Before you can appreciate what the characters in this scenario are likely to do, you need to know something about them. If you knew and grew up with them, you might not see them this way, but here’s how they see themselves:
So there are the nine characters in our story. They’re not very likable, I confess. It’s a tough neighbourhood.
What I’d like you to do is to put yourself in the place of each of these characters and imagine what they might do next. How will the story of this sad community unfold? For example:
As you may have guessed, I’m setting you up. This is another of my If the Shoe Were On the Other Foot exercises. The ‘neighbourhood’ is Asia and the MidEast, Mark is America, Ray is Israel, Paul is Palestine, Benny is Bin Laden, Randy is Iran, Russ is Russia, Chas is China, Alf is Afghanistan and Rick is Iraq.
The purpose of the exercise is to try to get you to see how the leaders or the people of each of these countries see themselves now, and why they are doing what they are doing. I can appreciate what drives people to commit suicide, and to become a suicide bomber. I can see why people who have hated each other for a long time continue to attack each other irrationally and refuse to find any kind of workable compromise.
I can see that Al Qaeda, while it has succeeded in nearly bankrupting the US, has been ineffective in getting mainstream Islamic people to rise up against their governments, expel all vestiges of the West and create a single monolithic Islamic state. In that sense, especially since Bush is bankrupting the US even without its increased military spending, Bin Laden’s campaign has been a total failure. I can see why the situation in Russia and in Afghanistan (and in many of the former Soviet states) is so hopeless that the only real choice of the people is to kill themselves (by suicide or by drugs) or to flee. I understand China’s ambivalence to the US, its interest in establishing the SCO China-Russia-Iran-(India-Pakistan-Former Southern SSRs) alternative economic and power bloc, and its desire to wean itself off dependence on the US. And I can appreciate why Iran feels it has no choice but to become a nuclear power and threaten Israel, in its own defence (and why, as Sy Hersh explains this week in The New Yorker, the first response of Iran if it is attacked will be to pour its troops into Iraq to fight the US there).
The situation is complex, which is why there is no clear human answer to it. Aside from its scale, it is not all that different from the situation in many poor urban areas that the government has given up trying to serve or save, and which are loosely controlled by the equivalent of the Afghani warlords who control (except for the capital) that country. In that sense, my little gang war scenario is a miniaturization of the situation in Asia and the MidEast, but not an oversimplification of it. The approach of the West to impose a Western-style political and economic system on the MidEast, where such systems are utterly alien, is much like the approach to ‘clean up’ gang-controlled areas of American cities: send in the troops, level everything, and let the ‘market’ build something that they will own and look after, so they’ll keep the locals in line to defend it. The hope is that if everyplace looks like an American suburb, replete with McDonalds and the Gap and Starbucks and heavily-armed cops and vigilantes and big privatized jails and pro-American churches and all the other icons of American capitalism, everyplace will start to act and be like an American suburb, and the ‘problem’ will go away. It hasn’t gone away in America’s cities (where this tactic has been tried) and it won’t go away in the MidEast either.
If the US could figure out how to ‘liberate’ its own poor and down-trodden areas from poverty, disease (the infant mortality in these areas of the US is higher than in many third world countries, and the life expectancy lower), crime, abuse of power, corruption and desperation, it might then discover that the same approach could liberate many nations struggling with the same cycle of despair. But because this is a complex problem, and the existing systems and prevailing imaginative poverty are only capable of addressing simple problems with simplistic solutions, the US hasn’t the faintest inkling how to do it. The ‘right answer’ is never invasion, occupation, more guns, more prisons, more law enforcement, or ‘leaving it to the market’. These merely contribute to the problem.
The ‘complex system’ answer is to remove the obstacles that prevent the people from taking back power and resources from the warlords and the gangs, and to provide incentives that will encourage and reward them for doing this for themselves. If the people win the peace, the people will protect it.
This is not easy, of course, and it will take generations and cost far more than the trillion or so that Bush has squandered in Iraq. Complex system changes never are. But it’s achievable, with enough time, energy, and resources. But first we need to get rid of the imaginative poverty and simplistic thinking that merely exacerbates these problems, and the people, like those in the Bush regime, who resort to them.
There is a real question of whether we can still afford the money, the resources, the energy and the time that it will take, to do this in most of the world. My guess is that the answer to this is no. But perhaps if we try it in a few places, and discover that it works, we will be motivated to do everything we can do to make it work everywhere else. So that, ultimately, there will be no place left for those who would exploit the ignorance, anger and suffering of others for their own advantage. Andthe gang wars of this planet, at every scale, will finally be over.
Image: Donna DeCesare, taken for Dart Center in Guatemala last year.
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
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Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
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Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
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The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
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Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
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