There But for Fortune

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” H.L. Mencken.

Despite losing $14 million last quarter, The New York Times produced on Sunday the kind of in-depth journalism that is disappearing from newsrooms around the world. “Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart,” Scott Anderson’s 18-month-in-the-making article on the disintegration of the Middle East, is a remarkable tribute to one newspaper’s determination to stick to its mission in hard times. There are a number of reasons for the decline of newspapers. Many are self-inflicted, but more dangerous now are the constant and gratuitous assaults on the press from politicians who despise transparency. We need a strong and free press.

The second lesson I took away from the article is how disastrous has been the West’s refusal to grasp the diverse histories and cultures of the Middle East’s people. We continue to lump all Muslims and Arabs together, to seek simple solutions to terrorism, like “carpet-bomb[ing] them into oblivion,” and to pat ourselves on the back for our “priceless gift” of liberation to the Iraqi people. We need leaders who understand complexity.

The third lesson is how quickly things can change. We are easily lulled into the belief that our lives are on a predictable path into a foreseeable future. And then, suddenly and unexpectedly, our familiar world is upended. For many in the Middle East that’s become the new normal – a life in which the past has been obliterated and the future reduced to getting through today. We need to take responsibility for our part in making that so.

James G. Blaine

About James G. Blaine

Most of us undervalue what seem our tiny contributions to our communities and the world. As a result, we feel powerless, even victimized. But, like the butterfly effect in science, the lives we lead with our families, in our communities, and at work – all the so-called little things we do – collectively change the world. As I grow older, my ambition grows more modest but not less important: to participate fully and to contribute what I can. That’s my goal with this blog.