Sunday, January 30, 2011

Divisiveness, Cultural Chaos, and the Monkey's Paw

It sounds like at least some major tourist destinations in Egypt are unaffected by what looks to me like the result of decades of resentment and too-tight control blowing off in messy spurts.

Still, the State Department's advice to Americans in Egypt seems prudent. Translated from diplomatese, the advice is: GET OUT NOW!

Remembering the Monkey's Paw

Or, 'Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it.'

There's a cautionary tale ("The Monkey's Paw," W. W. Jacobs (1902)) about a talisman that grants three wishes. It works, but there's a catch: there is a price for each wish. There's a point to the talisman. Written in 1902, the story has an 'and the moral of this story is' statement in it, woven into the plot more artfully than many.

My take on the tale is a little different: 'be careful what you wish for; you might get it.' You've probably heard that idea before. My guess is that it could be traced back to one of the ancient Greek philosophers, the court of an Emperor of China, and the Maurya dynasty; that all of them picked it up from someone working for Nebkha; and that 'be careful what you wish for' was already an ancient bit of wisdom then.

Mubarak's Egypt: A Nice, Tightly-Managed Country

Back to contemporary Egypt. They've got a president these days: Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has had the job since October 14, 1981. ("Egypt," CIA World Factbook (last updated January 13, 2011))

My guess is that President Mubarak would like to keep things pretty much the way they were back in the 'good old days,' before the Information Age.

I don't think that's going to happen.

I also think that what's happening in Egypt is a pretty good example of why it's not a good idea to run a nice, tidy, well-managed country where the masses are told what their social superiors think they need to know - and aren't allowed to compare notes with each other. Not beyond what happens in nice, old-fashioned places like the village square or its local equivalent.

Criticism Hurts; But Listen Anyway

Nobody, in my opinion, likes being criticized. I certainly don't. But, again in my opinion, it's a good idea to listen when somebody comes up with a new idea - or says that one of the old ones don't make sense. The other guy isn't always wrong.

Back in the '60s there were folks in America who seemed convinced that criticizing the president or 'the government' was, quite simply, treason. I can see their point: but I thought they were wrong then, and I still do.

It looks like President Mubarak is a little like the folks in "The Monkey's Paw." It seems like he wished for a nice, orderly, tightly-managed country where folks were allowed to express themselves. As long as they agreed with him.

He got his wish. But now, again in my opinion, it's time to pay for almost three decades of accumulated SNAFUs, and the resentment that's built up because they weren't dealt with adequately.

What's Mubarak's Egypt Got to Do With America?

I'm pretty sure that someone is convinced that Yankee imperialism is responsible for Mubarak's long reign. And that someone else is convinced that American oppressors are responsible for folks not appreciating Mubarak the way he'd like.

Some circles in this country seem to have a simple, one-size-fits-all, explanation for anything they don't like. It's America's fault. Sort of like the communist menace, except coming from another direction.

I don't doubt that America has had some effect on Egypt in recent decades. We live in a highly interconnected world, and America is one of the larger and more active countries.

But I really don't think that what's going on in Egypt is 'some kinda plot.'

I do think that President Mubarak is facing the same challenge that confronts America's old guard. This isn't the '80s any more.

Oh, For the 'Good Old Days?'

When I grew up, America was one of Earth's more prosperous countries: but most of us got our information from the newspapers, magazines, and - particularly after the J. F. Kennedy assassination - television news. And, of course, what we saw in the movies.

If news editors and studio executives decided we didn't need to see something - or that we wouldn't understand - most of us stayed uninformed.

I could get nostalgic about 'the good old days,' but my memory's too good.

Besides, I like knowing what's going on. Even if somebody with a nice title on the door thinks I'd be better off without the knowledge.

Hello, Information Age

America gets a new president every eight years, at least: which I think is a good idea. For one thing, I don't think it's fair to saddle one person with a high-stress job like that for too long; and for another, I think it's a good idea to swap out politicos at regular intervals. Bureaucrats, too. J. Edgar Hoover - and that's another topic.

I've discussed information gatekeepers - the folks who used to control what the masses were allowed to know - before. Also why I think they're a trifle frantic over the way that just about anybody can get at information they used to own.

No wonder some of the old guard are trying to 'protect' us from the wicked, wicked Web.

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Brigid said...

Stutter: "There's a point to to the talisman."

Shouldn't that be 'at most' since a term is four years and a president can run for a max of two terms: "America gets a new president every eight years, at least"

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Brian H. Gill said...


Thanks: I thought I'd caught all of those. Got it.

About the "at most" - that is an alternative, but I'm sticking with the text as written. I'm looking at the length of time we have to put up with any one individuals idiosyncrasies from - another direction.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.