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Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.


Cynicism Winning Big Today  | e-mail post

I had planned to do a quick light-hearted post after wrapping up my day and getting ready to watch what I genuinely hope is Dick Cheney opening up a can of not-available-for-export, high octane, new-and-improved whoop-ass on John Edwards this evening. That is not my precise expectation, but that's what I've been looking forward to seeing.

But then I was driving home listening to MPR, and reality intervened to take my mood way down. First, I heard a story about a convenience store/gas station attendant who chastized a 17 year-old delinquent for taunting a mentally retarded man only to be shot dead by the kid when he returned 20 minutes later. All I could think was that possibly public death by stoning is a portion of Islamic justice we could think about bringing to this country. You can read the story at Star-Tribune as well.

Then, All Things Considered had a piece on the Russian terrorism problem, and two things bothered me. First, was the fact that the Russians are no going to Israel for training on securing their airports, and Israel is of course helping them. Of course, Russia has historically stood along side the Arab states against Israel, and let's not even get started on the historical plight of Russian Jews. I was both heartened to see that fighting the common enemy of terrorism can bring two countries together, but then remembered that just today Russia chose to vote to denounce Israel today at the Security Council. Although they allegedly did try (with Germany) to incorporate some more temperate language into the resolution, in the end they voted in favor of it rather than abstaining as did Germany and Britain.

The second troubling thing was the discussion of the problem of corruption in Russian security forces that led to two suicide bombers getting on Russian planes for a forty dollar bribe [CNN] as well as the possibility that a traffic cop was paid off not to search the truck of the terrorists who sieged the Beslan school. Of course, some were calling for a need to double police salaries in Russia to prevent this sort of bribe-taking. And then, I thought about reading earlier of the risk of unemployment of former Iraqi weapons scientists leading them to work for the highest bidder.

And then I got really down on the world. To the corrupt police in Russia: isn't it enough that it might be neighbors and countrymen, let alone your friends or your family, that may die because of a lousy $34? This is not turning a cheek on an illegal gaming table or a drug deal anymore. To weapons scientists: isn't it worth taking a hit in material well-being, even a substantial one, just to avoid being party to the deaths of thousands of innocents? To the kid who shot the gas station attendant: your very existence offends me. Mocking the disabled is shameful enough but to have the audacity to kill someone (and even go back to kill someone!) for actually telling you to behave like a member of a civil society descends to a level such that no thesaurus in the world could help me express my disgust.

Has our sense of citizenship, our sense of community, our sense of humanity given way around the globe to our most selfish desires of material well-being and infantile self-centeredness? I know this is of course not the norm, but I fear it is the trend. We can see it in its most innocuous forms in the decline in charitable giving by individuals as luxury car sales skyrocket, or in the flight to the suburbs by those who find it easier to insulate themselves from the occasionally mixed-bag that is any city rather than to become active citizens and improve urban areas. And I am not putting myself above anyone in this regard; I am frequently disappointed by my own self-centeredness, and while I joke about it, my being an only child is not an excuse.

It's disturbing to imagine where the trendline is leading us. We seek happiness through escape, leisure and navel-gazing when one of the few things psychologists seem to agree on is that accomplishments and human relationships are the bedrock of happiness. But both of those things require work, and neither of those things are always easy.

I'm not typically one to quote popular music as a source of meaningful insight (because it rarely is), but I think a lot of us could gain from reflecting on the closing lyrics of No Doubt's "Simple Kind of Life" (from Return of Saturn):
How'd I get so faithful to my freedom,
A selfish kind of life?
When all I ever wanted was the simple things,
A simple kind of life.


e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Tuesday, October 05, 2004
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