Some of the criticism of the garbage crisis smells worse than the garbage itself
Sometimes I wonder if some of the vehement critics of the garbage crisis in Lebanon realize how little change their endless complaining is bringing.
To be sure, the symbolism of the situation is uncanny. Can there be a more powerful metaphor for corrupt politicians than actual piles of garbage laying about the streets of our capital uncollected? This is comedy gold. Even the most jaded of observers will be tempted to make a joke or two about our “stinky” politicians. It is also fodder for a most deep and visceral revulsion: How shameless and unaccountable should our politicians be to take us for granted like this?
But then you realize a week later that people are still making the same jokes and displaying the same tantrums of indignation. And you start wondering why the initial, natural disgust with “corrupt politicians” did not progress into a more sophisticated search for solutions, a process that consists of weighing bad options against each other and finding the least bad and most sensible one. You’d think people get tired eventually of wagging their fingers and start rolling their sleeves. Surely everyone must realize how low this fruit is hanging; we really get it: Our politicians are corrupt.
United by outrage and nothing else
In the past, I used to be harsh on Lebanon’s serial outrage manufacturers and revolution peddlers. It didn’t make sense to me that a bunch of otherwise intelligent people actually believed that a ragtag group of outraged youngsters and hippies can really effectuate change in a system so deeply intrenched such as ours, no matter how colorful their facebook language is or how numerous their “likes” are…
But then I realized that the Lebanese are wary of conflict. That a situation that is so obviously black and white like the garbage crisis can be an opportunity to unify the divided Lebanese in outrage against a caricature James Bond villain of “Corrupt politicians”, a conveniently amorphous and unspecific target. The problem is that as soon as we start getting into the details, the Lebanese will snap back into their divided selves.
This dynamic creates an incentive to treat outrage as an end in itself and to extend the froth as much as possible. Remember, more outrage equals more semblance of unity: We the good people of Lebanon are united against the bad corrupt politicians. For that to last, it is crucial to avoid getting into the inconvenient nitty gritty of trying to find solutions. One tactic to extend the life of outrage is to find martyrs (preferably a protester that was hurt by a politician’s entourage) and heroes (some army general that supposedly saluted the protesters who peddled him with garbage).
But all this is trickery and gaming the system eventually ends as it always does. That house of cards can’t get too high. It invariably crashes and takes the form of a collective sulking on facebook, about how the Lebanese deserve their politicians, about how we are “sheep” who always vote for the same people, about how we are happy that we have left lebanon for good, about how we will never learn from our history, about how sectarian we are, about how things never change.
But then the next crisis comes along and the outrage machine starts humming again…