Having told this parable, I continue to tell my students that the instinct to make hard cases easy ones is troublesome for at least two reasons. The first one is perhaps obvious: when we do it, we almost always act to exclude morally relevant considerations that should be factoring into our analysis; nuances and wrinkles that make the case a hard case and so are written out. But there's a more subtle problem as well: When we make hard cases easy, we condition ourselves to think that only easy cases are solvable cases -- that hardness is a synonym for "intractable" or (worse) "apolitical". Sometimes this leads to a sort of quiescence around hardness (as in the case of the conservative who thinks observing the complexity of racial injustice is a sufficient response to claims of racism). Other times it leads to a suspicion of hardness (as in the leftist who thinks observing the complexity of racial injustice represents a failure to take it seriously). Either way, it is a path that leads nowhere, and so I conclude by telling my students to "lean into the hardness."
All of this came to mind when reading the penultimate paragraph of Daniel May's contribution to the MBL/Jewish flare-up, which discusses the issue of "complexity" and credibility. May offers up a list of some of the more egregious instances of Israeli injustices and then derides those who claim "that such realities must be understood in 'context,' as 'complicated,' or a tragic consequence of 'ha'matzav' (“the situation,” as Israelis call it)."
May is articulating a real wrong here -- the conservative voice in my parable who thinks he has responded to an allegation of injustice by asserting "it's complicated." Yet there is the question of how we frame our retort. The shortfall of the conservative reply is not that the problem isn't a complicated one. The shortfall is that complicated problems are still problems. It is absolutely true that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is bound up in all sorts of immensely difficult nets and traps which defy simple solutions or easy finger points. None of that removes the fundamental injustices that exist where an entire population is deprived of the basic democratic entitlements to vote for the sovereign authority controlling their lives, where racist incitement against Palestinians continues to surge, where "price tag" attacks by Jewish terrorists occur with near-impunity, where a military occupation persists indefinitely while insulated from any accountability to the people in its cross-hairs. And those fundamental injustices, in turn, don't flatten or dissipate the complexity of "the situation" that produces them. We deal with hard problems by tackling them in all their difficulty and complexity.
There's a reason why I think the most powerful sentence in Stacey Aviva Flint's superb reflection on the Movement for Black Lives platform is also its shortest: "I choose discomfort". The issues posed by police violence targeting people of color, or Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, or the dispossession of ancient Jewish communities in the Christian and Muslim worlds, or continued vulnerability of Arab and Muslim communities to state-sponsored and individual acts of violence, or systematic racism, or ongoing global anti-Semitism, are not easy, comfortable issues. They are not morality plays and we are not blessed with simple and straightforward choices. Crafting a just social sphere is hard, complicated, complex business. That observation is part of the work; it's not an excuse to refrain from it.