November 14, 2011

The Great Cycle of Human Stupidity

Humans are unpredictably predictable. When circumstances surrounding us are overwhelming and pressing, we try to change them. Sometimes aggressively (with revolutions) some other times more passively (quitting your job). Interestingly, this also applies to love life: after a long run of dating people with characteristic "X", the next person you look for is someone with the opposite characteristic, because you now know the disadvantages of that personal trait. The pendulum metaphor is at work. In societies, the metaphor applies to politics, and of course also to matters of economic policy. Totalitarian societies (like Pinochet's Chile or Franco's Spain) topple regimes looking for the longed freedom they did not have before. Societies that reach economic freedom (the U.S.A.) realize that opening their borders to trade allows other nations to get in and "steal" profits from domestic businesses via price undercutting and fierce competition and look to revert this with protectionist movements.

It is always a traumatic event which causes the change in trajectory and a reset of a political journey with a new destination - a destination that often a past generation of men already visited. The new generation cannot hear the voice of wisdom and warning of the past one simply because they are not here with us anymore. And so, the new generation will again prove to itself why this "new" destination, so far located from the place where they currently are, is no panacea. Ignoring and not heeding the wisdom written in history books in an arrogant -maybe desperate- attempt to solve current overwhelming, pressing circumstances only to end up where past generations ended up at is, frankly, a clear example of historic myopia that touches stupidity. It is The Great Cycle of Human Stupidity.

How traumatic does the event have to be in order to push the current generation to change course? Let us hope not as traumatic as the darkest episode registered in modern human history. I am referring to the event that gave genesis to the biggest, boldest pacific intercultural integration effort humans have ever attempted.

Europe's impressive laboratory (mosaic) of human diversity and forced coexistence provides us with the best experiment to prove human self-destructive behavior, but also of humanity's ability to learn from past generations' mistakes. It seems that Otto Von Bismarck 1860's brilliance in juggling with the ego of other European leaders while preventing Europe's implosion -and keeping Prusia's integrity intact- delayed genocide some 80 years. Europeans had to live the horror of utter destruction with WWII to understand that nature's "decision" to give them a shared, crowded continent meant for them to see each other as a permanent neighbor who will simply not go away and will not be just "conquered", and that the alternative of tolerance is simply less costly that the alternative of extermination.

The effort of European integration initiated from WWII is at the brink of collapse, pushed by current overwhelming, pressing circumstances. The pendulum seems to reset its trajectory in reverse, marking the possible commencement of The Great Cycle of Human Stupidity. Let us hope the event that gave genesis to Europe's integration effort lingers in Europe's physique forever and it's not lost in time, and that Bismarck's contemporary colleagues understand the historic importance of the role they are playing these days.

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Translated from Spanish from my earlier note.

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