Too Little Too Late or Just-in-Time?


Moroccan King Mohammed VI, in a bold move to appease anti-government protesters, has announced a July 1 referendum on constitutional change. (File photo) Moroccan King Mohammed VI, in a bold move to appease anti-government protesters, has announced a July 1 referendum on constitutional change.

Is avoidance a basic human characteristic?  When faced with some potentially dangerous or disruptive event, is it in our nature to ignore it until there is no choice?  Lately, I have taken to calling the phenomenon “too late” and I wonder if it not part of our genetic inheritance.  I have thought about the subject off and on much of my life, mostly when I realized I had avoided facing some unpleasant situation until it exploded on top of me – leaving me suddenly unemployed, single, broke or injured from running.  But there have also been the times, like in the 1980s in Northern Nevada, when the side of mountain slid down, destroyed some houses and killed at least one person or a creek suddenly jumped its banks and brought havoc to everything in its path.  The mountain is called Slide Mountain and the creek Wild Creek; now doesn’t that suggest, at a bare minimum, one should have a contingency plan for that day – certain to come it would seem – when a part of the natural environment lived up to its name?   No one had, and in the years since I was contemplating those events  houses have been rebuilt in the path of the slides and rushing waters, the residents are again living in denial.

A classic example of a world in denial can also be found in the threat of nuclear war that hung over our heads especially during the early years of the American-Soviet standoff.  Herman Kahn wrote On Thermonuclear War in 1960; he tried to get the country to take the possibility of such a war seriously and begin to make plans.  Kahn argued that although many people would die, but some would survive; however, long-term survival of not just the core population, but of the nation required planning and we had best get started or face perishing or worse in those rabid anti-communist days – subjugation by Soviet Russia.  No one would listen, neither political party wanted to be identified with that kind of vision of the future; and the as for the rest of us, we wanted to buy stuff, drive big cars, watch television and have and enjoy our new found economic and social freedom– the pill was introduced in 1960 too.  The unpleasant is easier to ignore than to face and after all, the war did not materialize, did it?

This time around I started thinking about “too late because of the events in Egypt; Mubarak under the pressure of the events in Tahir Square made proposals to appease the public, but each move came too late.  It looked to me, an outsider, as if, made a year or two earlier those same proposals would have transformed Egypt and secured Mubarak’s rule.  The Egyptian debate and government responses directly mirrored the events in Russia leading up to the Russian Revolution.  If Nicholas had, say in 1900, begun a serious reforms, allowing for a truly representative government to compliment the monarchy and eliminated the corruption and favoritism, Russian history might have been very different.  The First World War and its impacts on Russia would have been the same, but the Tzar and his family would not have been the obvious villain; it is at least imaginable. However, he waited and offered too little, the literal too little too late.  Mubarak did the same, Assad is on his way to the that fate, as are Gaddafi and the leaders in Yemen and Bahrain too.

One can survey the news from the Middle East and even include Greece, Spain, Portugal and even Italy in the survey and find evidence of avoidance and “too late” thinking.  But maybe, just maybe an example of “just-in-time” also; the king of Morocco, King Mohammed VI on Friday made some very revolutionary proposals for reform. In brief, he is suggesting a constitutional monarchy, complete with a day a week when the prime minister – to be called the president of the government – will appear before the legislature to debate policy as they do in England. There were protests after his announcement, demanding more – some can only be satisfied with heads falling from the blade of the guillotine.  But, thus far the reaction from the Arab world has been very, very positive.  This could be not only be a move in time and not too late, but a fitting and logical “next step” in the Arab Spring and an example of real change, something we have not really seen yet.

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