Though I have no doubt David Brooks is unaware of us–especially since we almost never comment on him as he is firewalled–I was surprised to see that something of the idea of whom to ask critical questions about people places and things has crossed his mind:
>It happened just over a year ago in Key West, of all places. We’d come down for a conference organized by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and one afternoon two friends, Reuel Gerecht and Jeffrey Goldberg, squared off for a debate on the prospects for democracy in the Middle East.
>Gerecht and Goldberg are Americans whose fascination with Islam has taken them to *ridiculous places.* Gerecht, a former member of the C.I.A. clandestine service, spends an astonishing amount of time in spare rooms in Middle East backwaters talking fatwas in klatches with bearded fundamentalists.
>Goldberg has lived in a madrasa in Pakistan. His pieces from inside Hezbollah won a National Magazine Award for The New Yorker. In the fall he has a book, “Prisoners,” coming out about his time as a prison guard in the Israeli Army, and his friendships with the Palestinian detainees.
You read that right–“ridiculous places”–as if to foreshadow where we are going in this piece.
Believe it or not, these two individuals “disagree utterly about the path to Arab democracy.” But which *one* of them will be right? The Middle East is such a *ridiculous* place, so how better to resolve the dispute about its future between two ridiculously adventurous westerners (they actually went to the Middle East and talked to those people? That’s ridiculous!) than with a ridiculous analogy:
>The only way to reform the Middle East, Gerecht concluded, is by changing political institutions and enduring as the spirit of democratic self-government slowly changes society. *There will be a period of fever, but the fever will break the disease.*
What a fitting analogy! But wait:
>When it was Goldberg’s turn (the transcript is available online at pewforum.org), his first observation was that *sometimes fevers break the disease but sometimes they kill the patient*.
Zing! Excellent point Dr.Goldberg! How will the moderator resolve it?
>What this debate is really about is *the mother of all chicken-and-egg problems.* Can we use political reform *to spark* cultural change, or do we have to wait for cultural reformation before *we* can change politics?
The concept of agency at work in this piece is so 19th Century: why bother asking people from the land of the ridiculous to participate? (maybe, and this is admittedly a ridiculous suggestion, they have another view, or views). Surely they couldn’t have come up with the chicken and egg metaphor for their predicament–that’s why they’re ridiculous.