Paul Greenberg

Sometimes they form on their own, the sentences do. Like rain from clouds. I don't so much write as record them. Like a secretary taking dictation. The sentences are just there in the morning, waiting for me. A psychiatrist could probably explain it, or rather diagnose it. Writing Behavior, I think it's called.

Oh, I may have to do a bit of editing here and there, like a gardener trimming back an overactive philodendron, but nothing more than that. But until they're written down, expressed, exorcised, the thoughts won't go away. For example:

People tend to get wrought up over politics, even overwrought in election years. Especially in presidential election years. Especially in an age when, religion having dried up for so many as a source of their deepest emotions, politics has become the new dogmatic belief. And, just as before, the unbeliever must be ostracized, the heretic shunned, the witch burned. Common civility may be too much to expect. (You should see some of my e-mails. Then again, maybe you shouldn't.) But all this will pass. Specifically on November 5, 2008. The morning after the long political binge, passions will ebb. We who disagree will be forgiven and accepted again. At least by the best. The rest we will have to forgive. As a point of honor. As an example to ourselves. As a matter of common civility. No civility, no civilization.

"Civilization and Its Discontents" - that's what Sigmund Freud called his book. He was our own Joseph, interpreter of dreams. Few of civilization's discontents can have been as civilized, even stodgy, as Dr. Freud. He was as old-school in his personal demeanor and habits as his ideas were new and daring for their time. It's not easy for the civilized to act like discontents. So the more adventurous among us seek them out - and soon have reason to wish we hadn't.

Who could be more civilized than Ingrid Betancourt, dual citizen of Colombia and France, woman of the world, presidential candidate from Bogota and toast of Paris? She was going to go into the jungle and show the world how to make peace with the terrorists, who were really just misunderstood freedom fighters.

Six years later - six years of unceasing fear and danger, intermittent sickness and desperation - she was rescued. Along with three American military contractors and 11 Colombian soldiers, including a Colombian army captain, Juan Carlos Bermeo, who had been held for nearly 10 years. "I burst out crying when I heard the news," his father told Colombian television.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.