David Miller and How Antisemitism Kills Geography

Sociologist David Miller reads onto the surface and off the surface a reflection of the surface. He fails to understand the surface as mere appearance of a dynamic and complex whole. Miller reads off the surface a world devoid of geography – a fluid geography of specific material realities and human consciousnesses and agencies. Through the lens of racialized conspiracy theory, he reads onto the surface an enveloping Zionism: an imperialist globalization in which space annihilates place and warps time. In the above mapping of Miller’s imagination, Israel and the United Kingdom are collapsed into one compressed space-time of a self-expanding, nowhere and everywhere, timeless and smooth global Zionist network.

Keith Kahn-Harris astutely identifies David Miller’s modern antisemitic thinking as a flatlands:

“The problem is that his work constructs a kind of ‘flatland’; a world in which networks of power and influence are so intricately connected that they form a seamless system. Each node that he exposes in this system, each connection that is traced between it and other nodes, is functionally identical to others. What we end up with is a process of progressively revealing a system so overwhelming that the only rational response to its exposure must be despair shot through with liberation. Take Miller’s well known slide from his presentation on how British Jewish / Zionist / Israel lobby institutions are interconnected (reproduced above). While the nodes on this network are differentiated by type (‘Israel institution’, ‘Key UK individuals’ etc) and while the nature of the interconnections are identified (‘donor’, ‘president’ etc), these annotations do not in fact tell us anything meaningful, because there isn’t any meaningful distinction to be made – and that’s the point. That, for example, Mick Davis and Vivian Wineman have been fiercely criticised from the right of the Jewish community for their dovish views on Israel is of no import. That the Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation are coalitions constantly riven by tension and dispute is not worth remarking on. Zionism / Israel forms a seamless whole. […] Miller’s map of the Zionist flatland grows remorselessly over time. The only way to avoid getting ensnared into it is by renouncing any connection to those who are on the map. […] Those who share Miller’s methodology of guilt by association will always end up progressively writing off whole chunks of humanity until only a small hardcore of enlightened ones is left. While Miller may be a particularly adept exponent of the politics of the flatland, it is not exclusive to him, to the left or to antisemites. We have to acknowledge that the flatland holds its attractions to those of any political disposition. Its mixture of liberation and despair are tempting: You no longer have to grapple with the intricacies of who people are; you are released from the burdens of developing a finely-calibrated politics. All is one; all is either enemy or friend. I suspect that the internet and social media have made the flatland more attractive. It is easy to trace associations, to find meaning in the liking of a tweet or the acceptance of a friend request. Like David Miller we are all tempted to see ‘research’ as the piling up evidence of contacts, rather than an investigation of the nature of those contacts. We can know everything and still know nothing. The alternative is hard: To understand relationships as relationships. There are no shortcuts here.”

Kahn-Harris is right that the internet and social media make flatlands politics more appealing. I wonder also of the symbiosis between Miller’s fantasy of a global Zionist network and his life in the internet network society. His above mapping of lines and nodes has a rudimentary resemblance of the below map of the internet, such that co-construction seems likely.

Map of the internet (Wikimedia Commons)

David Miller’s flatlands illustrates how antisemitism kills geography. It also indicates how both the most despairing accounts of globalization, which reduce humans to passive dupes and deny human agencies in all their nuance, and the infrastructure of globalization are themselves flatlands open to antisemitism.