America's Auto-Immune Disorder

America's Auto-Immune Disorder

January 26, 2006

I wrote this piece for subscribers just after the London bombings last summer. With only small changes in the first line, it is as relevant today. As you know, I believe that changes in communication s technology are among the most important drivers in the world today. People from Colombia to Kenya and Buffalo to Bangalore can now watch each other wake up every day.

People in poor countries watch our TV shows. They have determined that 1) we are very rich, 2) it is probably not because we are smarter, work harder, or are better looking than us–it is access to capital. They have learned they are poor and they don’t like it. We have to come to terms with the new communications and figure out how to grow together.

Viewers in rich countries can now see just how poor their neighbors are every day. Some choose to ignre it. Some are trying to do things to help poor people become rich. Some react by turning poor countries into demagogs, making them responsible for all our problems. Most of all, people become frightened they will lose their wealth and living standards. That’s why this is such a politically contentious time, both in the US and around the world.

As the article below argues, I don’t have time to be scared; there is too much to do. And I don’t have much patience with people who use their energy being scared. Fortunately, throughout history, frightened people always adapt and go back to their normal activities. When they do, investors will pump the $2 trillion in cash they are sitting on back into the stock market and managers will plow their cash hoards back into capital spending. I want to be there when the price go up.

I hope you enjoy the piece.

News stories from Iran, Venezuela, and other places have a lot of people crawling into their bunkers again. That’s a big mistake.

Over the past 40 years I have traveled 15 million miles, wandered around South America, Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, and made more than 100 trips to the Middle East. I have good friends in all those places. I have been searched by 16 year old soldiers with machine guns, I have been detained by officials with stars on their shoulders but no brains in their heads. I have been in air raids and happened into food riots. I have been stopped by tanks. I am still here.

The world has never been safe; it never will be.

There are 300 million of us; whoever is mad at us can’t get all of us.

The big risk is not the risk of dying; it is the risk of not living.

It is not possible to spend enough money to protect people from other people who want to hurt them. The result would be man-on-man defense, just like in basketball. When I was 18 years old I lived for a time in West Berlin. The East German guards on the other side of the fence walked in pairs so they could keep an eye on each other. they were not having fun.

We should not pretend we can deliver total security. People should take more responsibility themselves for being alert to danger.

The real price of delivering excessive imaginary protection is not the money we pay the TSA employees at the airports, it is our loss of identity, which is a form of auto-immune disorder.

Biological Immune systems do not work by having a list of bad guys to look for. They work by being able to recognize “me”. When a healthy immune system encounters a cell, it is able to determine whether the cell is “self”, in which case it allows it to pass, or is “other” in which case it attacks, kills, or repels the invader.

Auto-immune disorders, such as AIDS, are situations in which the immune system loses the ability to identify itself and makes mistakes of both kinds, killing itself as a result. In that senses they are exactly loss of identity.

The most damaging long-term effect of terrorism is that we have become so focused on obtaining order that we are losing our identity.

In the case of America, our identity is to take risks, try things, and welcome strangers. Fear has driven us into our bunkers, behind our TSA guards, and into racism.

The good news is that we can fix this problem ourselves by remembering who we are.

We need to quit whining and get back to work.


John Rutledge

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