Monday, February 01, 2016

No Man's Land

Circa 2007/8 I stopped keeping track of Ethiopian current affairs/politics. I noticed that modern Ethiopian affairs went in cycles. The cycle involved some variations of strong, top-down government policies, protests, bad quality reporting, imprisonment, more protests, and release from imprisonment ... bla bla bla... 

Observation 1

Leaving reasons for/from all sides of the isles aside, personally I had two concerns with this cycle 1) I was spending valuable time to keep up with news of a platform that wasn't necessarily maturing over time 2) the process reminded me of one of Eisenstein's layman friendly observations, that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. 

So then I withdrew, which freed my time for other things. Like reading up more on the American election, scouring rural PA to canvass voters for Hilary Clinton (yes, I started out as pro-Clinton till she fried herself and Obama took over) and being chased by angry Republicans. Some people were really scary, like the one guy who yelled at me, "Didn't I tell you to get off my porch yesterday?", as he opened his door. A potential retort could have been, "Umm, no ... unless you think all black people look alike!" Instead I blurted 'Uh ... I've never been in this town before today in my life ... ", turned tail and bolted. Second amendment and all, no need to mess around! I would have made one pathetic page 10 corner of the local newspaper, "Today, a non-American citizen was shot dead by an angry swing-voter while canvassing votes for Hilary Clinton". I don't think so, but I digress ...

Over the following years, I continued to stay off of detailed Ethiopian news. I did look at some business news, and never gave up athletics (though athletics gave up on me!). In March/April 2015, I happened to be in Addis when they government okayed a rally to support(?) Ethiopians executed by ISIS (to date, I'm not sure what the purpose was) but I was amused to observe, the cycle was still going strong. I talked to our driver at the time why the rally ended on ugly terms and he said, "Federalochu hizbun CHefeChefut". I asked why. He said, "oh some kids threw rocks at them."


In the United States, assaulting a law enforcement officer can land one in jail for up to 25 years. As recent police brutality cases in the US show, curbing police brutality is actually a very difficult problem. I would think, the last thing one'd want to do in Ethiopia (or anywhere) is to f*ck with the police. And yet, there I was with our baffled driver who seemed surprised about how shit went down. Recall, "Insanity is doing the same thing ...."

Observation 2

I remember having a chat with a friend some time around 2009/10 where I  played the devil's advocate for ... everybody in the Ethiopian political spectrum. At some point he stopped me and told me I couldn't be for real, I must be hiding behind some fake image of "transcendent  fairness" I was trying to concoct/achieve. He promised me that one day, he was going to figure me out when I slipped or self-contradicted. Alas, I didn't get as many opportunities to talk to him post 2011,  so I don't know if my story stays glued ... I sure continue stay glued to my story.

The world makes a lot of sense if I take other people's positions and apply, to best of my judgement, some degrees of ignorance, fear( a lot of it!) and greed to their perspective. Then Rush Limbaugh, Mengistu, Haileselassie, our current government, the opposition ... all start making much better sense. I can begin to view the world in a space that doesn't contradict theirs too much and that, fortunately, allows me to be less and less upset by the state of affairs. Sure, I also have to wonder how these three forces are affecting my narrative, but that's a whole other topic. What I am left with is then arguments for all sides, and solutions for none. Upon first glance, this can seem apathetic ...

Recently, I listened to an NPR interview with Obama when he said, “Every once in a while, a pitch is going to come right over home plate that you can knock out for a home run. But you don’t swing at every pitch” And I thought, aha!

Aligning nitty gritty details, butting heads, cycles of futile engagements, misinformed discussions, etc ....  I don't see the point to them.  Ideals are great, until they distract from reality. The point for all concerned is not to swing endlessly, but to find those few knock out home-runs. This isn't just in politics, this is in everything.

I recently worked for a company where one of the most valued (and elusive) skills was "communicating for results."  Sometimes this meant that the right answer wasn't necessarily the best answer. The hardest part, I found, was detaching oneself from the right answer.

In the end, if we can't inspire results, what's the point of it all?

p.s. Coincidentally, the movie No Man's Land is a good illustration of the futility of polarization, fueled by fear and ignorance. Despite the grim topic it handled, I remember finding some of the dialogue ridiculous and laughing out loud in the theater (I think I was the only one laughing, I embarrassed my friend). Great movie!

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