What do you think? Well, you're wrong!!!

I don't usually write or talk about politics or world events, because I have found that, in any given group of people, more than half will disagree with whatever I have to say. But I saw a couple of things online today that inspired me to write a little bit.

First, there was this, courtesy of LT Smash. Then there was the response from this twerp.

The first story gave me hope for the people of Iraq and for this world, because I saw good people facing daunting odds to bring about a better life for themselves and their communities. I also caught a glimpse of that human spirit that everyone's always talking about, that spark of the divine that knows what is right and strives to do it, even when it's hard. It was encouraging to me to see people naturally seeking an orderly form of government, without being told how to do it and without immediately seeking to use power for their own personal gain. The fact that they did this in the face of gangster tactics and a total lack of promised monetary support is only more impressive.

Of course, there's always the other side of things to look at, too, dramatically illustrated in this story. Wherever there is opportunity, someone will step up and attempt to use any power for their own benefit. Only when all people in a society feel free to speak up and oppose those abuses will they stop. To me, the interesting dichotomy between these two stories lies in what these two men wanted. The first man only wanted the necessities for himself and his neigbors: food, water, air conditioning. The other wanted money. One man's desires were so humble, so simple, that the other could have paid for them with the money he made in half a day of swindling his neighbors. Think about the proportions! One man gathered money only for himself, yet had enough of it to meet the needs of a hundred neighborhoods. Sound familiar? I'd say that the Iraqis are more similar to us than we'd like to think.

***

Another thing that strikes me when I read about what's going on now in Iraq and Afghanistan is that it feels more like a Sopranos episode than an international event. Abdullah says something he shouldn't, so Saddy and the boys gotta teach him a lesson. Then someone else encroaches on someone else's turf, so there's hell to pay. Meanwhile, the federal authorities are just trying to keep everything under control so everyone else can get back to their lives. All we're missing is a subplot about some spoiled kids. In some ways, I think this makes it harder for the US to deal with the mess there, because we went in expecting Josef Stalin and got the Godfather. We need cops there more than we need soldiers.

***

I should also explain why I try to avoid talking about politics and world events. The advice for generations has been, "Don't bring up politics or religion in polite conversation," and I subscribe to that. Unfortunately, many other people don't, and now the same bore who would gladly corner you at a party and drone on about tax laws can get himself his very own web site and expostulate to the world at large. There's something about these two topics that makes everyone an expert and everyone else an idiot. I think I've figure out what it is: there are no real, provable answers, and we hate that. We, in our human pride, can't stand the idea of not being able to put something in a neat little box and stick a label on it. Uncertainty drives us crazy. Even people who claim that there are no absolutes in the world, that everything is shades of gray, do it so insistently that they leave no room for disagreement.

Just as you can't scientifically prove that God exists, you cannot empirically prove that any given course of action on a global or national scale will inevitably lead to a single conclusion. We can't see the future, no matter how certain we claim to be about it. Heck, we can't even predict the weather a day in advance with absolute certainty, yet we all claim to know how to solve the problems in the Middle East!

This uncertainty and our resultant discomfort with it cause one of several reactions in people:
  1. Utter inflexibility. This is the "I'm right, and unless you agree with me, you're wrong and probably stupid" approach that so many people on the Internet take. In the safety of our dark rooms, where we don't have to actually look in the face of the people we are calling "mouth-breathers," "fascists," or "liberal monkey-lovers," otherwise polite people become real jerks. This retreat into absolutes in the face of uncertainty may be comforting, but it makes for boring conversation after the first lap around the rhetorical circuit.

  2. Intellectual arrogance. The close cousin of inflexibility is intellectual arrogance. I see this more from those who consider themselves liberal, which only makes the elitism more fascinatingly ironic. These people think that, because of their high-priced educations, or by virtue simply of time served in the rarefied air of academia, they should have all the answers, so they pretend that they do. Their response usually sounds like, "If you had read everything I have/really thought about it/were willing to accept complexity, you'd understand why I'm right." They also tend to get more offended by disagreement, as though their credentials should be enough. I find this group to be the least practical and the most insecure.

  3. Withdrawal. When faced with overwhelming complexity, many people simply withdraw. They turn off the TV news, they only read the sports and the comics in the paper, and they stick to the polite topics in conversation. While this may be easier on the individuals, they are essentially forfeiting the race to the zealots on either side who do care. We get into the worst messes in the world when people would rather look away than deal with unpleasantness.


Allow me to propose what I believe to be the better choice: acceptance. We're never going to know the eventual repercussions of any action, so I suggest that we stop trying to guess, do the best we can, and expect others to do so as well. There is only one being in this world who knows the future, and in general, He isn't telling. So acknowledge that the world is an unbearably complex system, that everything impacts everything else, then put your head down and make sure that your impact is a positive one. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing: that's not your job. And for heaven's sake, stop complaining about people you've never met!

Take care of your business, the people who are put into your care, and the strangers who cross your path needing help. Find the unique mission that was set aside for you to do and make sure that you leave this world a better place than it was when you got here. Treat others with the respect that you would like them to show you. That's how you work this system, and that's how things will get better.
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