Tuesday, April 25, 2006

From BDS to MOS

Recently, I posted about Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS) and how it is causing our national discourse to veer into the irrelevant and how that results in a diversion of attention from our very important work in Iraq.

But BDS did not manifest itself in a vacuum. There is another, much older ‘syndrome’ at work – and it is perhaps more dangerous because it has crept up on us over decades; so slowly that we don’t really notice it. What I am talking about is a malady I refer to as Microwave Oven Syndrome or MOS.

Thirty years ago, we were only too happy to stick a Swanson Hungry Man Salisbury Steak (mmmmmm! Salisbury Steak) dinner into our gas or electric oven and wait 45 minutes (or 60 if you wanted the cherry cobbler to come out right) to eat. After years of worries about waist level radiation killing our sperm and eggs - in about the year 1980 the microwave oven gained wide acceptance in the U.S.

Thus, in 1976 we thought that 45 minutes for our dinner was a miracle – while in 2006, if we don’t have our dinner in 4 minutes, 30 seconds we’re scratching at the glass of our 1000 watt, designer colored microwave ovens, whining that we’re sooooo hungry.

It should not take an Einstein to make the connection between our culinary expectations and our overall level of expectations in today’s world (or our waistlines). We want what we want…NOW!!!

Viewed at a distance, our dependence upon technology is very like the addict’s dependence on his drug of choice. When we can’t get it (whatever ‘it’ is) when we want it, or when it doesn’t provide the satisfaction we expect, we frequently lash out at whatever we deem responsible for our delayed gratification. The realities of any situation in which we are denied our God-given right to timeliness are not to be brooked.

Think about it: When someone gets sick and dies, or a child is born with grave defects, what is the likelihood today that someone will get sued? Modern medicine should be able to fix it we say, so somebody’s responsible for our unhappy outcome.

Now we have done this to ourselves by trumpeting the advances we have made and portraying them as perfectly normal, everyday phenomena.

The cult of modern marvels has led us to demand perfection – immediately.

While this syndrome pervades our entire society, the context in which I wish to discuss it is, of course, politics.

The 1991 Gulf War was a textbook example of how technology was portrayed as our saviour. Watching it unfold on television, more than a few of us had the feeling we were watching a video game. And just like in a video game, we saw no real blood, heard no real screams of agony, smelt no real burnt flesh.

The failures of that war were buried under an avalanche of images of a tidy, anti-septic, ‘operation’ which achieved its goal with a minimum of ‘coalition’ casualties and very little “collateral damage”. We thought, “Great! No more Vietnams or Koreas, just victory where everyone - or almost everyone - comes home safe and sound. Huzzah!”

But then, in 2001, we were hurt, badly. We demanded that something be done. And so it was. When, reminiscent of 1991, we took out the Taliban and deposed Saddam just like it was a practice military maneuver we all cheered. But, when the reality of the job we had to do ran into our ingrained notions of neat and tidy warfare resulting in immediate victory, we were dumbstruck. “How can this be? There isn’t supposed to be any blood, maiming, death. We’re not supposed to lose soldiers. We’ve been there a year, why haven’t we won yet?!” When victory was not ‘timely’ we decided somebody was to blame. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Halliburton, neo-cons, Israel, etc. Someone fix this, NOW!!!!

So now we see that for many of us, if we can’t get what we want immediately - or almost immediately – we don’t want to keep trying - we just want to quit.

It is not inaccurate or unfair to say that many in this country who currently hammer our efforts in Iraq would be crowing about our achievement had everything gone our way originally. So our aims and goals are noble, but we don’t want to pay any kind of price for them. We want a great victory immediately with no cost associated? Is that what I’m hearing? What kind of society produces people who think like that?

How many of us would put in the time and energy to go buy fresh ingredients and do the chopping, paring, blending, mashing boiling and baking necessary to make a fantastic meal – when you’ve got a Stouffers’ in the freezer? My guess is, including myself, not too many. But, if you did start it, you wouldn’t just walk out and get a burger with a casserole in the oven at 400 degrees, would you?

The good news is, as any accomplished cook will tell you, when you put in the effort and see to it that it’s right, the result is light-years beyond anything you’ll get in the supermarket’s freezer section.

We need time to help the Iraqis sort themselves out and stand up for themselves and organize a workable government. We cannot just walk away from a hot oven in a kitchen filled with kindling.

“Time is the essence of the culinary art.” So it is the essence of statecraft.

Banging on the glass demanding it be done ‘now’ is not helpful.


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