Sunday, August 10, 2014

Symptom responses do not get at root causes...as we hide our ambiguity

The chair of the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a co-ordinated response from all countries in the face of the Ebola epidemic, given that it is now dubbed an international health emergency.
Public systems, including preventive health systems built on the learnings derived from the dreaded SARS epidemic, are extremely slow to rush into action, given their complexity, and the tendency of all human beings to resist "melodrama" by over-reacting to initial evidence that could turn out to be less threatening than it really is.
However, a co-ordinated response is not only required in the face of the Ebola; it is, or should be and become the response of the world community to the many "crises" or catastrophes or exigencies, or emergencies that confront the world's population. While there is some spotty evidence of incipient states developing a model of statehood that demonstrates courage, vision, democracy, the respect for the law and for human rights, including the rights of minorities, especially religious minorities (Kurdistan, Indonesia, Turkey, India come to mind) we are being fed a steady diet of crisis met by a growing failure of world leaders to come together leaving national interests and personal political ambitions aside, for the purpose of pursuing the common good for human beings of all races, ethnicities, historic and linguistic backgrounds.
We have witnessed the over-use of the military to 9/11, to Sadam Hussein, to the Taliban, to Assad, and even from Putin, to the threat of westernizing of Ukraine by Putin. Unintended consequences, that phrase that seems to be one of the more nefarious and unpredicted results of the knee-jerk response rush to military action, in too many situations, now are reported to include the significant rise in recruits to the Islamic jihadist movement, from the several theatres of military adventure. Both the U.S. and Israel, respectively the best militarily armed national actors in their separate theatres, have adopted the model that a huge military establishment is the best and most effective defence against those who would threaten a nation state. Unfortunately, that military response is analogous to the medical deployment of anti-bacterial drugs, to so many illnesses; they both provide limited relief, a kind of repressive of the current "pain" (threat, danger, invasion, assault) but neither is a curative of the problem.
In geopolitics, as in medicine, we are living in a state of "unknowing" of mystery, of uncertainty and of ambiguity, while, for those engaged in the professional practice of both medicine and foreign affairs, we are given to belief that the experts "know" both the causes of the illness, and the prescription for its elimination.
We can no more surgically remove our illnesses nor can we eliminate them through the application of heavy antibiotics, in all cases, or even in most cases, than can we surgically remove ISIS from Syria/Iraq, nor Hamas from firing rockets into Tel Aviv by firing missiles, rockets and explosives at the enemy. Surgical removal of ISIS from Mosul and northern Iraq is not going to happen no matter how "successful" we are told the current campaign is, has been or will be.
We are living between the unknowing and the best attempts to diagnose and to remediate of the professionals in medicine and in foreign affairs, and the public's demand for instant and completely effective elimination of the problems.
The truth, far more complex and unmanageable, is that we are going to have to live with several epidemic conundrums....cancer, terrorism, global warming and climate change, ethnic cleansing,
anti-Semitism, sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni, and the failure of those sharing the same threat to bring their best efforts to the table(s) to design a strategy that could possibly offer some glimmer of hope out of whatever the presenting dilemma might be.
It took an astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, the current director of the Hayden Planetarium, to put it succinctly in response to Fareed Zakaria's question about the old idea of a combined international approach to space exploration. It does seem that politics tells us that we cannot be friendly to those we wanted to befriend for reasons that we may or may not understand or accept, was the core of his response, in outlining the breakdown in cooperation in space exploration...now that the United States has to rely in the Russians to transport their astronauts to the space station....and the emptiness of that reality given the current state of relations  between Moscow and Washington.
Human beings, the world community, will continue to face threats both of a human origin, biologically and politically, and of a "natural origin" (tornadoes, draught, tsunamis, earthquakes) for which we will have to continue to prepare. At the core of our response, however, will unfortunately continue to be the belief that human nature is by nature "evil," a cornerstone of many religious beliefs, and in need of corrective measures, designed and delivered by those adhering to a strict dogmatic set of sacred rules.
Perhaps, there is an intimate and complex connection between such a self-sabotaging premise and our continuing addiction to both intemperate and inconclusive, if violent, measures to address problems.
Just this week, a professor at Yale has released a book entitled, Miseducation....focussed on the principle that too many of our educational efforts are directed to the achievement of individual aggrandizement, and not to inherent and intrinsic human values, and the solution of human problems....is anyone paying attention?

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