March 4, 2024 | Rome, Italy


By |2018-03-21T18:45:21+01:00July 17th, 2011|Area 51|
Don't break windows.

y folksy adolescent world included ancients who reveled in proverbs and bromides. I delivered an evening newspaper and every month walked door-to-door to collect cash, checks and — with luck — tips. My busybody eagerness gave my customers pause, eliciting their proverbial advocacy. I was repeatedly told that haste makes waste; that I should look before leaping; think twice, and even sleep on it (on what wasn’t clear).

But as a jitterbug teen immune to motion sickness their advice sounded leaden. Until, that is, I hurled a newspaper from curb to porch, missing everything but the window, which shattered. It was a spontaneous toss, uncaring and not in the least malicious. That day I just couldn’t be bothered with walking the paper the door. Nor could I imagine missing.

Yet it was that throw, with its broken glass and concomitant consequences, that finally personalized the connection between the reckless pleasure of immediacy (liberating) and the characteristics of aftermath (wrathful). It gave the cautionary bromides their day in court. The man whose window I broke was less interested in my apologies than in the cost of a new window. Tail between my legs, I paid him later in the day from my meager savings (which I’d been setting aside to buy a TV with a tiny screen, a marvel of the then-modern era).

Deep into “disposable enchantment” postmodernism which puts “do something!” injunctions ahead of proverbial prudence, such memories can seem impossibly quaint. Jiffy pop adrenalin imbues even ill-advised fidgeting with “actionable” logic. App-policy produces bombing Libya, a reckless undertaking tantamount to repeatedly missing with a newspaper simply to prove that home delivery exists. Nondescript rebels are recognized and assisted against a tyrannical regime with the approximate goal of making the world a better place — so long as those doing the bettering, NATO et al, don’t die. Meantime, glass shatters, killing and confusing civil war-addled locals. Good guys and bad stew in the same juice, often indistinguishable. It’s a leap-before-you-look fire drill intended to feed urgency, which is hungrier than ever.

Why think twice, say policymakers? After all, the “liberation” is all about drones and laser-guided missiles, allowing the errand boys ample margin for error. Worst case scenario they apologize, which apparently works much better in 2011 than in 1967, when the man whose window I shattered told me “Sorry isn’t good enough” and wanted to know what was going through my head.

Libya’s “do something!” norms are in line with send button impulses. No, Facebook didn’t conjure up Moammar Qaddafi. Or make his recent atrocities any more or less atrocious that they were 10 or 20 years ago. But upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt did glorify the “do something!” spirit, encouraging a Smart device and Web-driven contagion of urgencies that rejects the cautionary proverbs of old as a hindering plague. Aim is cheapened. Mischief glows in the dark.

To impressionable addicts, this signifies the overturning of the anecdotal and cautionary checks that helped rein in my teenage hormones. Thinking twice is a waste of time. So is a night of reflection. Haste might make waste but dissembling can always temper a poor outcome. So can filing mishaps under some greater “whatever,” mischief’s dull snowplow. Unthinking action is the new mantra of being and reluctance an example of human system failure.

Old news perhaps — at least in the up-and-running digital age. But it’s news that gains daily momentum as the proverbial relationship between common sense, consequences and accountability loses moral traction, with collateral damage and its excuses built into every hit-and-miss delivery.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.