Saturday, April 25, 2009

Keeping Your Balance (and Losing It)
Swine Flu Edition

Perhaps I mention this a bit too much, but I've got this theory which goes like this: one reason to minimize avoidable screw-ups is that screw-ups are inevitable. Your future is peppered with them, no matter what you do. You can, however, minimize their number. And one reason to do this is that your future is peppered with misfortunes of various degrees of severity--that is, unfortunate events over which you have little or no control. Even if each individual (non-death) misfortune were avoidable, there would be no (actual) way to avoid the fact that there will be some misfortunes in your future.

Now, if you screw up when you needn't have, one of the many things you risk is that you might then encounter an unavoidable misfortune when you are vulnerable--that is, trying to recover from something that you should have never let happen in the first place. And, of course, after most screw-ups or misfortunes, there are more worse future trajectories for your life and fewer better ones.

That is, inter alia: when you screw up avoidably, you then generally make yourself more vulnerable by making future screw-ups more costly and future misfortunes more difficult to avoid and recover from. Though the image/analogy isn't perfect, I sometimes think in these terms: work hard to keep your balance when you can, because, once lost, the situation can degenerate quickly...and balance is hader to regain than it is to maintain.

This isn't intended to be a Bush-bashing post, but it's true and efficient here to just note: the Bush years involved many avoidable screw-ups (and some at least difficult-to-avoid misfortunes) that left us very much more vulnerable than we were on, say, 1/1/2000. Suppose that 9/11 was unavoidable; still, the entirely optional and patently irrational Iraq war made things far, far worse by 1/1/2009 than they were on 9/12/2001. (This is an especially angrifying case, since this extraordinarily disastrous screw-up came after the relevant misfortune and in response to it.) But, despite the astonishingly bad decision to start an optional, unrelated war instead of focusing on Afghanistan and al Qaeda, we survived. Though we did so with our military ground down, our tresury depleted, our political capital spent, and our moral authority largely destroyed.

Then came the financial meltdown and recession--part screw-up, part misfortune.

And now we are more vulnerable still.

Notice how much more vulnerable we are now to some major, unavoidable misfortune--like, say, a Swine flu epidemic [see also here]--than we would have been had we not initiated the Iraq debacle. An interesting, though perhaps alarmist, question: how many more major screw-ups and misfortunes can we manage given our current weakened, off-balance state? Could we manage a flu epidemic (or pandemic)? Another major terrorist attack? A major earthquake involving the New Madrid fault?

On the bright side, we now have competent leadership. For eight years we've had an executive branch that made every crisis worse. Even were Obama only minimally competent, that would represent a major improvement. Fortunately, he seems, thus far, to be more than minimally competent--though there are limits to what anyone can do with the current situation.

I don't think the United Sates is on the brink of collapse. That would be absurd. But I don' t care for our current, relatively vulnerable, relatively off-balance condition...and I am particularly unhappy that the damage was largely self-inflicted.


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