A hungry young fighter versus a lazy old champion


President Idriss Deby Itno was sure that missiles were smuggled by al-Qaeda (File)

Before I say what I have been thinking about for the last couple of days, there is an update from Libya.  Al-Arabiya has a story from Chad. The president of Chad said that al-Qaeda branch in North Africa has captured surface to air missiles belonging to Libya.  He also said that he did not know how much al-Qaeda was involved in the events in Libya, but that it was present, active in Libya and a threat to the stability of Africa and the Mediterranean region. It no longer seems to me that Gaddafi had totally lost contact with reality when he was raving about the presence of al-Qaeda in Libya – okay, maybe I still think he was a little off when accused Islamic radicals of spiking the water, milk and coffee of the youth of Libya.  Certainly Iran and al-Qaeda have an interest in destabilizing Libya and replacing Gaddafi with some one more friendly, just as the forces involved in the intervention have.   There does seem to be some evidence for some outside Islamic forces at work.  That is not to say there are not legitimate protesters against oppression and those seeking a more democratic and more open society also fighting Gaddafi.

habib mianindias

Now, the question I really wanted to pose today – is old age the underlying factor in the unrest in the Middle East?   There are some common denominators in all of the countries experiences civil unrest in the region; the most obvious is religion – but I think up to this point it is equally obvious that religion has played a minor role.  Although most of the countries involved have secular governments and governments that have been intolerant of religious politician parties – still the protesters have for the most part made secular arguments for political and economic freedom – religion has made a minor part of the dialogue up to this point.

The common denominator that strikes me as being possibly the most relevant is age – the governments are old and lack any internal mechanism for renewing themselves.  In democratic countries, elections allow for renewal – as conditions change and new generations emerge there is an opportunity for the policies of the government to evolve with the conditions.  The opportunity arises with every election and every campaign for public office; candidates make their case and are forced to try to convince the voters to select them.  They do that by advocating policies designed to suit current conditions and the needs of the voters.   In the Middle East, the countries with the greatest current difficulties do not have efficient mechanism to allow for change.  The worse case scenarios are those with an individual leader that is also old.  An old man (they are all men) who lead a revolution in his youth, but in his old age wants no change, but like Mubarak and Stanley Ho, just wants to keep everything the same, maintain his power, his wealth and ego.  I suppose at some point it is a vain attempt to hold on to life.

But I think there is more to it than that desire.  It is an interesting and intriguing question for me, maybe because I am old.  In business, in art, in government and in science one can see a change in creativity as people age.  Even the great Albert Einstein’s most creative periods were early in his life.  Maybe we are all one trick ponies – Issac Newton, Bill Gates, Sam Walton, Chairman Mao and Muammar Gaddafi.  Possibly it has nothing to do with age, it might just be success.  In the pre-success times of Mao or Einstein they had the time and the energy to focus intently on one thing – sometimes more intently on that subject than any other person ever had.  It took Charles Darwin the rest of his life to completely flush out and articulate the ideas he developed in those few short years of the voyage of the Beagle.  During that voyage he had nothing else on his mind but what was on his mind – no children to feed, no women to please, no speeches to make, nothing but the evolving world unfolding before his eyes.  That kind of focus can produce some amazing results.  And then, youth is a period when there are fewer responsibilities and stresses again allowing for that single-minded focus characteristic of genius.

There is also the hungry theory in athletics – an up and coming athlete is said to be hungry, while a champion and established athlete is said to have lost his hunger.  Hunger being a metaphor for drive, ambition, determination and focus.  There was a great quote today on Lets Run – a running website from a Kenyan runner about hunger:

“On a track in Kenya, say, you have a great number of Olympians and major athletes all there at one time. They’re all watching each other and pushing each other all the time. Some of them are earning lots of money, but they’re living in camps with no electricity, no water, that are horrible, dirty, awful. I remember saying to one of them ‘Why are you staying here? This is a pretty awful place.’ He said: ‘See that beautiful house up there on the mountain? That’s my house. If I live there I’ll become fat. Here, I’m sharing a room with a 17-year-old who wants to kick my backside. I’m not going to let him do that.'” – Glasgow University lecturer Yannis Pitsiladis, who has argued that success in sports is not linked to genetics, but rather other environmental/living factors.

The runner kept hungry by avoiding the rewards of his success.  Mubarak and Gaddafi, Einstein and Gates moved into the houses on the hill.  They hung out with guys that flattered them, not the ones that challenged them.  So the question is: Can an old government survive, can it serve the changing needs of its population?  Rephrased the question can apply to business at Microsoft or Walmart; in sports to the New York Yankees or the Green Bay Packers; it can be put in terms of scientists, artists and almost any other human endeavor.  Or conversely does success mean complacency and set the stage for defeat and a new champion? So that is my question, are the events in the Middle East  driven as much by aging governments’ in ability to adapt to any change as they are by hungry young people eager to take center stage?  Aren’t those really just two sides of the same phenomenon?

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1 Response to “A hungry young fighter versus a lazy old champion”


  1. 1 Ken Adams March 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    I found this to be a thoughtful piece. There are of course counter examples. Exxon comes to mind as does Ford of companies that have reinvented themselves along the way. In the political arena many of the world’s democracies could be cited–including our own. The two fundamental flaws of autocracies are clearly the all-too-human temptation of succumbing to corruption and brutality and the shadow effect whereby the dictator fails to accommodate succession except by his offspring. Both flaws make dictatorships brittle and one-dimensional. I therefore prefer the (sloppy) democratic process even when it can lead to governments inimical to our “national interests” and/or “civilization”.

    Why would you accept the president of Chad as a reliable source? He was basically saved by Gaddafi a few years ago (Libyan troops operated there). Chad receives considerable aid from Libya and is its main source of mercenaries. It seems quite logical that it would try to plant “independent” verification of Gaddafi’s al-Qaeda claims, particularly in the form of a scare tactic. I would make some further comments as well. I have a fundamental disagreement over the uses and abuses of al-Qaeda. I suggest to anyone that whenever they read the word they substitute for it “bogeyman”. It casts a particularly illuminating slant since I believe that the term has become just as useless as “terrorist” in explaining anything. William Douglass


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