Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Age of Ineptitude

What is wrong with our government that it can't, e.g., keep the data on its own government employees out of the hands of the Chinese? Why doesn't President Obama do something?

And why, to ask an impertinent question, does the director of the Office of Personnel Management still have a job? Last week a Nobel Laureate resigned his sinecures because of a stupid joke. But OPM Director Katherine Archuleta, testifying before Congress, declined to resign.

I will tell you what is going wrong. There are two things.

First, our government class operates under the world-view that a perfect society is possible with government by the right sort of people with the right sort of evolved world-view, and government should be conducted by rational processes advised by technical experts. To them, the only problem is that we have not yet applied a sufficient amount of reason and expertise.

This, you will agree, is a new idea, at least since the notion of the divine right of kings took a tumble. In the high ascendancy of Dickens in Bleak House, for example, it was received opinion that government was corrupt and inept, from its law courts to its Circumlocution Office staffed by Barnacles and Stiltstockings. But no longer. Today we are all taught from our cradles that the failures of government result from insufficient government.

Second, under Chantrill's Law of Government, the sole purpose of government is to occupy territory, tax its inhabitants, and reward the government's supporters. So of course the government lets Lois Lerner retire on full pension. And of course all the failures don't result in anyone getting fired. These are the government's supporters, silly.

It all dovetails. Government failures don't faze the governing class because their faith in their own rationalism and social evolution and expertise blinds them the possibility that they could be horribly, foolishly wrong and inept.

And this inability to see no evil, hear no evil, descends down to the everyday tasks of government like health care and education. Nobody really serously looks at the government failures in things like health care or education. Because that would mean casting aspersions on Our Healthcare Professionals and Our Teachers.

And yet it is nothing for people to blast capitalism to kingdom come whenever some tiny safety defect turns up in a consumer product.

I am reading J├╝rgen Habermas' Between Facts and Norms and it is driving me crazy. This is a guy that wrote a two volume tome on The Theory of Communicative Action where he developed the notion to have the dominative systems of the modern world in government and business balanced by the intersubjective dialog in the face-to-face "lifeworld." But Between Facts and Norms assumes that the rationalizations and actions of people like him are the sole requirement for a just and flourishing society. Everything can be solved by passing laws, administering bureaucracies, and issuing regulations.

No! The requirement for a just and flourishing society is that we can and we do fix our mistakes, starting with the recognition that almost everything humans do is wracked with mistake and error and that only painful effort enables us to undo our mistakes and move forward. That must mean, for starters, that when educated and evolved people lead society down a rabbit hole following their religious or secular faith there is a possibility for someone to say: "hey, this isn't working" and to have people listen. It means that the governing class should not have the power to inflict their faith on the rest of us without the rest of us being able to rise up and say: No!

Jim Geraghty writes that "An NR commenter calls our current system of government an “ineptocracy.”" I tell you what I call that. I call that a start.

We have got to lose the current Panglossian zeitgeist that looks fondly on our present age as the best of all possible worlds as long as the right people are in charge, and we must rebrand it as the Age of Ineptitude. There is no silver political bullet that leads us from the dusty plains to sunlit uplands. There is only the climb, one step at a time, interspersed with discouraging retreats whenever we find that we have been on the wrong trail that leads to the bottom of an unclimbable cliff instead of around it.

Meanwhile, we must go work in the garden.

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