Learning from Mistakesby James E. Miller
May. 28, 2013
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The old idiom "you can lead a horse to water, but not make him drink" has proven itself true in the course of human learning. Or rather, it would be more accurate to label it man's inability to learn from mistakes. You can hold a mirror up to grotesque instances of hypocrisy, but most men will remain mules – stubborn in their prejudice and beliefs. The ability to heed lessons from blunders is, often times, a skill unable to be mastered by the mass populace. A child might learn to not touch a searingly hot stove, but adults are apt to accept their condition of intellectual stupor – even when it proves painful.
It's said the market process accounts for mistakes through the imposition of cost. This is true inasmuch as hemorrhaging income will inevitably result in bankruptcy. The problem is, man was not gifted with the same incentive to disregard plainly untrue, and even destructive, ideas. Like an abusive lover or a fond memory, the draw of allurement can be too intoxicating to let go. The innate learning process becomes corrupted in favor of emotional succor that accompanies comforting beliefs.
Take frail womanizer and disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner. His announcement to seek the Mayor's office in New York City brought about plenty of jokes at the expense of his anatomy-sounding name. Rumours have swirled about his possible run for months. At first, they were dismissed due to the sexual exploits that forced him from office. Now he is pulling an about face à la Bill Clinton and attempting to lift his public perception back from the toilet. Seeing as how Weiner's wife (that just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) is a former aide to Hillary "no shame" Clinton, the crushing ignominy of her husband's pathetic attempt to woo over girls will be suppressed. There is little doubt Weiner will be crowned king of the Big Apple considering the city's affinity for sleazebag politicians. After the Stalin-esque reign of tyrant Bloomberg, a philanderer who never made a dime in honest cash will seem like the second coming. The lies, theft, and heap of unscrupulous behavior that defines the state will continue under Weiner's watch. Except this time, New Yorkers will feel warm and fuzzy over giving someone a second chance; even as Weiner deserves as much forgiveness as former Governor and escort-lover Eliot Spitzer. Which means the charade of being a reformed "family man" will go uncontested.
Weiner's second coming (it is impossible to reference the guy without inadvertently writing a mind-gutter pun), touched by cognitive amnesia as it is, is mild relative to fellow political events. In the sociopath abode known as Congress, the gears of war are slowly turning for military intervention in Syria. The usual cabal of blood-dining war worshippers is sniffing out their next feast, all the while pressuring President Obama into interposing democracy in heart of the Middle East with the barrel of an M16. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a 15-3 vote, passed a bill that would arm rebels who are fighting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. The alliance of Syrian dissidents with radical Islamic elements, including Al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, does not weigh on the brains of elected imperialists. Supremacy is their target and whatever crazed, lunatic faction wishes to assist is given support.
Even this author will admit his own forgetfulness and ask: why are these Senators not yet behind bars, or worse, been assassinated by drone strike? The Department of Justice just confirmed the U.S. government was responsible for the murder of four citizens on account of their affiliation to terrorism – namely Al-Qaeda. These deaths were known about previously, but only now has Uncle Sam owned up to the deed. Anwar Awlaki, the most famous of these victims, was afforded no due process and was killed based simply off anti-American speeches. So why are Senators, who don't just speak of putting arms in the hands of "the enemy" but actively support the cause, still walking free?
The self-styled sect of foreign policy "realists" who inhabit spacious offices in Washington D.C. are totally on board with the arming of jihadists in Syria. These Straussian chin-curlers present themselves as being above the fray of moral considerations. To the realist, simpleton notions of "good," "bad," "right," or "wrong" are best left to the weak-minded folk. When confronted by the plain immorality of their hegemonic intentions, the term "gray area" is employed as they scoff at the immaturity of deductive reasoning. The foreign policy of these pragmatists is, somehow, indecipherable to anyone not residing within their bubble of influence.
But to assume foreign policy "realists" truly have America's best interest at heart, the arming of Syrian rebels still fails to pass the sniff test of common sense. Washington's last dabble into assisting the overthrow of an uncooperative regime backfired spectacularly. Libya, a country most Americans never heard of it prior to 2010, has been given over to Islamic radicalism in the absence of Muammar al-Gaddafi. Ambassador Chris Stevens infamously lost his life as a consequence of the coup, and its doubtful he will be the last. The disastrous invasion of Iraq has resulted in more sectarian violence than before Saddam Hussein's ousting. Each intervention sows the seeds for another imperial adventure somewhere down the line – like a domino effect initiated by a meddlesome child. With fresh new sanctions on Iran and the war drums being sounded more forcefully and rhythmically for bloodshed in Syria, perpetual war, and the needless death it carries, show no signs of stopping. Instead of learning from the horror, the people clamor for "victory."
If the basking in the holy light of incessant warmongering were not enough to prove human stubbornness, the recent tornado in Moore, Oklahoma should solidify my dispirited contention. The E-F5-measured storm obliterated everything it came in touch with, leaving an estimated $2 billion worth of damage in its path. Thousands lost their homes and face indefinite displacement. It's only a matter of time before Keynesian devotees declare the storm an economic boon for the Sooner State. And I can only imagine the affectionate gaze from neoconservatives who revel in societal demolition.
The only thing that could make the Oklahoma tornado worse was if it could have been prevented. Unfortunately, due diligence says that yes, if the people had heeded earlier warnings, the catastrophe could have been largely avoided. Back in 1999, a tornado of similar strength tore through the same area. Experts calculated a 1% possibility of such an event happening again. Even in a world of measurable science, statistics is often a cruel predictor.
If that were the only enticement at work, the victims could be spared a bit of empathy. But the state, in an ongoing battle to capture hearts and minds, provided another form of encouragement: disaster insurance. When the government compensates victims of natural disaster with stolen money, it explicitly sends a signal to the receiver that relief will be available at any time in the future. It's actually an anomaly to call government disaster relief insurance considering it's a guaranteed payout regardless of circumstance. Unlike private insurance brokers, politicians and bureaucrats require no prior qualifications to dole out tax dollars – other than reassuring for themselves a safe reelection. It's hard to say how many Moore residents were baited into living on a proven path of destruction. Washington's readiness to aid the irresponsible was an assurance many, no doubt, kept in the back of their mind. The bleeding-hearts in the press who scream for disaster relief every time a barn topples over reject this lesson, seeing as how it renders their orchestrated compassion useless.
The mule, being a universal symbol for stubbornness, has become indistinguishable from the average news and politics ingester. Toeing the carefully-planned ideological path of media personalities, divergence from party line is a hurdle most pedestrians are incapable of clearing. When espousers of an ideology commit, or lend support to, a policy that is costly in terms of money or moral character, no apology is given. The same refuse-to-repent mindset seeps over the rest of life's experiences. The man who sees himself as a firebrand is nothing but molded clay. It almost makes apoliticalism appear as a mark of intelligence.
Immanuel Kant famously referred to humanity as "crooked timber;" widely regarded as a reference to mankind's inherent nature to sin. We accept this characterization, laugh at it, and offer no rebuttal to its existence. What's not done is a forthright attempt to continually rectify our wrongs and pursue truth – even when it conflicts with inner bias. It's far less painful to not acknowledge faulty logic. Perhaps there is a law of human nature for this, waiting to be discovered. If someone were to look back, many a millennia from now, and attempt to put his finger on man's core fault, they could certainly formulate one.
James E. Miller is editor-in-chief of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada. Send him mail