I’ve delayed writing this post for two reasons. The first was simply that I became quite busy and couldn’t spare the time/concentration to write something as simultaneously bleak and cheerful as what the boys at SAFE put together up above. (Seriously, check them out–dope stuff) The second, more relevant reason was that I simply could not figure out what to focus on. There is simply too much going on to hone in on a single black swan without forging an Adderall prescription and going to town (I’m looking at you, Swarthmore College). Let’s make a list for brevity’s sake, shall we?
- A large chunk of Japan lies in ruins that may or may not be tainted with nuclear fallout (Probably yes). Tens of thousands are dead, and casualties are likely in the hundreds of thousands.
- There’s been massive economic consequences that have resulted from this that has caused markets to resemble the Scream Machine
- NATO, in spite of their utter lack of cohesion, managed to agree that a bit of wagging the dog was in order and are now bombing Libya in ostensible support of anti-Qaddafi rebels. They probably won’t put troops on the ground, though. The question “what if it doesn’t work” is yet to be sufficiently answered, but that’s a question for another day…
- In a remarkable reversal of sentiments, President Obama’s suddenly cool with mistreating prisoners. And Guantanamo. If he’s willing to let the Pentagon treat Bradley Manning this way, it makes one wonder what would happen if, say, Julian Assange were to fall into US custody.
- The situation in Bahrain has essentially turned into an Iranian-Saudi proxy war, with the Saudis winning the initial joust. The hopes, dreams, and desire of Bahrainis to live in self-governed dignity, meanwhile, remain unfulfilled–and in some cases, have been utterly crushed
- There’s a whole bunch of other, brutish, nasty things going on. You know, the usual churn.
I’m currently reading Nassim Taleb’s book The Black Swan on “the impact of the highly probable.” I have not finished it, and while it’s interesting and mildly entertaining, I may have to put it down (I’m a bit swamped, and it’s a demanding read). The recent turn of events, however, makes his assertion that “what you know cannot really hurt you” an interesting one to explore. To dust off a classic, the ‘unknown unknowns’ are the real danger–but it’s fairly difficult to make contingencies for events that exist outside of the realm of imagination. The phrase “a failure of imagination” that was used by the 9/11 Commission (remember them?) to describe the failure to preclude that particular tragedy comes to mind when describing many of the problems facing policy makers and citizens alike. It makes sense that rebellion would occur in countries where people have been oppressed and lack opportunities for economic advancement. It makes sense that a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami would strike one of the most seismically vulnerable places on Earth. It makes logical sense (in a moral vacuum) that a national leader would overreact to an embarrassing information leak that cast his leadership in an unflattering light. Crises happen.
What makes far less sense are the responses to these various crises. That, to some extent, is bound to occur as well–humans are fallible, most especially when the pressure mounts and events outrace one’s ability to comprehend. These black swan events are exacerbated because even after a catastrophe occurs, it takes a long time to understand what happened. Furthermore, even with the newly acquired knowledge that comes with experience, there is often a problem of what is often called in a military setting ‘fighting the last war.’ Time moves on, new events occur, and yet policy makers and citizens alike are only adapting to the previous situation years after the fact. 9/11 and its aftermath on US domestic security attitudes and foreign policy can be seen as a clear example of maladaptive responses to such an event. New challenges to domestic security–rising income inequality, outdated infrastructure networks, and widespread financial malfeasance–emerged, but two wars and ten years later the US remains stuck in a “post-9/11” paradigm that threatens to gag American growth and creativity with its own paranoia. This is not a problem particular to America–indeed, one can say that it’s a unifying feature of the less-stable governments on show in our contemporary world.
This set of circumstances has presented everyone with a challenge that will go a long way toward determining the near and long-term future of the world. At a different time, this would sound like hyperbole; and even writing it feels somewhat unnatural. History, however, demonstrates that in times of great stress things either fall apart spectacularly (as with the run-up to World War I) or that cooler heads prevail for long enough to mitigate potential catastrophes (witness the disintegration of the USSR). I believe that we stand at precisely just such a point in history; and as such people acting the fool (Qaddafi et al) will find that they are only making the outcome uglier for themselves and everyone else.
So I issue a plea. Not for equality, or for justice, or even for peace. I instead ask for mere tolerance. Tolerance doesn’t mean acceptance; I’m certainly not expecting people to accept Qaddafi’s legitimacy or the ongoing crisis at Fukushima with meek acceptance. Under these circumstances, tolerance simply means acknowledgment of the situation at hand. It is far too easy to put fingers in both ears, shout la-la-la-la, and sugar coat everything because it feels better–nuclear meltdowns and catastrophic foreign policy blunders result from this sort of pussyfooting. I plead for tolerance, for acknowledgment that things aren’t good and need to be better and will require diligence and shared sacrifice of ideals and genuine hardships. One can only hope.
I suppose this is what the optimistic scenario would look like. Enjoy your drunken, slovenly, corrupt, idiotic but ultimately redeemable Irish priests.