Friday, February 25, 2011

"The Land of the Unknown . . ."

Writes Tom Engelhardt . . .

. . . [Y]ou have to strain to fit this Middle Eastern moment into any previous paradigm, even as – from Wisconsin to China – it already threatens to break out of the Arab world and spread like a fever across the planet. Never in memory have so many unjust or simply despicable rulers felt quite so nervous – or possibly quite so helpless (despite being armed to the teeth) – in the presence of unarmed humanity. And there has to be joy and hope in that alone.

Even now, without understanding what it is we face, watching staggering numbers of people, many young and dissatisfied, take to the streets in Morocco, Mauritania, Djibouti, Oman, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and Libya, not to mention Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt, would be inspirational. Watching them face security forces using batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and in all too many cases, real bullets (in Libya, even helicopters and planes) and somehow grow stronger is little short of unbelievable. Seeing Arabs demanding something we were convinced was the birthright and property of the West, of the United States in particular, has to send a shiver down anyone’s spine.

The nature of this potentially world-shaking phenomenon remains unknown and probably, at this point, unknowable. Are freedom and democracy about to break out all over? And if so, what will that turn out to mean? If not, what exactly are we seeing? What light bulb was it that so unexpectedly turned on in millions of Twittered and Facebooked brains – and why now? I doubt those who are protesting, and in some cases dying, know themselves. And that’s good news. That the future remains – always – the land of the unknown should offer us hope, not least because that's the bane of ruling elites who want to, but never can, take possession of it.

. . . So much of what Washington . . . imagine[d] in these last years [has] proved laughable, even before this moment swept it away. Just take any old phrase from the Bush years. How about “You’re either with us or against us”? What’s striking is how little it means today. Looking back on Washington’s desperately mistaken assumptions about how our globe works, this might seem like the perfect moment to show some humility in the face of what nobody could have predicted.

It would seem like a good moment for Washington – which, since September 12, 2001, has been remarkably clueless about real developments on this planet and repeatedly miscalculated the nature of global power – to step back and recalibrate.

As it happens, there's no evidence it's doing so. In fact, that may be beyond Washington’s present capabilities, no matter how many billions of dollars it pours into “intelligence.” And by “Washington,” I mean not just the Obama administration, or the Pentagon, or our military commanders, or the vast intelligence bureaucracy, but all those pundits and think-tankers who swarm the capital, and the media that reports on them all. It’s as if the cast of characters that makes up “Washington” now lives in some kind of echo chamber in which it can only hear itself talking.

As a result, Washington still seems remarkably determined to play out the string on an era that is all too swiftly passing into the history books. . . .

– Tom Engelhardt
"All-American Decline in a New World"
February 24, 2011

Mmm . . . Engelhardt's critique of Washington is applicable to the clerical caste of the Roman Catholic Church. After all, it too is living in a "kind of echo chamber in which it can only hear itself talking" and, as a result, is "swiftly passing into the history books."

What momentous times we're living through – in both our world and our church!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – February 2, 2011
At the Minnesota Capitol, a Show of Support for Workers' Rights in Wisconsin and Beyond

Image: Via Hussam Zain.

1 comment:

Sage said...

Yes! (to your last observation about the times we are living in)