Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jolly Ol' Folly

I’ve been reading Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly (1984). Current events too numerous to list would very nicely qualify by her criterion to be included in the pageant: building nuclear power plants on earthquake faults; building nuclear power plants at all when benign alternatives are available and economically competitive; going for the golden greed award in a democracy, expecting people to be fooled all the time; taking actions to address terrorism that increase terrorism (violence begets violence); despoiling the biological system on which we depend for sustenance; seeking permanent psychological and physical safety and security in a corrupt, utterly and patently illusory social-political-religious paradigm.

Tuchman’s book begins its survey of folly with Troy and advances through the 3-4 popes presiding over the worst excesses of the Papacy, ironically during the Renaissance, enumerating very worldly, sometimes bizarre and certainly decadent church doings to include orgy, torture and murder, inter-city squabbles, alliances and betrayals with France, Spain and Germany all at a time when some of the greatest art of western culture was being created. Tuchman goes on to document the loss of the colonies by totally avoidable British folly, then on to the colony’s subsequent Vietnam folly. History offers far more examples than Tuchman is able to deal with in one volume but her point is made, namely that pursuit of policy contrary to self-interest, her definition of folly, has been with us and we can expect, surprise, to see it’s ugly head raised with the usual frequency in future. The lesson is hardly academic since we must live with the consequences and in a democracy we have opportunity to participate in perpetuating foolishness or stand in opposition.

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