Monday, February 28, 2011

America and Libya and Cause and Effect and Breakfast

I know I live in a country that has been blessed with material goods that allows our society to pretend nothing ill ever happens, at least not to the majority of the population. Of course, a quick look at mass media informs the public that we are the blessed nation by demonstrating the devastation that takes place daily across the globe. “Glad I live in America” is how we accept the fact the world is not perfect. What the fuck? Profanity, by the way, does place a important emphasis on what I feel is truly ignorant. At some point in my life I will find a better way to articulate my dissatisfaction with ignorance but for now profanity fills my literary gap fairly well. Back to my topic, what the fuck?

There is no such thing as American exceptional-ism. Instead there was a series of historical and geographic coincidences that allowed The United States to become the sole super-power. This in no way means that we should be shameful of our country or lives but instead be aware of what we can claim as our creation or success. The road of trying to outline cause and effect in regards to nation building is paved with complexities beyond human comprehension. To compensate for our lack of biological computing power humans are forced to simplify complex and variable subjects. It is rare to find a quality simplification mental model that allows for flexibility against the unknown. Music is a good example of how a complicated piece of music can be created from simple notes on a page but allow for infinite combinations of mind bending works of beauty.

As I stated, music is a rare successful human simplification process. Most of our attempts to simplify are wrought with strife and unhappy endings. Humans were built to survive in the world and not to understand complex systems. Our range of understanding cause and effect is limited to one or two moving variables. Understating what would kill us and what would help us live was the most powerful tool prehistoric humans possessed. Somewhere along the line the human race found ways to farm food supplies that increased our chances of survival by tending to and raising plants that could be easily stored. With this discovery out vast intellect was allowed the free time to think about other subjects other than pure survival. We still have the need to understand but often fail to understand our limitations.

This post was sparked at breakfast this morning in Frisco, Colorado at the Log Cabin Cafe. Heather (my wonderful and understanding fiance) and I have a wonderful habit of people watching and eavesdropping on tables around us. Sometime between my hash-browns and the incredible eggs-Benedict my attention was grabbed by the conversation at the nearest table. A young women in her mid-twenties from Boulder, Colorado was talking about the recent outbreak of violence in the country of Libya. Her well intentioned but closed statements on events in Libya are a common form of simplification gone wrong.

She was talking about how wonderful it was that revolution had risen so rapidly against Gaddafi and that the rebels in the country would help provide freedom to the people of Libya. “This is a cause Obama should support because these people want freedom, these protests are going to spread and change the Middle East for the people.” She suffers (we all do in some form) from a condition I call the compassion complex. This condition causes people to act on the principles they perceive to be moral but fail to account for different views of truth.

What happens in Libya when civil war breaks lose in the country and blood fills the exposed highways to Gaddafi's stronghold in Tripoli? Or if the United States enforces a no-fly-zone and traps fleeing refugees? In addition, Iran at some point will take advantage of the situation and stir up revolts in other nations to add to the destabilization of the region so that Iran can be seen as a stabilizer when it provides help to neighbors. What happens when the rebel movement only leads to another dictator and the people have died in vain? Will we still support the rebel movement or realize our compassion may have killed more people than prevented?

Her regurgitated CNN stance on the crisis in Libya is not a singular event and public compassion can bring great harm to a seemingly simple truth. There is no simple answer, ever. The best humans can do is find a plan that creates the least amount of unintended consequences yet still provides flexibility for unknown factors and variables that most certainly exist. For example, start with helping the people caught in a conflict they do not want. The United States has the ability to marshal unrivaled humanitarian aid, yet, we contemplate our military options instead. Bombs have a strange property of killing innocent people and creating large and negative unintended consequences. Easing suffering has fewer quagmires.

The main point to all of this is that the human world is complicated, violent, unfair and ruthless. Cause and effect is never clear cut. Our focus on the individual and national level should always be focused on understanding the properties of unknown and the preservation of the liberty of every human . We will fall short, of course, but our attempts will allow for more people to be spared the cruel fate of unintended consequences