From my 2003 novel The Second Catastrophe, about Israel during the terrorism of the Second Intifada, up to my more recent The Ideological Path to Submission, my writing about the Leftist-Islamist alliance could be seen as quite pessimistic.
The first book was about a professor, during the Second Intifada and the anti-Israelism, who becomes obsessed that a Second Holocaust is starting. The second is about all the ways we are ideologically beginning to submit to Islamism.
And now, how do we deal with a pandemic, where we watch the slow/not-so-slow spread as reported on our nightly news, and we surely realize that both medical and economic effects are devastating to many. Such things as watching sports on television, a true opiate for the masses, are unavailable. We have more time to sit and think.
We now live in a world where so many are thin-skinned, taking offence at innocuous statements, with young people seeking “safe spaces” and supporting the “cancel culture” - they support censorship of words and authors who are guilty only of making them feel uncomfortable. How will the current crisis affect such people?
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner is a Rabbi from Palm Beach Florida, Many of his excellent sermons are now available on the internet. In a recent post, the Rabbi, in the midst of such a trying time, discussed how some optimism is advisable, in fact, necessary. All the more so at a time of political problems currently being faced by America and Israel. The Rabbi sermonized that we Jews should remember three things:
1. Choose life – protect yourself and your loved ones from the virus.
2. We are all responsible for one another; the virus that spreads and the nature of isolation and quarantines emphasize that duty.
3. Prayer and Faith strengthen the immune system, helping to ward off, or minimize the effects of, the virus.
And so, much as I find it unusual to be optimistic in the face of such a bad problem, it does help a bit, so consider the following:
As the inevitable global recession grows, and our governments ramp up huge expenditures in medical care and stabilization payments to corporations and needy individuals, we shall finally understand basic economics: too many countries in the west have borrowed heavily in the good times and now have no reserves to pay for the bad times. Israel is a special case due to its large military budget, which can mushroom in the event of wars. For most countries, deficit financing should be done in bad times and paid back in the good times, but our governments have left us and our children and even grandchildren in heavy debt, where, unless we change quickly we shall find most of government expenditures are just to pay the interest on the debt.
Israel's national debt has approximately doubled in the last 20 years, and debt per capita has increased more than 25%, but economists like to measure how well an economy is doing by regard to its debt per Gross Domestic Product figure. Here Israel, with a booming economy and a strong shekel, has done well, as debt as a percentage of GDP has fallen by over 25%. But there is no doubt that the effect of the Coronavirus will be to reduce GDP.
Perhaps we shall return to a time when how you make your money matters more than how much you have accumulated.
How can I look at this in an optimistic way? I think that at last, once our government debt, our corporate debt, and our personal borrowings to finance the “good life” become clearer to our citizens, we shall at last be forced to change our ways, and pay attention to our debt levels.. Understanding that we have a problem is the first step in solving it.
We have a whole class of corporations now called “zombies” where they earn too little revenue to even pay the interest on their borrowings, and survive only by more borrowing, by issuing new shares or debt instruments. Let’s return to rewarding excellent performance, not rewarding financial shenanigans.
Jews must be in the forefront of business ethics; it is so sad that some of our most successful have been little more than crooks or at least manipulators of the system - Bernie Madoff, Jack Abramoff, Michael Cohen, Eliot Spitzer, Paul Singer, Harvey Weinstein, Geoffrey Epstein, etc.
Perhaps we shall return to a time when how you make your money matters more than how much you have accumulated.
Sometimes things must get worse before they get better, so that people understand the problem. It has been too easy for politicians to buy votes by promising more government spending, and when these are so-called “progressive” governments, media cheers on the spending without warning of the results.
-When the financial devastation becomes clearer, I am optimistic that people will demand a change and we shall all learn to live within our means. My only concern is whether Americans continue to veer leftward, and flirt with electing Communist politicians.
-There are many seniors and/or people with medical conditions that must stay at home in isolation. We have the opportunity now to call them or deliver food baskets or other supplies (without breaching the two-metre rule.) We have the opportunity to do a new mitzvah. Many of our elderly, who do not have friends and family living nearby, live isolated lives in the best of times. The current situation, although it is tragic for the many who lose their lives, can induce the rest of us, to pay regard to people in need.
-If younger Jewish couples have to stay at home more, maybe we shall have an uptick in birth rates next December. Israeli birthrates are good, but we need to see more Jewish babies in Europe and America where birthrates are too low.
-Large numbers of people will be staying home in isolation or quarantine. This will free up time otherwise spent commuting to work, or going out to bars and restaurants. If people stay home and read more, maybe they will therefore learn more and understand that we are in a culture war. Maybe more will understand the cultural rot of moral relativism and political relativism, and read material not tainted by the Leftist-Islamist alliance. In any event, they will have more time to read the body of articles and not just the headlines, as many people do now.
-If younger people stay home more and not hang out in all these coffee places and bars, and the big box stores, some of that excess retail space, when the bars and coffee shops and big box stores close, could be converted into affordable rental housing, giving young people somewhere affordable to live and feel that they are part of our liberal democracies. Most of the large cities in the West are facing housing costs that are too high for the majority of young people, and that delays family formation.
-Some of our business people might now be persuaded not to run to China in the hopes of making money there or getting cheap stuff there or source their product there; maybe they will learn that China is NOT like America or Israel or Canada, as China has no human rights and the people have no legal rights.
-As Europe suffers from the twin curses of the Coronavirus and Islamist immigration, citizens of America and Israel will decide not to travel there and may start to understand the difference between fine architecture and morality, as the Europeans have the former but not the latter. The Europeans may come to understand how weak they are and how offensive it is for them to criticize Israel on everything when they are losing power to Islamist immigrants, and the increasing reaction from the far-Right.
-People will start to eat foods that boost one’s immune system and if that is continued past the epidemic, it will help to reduce future colds even cancers. Coronavirus is much more dangerous in old people but also to middle aged people whose lungs are compromised from years of smoking. I predict that smoking cigarettes will finally be minimized, because the threat of dying from coronavirus next week, will make more of an impact than the threat of dying from lung cancer in 30 years.
-People who normally have to commute to work and spend hours on public transit or in highway traffic jams, and who can work from home, should consider an exercise regime that gets you up from your home office desk and in fresh air for a least 10 minutes in every hour. Just imagine the benefit to people who replace one hour of driving to and from work every day with a one-hour walk.
-More time isolated at home can increase the preparation and cooking of meals from scratch from the ingredients you have. I suspect that the family that cooks together will find there is a great benefit in doing so.
-While Judaism promotes prayers in a minyan, the closing of synagogues may for a temporary time give us the quiet for solitary reflective prayer that will enhance future minyanim - and also all our future social engagements and interactions, as we shall undoubtedly appreciate the resumption of community. In the meantime, we might remember what Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said about being alone sometimes: "Grant me the ability to be alone, May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grasses among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer to talk with the one that I belong to.”
Camus: "What we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise."
There is the saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Perhaps we shall be stronger when this virus is done, although we know we are going to lose a considerable number of precious and beloved people, those seniors and others who may not be able to fight off the coronavirus. That will happen notwithstanding our positive attitudes. Israel, a country always under attack, has achieved a social resilience, where people come together and strengthen each other in the face of adversity. The rest of the West has failed to achieve this, even in the face of Islamist terror attacks. One can hope that a resilience born of adversity will be one positive effect of this pandemic.
The great French writer, Albert Camus, wrote an important book called The Plague. It is a deep book about various people in a North African town dealing with a plague. His work was part of the French existentialist movement. There is a profound feeling of dread found throughout the book, and now we can understand that better. However, in the midst of tragedy, we can find some small optimism in The Plague and here are four quotes from Camus’ book about living with a plague:
“All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it's up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences”
"No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and emotions shared by all."
"The one way of making people hang together is to give 'em a spell of the plague."
"What we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise."
Howard Rotberg is the author of four books and is the President of Mantua Books, www.mantuabooks.com, Canada’s sole conservative values and pro-Israel publishing house. He has written for Frontpage Magazine, New English Review, Israpundit, Jewish Voice of New York and others.