Sunday, June 14, 2009

Doing Nothing

My good friend, intellectual nemesis, and eminence grise who often comments here under the spiffy and original nickname "Anonymous" sent me a link the other day to this interesting article by Thomas Sowell: Varieties of Nothing.

I think about nothing all the time, as you know if you're one of my long-time readers. Many other people think about nothing, too. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince touched on the subject in his song "Raspberry Beret," when he sang about his boss's low opinion of him at work: "It seems that I was busy doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before..."

But we're not here to discuss Prince, or

or whatever he's calling himself this week...

Mr Sowell began by noting that "there are many varieties of nothing, and some kinds of nothing can get very elaborate and complex," and then went on to discuss the sublime intricacies of nothing as they relate to his view of the current administration in Washington and the United Nations. I hope you will forgive me if I quote him at length, because his writing is wonderful:

"...On the international stage, the great arena for doing nothing is the United Nations.

"We have, for example, been doing nothing to stop Iran from getting nuclear bombs, but it has been elaborate, multifaceted and complexly nuanced nothing.

"Had there been no United Nations, it would have been obvious to all and sundry that we were doing nothing--and that could have had dire political consequences at election time.

"However, thanks to the United Nations, there is a place where political leaders can go to do nothing, with a flurry of highly visible activity-- and the media will cover it in detail, with a straight face, so that people will think that something is actually being done.

"There may be televised statements and counter-statements--passionate debate among people wearing exotic apparel from different nations, all in an impressive, photogenic setting. U.N. resolutions may be voted upon and published to the world. It can be some of the best nothing that money can buy.

"Even when United Nations resolutions contain lofty and ringing phrases about the "concerns" of "the international community" or invoke "world opinion"-- or perhaps even warn of "grave consequences"-- none of this is likely to lead any country to do anything that it would not have done otherwise."

Some of the best nothing that money can buy. Priceless. There's more, but you get the idea.

It's easy to make fun of the UN, and I do it all the time. While pursuing my masters degree I suffered through a class in "International Organizations," in which the professor strove mightily (and failed resoundingly) to convince us that the UN was a dynamic and relevant organization. A forum for national representatives to make lofty speeches, complain about each other, and blame all the ills of the world on the United States and Israel, to be sure...but dynamic and relevant? Well, if you believe that, I can make you a good deal on swamp land in Florida.

One of the major activities of the UN is the provision of "peacekeeping" forces to various locations where the populations, left to their own devices, would probably settle their differences through extreme kinetic diplomacy. But it doesn't even do that very well. There's an interesting short article by James Gibney in the July/August issue of The Atlantic titled, Unleash the Dogs of Peace (not available online yet), in which he recommends getting rid of UN peacekeepers in favor of hiring good old mercenaries to do the job. UN peacekeepers, coming largely from countries whose armies aren't good for much other than hiring out as peacekeepers, tend often to be better at drug trafficking, abuse, and illicit arms sales than at protecting the innocent. Would mercenaries be any better? Well, maybe not, but if we're going to pay for nothing, we might as well pay for professional nothing.

Closer to home, we frequently lambaste our government for doing nothing in the face of crisis. When there's a 9/11 or a Hurricane Katrina or vast floods along the Mississippi, the cry goes up across the land: why doesn't the government do something? Of course, as soon as the government does something, there arises the outrage that the government is doing the wrong thing, or doing it ineptly ("you're doing a heckuva job, Brownie!"), or is using the crisis as a sneaky way of imposing its evil will on us, and depriving us of our right to own howitzers for home protection.

Clearly, it's safer to do nothing, especially if you can do nothing behind a great cloud of smoke and a forest of mirrors that will make it look as if you were doing something.

Wow! Even I didn't think I could write so much about nothing.

But I could hardly avoid the inspiration provided by Mr Sowell's excellent article, and the sterling examples provided by the UN and my own government.

Have a good day. Do nothing. More thoughts tomorrow.



John said...

I'd love to leave a comment...but I've got nothing!

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Doing nothing sounds fine to me.

Mike said...

Your post today is 'much ado about nothing'.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I'm not doing anything, so I left a comment.

allenwoodhaven said...

So it would appear that nothing can be something, but if that is true, then was it really nothing?

The best excuse for doing nothing is to call it meditation. People will leave you alone and even be quiet so as to not disturb you.

Philosophic musings are one of my favorite ways of doing nothing. As one scifi/fantasy book put it,"Infinite are the arguments of mages." I guess that goes for diplomats and bloggers too!

SusieQ said...

Thomas Sowell is one of my favorites. I have several of his books.

General Dallaire was in charge of the U.N peacekeeping forces in Rwanda during its trouble in 1993-1994. He pleaded with the U.N. Security Council to give him some more troops (around 4000) to protect the Tutsis. He was convinced that this would be enough troops to stop the slaughter of the Tutsis. But the U.N. refused supposedly due to pressure from the United States. As a result close to one million Tutsis were murdered. This a fine example of the U.N. doing nothing.