I want to open with an observation concerning America's reception of Israel's current war in the Gaza Strip (which, by the way, has a length that's a little longer than the distance between Seattle and Everett, and, for the most part, a width that almost matches the one between downtown and Lake Washington). After the observation, I will attempt to make sense of it inductively—meaning, from experience or facts up to a generalization or theory.

Let's start with a confrontation that occurred at the University of Washington on Sunday, May 12. The encampment of students who support Palestinians was countered by a march organized by the pro-Israel church group Pursuit NW. The appearance of this confrontation? One side, young students; on the other, older churchgoers. This age disparity, which an eye-witness (Hannah Krieg) confirmed, wasn't confined to Friday's showdown. It's also found in how mainstream politicians in both parties have negatively responded to the new anti-war movement and further observed in a section of a comprehensive study posted by Pew Research Center on March 21, "Majority in U.S. Say Israel Has Valid Reasons for Fighting; Fewer Say the Same About Hamas," titled "Views of how, why the war is being fought, by age."  

Pew Research Center found that...

Younger adults are significantly more critical of how Israel is fighting in the war than are older people: 21% of Americans ages 18 to 29 say the way Israel is carrying out its response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack is acceptable; 46% describe it as unacceptable.

Another Pew Research Center study that focused on Jewish Americans repeated the age disparity, particularly in views of the Israeli government:

[T]here are age differences among Jewish Americans, as there are among American overall. For example, 45% of Jews under 35 have a favorable view of the Israeli government, while 53% have an unfavorable view. Jews ages 50 to 64 are the only age group in which a majority express a favorable opinion of the Israeli government (64%).

What are we to make of all this? One might go down a well-trodden path that leads to this common conclusion: Young people do not have any real responsibilities (paying bills, raising a family, keeping a job), and so they have the freedom to hold and express unconventional or critical opinions. But when they grow up, they will cool down and finally become adults. But what if we don't take a path at all and instead attempt to make a new one? What would be its point of departure? I have a suggestion. It comes from a concept that posits the communicability of pain.  

I first came across this concept in a recent e-Flux Notes obituary for Marina Vishmidt. The post's author, Andreas Petrossiants, described Vishmidt's devotion—as a professor, critic, and theorist—to deprivatization. Pain, the seemingly "most isolating thing," wasn't left out of this program, a fact made clear in Vishmidt's brief review of Anne Boyer's book The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness.  

Petrossiants writes that "Marina... worked to dispel the dominant logics and abstractions that individuate and separate, pain included, putting the whole world in there, in all her endeavors." The key line here is "putting the whole world in there." It means we live in a world that is out there. But outside of what? The fiction of the individual. What is real, however, is our sociality, or ultrasociality. We are the most social large animal in the kingdom. Without this biological feature, we could not build bridges, collect trash, fly in the sky, and so on. These achievements, and more, require a level of cooperation that's exceptional and not found in even our closest and far less social relatives, the great apes.

Such an understanding (the priority of human individualism) makes it very hard to see pain as not only social but communicable. In truth, however, we transmit what we feel, good or bad, on scales that far transcend the local. In this way, we can break with Darwinian evolution (genes as isolated) and enter that of Lamarck, an 18th/19th-century French naturalist whose star is rising in the age of epigenetics. Lamarck insisted that seemingly personal experiences can be transmitted to one's offspring, a fact revealed by the Dutch Hunger Winter of World War 2. If life has been hard for you, this hardness is communicated directly to your children and even their children. The speed of Lamarckian evolution is closer to culture than natural selection. 

But what does this have to do with the American students protesting the war in Gaza? If pain is socially ("the whole world in there") transmittable then we can arrive at this conclusion: Young people, in general, are more attuned to human animality than adults. The former can feel the pain of a war that has killed more civilians than combatants. And a large number of those civilians have been children. This kind of suffering should be imaginable to all. (Our mode of social communication is the imagination.)

But it's not. Why? Because we live in a society that works hard and long to repress and then invert our species being. Meaning, the older we get the more our sociality is, by cultural engineering, converted into its opposite, individualism. And so, for the most part, adults in a market order are left with little to no imagination when it comes to being with others. The more years we add to our experience, the less responsible we become. Only the generalization of this inverted condition explains the existence of billionaires (who have no pain) and homelessness (who do feel pain every day, every hour). We see both classes as composed of individuals.

The adults who don't feel the pain of Palestinians today are the same as the adults who did not feel the pain of Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War.