Technological Progress and the Human Condition, a Half-Century after the Moon Landing

Jan. 28 2019

December 21 marked the 50th anniversary of the first mission to the moon. Considering this milestone, and the technological developments that have happened since, Meir Soloveichik looks back on the contemporaneous reflections of his great-uncle, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik—one of the premier rabbinic thinkers of his day—and finds them more apt than ever:

The 20th-century quest to “slip the surly bonds of earth” was not, for Soloveitchik, a Promethean intrusion into the heavens; on the contrary, the conquest of space is the greatest manifestation of man’s being made in the Almighty’s image: “Man reaching for the distant stars is acting in harmony with his nature which was created, willed, and directed by his Maker.” Yet for all the biblical grandeur made manifest in the astronaut’s achievement, that reflects only half of our selves. . . .

Soloveitchik foresaw a danger facing the West. America’s celebration of its technological achievements during the space race might ultimately efface the other equally important aspect of human nature, a desire for communion with others: “There, [in the realm of human relationships], not only hands are joined, but experiences as well; there, one hears not only the rhythmic sound of the production line, but also the rhythmic beat of hearts starved for existential companionship and all-embracing sympathy,” A fierce anti-Communist, Soloveitchik no doubt rejoiced in the planting of the American flag on the moon; at the same time, he worried that the West’s focus on its technological achievements alone could lead to the amputation of the other aspect of its identity.

Indeed, we face today, as many have noted, an epidemic of loneliness. We live in an age of stunning technological transformation that has seemingly increased connectedness but helped decrease community. We can cross the entire earth in less than a day; our correspondence can cross the earth in an instant; and yet we have not found the fellowship that we need.

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More about: Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism, Moon, Religion & Holidays, Space exploration

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians