The Summer of Our Discontent

To paraphrase Churchill : Homo Sapiens will always eventually arrive at the right solution -- after trying everything else. Our question : how long and how many unnecessary deaths will it take ?
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Actually for me, it was a very pleasant summer highlighted by a superb Baltic Sea exploration on one of these huge, luxurious cruise ships : 16 days, 8 fascinating destinations including Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki and St. Petersburg.

I suspect it was very pleasant for many others. In fact, as I have argued in my recent book, Buffets and Breadlines, Is the World Really Broke of Just Grossly Mismanaged ? we have never been as rich in all of history. With a gross world product of about 80 trillion dollars for 7 billion inhabitants we have a potential of more than $10,000 a year for every man, woman and child on this planet : a first in human history.

Why then the discontent ? Principally because of the duality of contemporary human experience : good and evil, opulence and misery, intelligence and stupidity. The contrast on the cruise was startling : genteel affluence and conviviality on board and an avalanche of disasters depicted on the TV screens of the same ship.

Some of these disasters came courtesy of Mother Nature : earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, Ebola. But the others were strictly man made : beheadings in Iraq, mass killings in Syria, Ukraine, Libya and Gaza. They reflect unfortunate win-lose games in continuation of long historical struggles : enough to spoil the summer's serenity.

But my discontent was maximal when the bad news came from totally avoidable lose-lose games where there are no winners only losers. Today, we witness an amazing coexistence between intelligent win-win and masochistic lose-lose activities, juxtaposed upon each other.

Let me illustrate with two contrasting examples : The Baltic Cruise and the Gaza Conflict.

Although I am a frequent critic of contemporary capitalism, the Cruise was a textbook case of win-win. The passengers were very pleased, enjoying a relaxed trip with excellent accommodation and cuisine -- all at a reasonable cost. The ship's owners, doubtless, made a lot of money. The ship's crew, composed primarily of Indonesians seemed quite happy too : less paid than the Europeans but much better paid than in their home countries. Even the carbon footprint was probably smaller than the alternative of flying 2000 travelers to 8 destinations by air.

This win-win was based on economies of scale -- offering a wide variety of services to a large group at a small unit cost : an excellent example of the intelligent management of resources to the benefit of all.

In contrast an absurd lose-lose : The Gaza War.

Why "absurd" rather than just 'evil ?'

Because, independently of the validity of the opposing positions -- the legitimate Gaza grievances and the equally legitimate survival wish for the Israelis -- the tactics used by both sides were, in my view, definitely counterproductive, resulting in over 2000 unnecessary (and I stress unnecessary) deaths.

Here's why.

Gaza's best strategy would have been to pose as victims of a punishing blockade and mobilize world opinion, including U.S. opinion, in its favor -- a not impossible task. Instead Hamas did everything in its power to, on the contrary, rally almost everyone against it. The rocket firing at civilian targets was militarily useless. It killed four unlucky civilians and had zero effect on the military balance. Yet it antagonized world public opinion. In addition, the jihadist language of Hamas' official charter plus the public executions of so-called traitors in the main square of Gaza seemed ideally designed to disgust the world, already incensed by the beheading of James Foley. The confusion between Hamas and Isis became inevitable. Where was the Hamas PR Department ?

On the Israeli side, Israel best strategy would have been to concentrate on only neutralizing the tunnels, which constituted the only real military threat and primarily posing as the victim of terrorism. The air campaign against civilian targets and the killing of sleeping children in UN compounds did nothing to enhance Israel's image. What it did was to exacerbate anti-Semitism throughout the world and even alienate previous unconditional Zionists. The rise of anti-Semitism, in Europe, is now a source of major concern. Yet it was completely avoidable if better policies had been adopted.

Bottom line, more than 2,000 people died for nothing in particular. In fact, the recent supposedly sustainable cease fire, just reaffirmed the status-quo. No tangible improvements were achieved by either side

The Gaza tragedy of errors, is just one example of lose-lose actions and huge policy mistakes in today's world, strengthening the view that our planet is indeed grossly mismanaged. Other examples include the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, (obviously a stupid mistake), the Battle Royal which is now the Middle East, opposing everyone to everyone, the counterproductive austerity policies in Europe etc.

It may well be that the masochistic lose-lose games even outnumber the regrettable (but not irrational) win-lose struggles which have clear winners and losers.

In essence, my Summer of Discontent was fueled by the resistible rise of tragic stupidity to paraphrase Betroth Brecht.

The lose-lose games can and must be avoided by informing the potential players of (a) their counter-productive nature and (b) the existence of, at least, less bad, alternatives if, out of the box solutions were explored. There were certainly other and better ways of handling the Gaza, Problem, that's for sure.

To paraphrase Churchill : Homo Sapiens will always eventually arrive at the right solution -- after trying everything else.

Our question : how long and how many unnecessary deaths will it take ?

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