Authoritative Nihilism: The Conflict in the Middle East Engulfs Us All

Ian Mitroff
3 min readNov 28, 2023

I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.

In his recent Op-Ed, David Brooks provides a most important perspective on the conflict in the Middle East[i]. Basically, he sees it as the breakdown of a number of the major paradigms by which we’ve organized, and thus live our lives. In this way, it affects us all.

The first paradigm is based on nothing less than a pronounced case of what the distinguished Child Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein identified as Splitting. Namely, there is a clear distinction and separation between the “Good and Bad Guys”. As Brooks writes,

“In any situation there are evil people who are colonizer/oppressors and good people who are colonized/oppressed. It’s not necessary to know the particular facts about any global conflict, because of intersectionality: All struggles are part of the same struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed.”

The above helps explain how many on Left view the conflict. Thus, even though Hamas oppresses LGBTQ’s and takes pleasure in the massacres of innocents, many Progressives not only take the side of Hamas, but accordingly deny Israel the inherent right to defend itself.

The second paradigm is based on the notion that Jews have always been subject to Pogroms, the latest due to Hamas. Brooks finds the notion simplistic because Israel is a “regional superpower, not a marginalized victim group”. Further,

“Israel’s indifference to conditions in the territory has contributed to today’s horrible reality. The Middle East conflict is best seen as a struggle between two people who have to live together, not as a black and white conflict between victims and Nazis.”

The third is the more uncertain than ever notion that a Two-State solution will end the conflict. It’s highly doubtful for to succeed, each would have to accept the legitimacy of the other, which they’re clearly opposed time and again.

But of them all, Brooks finds the following the most distasteful of all:

“…authoritative nihilism, which binds Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and other strongmen: that we live in a dog-eat-dog world; life is a competition to grab what you can; power is what matters; morality, decency, gentleness, international norms are luxuries we cannot afford because our enemies are out to destroy us; we need to be led by ruthless amoralists to take on the ruthless amoralists who seek to take us down.”

In the end, Brooks feels we are staggering between two worldviews, one that recognizes and thereby honors our common humanity and others “in which others are just animals to be eliminated”.

In a word, every aspect of our lives is torn apart by Tribalism of the worst kind. In this way, the conflict in the Middle East thereby represents all that we are experiencing.

[i] David Brooks, “Searching for Humanity in the Middle East,” The New York Times, Friday, October 27, 2023, P A24.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash