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Reader question:

In this paragraph – In Pakistan and Afghanistan, anything that fuels the sense of an American crusade against Islam puts moderates on the defensive1 and empowers extremists. It is hard to think of a more self-defeating policy – please explain "self-defeating".

My comments:

A self-defeating policy is one that works against itself and will not succeed. Self-defeating means causing exactly the same problems or difficulties you're trying to deal with. It is quite similar to the Chinese idea of 自行瓦解, meaning something will break down and disintegrate2 on their own.

A self-defeating policy must have measures that are contradictory3 to its purpose. For instance, the US war on terror was presumably aimed at capturing Bin4 Laden5 (and isolating6 Islamic extremists), but the measures the Bush Administration has taken, such as launching wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus sweeping7 mail-checking, phone-tapping and other civil-liberty infringements8 affecting the general public at home have led to feelings that the terrorist attacks have merely been used as an excuse for increased executive power at the expense of normal democratic process. The upshot is anti-American sentiments and sympathies for extremism have risen in Islamic countries. And, according to reports, Al Qaeda recruitments have increased also. Support at home for Bush, meanwhile, has dwindled9 away. Bin Laden, of course, is still roaming his caves.

Now, let's address something closer to our daily existence and talk about what are called self-defeating behaviors. These include feelings of inferiority, fear of failure, dependency, compulsiveness, obsession10, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, lack of motivation, procrastination11, lying, fear of the unknown, negativity toward others, inability to say 'no', never on time, excessive daydreaming12, unrealistic expectations of others, excessive guilt13, poor planning, losing temper etc, etc.

As a young person, I was guilty of most things listed above, I readily admit. Today, I'm still guilty of procrastination, poor planning and occasionally losing temper. These are self-defeating because they prevent us from becoming the very persons that are, well, free of these less-then-constructive conducts.

What are your negative behaviors, by the way? Can you clearly identify them? It's ok. You don't have to tell me about them. I don't want to know - I've got my own problems to worry about, I assure you :). I mean, self analytical14 criticism is ok, isn't it? It's not like having to answer to judgments15 from others. I believe one can never do too much self-criticism (not too much, please. I'm afraid excessive self-criticism is also self-defeating) so long as we do it without outside pressure. In fact, if you do that and improve over your deficiencies, you'll never have to bother what others have to say about you. So there, what a deal!

Anyways, here are two more "self-defeating" examples from the media:

1. Step 3: Catch Yourself from the Chasm16 of Self-Defeating Thoughts

Our thoughts can easily become a downward spiral. While dwelling17 on a self-defeating thought pattern, if we do not interrupt it and consciously bring ourselves out, we can become paralyzed by fear and lack.

You can shift your emotions and interrupt your self-defeating thoughts by:

Changing your language. - Instead of saying I can't do this because I don't have enough experience. Try changing your language to I don't yet have much experience with this, but I'm confident I could master it. Let me start today.

Changing your physiology18. - Get up and move around. Do something different that dramatically changes your current physical state. Do 20 jumping-jacks while singing happy birthday. This is a powerful tool to interrupt any thought patterns.

Changing your focus. - What are you focused on? Explicitly19 find something else to focus on for awhile.

- Six Steps to Deflate Self-Defeating Fears,, December 13, 2007.

2. What makes the war on terror self-defeating?

First, war by its very nature creates innocent victims. A war waged against terrorists is even more likely to claim innocent victims because terrorists tend to keep their whereabouts hidden. The deaths, injuries and humiliation20 of civilians21 generate rage and resentment22 among their families and communities that in turn serves to build support for terrorists.

Second, terrorism is an abstraction. It lumps together all political movements that use terrorist tactics. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Sunni insurrection and the Mahdi army in Iraq are very different forces, but President Bush's global war on terror prevents us from differentiating23 between them and dealing24 with them accordingly. It inhibits25 much-needed negotiations26 with Iran and Syria because they are states that support terrorist groups.

Third, the war on terror emphasizes military action while most territorial27 conflicts require political solutions. And, as the British have shown, al Qaeda is best dealt with by good intelligence. The war on terror increases the terrorist threat and makes the task of the intelligence agencies more difficult. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still at large; we need to focus on finding them, and preventing attacks like the one foiled in England.

Fourth, the war on terror drives a wedge between "us" and "them." We are innocent victims. They are perpetrators. But we fail to notice that we also become perpetrators in the process; the rest of the world, however, does notice. That is how such a wide gap has arisen between America and much of the world.

- A Self-Defeating War, by George Soros, Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2006.


1 defensive buszxy     
  • Their questions about the money put her on the defensive.他们问到钱的问题,使她警觉起来。
  • The Government hastily organized defensive measures against the raids.政府急忙布置了防卫措施抵御空袭。
2 disintegrate ftmxi     
  • The older strata gradually disintegrate.较老的岩层渐渐风化。
  • The plane would probably disintegrate at that high speed.飞机以那么高速飞行也许会四分五裂。
3 contradictory VpazV     
  • The argument is internally contradictory.论据本身自相矛盾。
  • What he said was self-contradictory.他讲话前后不符。
4 bin yR2yz     
n.箱柜;vt.放入箱内;[计算机] DOS文件名:二进制目标文件
  • He emptied several bags of rice into a bin.他把几袋米倒进大箱里。
  • He threw the empty bottles in the bin.他把空瓶子扔进垃圾箱。
5 laden P2gx5     
  • He is laden with heavy responsibility.他肩负重任。
  • Dragging the fully laden boat across the sand dunes was no mean feat.将满载货物的船拖过沙丘是一件了不起的事。
6 isolating 44778bf8913bd1ed228a8571456b945b     
adj.孤立的,绝缘的v.使隔离( isolate的现在分词 );将…剔出(以便看清和单独处理);使(某物质、细胞等)分离;使离析
  • Colour filters are not very effective in isolating narrow spectral bands. 一些滤色片不能很有效地分离狭窄的光谱带。 来自辞典例句
  • This became known as the streak method for isolating bacteria. 这个方法以后就称为分离细菌的划线法。 来自辞典例句
7 sweeping ihCzZ4     
  • The citizens voted for sweeping reforms.公民投票支持全面的改革。
  • Can you hear the wind sweeping through the branches?你能听到风掠过树枝的声音吗?
8 infringements c954281a444bb04eab98d2db6b427383     
n.违反( infringement的名词复数 );侵犯,伤害
  • It'seems to me we've got to decide on wider issues than possible patent infringements. 我认为我们不能只考虑侵犯专利可能性这一问题,要对更大的一些问题做出决策。 来自企业管理英语口语(第二版)(2)
  • Wikipedia relies on its users to correct errors and spot copyright infringements. 维基百科主要依靠用户来纠正错误,并发现版权侵权行为。 来自互联网
9 dwindled b4a0c814a8e67ec80c5f9a6cf7853aab     
v.逐渐变少或变小( dwindle的过去式和过去分词 )
  • Support for the party has dwindled away to nothing. 支持这个党派的人渐渐化为乌有。
  • His wealth dwindled to nothingness. 他的钱财化为乌有。 来自《简明英汉词典》
10 obsession eIdxt     
  • I was suffering from obsession that my career would be ended.那时的我陷入了我的事业有可能就此终止的困扰当中。
  • She would try to forget her obsession with Christopher.她会努力忘记对克里斯托弗的迷恋。
11 procrastination lQBxM     
  • Procrastination is the father of failure. 因循是失败的根源。
  • Procrastination is the thief of time. 拖延就是浪费时间。
12 daydreaming 9c041c062b3f0df80606b13db4b7c0c3     
v.想入非非,空想( daydream的现在分词 )
  • Stop daydreaming and be realistic. 别空想了,还是从实际出发吧。 来自《现代汉英综合大词典》
  • Bill was sitting and daydreaming so his mother told him to come down to earth and to do his homework. 比尔坐着空想, 他母亲要他面对现实,去做课外作业。 来自《现代汉英综合大词典》
13 guilt 9e6xr     
  • She tried to cover up her guilt by lying.她企图用谎言掩饰自己的罪行。
  • Don't lay a guilt trip on your child about schoolwork.别因为功课责备孩子而使他觉得很内疚。
14 analytical lLMyS     
  • I have an analytical approach to every survey.对每项调查我都采用分析方法。
  • As a result,analytical data obtained by analysts were often in disagreement.结果各个分析家所得的分析数据常常不一致。
15 judgments 2a483d435ecb48acb69a6f4c4dd1a836     
判断( judgment的名词复数 ); 鉴定; 评价; 审判
  • A peculiar austerity marked his judgments of modern life. 他对现代生活的批评带着一种特殊的苛刻。
  • He is swift with his judgments. 他判断迅速。
16 chasm or2zL     
  • There's a chasm between rich and poor in that society.那社会中存在着贫富差距。
  • A huge chasm gaped before them.他们面前有个巨大的裂痕。
17 dwelling auzzQk     
  • Those two men are dwelling with us.那两个人跟我们住在一起。
  • He occupies a three-story dwelling place on the Park Street.他在派克街上有一幢3层楼的寓所。
18 physiology uAfyL     
  • He bought a book about physiology.他买了一本生理学方面的书。
  • He was awarded the Nobel Prize for achievements in physiology.他因生理学方面的建树而被授予诺贝尔奖。
19 explicitly JtZz2H     
  • The plan does not explicitly endorse the private ownership of land. 该计划没有明确地支持土地私有制。
  • SARA amended section 113 to provide explicitly for a right to contribution. 《最高基金修正与再授权法案》修正了第123条,清楚地规定了分配权。 来自英汉非文学 - 环境法 - 环境法
20 humiliation Jd3zW     
  • He suffered the humiliation of being forced to ask for his cards.他蒙受了被迫要求辞职的羞辱。
  • He will wish to revenge his humiliation in last Season's Final.他会为在上个季度的决赛中所受的耻辱而报复的。
21 civilians 2a8bdc87d05da507ff4534c9c974b785     
平民,百姓( civilian的名词复数 ); 老百姓
  • the bloody massacre of innocent civilians 对无辜平民的血腥屠杀
  • At least 300 civilians are unaccounted for after the bombing raids. 遭轰炸袭击之后,至少有300名平民下落不明。
22 resentment 4sgyv     
  • All her feelings of resentment just came pouring out.她一股脑儿倾吐出所有的怨恨。
  • She cherished a deep resentment under the rose towards her employer.她暗中对她的雇主怀恨在心。
23 differentiating d3096d547199751d1b8d0cb8d931d402     
[计] 微分的
  • They succeed in differentiating the most commodity-like products. 在最通用的日用产品方面,它们也能独树一帜标新立异。
  • The simplest and most effective method of differentiating areas is to use different colours. 区别面状要素最简单而又行之有效的办法,是使用不同的颜色。
24 dealing NvjzWP     
  • This store has an excellent reputation for fair dealing.该商店因买卖公道而享有极高的声誉。
  • His fair dealing earned our confidence.他的诚实的行为获得我们的信任。
25 inhibits 7fbb1ac5e38d9e83ed670404679a2310     
阻止,抑制( inhibit的第三人称单数 ); 使拘束,使尴尬
  • A small manufacturing sector inhibits growth in the economy. 制造业规模太小有碍经济增长。
  • His bad English inhibits him from speaking freely. 他英语学得不好,这使他不能表达自如。
26 negotiations af4b5f3e98e178dd3c4bac64b625ecd0     
协商( negotiation的名词复数 ); 谈判; 完成(难事); 通过
  • negotiations for a durable peace 为持久和平而进行的谈判
  • Negotiations have failed to establish any middle ground. 谈判未能达成任何妥协。
27 territorial LImz4     
  • The country is fighting to preserve its territorial integrity.该国在为保持领土的完整而进行斗争。
  • They were not allowed to fish in our territorial waters.不允许他们在我国领海捕鱼。
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