Monday, March 17, 2008

TV Victories & Real Victories

In a world where things can go wrong very quickly, those living in modern industrial societies--whose power is highly dependent on inputs from the whole globe--need to think carefully about what kind of future they want. In a word, what constitutes “success?”

For those of you in such a society, ask yourselves simply what you want. Does “defeating” someone get you what you want? What if defeating an opponent entails provoking a wave of terrorist attacks that would never have occurred if the opponent had been allowed to survive? What if defeating an opponent entails the collapse of the economy that makes your lives so comfortable even though sufficient resources were available for both you and your opponent? Will you be satisfied with your victory in the midst of terrorist attacks and depression?

Politicians would have you focus on military victories because an industrial society can achieve a short-term military victory any time it so desires. A building can be destroyed at will and the results effectively displayed on TV as needed to support a politician’s claim to power. Look your child in the eye over dinner tonight and ask yourself (or your child, if over the age of five) exactly what you have gained by the day’s bombing that would have been lost if a compromise had been achieved.

There is no need to ask what you have lost by the day’s victory: you have lost money and security: money because the little dramatic daily victories shown on TV are expensive and security because every bombing angers far more people than it kills. Every one of those bombings means that you have more enemies than before. Now, once more, what have you gained?

Of course, it may be the case that a particular victory or string of victories does in fact gain you some measure of security that makes the cost worthwhile. There will always be someone willing to assert that such is the case. Legion are those who profit from such small victories. Distinguishing the victories that truly help from those that make matters worse is difficult. Those little flashy military victories may help get you what you want or may impede your getting what you want. (I am assuming you want such dull middle class things as security, steady economic growth, a peaceful place to raise a family; if, in contrast, you are looking for high returns on your military-industrial stock options, your calculations will differ.) I am not arguing that all military victories are counterproductive—just that such victories, no matter how impressive on TV, cannot be assumed to bring you any closer to your goals.

You can be sure of only one thing: every flashy military victory is expensive and produces blowback. Can you, in the privacy of your own living room, figure out which victories were worth the price and which were disagreements that could much more beneficially (for you) been handled in a different way? Probably not, but you can apply some common sense.
  • Real victories lead to victory. If the victories seem endless but success never comes, then there was probably a more effective way.
  • Wars end. If the war never ends and this year’s progress report starts sounding all too familiar, then maybe there hasn’t been any progress.
  • Money is spent to buy something. If the cost keeps rising, then maybe the point of the war is just what it appears to be: an excuse to spend all that money just for the sake of spending it—without buying anything.

Logic is very useful. Most folks, if they stop to think about it, can tell when they are being conned. So…stop and think about it.

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