Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Do You Emote?

Earth-flattener Thomas Friedman, the columnist sage, attempts once more to frame public reaction to a chaotic and incoherent policy in Libya—and surrounding the Arab explosion generally—by calling it “hard stuff.” Does he mean that as Tom Wolfe used the phrase “the right stuff” in a splendid book about the astronauts? Well, I wonder what you emote about all this?

Friedman approvingly quotes this portion of President Obama’s speech Monday evening: “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And, as president, I refuse to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”

It is “hard stuff,” as Friedman points out, because conflicting emotions arise as we contemplate the evolving situation, e.g. in Bahrain Shi’ites (shudder) are the “democrats” and the Saudi’s don’t like that, and we don’t want to make the Saudi’s angry, so when they march in to quell “democracy” in Bahrain, we refrain from “taking action.” But let me expand the view a little.

When in Palestine Hamas won the parliamentary elections, the Bush administration did not bow its head to say that “democracy” had spoken. No. We suspended foreign aid because we did not like the outcome. That was hard stuff too. In Rwanda in 1994 Hutus killed 800,000 Tutsis in a hundred-day period. Surely that’s definable as “slaughter.” Alas, our media did not cover this holocaust with cameras; few moving images of corpses and “mass graves” reached our screens, hence we did not bother “taking action,” although we did participate in a no-fly zone in the Bosnian civil war that overlapped with the African disaster. Why? Was that because the Bosnians, Europeans all, were somehow “closer” to us than black Tutsis? And did that Bosnian no-fly zone, instituted in 1993, prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995? Actually, No. That one, by the way, was tiny by Rwandan standards, a mere 8,000 men and boys. But this much is enough.

Is the camera the issue? Or is it something else? Camera reminds me of a 1951 play entitled I Am a Camera. It was written by John Van Druten inspired by Christopher Isherwood’s novel Goodbye to Berlin. That book holds a sentence: “I am a camera with its shutters open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” Exactly. Not thinking—but emoting. Emoting until I can no more. And then it’s time for taking action.

It’s hard stuff indeed when your emotions are in conflict and nothing else is handy to resolve the internal conflict, like thought, for example, like principle, like reason, policy. Then all the particles are in the air, frantically bouncing about, now hitting, now missing, colliding, repulsing, adhering—whatever. A tribal war erupts somewhere. Reach for the crystal ball. If images appear in it, and if you’re in the mood, and if those you hang with are also in the mood, and if there’s money in the pocket, and if the time’s right, and if it looks like you might win—but not if not—why then, forgetting what presidents are actually supposed to do, namely faithfully to execute the laws—why then it’s time for taking action. Otherwise, perhaps, we can placidly turn a blind eye. Far away, another continent, hey, they’re just lesser breeds without the law. Never mind. Issue a call or two deploring violence and asking for a political resolutions. So what’s next on the agenda?

But I’d better stop. Emoting is hard stuff. It makes me all confused. A nice bowl of crispies in cold milk? Isn’t it breakfast time? We will be back after these messages.

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