Looking around, Jan. 5, 2010: depressing op-ed edition

There is an ancient joke about four Jews sitting in a café, discussing the situation. The first three go through various “oy vey”s. Then the fourth (it could have been yours truly) announces that he’s an optimist. The others ask why, if he is an optimist, he looks so worried. He answers: “do you think it’s easy being an optimist?”

Today it’s not being made particularly easy by two depressing op-ed pieces:

  • Former Jerusalem Post editor (before that, Brussels correspondent of the Wall Street Journal) Bret Stephens wonders whether our civilization has become incompetent. Moneygrafs: “a civilization becomes incompetent not only when it fails to learn the lessons of its past, but also when it becomes crippled by them.[…]Our deeper incompetence stems from an inability to recognize the proper limits to our own virtues; to forget, as Aristotle cautioned, that even good things “bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage.[…] We can be proud of how deeply we mourn the losses of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. But a nation that mourns too deeply ultimately becomes incapable of conducting a war of any description, whether for honor, interest or survival. We rightly care about the environment. But our neurotic obsession with carbon betrays an inability to distinguish between pollution and the stuff of life itself. We are a country of standards and laws. Yet we are moving perilously in the direction of abolishing notions of discretion and judgment. […]One of life’s paradoxes is that we are as often undone by our virtues as by our vices. And so it is with civilizations, ours not least.

In other news:

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