Monday, June 19, 2006

The God of This World

Robert Kagan writes of a panel discussion he participated in, the theme of which was civil unrest and ‘failed states.’ He quickly noticed that the panelists had a one-size-fits-all solution: blame America. Oh, the many bitter springs that feed the roots of this poisonous tree: Gaulic theoreticians nonplused since the 1990s at the idea, the very idea of an American ‘hyperpower’ - the Pakistanis still in a rage over US support in the ’70s and '80s for some dictator general named Mohammed al-Blahblahblah or something - African Marxists still in a lather about our policy in the 1960s and '70s - ex-guerrillistas plotting their revolutions agains a century of el norte americano imperialism - and of course, of course “the Arab activists still angry about 1948. At a conference in the Middle East a few months ago," writes Kagan, "I heard a moderate Arab scholar complaining bitterly about how American policy had alienated the Arab peoples in recent years. A former Clinton official sitting next to him was nodding vigorously but then suddenly stopped when the Arab scholar made clear that by ‘recent years’ he meant ever since 1967.” Zing! Why, you’d almost think we had colonies, or something - like the French.

But of course there is a missing decade from this dishonor role of American perfidy – the current one. And the whole world sings a close-harmony chorus about Iraq. The kleptocracies hate us because they fear they’re on the list. The soft-bellied drool-lickers envy our wide shoulders and steady eye. That’s how I see it. You disagree? I dismiss you as an etioted eloi. Ad hominem, you whine? Your mother wears army boots. Salvation Army boots. Acquired at a flea market from pot smoking hippies – she traded her Birkenstocks – her lesbian Tango partner kept stepping on her toes.


During the discussion, “When the head of the NGO paused from gnashing his teeth at American policy to suggest that perhaps the United States was not to blame for the genocide in Rwanda, the African dictator's son argued that it was, because it had failed to intervene.” Well, that hardly seems fair. We misuse the power that we have too much of, but we’d better use it or we’re to blame. Sounds like the world is our ex-wife. It boils down to this: “The United States was to blame both for the suffering it caused and the suffering it did not alleviate.” And that is the heart of the matter. To the it-can’t-be-us crowd, America is God.

Well, that’s my problem too. I look at the horror of the world and understand that whatever presiding intelligence there is seems to have fallen asleep on the job. This seems irresponsible to me. Things should be better. The atheist looks at the greatest power on earth and supposes all failings devolve ultimately upon it. The unrestful theist looks to God for solace, and receives the reference librarian’s answer, of verses about promises. What, then? Where is peace to be found, for the world or the man?

The danger of humility is that it can degenerate into indolence. Righteousness requires humility, but it is so close to pride that something about eyes of needles comes to mind. I come back, again, to Job. His virtue was his sin. How can we find peace in such a universe? The answer is too Zen to be true, but it is. Give up. Everything we hope for is not coming, or if it is, it comes on a schedule not of our making. We desire justice. While we’re waiting, we just have to remember to keep breathing. When our allotted number of heartbeats is ticked off, we pass on and no longer desire justice.

How can we win, in such a universe? Well, life is a team sport. And the team has a star, upon whom everything depends. And that star isn’t me.

I suppose the answer is that it is all just a game. Humility, then.


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