Quite surprisingly, what may turn out to be the world's most fitting epigram in our time was uttered by none other than the official spokesman of the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority, Ghazi Hamad.
According to the Jerusalem Post yesterday, Mr. Hamad told his fellow Palestinians to dismiss Israel's responsibility for the growing state of anarchy and lawlessness in the Gaza Strip. He said it was time for the Palestinians to embark on a soul-searching process to see where they erred. "We're always afraid to talk about our mistakes. We're used to blaming our mistakes on others. What is the relationship between the chaos, anarchy, lawlessness, indiscriminate murders, theft of land, family rivalries, transgression on public lands and unorganized traffic and the occupation? We are still trapped by the mentality of conspiracy theories -- one that has limited our capability to think."
I pray for this man's safety after he said such a sensible thing in such a lunatic place. But what takes his comments beyond a brave, local wisdom to a shrewd global insight was his epigrammatic conclusion: "We have all been attacked by the bacteria of stupidity." "We have lost our sense of direction and we don't know where we're headed."
That seems to sum the world up pretty well. From Iran, Lebanon, Gaza and Israel to the leadership of the Republican and Democratic Parties in Washington, to the governments of most of Europe and South America, to the local, state and federal officials responsible for Katrina recovery, to the U.S. State Department, it is hard to spot any leadership that is both sane and competent.
The leadership of Iran, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Venezuela seem politically competent, but they're nuts. Most Western leaders seem at least clinically not insane, but are wandering around bumping into large objects.
The West is being run, more or less, by the most incompetent generation of middle-aged white men since the 6th century -- when they let the Roman Empire collapse without providing for an alternative (other than the Dark Ages.)
When did Americans forget how to fix things? From the Big Dig in Boston, to the Katrina aftermath (where the Corps. of Engineers announced this week that a year later the "repaired" levees couldn't hold back a Category Three hurricane), to our Southern border -- things are broken and can't seem to be repaired.
Maybe the public schools should reinstate those wood, metal and print shop classes they required us boys to take until the mid-1960s. Apparently, we are devolving rapidly back to the Lemur stage of primate tool use skills (no offense intended to my Lemur friends who struggle on bravely without the advantage of opposable thumbs. We middle-aged white guys, on the other hand, seem to have become all thumbs.)
Not that we should let off the hook women and people of color who also hold positions of responsibility in government. The recently re-elected mayor of New Orleans's almost absurd incompetence and lethargy in the face of his duties puts him right up there with the white guys in Boston who have proven themselves utterly unable to build and maintain a tunnel. D--- it, prairie dogs build tunnels better than Bostonians.
And our once estimable secretary of state, Ms. Condoleezza Rice, has proven to be a more able concert pianist than conductor of diplomacy. I have talked to some very senior figures in Europe and here at home (Bush supporters, no less) who were staggered by the secretary's failure to nail down the terms and conditions for troop deployment with France before permitting the French resolution to go to a vote in the Security Council.
It used to be the attribute of adult homo sapiens that when they tripped, they got back up on their hind legs and moved on. But today, we seem to stay on all fours -- often with our heads in rather unfortunate places.
For instance, after tripping in Lebanon, The State Department seems to have decided to start giving money away to Lebanese, willy-nilly, in some demented compassion contest with Iran's Hezbollah cutthroats. Conservative critics, equally dazed, demand not a penny be spent -- as a matter of some principle.
The rather obvious competent policy option -- that seems to be ignored by both sides -- is to calculatedly offer Lebanon not only money, but things Iran can never provide: diplomatic, business, engineering and other help, re-integration into the international world -- on condition that the Lebanese government behave in various ways inimical to Hezbollah. In fact, most Lebanese want to move in that direction, but need our help.
But our State Department, once again panicked into premature action, offered free money, while conservative critics just want to run off with their ball -- when there is an important game to be played -- and won.
Some people of a theological bent see the current mess as a sign of God's imminent apocalyptic plans for us. And they may well be right. I prefer, however, to look on the optimistic side and consider that there may just be a politically curable stupidity bacteria in the air. But it certainly seems like a pandemic.