Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Alexander Method

One of the most important Life Lessons I learned from my Mama (after "keep your back to the wall" and "never give up the ship") is the Alexander Method.

No, not the ergonomic exercise system.

Rather, the approach Alexander the Great took to solving the conundrum of the Gordian Knot (see here for a proposed topology of how it was actually constructed).

In ancient Gordium there was a great knot, of which it was said by the oracles that anyone who could untie it would rule over all of Asia. The knot defied all attempts to unravel it for centuries until Alexander arrived in 333 B.C. as he was beginning his conquests.

And rather than tug and pry uselessly at the untieable knot like all his predecessors, Alexander solved the puzzle by taking out his sword and slicing it neatly in two, an early example of "thinking outside the box" as well as of taking direct, decisive action.

And he went on to rule all of Asia.

Looking at the Middle East, we see a similarly tangled knot that has defied all attempts to unravel, made up of various tightly interwoven strands: Radical Islam, Arab Imperialism, World Oil Supplies, Dictators, Mullahs, Al-Qaeda, Corrupt Monarchies, Israel/Palestine, European Economic Interests, Nuclear Proliferation...

Now, John Kerry claims to be able to cleverly untie this knot. He claims that if elected President, he's going to carefully ponder this knot's twists and turns, and deftly pry out the Al-Qaeda strand without disturbing the others too much.

Good luck with that!

The link above explains the historical Gordian Knot was probably a trick, a closed loop with no "free ends" to get a hold of, that was knotted around itself and then shrunken to be impossible to undo.

The Middle East problem is likely analagous. By design, the apparent self-interest of the West has been tied to the preservation of the failed states of the region. Otherwise it would have been solved by the world over the last 50 years, no?

And so George Bush, on the other hand, is using the one sure-fire way to succeed: the Alexander Method.

He has begun hacking away at this knotty mess and has severed several key strands, but the knot is thick, and is not yet completely undone. And those who want certain strands to remain are trying to restrain him.

But undoing this knot is all or nothing. And it will take at least another term to cut through it completely.

That is the fundamental question before us in the upcoming election: by what method will the Gordian Knot of the Middle East be approached?

By nuanced attempts to unravel a knot that has no free ends?

Or by the Alexander Method?


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