I don’t know Jack

Via Andrew Sullivan, I learn that Ramesh Ponnaru of NRO’s The Corner  has never watched American Idol. I can’t make the same claim, alas: my teen-age kids were big fans a couple of years ago (they moved on as they matured) and I confess that I watched a couple of episodes with them before my ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Via Andrew Sullivan, I learn that Ramesh Ponnaru of NRO's The Corner  has never watched American Idol. I can't make the same claim, alas: my teen-age kids were big fans a couple of years ago (they moved on as they matured) and I confess that I watched a couple of episodes with them before my taste-o-meter rebelled.

But I am proud to say that I've never watched an episode of 24 or Lost, and I don't think I missed much. I read enough sky-is-falling, eve-of-destruction propaganda doing my day job, and I don't need to add to it in my off-hours. In addition to encouraging more permissive attitudes toward torture, shows like 24 also feed the mistaken beliefs that 1) the whole damn world is a vast and murky conspiracy, and 2) the United States possesses magical powers to monitor and shape events in real time. If that were really true, would we have marched into such deep quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan? The cruel reality is that political life is messy and unpredictable and most people in government aren't evil geniuses. (Well, OK, maybe Dick Cheney). Instead, they are mostly just ambitious human beings with the normal array of human frailties. We don't need the likes of Jack Bauer to save the day; what we need is a tough-minded recognition that life isn't fair, that bad things are going to happen no matter how hard we try to prevent them, and that victory often goes not to the side that is most ambitious but to the side that makes the fewest mistakes. 

Via Andrew Sullivan, I learn that Ramesh Ponnaru of NRO’s The Corner  has never watched American Idol. I can’t make the same claim, alas: my teen-age kids were big fans a couple of years ago (they moved on as they matured) and I confess that I watched a couple of episodes with them before my taste-o-meter rebelled.

But I am proud to say that I’ve never watched an episode of 24 or Lost, and I don’t think I missed much. I read enough sky-is-falling, eve-of-destruction propaganda doing my day job, and I don’t need to add to it in my off-hours. In addition to encouraging more permissive attitudes toward torture, shows like 24 also feed the mistaken beliefs that 1) the whole damn world is a vast and murky conspiracy, and 2) the United States possesses magical powers to monitor and shape events in real time. If that were really true, would we have marched into such deep quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan? The cruel reality is that political life is messy and unpredictable and most people in government aren’t evil geniuses. (Well, OK, maybe Dick Cheney). Instead, they are mostly just ambitious human beings with the normal array of human frailties. We don’t need the likes of Jack Bauer to save the day; what we need is a tough-minded recognition that life isn’t fair, that bad things are going to happen no matter how hard we try to prevent them, and that victory often goes not to the side that is most ambitious but to the side that makes the fewest mistakes. 

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt

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