Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Tangle and the Weave

As 2014 draws to a close, a lot of pundits are taking time for reflection on the last 12 months. I am particularly impressed with what Paul Krugman and Michael Grunwald have written along those lines. If you haven't already read what they have to say, I strongly suggest that you do so.

For an alternative view, take a look at what Daniel Drezner wrote in his 2014 recap.  He basically embraces an assumption that 2014 was awful...but it could have been a lot worse.
‘There have been worse years in recent history,” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote, “but 2014 definitely stands out for the sheer variety of awfulness.” That sentiment captures the popular perception of a year that can’t seem to end soon enough...

But what if 2014 turned out better than expected? Thinking about what actually happened this past year may not be the best way to judge it. After all, an awful lot of smart people predicted a lot of even-more-terrible things that never came to pass.
In recapping all of the "awful" about 2014, Drezner includes the following:
  1. Increased racial polarization
  2. Russia invading Ukraine
  3. Emergence of ISIS
  4. Stagnated euro-zone economies
  5. Ebola
  6. Pakistani Taliban massacre of school children
  7. North Korean threat to "The Interview"
I have to question whether that list adds up to anything more awful than any other year. The truth is that bad things happen pretty regularly in the world. If that were our measurement, couldn't we round up enough bad news to proclaim every year awful?

It's interesting to note that Drezner's point about how things could have been worse is all based on the fact that we have dealt pretty effectively with the challenges that 2014 brought us. He ends with quoting President Obama at his year-end news conference.
And, you know, part of what I hope, as we reflect on the new year — this should generate . . . some confidence. America knows how to solve problems.
That pretty well summarizes the difference that President Obama has been talking about for months now between cynicism and hope.

To assume that we should measure our lives based on whether or not bad things happen in the world is to believe in a level of control that is illusory. The struggle will not end. Unless/until we grasp that, we are destined for cynicism.

I am reminded of a quote from the book The Healing by Jonathan Odell. Polly Shine is teaching her apprentice Granada the art of healing. She tells her that her mother's people in Africa were the finest weavers in the world.
"She told me the secret...what made them so fine, mother after daughter after grandaughter, all the way down the line."

"What was it Polly?"

"She say, the difference in weavers is, some see the tangle and others see the weave. The ones that can't take their eyes off the tangle, they never rise above it."
It is paying attention to the weave that gives us confidence...and hope.

1 comment:

  1. That Grunwald post was really good. Thanks for linking to it. I'd add that things would be a whole lot worse for us with ISIL if the President had listened to Clinton. And a whole, whole lot worse if Romney had been President. Same applies the Ukraine situation. One thing noticeably absent from all these lists you reference is that the talks with Iran about their nuclear capabilities were extended beyond the original deadline (with zero fanfare, I might add).

    As far as the Malls are concerned...couldn't get anywhere near my local Mall; it was too crowded. And yes, I think the absence of Muzak is an actual strategy. It just may be possible that retailers have discovered that people get sick of listening to Christmas music and don't shop as long to get away from it. It was a welcome change.