Monday, March 3, 2008

Roads Not Taken

The current issue of Resurgence magazine (published in Great Britain) contains an essay called "The Forgotten Map" by Manfred Max-Neef, who claims that the decisions humanity has taken in the past have led us to this place of global crisis. Since we got here by having taken the wrong path, the author suggests we should consider navigating the routes we previously discarded--if we want to arrive at a different place. The path we find ourselves on now , he says, is part of all the routes we did not choose. This holds true as much for individuals as it does for societies.

That has set me to thinking. What does it mean to take the road you had already chosen not to take? Is this even possible? Can we really take and not take the same road? Can we go back and revise the choices we made in the past? My conclusion is that sometimes it is possible to do this--to correct mistakes by a change of direction (a woman discovers she is married the wrong man, gets a divorce, and starts over)--but sometimes, it is not possible to reverse the consequences of a previous set of choices. As I've said at other points, some genies can't be put back in the bottle. Toothpaste can't be put back in the tube. Considering my own life situation, for instance, I understand that a combination of circumstances and conscious choices have conspired to my being alone as I grow older, something which at this point, no amount of rerouting can really alter.

The image that popped into my mind when thinking about all this was a chess board. Each time a player makes a move, it narrows the field for remaining choices, at least until that particular game is over, and somebody either wins or loses. There is no possibility for backtracking or changing a move once it has been made. To offer an analogy with the world situation, once the bus is headed over the cliff, can we still choose an alternative route? How many runic rethinks--of, say, consumer greed, cultural narcissism, the subprime mortgage debacle, or occupying Iraq, just for starters--are open to us at this point?

Virgil, that transrealmic surfer-dude alligator who loves to ride the cryptocurrents, tells me that since alligators have never aspired to wearing a diamond stud in each ear, they do not feel the same sense of menace humans do.

"Once man rose from the slime and began sauntering into cafes, he deepened his funk," Virgil explains. "Things might have turned out differently for the human race if molasses and bitumen had not been replaced by the mindset of money and world domination. Choices have dangers of their own; they tend to contract and get fewer."

Virgil thinks Barack Obama is in the best position to zap the remote--to change the station--because he never voted for the Iraq war and was opposed to it from the start. Whatever qualifications for "good judgement" might accrue from that decision, the real point is that OBAMA NEVER WENT DOWN THAT ROAD--and so his options to go in a different, more creative direction now are much more versatile than, say, John McCain's. McCain has staked his whole political identity on support for the war and on his alleged military acumen, so the option of more open-ended thinking is no longer open to him. He is too busy admiring his own accomplishments--stuck in a chess game configured by previous choices that have him solidly locked in. Inevitably, McCain will keep the heavy bells of war tolling no matter what, because the war is an adumbration of the values by which he lives. War is, after all, and as he likes to remind us at every turn, his SPECIALTY.

Anyone less locked in to that particular chess game, however, knows that the occupation of Iraq has created resistance--Iraqis have had enough of Western occupations and will continue to resist. There is no way to end this resistance without ending the occupation itself. Our presence there is the problem, not the solution. As long as we are there, the insurgency will continue to grow. So, if you wish to continue sitting among mattresses of the dead and beating an old tin can, cast your vote for McCain in the next election.

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