Are you, I wonder, a compulsive picture-straightener? Do things which appear unbalanced offend your sense of how the world should be? Many people seem, on the surface at least, to have a great sense of symmetry, and that is reflected in much of the architecture and environment we create for ourselves. We appreciate symmetry. We give prizes at the garden show for perfectly round onions and dead straight carrots – not that it makes them taste any better. We talk of a balanced diet, of work-life balance, and of a balanced personality, all as being good things to which we should aspire.
More seriously, the Cold War era was dominated by an apparent need to ensure a balance of power between Soviet and NATO forces – the reality of course was both sides secretly striving to see whether they could achieve some technological superiority over the other. Even when it is clear that things are very much out of balance – poverty, civil wars, climate change, etc – there are too many of us who think that all could be solved if only everyone else would start to play by our rules: western, democratic, Christian, capitalist, and whatever other adjectives you care to add.
Since the end of the Cold War, military thinking and doctrine has been dominated by “unbalance” by so-called asymmetric warfare. In simple terms, not only do the warring factions at the heart of the world’s current trouble spots not play by “our” rules – they’re not even playing the “our” game. Before we think of committing our service men and women to yet another Middle East conflict, we need to remind ourselves that ISIL and their like are playing by a very different set of rules. We need to be prepared to adapt our own methods in ways which might appear unpalatable, but if our team has to continue to play cricket, there’s no point in sending them against an opposition who are determined to play rugby.
The Revd David Smith, Parish Priest St George’s Tuffley & St Margaret’s Whaddon and Area Dean, Gloucester City Deanery