When I worked at a certain UN organization, I used to make fun of the fact that one of its sections had been renamed the Division of Foresight. But the more time I spend in Beirut, the more I think that the idea isn’t such a bad one. After all, there are always ideas about expanding the number of ministerial portfolios, and I think that what Lebanon really needs is a Minister of Foresight.
One can see the lack of long-term vision on a daily basis. The cab driver would rather insist on a double fare and not pick anyone up than take regular fares and fill his car. The landlord would rather have a building full of high-priced empty apartments than a building full of tenants who pay a fair rent. The shopkeeper would rather overcharge a customer once than have his business over the long term. And this extends to all spheres of Lebanese life, political and social. There seems to be an idea that the only way to get ahead is by fucking someone else over. The Lebanese have yet to learn that while you can shear a sheep many times, you can only skin it once.
My landlord, while trying to get out of paying to repair the hot water heater told me this today: “I am Lebanese. You know what this mean? It mean, I know everything.” And in a way he’s right, because this country is full of people who think they’re smarter than everyone else and who want to prove it by screwing everyone else over. You see it in the driving, in business, in social interactions and in everything else.
And while one might argue that the country’s instability is responsible for such short-sighted thinking, I’m not so sure it isn’t the other way around.