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September 05, 2006


ghassan karam

Ammar, just a few observations on your post:

(1) Your idea that selfish acts are necessarily opposed to the common good has been challenged by many and obviously supported by some. The major challengeis embodied in the idea of Adam Smith whose concept of the "Invisible Hand" is regarded as one of the single most important principles in a free society. He stipulates, as you well know, that each of us are in constant pursuit of what is good for us as individuals and that as we pursue our personal welfare we act in such a way as to increase the common good; we act as if we are guided by an invisible hand. This idea that the private good is in harmony with the common one is the basis for free markets and capitalism.

(2)Your point about who is a real hero is an excellent one. We always need to be reminded of the fact that heroic acts are looked upon as being just par for the course by those who commit them. One does not go out to seek heroic acts because if you do then these acts will not be heroic.

(3) Yes "heroes are often riddled with guilt and even a sense of defeat" as they should be. If they they are not then there is no need for their heroic actions. Heroism is needed only in a world riddled with injusticeand uncaring. The more we become atuned to the signs of the times, the more we note the "bads" of this world then as Leopold said we sentence ourselves to live in a "world of wounds".

(4) And finally I believe that humanity will cease to exist if it does not make rational choices by design. We have no choice but to do that if the specie is to survive. Furthermore I disagree with your implication that a rational choice must not be one in reaction to a difficulty or development that has arisen but must be done in a vacuum. Is it possible to choose a fork in the road if that fork did not exist?


Hi Ghassan, and thanks you for you thoughtful comments. I am actually not opposed to the idea of the individual pursuing his self-interest, but I do have a problem with the idea of the Invisible Hand, because such belief is exactly what creates confusion in the mind between self-interest and the common good. Unless there is a certain amount of willfulness and design meant to balance between the two, one is bound to clash with the other. The belief in the Invisible Hand is a way for us is to shun our responsibility in undertaking such a balancing act and monitoring our motives, actions and their results, be they intended or not.

If history has taught us anything about ourselves it is that a healthy amount of skepticism and suspicion vis-à-vis our own motivations and basic drives is mandated by our own tendency to examine the world through the prism of our own self-interests and prejudices without giving much thought to the possibility that the Other might have a different way of looking at things, due to his/her own particular prejudices and views. This situation could easily lead to a clash of interests, not to mention personalities, and unless some thoughtfulness is applied here, no Invisible Hand is going to resolve the situation.

S for your second point, I did not mean to suggest that we should make choices in a vacuum, but my point is that oftentimes, societies and states wait unnecessarily for disaster to strike before they make adjustments in their structure, beliefs and choices. Disaster can often be averted and one can see them a mile coming, but here is exactly where the irrational tendencies and our greed serve to cloud our judgment. Disasters are not prerequisite for rational choice, vigilance is, and that constant struggle to balance individual interest with collective interest, and the collective interest of various groups with the common good of all.



I will have to re-read your comments, but just a couple of responses for now:

1. It is nice to wax a bit more philosophical/universal and less political now and again.

2. A professor once told me, "courage is doing what frightens you and then not getting any credit or recognition for it".

3. Hero's. Hmmm. You see, I could not agree with you more. Most of our heros, present and historic, typically had a salient momement or period of time. To me...a hero is a decent man who strives for decency...day in and day out, who doubts himself, challenges himself, does not get much credit and "does good for the sake of doing good".

To me...good and evil often blur into various shades and this is what makes my life so hard. You remember "Fiddler on the Roof"..."on then other hand..and then on the on the other hand". People often love people who have great certainity and faith in their cause and belief. Very certain people scare the hell out of me. Life is really so clear?

I would make a horrible leader...I would spend all my time with "gee...he sure has a point" and "yep...can't deny that".

Basic tenets...YES; freedom, kindness, generoisty, fairness, caring. Don't murder, don't torture, don't grab 100x more than you need...share with others. These are pretty clear to me.

Anyhow...I loved the post.


Ammar, I'm not sure I understood everything in that challenging post.

Discussing politics is easier.

But I feel like saying something anyway.

Balance is optimal.

One can not act like a hero everyday for the rest of one's life.

Occasionally, you'll need to do "selfish" things that you enjoy, otherwise you will question if being a hero is wise, or if you can sustain acting the role, or if you are being effective in that role...

Sometimes people do not need a hero to save them from a tough lesson, sometimes they would benefit more if they go through the lesson and learn something from it.

Ghassan, I'm not sure I agree that the private good is necessarily in Harmony with the common one ...

If society was homogenous and if everyone had identical values, maybe, but since there are infinite variations in our goals and values, then our private good might overlap with, or be harmonious with "common good" of another similar group of people, but not with a generalized common good.

Ok, I'm sleepy, if I did not make any sense, jump to the next post.


This is some powerful stuff man!!!

I just hope that 'carry the cross' does not have religious connotations.


stupid cross when will it disapear....

quest trust

Hi Ammar,
I listened last Wednesday to your interview on public radio on Dick Gordon show, the story. I was more ready to hear about the oppression and the tyranny in Syria but I was disappointed that Mr. Gordon made out of it a family affair. I hope in the future you will have the chance with other venues and programs to have a chance to show a voice for the opposition and dissident on the air in this country so we can start think that we are not afraid to say what on our minds.


Don't worry, Quest, there is will be more occasions in the future. I needed to do something different for once. In fact, I will be traveling extensively over the next couple of months touring many campuses and communities, and talking about dissidence and leadership, and development - all the issues that I believe in.

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