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On Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Shakespeare, and the Enemy in the Mirror

Posted: 05/24/11 01:32 PM ET

With graduations and commencement speeches in the air, I've been, more than usual, in a philosophical mood this month. One of the things this self-reflection -- aided and abetted by a flurry of recent headlines -- has led to is a reminder that, in the game of life, as Cassius said in Julius Caesar, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars -- but in ourselves..." This was a frequent theme of Shakespeare's, who put it another way in All's Well That Ends Well, when Helena says: "Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, which we ascribe to Heaven."

Dominique Strauss-Kahn might likely have imagined the greatest obstacles to his ambitions to be President Nicolas Sarkozy or his chief rivals in France's Socialist Party. But while all the facts about what did or didn't happen in that $3,000-a-night New York hotel suite aren't in, it's clear that the competitor who ultimately did Strauss-Kahn in wasn't one of his political rivals, it was himself.

Likewise in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger has made a career of defeating opponents -- including me! -- both on-screen and off. But, in the final reel, he was undermined by an opponent much closer to home.

We see this dynamic played out on a national scale, as well. In times of economic stress especially, there is a tendency to look for the cause of the problems in some identifiable "other" group, race, religion or country. Before he flamed out -- the victim not of outside forces but of his own ego -- Donald Trump had begun to move on from birtherism to trying to finger China as the cause for our economic ills (including promising to tell Chinese leaders, "Listen, you motherf---ers, we're going to tax you 25 percent").

Now we certainly have our share of complex economic issues with China, but China is not the cause of our current hard times. To find the real culprits, we need not look beyond our own borders (indeed, all we need to do is tune into HBO and watch Too Big to Fail).

Others, looking for scapegoats, want to lay the blame for our troubles on Muslims. Or government workers. Or teachers. Or gay people. Or rappers. Or, or, or, or... In short, anyone but ourselves.

In the end, if we spent even a small percentage of the time we devote to obsessing about those we consider our rivals, competitors, and enemies on examining where our own fault lines are, it's hard to believe we wouldn't be more successful -- or at least less likely to be done in by our chief rivals hiding inside us.

Pogo had it right: "We have met the enemy and he is us." As my compatriot Socrates told us all those centuries ago: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

 
 
 

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