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Managing Expectations

By ReligionJanuary, 2013January 22nd, 20244 min read

The key to happiness, they say, is low expectations. In business, we seek to manage the expectations of our customers to ensure they are happy (relative to the expectations we set for them). Parents are taught to lower their expectations of children’s behaviour and reward when these are exceeded. In bad times, sentiment is often that things are worse than they are. In good times, the reverse applies.

There is no absolute anything. Rather, everything is relative to expectations (much like the law of relative misery).

Why else is it that when Israel announces the construction of apartments the world media works itself into a frenzy, but when the Assad regime, day after day, bombs innocent citizens into oblivion, the world is silent? Again, it comes down to expectations. The world judges Israel to a standard of behaviour that is unattainable. The US sends drones all over Pakistan with many innocent lives put down to “collateral damage”. This is OK; it’s expected in the current iteration of the war on terror being fought by the Obama administration with no accountability and barely any press coverage. But Israel’s targeted strikes against terrorists planning attacks are expected to be as accurate as putting a camel through the eye of a needle, with nary a hair messed on adjacent human shields. Thousands upon thousands are killed in the Middle East and Africa in the name of Islam and no-one bats an eyelid. Clearly, in those cases, people don’t expect any better.

Which brings me to the so-called Arab Spring. The world was full of optimism as this movement spread rapidly. The rallies in the street, the use of social media and technology to bring together a large number of people in a way that could never be done before, brought an excitement to the West. Expectations were high that the population would not only force a revolution and overturn their despotic leaders, but would embrace democracy as its replacement.

But why? George W Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq only for it to quickly descend into tribal violence. The Palestinians held elections only to “choose” the Islamist Hamas (perhaps their election slogan should have been “you only vote once”). Time and again the world has seen that leadership vacuums are filled by those groups that have patiently laid in wait while being suppressed by the incumbent despotic rulers. So why were expectations so unreasonably optimistic?

Even now, after Egypt has completed most of its transformation into a Muslim Brotherhood-run Islamist state, Max Boot tells us to “have patience with the Arab Spring“. Why? He cites an article by academic Sheri Berman who offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany – countries that also went through bloody revolutions to eventually transform into well-established liberal democracies. But even they acknowledge (as Daniel Greenfield argues) that this took over a hundred years! So just sit back, relax, and be patient. Just a hundred or so Islamic Winters, the continued repression of millions, many hundreds of thousands of murdered innocents, a nuclear arms race featuring non-state actors lusting over what they might do with a portable dirty bomb, and the Middle East will eventually blossom into a picturesque Summer of Democracy. It’s a small price to pay, no? Even my own pragmatic peace plan set a timetable of just a few generations, provided things happen in the correct order (which they haven’t).

What has really happened here? Is this just a case of the natural human tendency to be optimistic? Are the Boots and Bermans of this world so blind to history that they cannot see what is unfolding before their eyes? This latest bout of expectation setting is more likely a result of cognitive dissonance by the Left, searching desperately for a scenario that is consistent with their view of society, and their false belief in the innate good within every human being.

It’s time the world took an expectations-based approach to the conflict in the Middle East. Are we being rational in the way we respond to different events? Is there a natural optimism that doesn’t really belong?

This was also posted at [Times of Israel].

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