Friday, August 11, 2006

Victory, Defeat, Lottery Wins and Stumbling on Happiness

Tom Friedman in the Times today makes a valuable point, The Morning After the Morning After: which he phrases like this:
"With every war there are two days to keep in mind when the guns fall silent: the morning after, and the morning after the morning after. America, Israel and all those who want to see Lebanon’s democracy revived need to keep their eyes focused on the morning after the morning after."
His point is that, while there will be claims of victory by Hezbollah on the morning after, the real issue is what happens after that. This ties into Dr. Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness". He says we overrate the importance of key events in the future--how happy or sad we will be when our team wins, our candidate loses, or whatever. What really happens is that the event bobs briefly above the waves, but then sinks to its proper level among all the day-to-day events of living. We were all sad (not true, but that's the historical myth) when JFK was shot. We were all ashamed when the last helicopter lifted from South Vietnam. We were all elated when Armstrong took one small step. But none of those events, in themselves, contributes to our current glee or tears. We deal with the effects of them, but they're in some perspective now.

The same will apply if we "cut and run" from Iraq. Certainly Bucheney is right to say it would be hailed as a victory for al-Qaeda, just as he's been hailing it as a victory for freedom for these many years. When Reagan cut and ran from Lebanon, it was a victory for Hezbollah. But you can win victories and lose the war. You can win a war and lose a peace. You can gain hegemony for a time and fall into decrepitude.

Of course it's better to win victories. But in the long haul what counts is the day-to-day effects, the work, the intelligence, and the morality with which one strives.

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