22 Mar 2006
The Beauty of Being Able to Say “I Was Wrong”…
Being able to admit that we made a mistake is a rare gift these days. Politicians cling on to decisions that everyone else knew to be a disastrous mistake months ago (Tony Blair’s recent restating that he was right to invade Iraq being a timely example). There is something rare and somehow wonderful about someone who held one position very strongly taking a fresh stock of the situation and deciding that actually, in all honesty, that position is untenable, and that despite the stick they’re going to get for changing their mind, they feel they have to do it.
I was very touched to read an excellent article in Monday’s Independent by Johann Hari (who looks about 12 in his picture, but actually turns out to be a very baby-faced 27), called “After three years, after 150,000 dead, why I was wrong about Iraq” in which he changes his mind about the invasion and occupation of Iraq, having been consistently in favour of it. It is an excellent article, in which he berates himself for his shortsightedness in not having foreseen the current chaos.
>The evidence should have been clear to me all along: the Bush administration would produce disaster. Let’s look at the major mistakes-cum-crimes. Who would have thought they would unleash widespread torture, with over 10,000 people disappearing without trial into Iraq’s secret prisons? Anybody who followed the record of the very same people – from Rumsfeld to Negroponte – in Central America in the 1980s. Who would have thought they would use chemical weapons? Anybody who looked up Bush’s stance on chemical weapons treaties (he uses them for toilet paper) or checked Rumsfeld’s record of flogging them to tyrants. Who would have thought they would impose shock therapy mass privatisation on the Iraqi economy, sending unemployment soaring to 60 percent – a guarantee of ethnic strife? Anybody who followed the record of the US towards Russia, Argentina, and East Asia. Who could have known that they would cancel all reconstruction funds, when electricity and water supplies are still below even Saddam’s standards? Anybody who looked at their domestic policies.
I would like to take this opportunity to mark the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and to honour the many many thousands whose lives have been lost in this tragic and ruthless pursuit of oil and strategic positioning. As one of the millions who marched against the war, on the protest in Dublin which was the largest protest in the history of the Republic, I still find it infuriating that such an overwhelming show of public opinion was so completely ignored. Wherever we are and whenever we can we must reaffirm the belief that the war was wrong and ought never to have happened. I thoroughly recommend Robert Fisk’s article “The Iraq War: Three Years On – The march of folly, that has led to a bloodbath”, in which, as usual, Fisk tells it like it is.
As the reality of peak oil makes itself more and more obvious to us, we can only hope that the skill of being able to admit that we were wrong is one that we collectively learn pretty fast. At what point will Michael Lynch, Vaclav Smil, Peter Odell and the other ‘peaknik bashers’ who deny peak oil has any factual basis concede that they were actually wrong? Will it be when the evidence is hugely overwhelming, or will they, like Hari, have the ability to take fresh stock of the situation and acknowledge that they had, in fact, been wrong? This will be a time when we need to be flexible and responsive, not sticking to fast positions in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. My sense is that the practical solutions-based approach that is emerging as a response to peak oil and climate change, be it Energy Descent Action Planning, or whatever form it may take, has to create an environment in which people can gently arrive at this point without feeling that they will be pilloried or viliefied for having changed their position. “I told you so” serves no-one.
I, for example, have to admit that when I was 18 I boldly announced to anyone who would listen that I would never learn to use a computer, and that computers somehow symbolised all that was wrong with the capitalist West, but that I was above that kind of thing and would distain from ever tainting myself with this unecessary technology. Now, here I am running a website. I was wrong. There, that wasn’t too difficult now….