Watching The Theory of Everything, the biographical film about Stephen Hawking, one wonders: why do geniuses behave like jerks?
There is the jerkiness portrayed in the movie. In 1990, after 25 years of marriage to the devoted Jane Wilde, Hawking informed her that he was flying to America with Elaine Mason, his therapist. He has long since left the therapist for whom he left his wife.
There is also jerkiness unmentioned in the film, but widely known. In May 2013, Hawking, after initially accepting an invitation to speak at the President’s Conference organized to mark the 90th birthday of Shimon Peres, changed his mind and declared that he would not participate in any academic or cultural exchanges with Israel. He announced his support for the BDS – boycott, divestment, and sanctions – movement.
Now there are many reasons why ordinary people should oppose BDS. First, Israel, whatever its faults, is the lone democracy committed to individual rights in the Middle East, and therefore deserves support, not isolation. Second, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have greater freedom to protest and greater access to independent courts than any other Muslims in the Middle East. It makes no sense to boycott Israel and give a pass to the oppressive regimes ruling Syria, Iran, or Turkey, to name a few. Third, those attending international cultural and academic events tend to be the very Israelis most opposed to their government’s policies. BDS, ironically, undermines the Israelis most committed to change and entrenches those most resistant.
But these are reasons for ordinary people. Stephen Hawking is not an ordinary person. He has an added reason to oppose BDS. Hawking suffers from ALS, which has left him unable to utilize any muscles functions except for his cheeks, whose movement is monitored by a sensor attached to his spectacles. He sole means of communication is through a computer Intel Core i7-based communication system, which runs on a chip designed in Israel.
If BDS were universally adopted, as Hawking wishes, the very technology he relies upon to communicate would be unavailable to him. Hawking, a supposed champion of logic, thus takes the absurdly illogical position of opposing the same kind of exchange that allows him to communicate his opposition in the first place.
A first grader would blush at the internal inconsistency of such a position. Continue reading