have systems of government that cannot make peace with each other because of their designs.
2. Governments are unlikely to change their designs when there is an immediate external threat, unless it is to move toward a dictatorship. Hamas and Israel are each other's external threat.
3. In the long run, the moral view that holds the most power over humans is whatever path leads to the most health, happiness, and safety.
4. Humans reflexively assign the highest importance to whatever they see and hear the most. It is possible through repetition to shift the debate from God's real estate ownership preferences to which system of government God would prefer we use to produce the best health, happiness, and safety for the citizens. Would God ever prefer an ineffective government system?
5. Israel is far better off without peace in the short term. Their system of government is working as it was designed because it ignores morality (except for lip service) and focuses on effectiveness. The United States has the same sort of system, roughly speaking. I'm not judging, just describing.
6. Individuals can act on moral convictions. By design, a secular government cannot.
When you tell me my idea of focusing on government effectiveness won't work, be sure to compare it to the current approach that has a zero chance of success. If you think my approach has a 1% chance of working, it is the best plan that anyone has yet proposed.
I'll ask readers not to quote parts of this blog out of context. To do so would be misleading. And also keep in mind that I don't know what I'm talking about most of the time. This blog is for entertainment purposes only and is designed to make you look at familiar situations in novel ways.
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com
Author of this book