If there's one thing literature engenders, it's empathy for others. Necessary for the creation of complex and nuanced protagonists, flaws along with redeeming qualities teach us that there are few simple answers in life, and that understanding the human psyche is a lifelong endeavor.

That's why Azar Nafisi's poignant and beautiful book, "Reading Lolita in Tehran," resonates with respect for human dignity and freedom, almost as if it were an anti-war screed.

Perhaps this is why there is a direct correlation between education level and progressive political tendencies. It's not always so easy to understand that there's more to a complete and accurate reality of the world at large than what we may simply feel or think is corrrect. The triumph of Fox News among our increasingly illiterate American electorate is evidence of this.

Noted American novelist E.L. Doctorow mours the effect of the stubbornly wrong Bush and the detriment to our standing in the world.

I remember the millions of people here and around the world who marched against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneous aroused oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended national borders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the only war anyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all over he world most of the time.

But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding of millions of people that America was ceding its role as the last best hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classic archetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. The greatest democratic republic in history was turning its back on the future, using its extraordinary power and standing not to advance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but to endorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with the Neanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuring their survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.

A mixture of humanness, exhiliration and sadness washed over me this week after watching "The Motorcycle Diaries," an unheroic, intelligent and empathetic story of Ernesto "Che" Guevara's life-altering journey across Latin America. In the film, he and friend Alberto Granado travel across Peru and are changed by the disparity of wealth and justice.

As Guevara's once-prosperous Argentina, middle-class in appearance and custom, fell to the depths of a Third World economy, so it appears that, perhaps, we are, too.


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