I’ve been thinking about how White Houses in the past would have prepared for the events of last week. I know that’s a stretch given that it’s hard to imagine any other administration but Trump’s contesting an election past all legal and reasonable recourse and/or encouraging a demonstration against Congress (and a Vice-President) performing their constitutional duties. Nevertheless, if you compare what might have happened in normal times with what actually appears to have happened last week, you get a sense of a dangerously dysfunctional administration.
During my time in government, the FBI Director had at least a weekly time slot with POTUS during the morning security briefings during which he would brief on internal security issues. As I remember it, the Director of National Intelligence and the POTUS briefer would also attend, although I can imagine a topic so sensitive that the room would be cleared.
The FBI Director arguably should have been aware of the reports of criminal plotting by some planning to demonstrate at the Capitol on January 6. We know that at least one FBI officer had warned of the possibility of violence and that the warning was shared with other law enforcement agencies. We also know that law enforcement officials had advised known troublemakers not to go to the DC event and that they had enough information in advance to arrest a Proud Boys leader as he arrived in the District. I haven’t seen any reporting, however, on whether or not the FBI Director was also directly told of this assessment. (This is a common problem/failing of warning intelligence; it isn’t always shared with everyone who needs to know. And even when it is shared appropriately, many people don’t take it seriously.)
Assuming the FBI Director was aware of the reporting, then it would have been his duty to inform the White House, if not the President, about the possibility of criminal activity at the Stop the Steal rally. If they still occur, the weekly briefing would have been the appropriate setting for the FBI Director to bring up the issue, although I doubt the briefing is still a regular event. It would have been a sharp “speak truth” moment but a necessary one for the President’s own safety. Informed by the FBI briefing, POTUS and/or his advisers could have chosen to cancel his speech or more likely explicitly warn the crowd not to act unlawfully.
So that’s how the process would have worked in a more normal administration. My guess would be that this process has decayed or been completely abandoned. I’ve always been opposed to process for its own sake, but I have to admit that this scenario highlights the importance of having a reliable, rigorous approach to crucial issues, such as national security.
In addition to highlighting the importance of a consistent approach to national security, the consideration of how the scenario would have unfolded in a more normal administration reveals several other questions that need asking.
First is how aware was the FBI Director of the threats that his officers were picking up on social networks prior to January 6? If he wasn’t aware, then he needs to reexamine how information flows in the Bureau. If he was aware, did he forward the warning to other parts of the government? Did he for example inform the Secret Service, responsible for the security of the President and Vice-President? (One would hope so.) Might that be the reason the President did not accompany the marchers to the Capitol, after saying he would? Would a desire to avoid having to answer such questions explains the FBI Director’s lack of public comment to date?
But if the President and/or White House were in fact warned about the potential for violence and did not alter their plans, then their complicity appears clear, even if they were not involved in the planning beforehand. If they weren’t informed about the threats, then they are probably to blame for creating an environment where government officials don’t want to deliver bad news or see no purpose in speaking truth to power. A dangerously dysfunctional administration.
I was asked recently whether the Intelligence Community, and CIA specifically, would be able to go back and return to normal in a Biden presidency.
My answer was NO!
You might think that I was blaming the damage done to the CIA’s credibility and claim to authority in the past four years.
And there is that. But my real point was that the IC and the CIA should not WANT to go back to the way things were. The “way things were” wasn’t optimal then and has become less so in the last four years.
What would an optimal Intelligence Community look like?
First, it would not default to secret information, usually expensive to gather and narrow in its scope, to answer the most important questions of our policymakers and about our world. The legislation that established the Director of National Intelligence asked the Intelligence Community to explore more seriously the potential that Open-Source information had for meeting our sense-making needs. Fifteen years later, the space still begs to be charted. The analytic product that is prepared for policymakers still relies on secrets collected by the intelligence-industrial complex. The policymakers usually have to be in secure facilities to access this intelligence and the professionals who prepare it aren’t able to work from home. These restrictions have proven problematic during the pandemic.
The reliance on secrets was the founding vector of the Intelligence Community. And it made sense then. We were the victors in a World War where we had gained essential advantage by uncovering other countries’ secrets. And then our fickle ally, the Soviet Union, became a dangerous opponent who controlled all essential information. The priority for national security was to discover what Moscow and later Beijing wanted to keep hidden. And no amount of reading of Pravda or the People’s Daily would tease out everything we needed to know. The Intelligence Community’s first directive had to be the collection and analysis of secrets.
But whether you think that should remain the first directive depends upon what you understand to be the “engine” that runs the world. Is it the actions of humans and national governments conspiring to gain advantage over others, plotting secret maneuvers and surprise attacks? Or is it social forces and planetary dynamics that evolve over time but can erupt when you least expect them? Like populism, technology shifts, thawing permafrost and yes…pandemics. (and there is likely to be a relationship between climate change and new diseases.) In the first scenario we desperately need to know what the leaders and elites are thinking—and they become our primary targets for clandestine collection. In the latter category, such leaders and elites either don’t exist or emerge with little warning. And the phenomena themselves defy most of our collection methods.
The answer is obvious. Both engines power human society. Some governments remain enigmatic, unpredictable, and dangerous. Our secret collection efforts must remain focused on them. But social forces and planetary dynamics are becoming more important as human complexity grows—certainly modern society produces more unintended consequences. Unfortunately, the historic methods of the Intelligence Community have not provided us with enough insight on these less elite-driven forces. Thinking back on the last ten years, events such as the Great Recession, the Arab Spring, Syrian refugee flows, Brexit, colored revolutions, resurgent populism, and the coronavirus have all caught intelligence agencies and national governments less prepared than they would have wanted. And no amount of secret intelligence collection would have improved their prospects.
What would have improved their chances? Perhaps smarter and more committed use of Open-Source information. Taiwan’s ability to prepare early for the coronavirus is illustrative. On December 31, 2019 a doctor posted a warning on Taiwan’s version of Reddit that a nasty disease was exploding in China. Taiwan’s health officials saw the warning. On New Year’s Day, Taiwan began inspecting flights coming from Wuhan and a year later Taiwan leads the world in controlling the disease.
The Taiwan story tells us that we can use Open-Source information to help defend the nation, but its details also point to potential problems. Presumably few people mind if health officials monitor social media to help detect disease outbreaks (although there are some who do), but lots of people get kinda sore when they think of government intelligence agencies routinely monitoring Twitter and Reddit for useful information, even when that information is posted publicly for all to see.
Which connects to the second reason why the Intelligence Community can’t just go back to the way things were. Our information climate has changed, irrevocably, in ways that challenge the work of intelligence agencies and even the legitimacy of national governments. Individuals are able to sluice and direct information streams–however they want–to construct whatever narrative suits their biases and preferences. What results are hundreds of “Truth Networks” that self-perpetuate and resist authoritative rebuttals. Conclusions drawn by intelligence agencies are no longer the final or convincing word. Consider the recent finding of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency that the 2020 Presidential Election was the most secure in history. This finding proved irrelevant to the tens of millions of Americans who believe the opposite and can find hundreds of “facts” to prove their case. And transparency, rather than helping, actually ends up abetting the work of conspiracy manufacturers, who scan thousands of hours of videotaped vote processing to find moments of apparent skullduggery.
Let’s play out the national security implications of this information climate. Imagine that the Biden administration discerns the need to deploy US forces to some new crisis zone—or perhaps just to return to Afghanistan to ward off a resurgent terrorist threat. However legitimate the reason, a counter-narrative will immediately emerge, supported by slick videos featuring pseudo-experts. QAnon will drop some cryptic couplets. Critics will demand the release of intelligence justifying the military action. When the government proves unable to do so for security reasons, it loses credibility and flexibility, and eventually the ability to wage successful military operations.
The new administration somehow has to reconceptualize the way government, the public, and information interact. Yikes, that’s one tall order! The way out of our current predicament will be messy, featuring false starts and no doubt bonehead ideas. But there’s no going back. Normal has disappeared and something new must be created. And the Intelligence Community will need to be part of it.
I’m not at all certain how it happens or what it would entail. I think a first step is for intelligence agencies to file for divorce from over-classification. The DNI should audit key national security issues to determine which really require intensive secret collection. The Intelligence Community’s work on social forces and planetary dynamics should be easily accessible to policymakers and when appropriate to the general public—not once a year but on a continuous basis. As acknowledged earlier, transparency often can be manipulated by conspiracy-prone individuals, but there doesn’t appear to be any other way. The goal should be to create a new culture of sense-making collaboration among intelligence officers, policymakers, and yes the public. The public’s ability to contribute to the sensemaking process would be one way of rebuilding trust.
Given that it may be just too hard for existing agencies to embrace such a radical model, a new enterprise may have to be created for Open-Source sensemaking and collaboration. (It could build on the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends project, for example, but with a much more dynamic and inclusive approach.) Such an agency might begin with a narrow mandate—perhaps exploring just a few less controversial issues, if such exist. It could then grow as it gained experience and confidence with its sensemaking processes.
One of the traps that befall changemakers is the Athena complex. The birth myth of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, is that she emerged fully formed from the forehead of Zeus. And so new ideas are expected to emerge fully formed from the foreheads of change agents. But that’s not how difficult new things get started. They begin unevenly, nervously, saddled with objections and reservations. But the key thing is to take the first step, to move on with the new, because there is no going back.
For the Intelligence Community there can be only one direction: Forward.
I’ve been wanting to comment on all the examples of bad thinking and cognitive traps that I’ve seen regarding coronavirus for a while now, well since early February for sure, but I’ve hesitated to put them down in writing because there is already too much content drawing spurious links to this horrible pandemic. But as we see signs that the infection curves are beginning to flatten in some countries (although certainly not all), it strikes me that good thinking will be just as critical as we work to recover our economies and manage the continuing threat of disease. So what follows is a compilation of some of the best and worst thinking practices revealed so far this year. (There are many so expect at least two posts.)
I was convinced the reports of a new, SARS-like disease in China were significant by mid-January. On 16 January I spoke at a conference that had a sizable contingent of attendees from Seattle and I remember fretting that Seattle would likely be one of the first American cities to get hit by coronavirus given the Chinese population on the West Coast and the travel patterns associated with Lunar New Year. I started tweeting and posting on Facebook about the disease in the second half of January and by late February it dominated my posts. Friends have asked me why I was so sure the disease would pose such a threat and I answered with one of my favorite heuristics from my CIA years: ACTIONS REVEAL INTENTIONS AND MOTIVATIONS.
When you’re trying to figure out a government or actor’s intentions, it’s always best to start with their actions. Pay attention to what they are doing. Given China’s obsession with economic growth and how the Communist Party’s legitimacy rested on delivering prosperity, I could not imagine why China would have closed down one of its most important cities out of an “abundance of caution”—a good name for a new rock band. The coronavirus had scared the shit out of the Chinese Government and the most reasonable explanation was that it was contagious and dangerous.
When we began to see reports of massive disinfection campaigns and attacks on Chinese doctors who issued first warnings, I began to wonder what Beijing was trying to hide, if anything. Of course there was immediate speculation that coronavirus was some type of bioweapon; I’m no expert on this issue so I have to accept the judgment that the virus is not man-made. But the possibility that coronavirus leaked because of an industrial mishap or accidental discharge remains credible to me. Recent reports that the Chinese Government is controlling research into the origins of coronavirus just further pique my suspicions. Actions reveal intentions and motivations.
When I actually shared this view on social media a few weeks ago, several friends criticized me for going there. Why, I wondered. It wasn’t like the Chinese Government was known for its transparency and complete honesty. Why couldn’t these ideas be entertained? My answer in part is that IDEOLOGY OFTEN COLORS HOW WE THINK. There are so many examples of this dynamic spanning the ideological spectrum.
Advocates of globalization loathe to admit that China might have deceived other countries.
Supporters of the international system reluctant to criticize the World Health Organization.
Proponents of American exceptionalism insisting, against a lot of evidence, that the US has had the best response to the coronavirus.
Backers of the President condemning any suggestion that the US could have acted more quickly to contain the disease.
Critics of the President attacking his decision to limit travel from China in late January, although it was clearly the right thing to do. The more valid criticism is that it didn’t go far enough and there were too many loopholes.
And countless other examples we could mention. Because this is such a terrifying disease, it’s natural for people to fall back upon their values and ideological beliefs to interpret events. It’s natural but not helpful. In fact, it’s dangerous. Our beliefs lead us to ignore facts that don’t fit our ideology and overamplify developments that do. Unfortunately this thinking weakness will haunt our recovery efforts, particularly in the US where our politics have become exceptionally poisonous.
One important caveat: our ideology and values will play an unavoidable role going forward as we think about levels of acceptable risk. To my knowledge there is no objective way to measure the value of a human life. In the months to come we will be trading hundreds if not thousands of lives for decimals of economic growth. Your values are what will determine how you solve that equation. Less-polarized societies will find it easier to agree on the solution. The math will be difficult for the US. (And let me add that the very idea that this can be thought of as a math problem is anathema to many.)
I spoke at a conference in D.C. on 6 February about cognitive traps and used the emerging disease for my examples. The one cognitive bias that was most evident then is that WORST-CASE SCENARIOS ARE ALWAYS CONSIDERED UNLIKELY. In early February few people were expecting the disease to ravage Western Europe and the US and painted any such thinking as worst-case scenarios. Indeed, the first deaths did not occur in Italy until the last week of February. And yet it was reasonable to assume, I thought, that the disease could easily flare up in any country with connections to China, which was basically any place on the planet.
If you’re an analyst responsible for warning, remember that when you paint the most dangerous scenarios as worst-case, you make it easier for the decision-maker to dismiss them. And that’s what appears to have happened in the US government. Impact and probability need to be thought of as independent variables. Some category of “worst-case” scenario happens every year; the only “unlikely” aspect of “worst-case” scenarios is the ability to predict their timing. We are unable to know with precision when a dangerous development will occur, but we are sure to experience several in our lifetimes.
Humans have been flourishing on this planet for tens of thousands of years, solving many problems (and, of course, creating others). We can assume that almost all the easy problems have been solved and many of the hard ones as well. Going forward, most of our problems will be difficult to handle and few, if any, will have clear-cut solutions. Only good thinking will help.
Two controversies this inaugural weekend led me to reflect on the challenges for federal employees during the incoming administration of President Trump: the retweets by the official twitter account of the National Park Service and the content of President Trump’s speech at the CIA. Both were wrong for largely the same reason: they injected partisanship where it does not belong: in the execution of the duties of federal government employees.
The issue of political activity by federal employees is the subject of rather important legislation–the Hatch Act of 1939, which prohibits almost all federal employees from engaging in most forms of political, partisan activity. Of course, when a new administration takes office, the directions and policies of cabinet departments will change, and civil servants are expected to carry out these new policies whatever their previous and/or personal views.
In the case of the National Park Service, its twitter account retweeted comments that had partisan implications, one comparing the size of inaugural crowds, and the other criticizing changes in the content of the White House web site. Although defenders of the Park Service would say the comments are innocuous, they really weren’t. They were not-so-subtle digs at the incoming Trump administration and as such just plain inappropriate. In fact, the Park Service has been prohibited by law since 1995 from estimating crowd sizes at events on the National Mall, in part because these estimates can become politically controversial.
The same general principles–federal civil employees should not engage in partisan political activity during work hours–can help us think about President Trump’s visit to the CIA on Saturday,. The fact of the visit is not a problem–but the content of the speech was a disaster. The President had no business suggesting that CIA employees overwhelming voted for him. A CIA officer’s personal views should have no bearing on the performance of her duties. I know this is a high bar and, in reality, impossible to reach. Cognitive science has shown that no human can be a perfectly objective being. But the future of intelligence activities in democratic societies depends upon every employee striving for this goal.
US law stipulates the federal employee oath of office:
An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath: “I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” This section does not affect other oaths required by law.
The first commandment for federal civil servants it to uphold the US constitution, but there’s a lot of squishy room for interpretation in the phrase “faithfully discharge the duties of the office…” I think most Americans would think that it means execute the law regardless of your personal preferences and follow the policy wishes of the US President and members of Congress, as long as they are legal and constitutional. All new administrations are challenging for civil servants. But I expect this transition to be particularly tumultuous given that President Trump intends to depart radically from the practices of previous US governments across a broad range of issues. To avoid government crises, both the incoming administration and the civil service will need to exercise good judgment and benefit from a lot of luck. Seriously…a lot of luck.
Hurricane Sandy has led to some pretty foolish thinking. Just the other night some high school classmates were involved in some dreary silliness on Facebook about what might have caused Noah’s flood. One, a proud climate change denier and I’m sure strong Christian, opined that perhaps global warming back then was caused by dinosaur farts. (I told you it was dreary.)
Hard to take that conversation seriously but there are other statements in the wake of Hurricane Sandy that strike me almost as inane. Several times I’ve heard officials say some version of “no one thought something like this could happen.” What a strange excuse that! First, of course, the Discovery and National Geographic channels have made some decent money the past decade entertaining disaster groupies with exactly how something like this could happen. Second, anticipatory thinking is an essential element of managing and leading. If you can’t generate vision well at least you might be able to anticipate.
So I think what people really mean by that statement is that no one wanted to think about the scenario that just happened. No doubt they put it in the category of Worst Case scenario. Once you assign a possible event to the category of worst case scenario you are at risk of succumbing to a dangerous fallacy, one I saw with some regularity in government. To wit: the assumption that “worst case scenario” and “unlikely” are synonyms.
Think back on some of the meetings you’ve attended. Some Cassandra in the room starts warning of a frightful worst case scenario. Some other person, determined to avoid excess ruffling, says: “Oh you’re overreacting. That’s just a worst case scenario!” What they are also saying, of course, is “that’s very unlikely.”
(I am reminded here of something I once heard former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates say. Because he was a notorious “worst case” thinker he was often accused of being a Cassandra–the prophet who predicted the fall of Troy. At which point he would remind us that “Cassandra was right!”)
Severity of impact and likelihood are independent variables. It is entirely possible for a worst case scenario to be quite feasible, if not even probable. But the conflation of worst case with unlikely is quite common and potentially catastrophic. Unfortunately, things that we find unimaginable have a nasty way of becoming inevitable.
I imagine another factor was at play here, one for which I find more sympathy. When they say that they didn’t think something like Hurricane Sandy could happen, what they also might mean is that they didn’t believe the threat was likely enough to justify taking expensive preventative actions given other budget priorities. This strikes me as a much more honest statement and reflects a judgment that public officials must make on a regular basis. Nevertheless, consideration of “likelihood” must still be made independently of any other variable. We humans have a tendency to think we are bulletproof and to assume that bad things are unlikely to happen to us. When in fact the art of living, of government, of leadership in any sector is best captured by how well we deal with calamities.
For those who can, I am linking here to the donation form for AmeriCares, a charity I myself support.
It’s been a tough couple of months for Federal Workers, active and retired. The horrible judgment shown by managers of the General Services Administration has been exceeded only by the horrible judgment shown by members of the Secret Service and the US military. As is ALWAYS the case, these episodes have produced extreme makeover suggestions for the Federal workforce. Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has made attacking Federal workers a key plank of his fairness platform. I heard Greta van Susteren this week on her show wonder why Federal workers should EVER need to go to conferences.
Why Indeed!!! It always struck me when I was a member of the Federal workforce that we were the only employees in America expected to be motivated by socialist principles. Quite odd really. Our pay system, which emphasized seniority and paying your dues, was redolent of the best European socialist labor unions. So clearly, federal workers are a special breed of Americans who are completely unaffected by money or rewards. (One feels compelled to ask why not freeze their pay forever?) And as far as going to conferences, well, clearly, federal workers, unlike employees in private industry, just don’t need to engage in the team-building and broadening activities so favored by private industry. Americans pay for these activities in the same way they pay for government activities–but for private industry these expenses are just part of overhead and not directly charged. (This is one reason why I worry that a single payer system for health care is not practical given the American political culture. We will pay more to private industry much more willingly than we will pay more to government.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not justifying anything GSA did in excess of the law or spirit of the government regulations they themselves create. (Hypocrisy has a particularly nasty odor.) But I do take issues with those who see socialism lurking around every corner and yet blithely want to impose these same socialist principles on the Federal workforce.
And now for the second scandal. The horrible behavior of Secret Service officers and US military in Colombia has elicited well-deserved, widespread criticism although the appropriate redresses are not so clear. Some suggest hopefully that the Secret Service should hire more women. Generally I think more gender and diversity balance in all organizations is always a step toward goodness, although I doubt men would think it fair to discriminate against them just because of their sexual organs. The most ridiculous thing I’ve heard is the intimation that somehow this kind of behavior is a function of having President Obama in office or a “lax” Democratic administration. To begin with, the Secret Service Director is a carryover appointee of President Bush.
But more to the point, men travelling away from home in groups have tended to engage in certain behaviors for Millenia. (We will truly have reached an entirely new evolutionary state when such behavior significantly declines, but clearly we ain’t there yet.) Entire genres of fiction and movies have been spawned by such behavior: The Hangover comes to mind. Port cities across the world steel themselves for the visits of naval ships. In fact the oldest profession could not otherwise exist. And then of course there’s pornography–the largest industry on the internet.
I’m not trying to rag on men. My targets are instead the commentators and individuals who like, Captain Renault, claim to be shocked, shocked to find that men behave in such ways. Really?
Last night I tweeted that I distrust Big Government and Big Business. That I believed in individual effort and community. And that people tend toward both goodness and bad decision-making.
Government and business will continue to make mistakes and bad decisions because both are built on the same raw material: humans. That’s why community standards and individual efforts both play a role in shaping societies and nations.
Another redirect to Rebelsatwork.com but I’m hopeful I’ll have some new RecoveringFed content up soon. Meanwhile, if you’ve ever wondered why being a rebel is just like being an NFL running back, then read here.
What’s wrong with America’s government? Essentially we have evolved into a leaderless Parliamentary system, which is the worst of both worlds.
I had an extended conversation today with two individuals who are expert practitioners of American politics. I can’t say anything more specific but they know from personal experience of what they spoke. And they made the above point. Over the last two decades or so, the two parties in Congress have become ideologically fixated so there is no longer a real possibility of compromise. The most liberal of Republican members is too conservative for the Democrats and the most conservative Democrat is too liberal for the Republicans. This wasn’t always the case. The House and Senate that Baby Boomers remember, during the 1970s and 80s, witnessed a few if not several dozen Republicans and Democrats who would routinely support the other party on certain legislative issues. This just doesn’t happen anywhere near as often any more.
What essentially caused this shift? Gerrymandering districts so they are safe seats is one reason. Another is the fact that the social divide between urban/coastal America and the center of the country has become starker over the last few years. But the policies of Congressional leaders have also contributed. Check out this Washington Post story from 2004 on Dennis Hastert declaring that legislation would only be brought forward if a majority of the majority party supported it–a philosophy that inherently prevents compromise and disrespects bipartisanship.
Parliamentary systems work because the leader of the majority party becomes the Prime Minister. No compromise is necessary because you always have the votes. Of course, our system doesn’t work that way. The President is elected separately and has almost no ability to influence the actions of an ideologically fixated opposition party, which sometimes is also a majority party. (And of course the President’s own party is ideologically fixated.)
So there you have it. Compromise becomes almost impossible because for compromise to work best you need the Democratic and Republican Parties to have some overlapping political territory. The end game right now is about scrambling to have the Senate and House pass separate bills so that the two can be resolved in Conference, where some compromises are possible. But even this maneuver may become less feasible over time if Congress continues to polarize.
This morning I wrote back to a friend who had asked me what I was up to these days. This particular friend, whom I haven’t seen in 20 years probably, is very interested in politics of the conservative spectrum and so I wrote a rather long paragraph that connected my interest in social media to my political views, such as they are. After rereading, I’m resposting here. Parentheticals represent text I added here but were not part of my original email response.
“…I have over the years developed a very small brand as a senior government executive who really believes in social media and the need to reconceptualize the concept of work. And let me tell you…I really believe in the transformative power of what these technologies achieve, which is effective connectivity between people, effective enough to let people self-organize to do important things together without the need for government or some other artificial authority. When I was in college 35 years ago it struck me that government was essentially “middleware” in human society–that conviction has never left me–so in that sense I am definitely not a liberal (at least not as it is understood today.) (The idea that government is something humans created to deal with transactions they could not otherwise handle themselves did actually invade my head at some point during my undergraduate years at Catholic University, where I majored in Comparative Government. I couldn’t at all imagine how humans could or what would allow us to thrive without government, but I developed the conviction that we would in fact evolve to this point. In the work context, managers fill that government role, and I similarly think social work, social business, networked work–pick the term you think least inadequate, will change the role of managers. Instead of controlling the work of individuals, they will transition to monitoring the health of the business network.)
(Although this view would seem to place me at the conservative end of the political spectrum), I am extremely turned off by the ethnoracist/xenophobic beliefs of some “conservatives”–not all. Some of the anti-intellectual bent is also a turn-off; I don’t care what they say, Ayn Rand was not the acme of intellectual achievement in the 20th century. I think perhaps I might vote for Carl Reiner, P.G. Wodehouse, or Preston Sturges! I am almost equally turned off by the elitist views of many liberals–not all. So I find myself not really represented by any political party, which would bother me more if it weren’t for the case that I think there are much more important things to spend energy on than partisan politics. My essential political/philosophical conviction is belief/faith/trust that human society still has a lot of upside potential–so in that respect I call myself progressive. I tire very quickly of individuals who have a kneejerk reaction against any new idea. My bias definitely is to be much more tolerant of individuals who are enthusiastic about the new.”
Four tweets I posted this morning in search of a blog:
“About 500 years after government as social institution achieved full operational mode, the socials themselves are having buyers regret.” It’s not easy to assign a date for when modern government began, but the 17th century, with its scientific revolution, the long reign of Louis XIV, and Europe’s expansion in earnest into the Western Hemisphere seems as likely a spot as any. During that century, you still had strong allegiance to the theological justification for government, divine right of kings and all that rot, but philsophers in the 18th century began to react by asserting some essential human rights.
“Governments, i.e. Functionaries, think themselves separate from and above people and groups. Au contraire Govt is below both, their creation.” It’s hard to resist thinking, if you’re a senior Government official, that you have somehow attained a higher level that the average Jane. (I know. I was one of dem for almost ten years!) And without you even realizing really, you begin to treat laws and regulations as if they are the primary source. WHICH IS LIKE REALLY WRONG!! Laws and regulations are secondary and tertiary sources: the primary source in democratic societies is the will of the people. My time in government taught me there really is no such thing as bureaucracy. Instead, what really happens is that we all become Bureaucrats. Bureaucrats worship false Gods.
Even in dictatorshps, government survives in large part on the consent of the governed. The people find it difficult to generate enough willpower and fortitude to overthrow it. (What we saw in Egypt was an inspiring example of what happens when the people do in fact get their Motivation going.) I don’t mean in any way to criticise individuals or blame the victims. I doubt I could be so courageous. But I’m simply repeating what my priest-professor once said in a Catholic University philosophy class: The only way you can be compelled to do anything is if someone physically picks you up and makes you do it. Otherwise everything is coercion, and the success of coercion always correlates to the strength of the will.
“Social networks, computing power allow individuals, groups 2 redress balance of power btw them & institutions of Govt. Trend will continue.” For much of human history, government, once established–even democratically, began to accrete to itself more and more power, in many cases, particularly with 20th-century authoritarian regimes, creating effective monopolies of power. Today, the balance of power is sliding rather
inelegantly but joyfully away from government and toward the Socials, the people and the groups they form. We are only seeing the start of a dynamic that will affect all institutions, even democratic ones and private businesses, that have allowed their actions to wander away from their popular mandates or customers.
“In a sense Govt laws and regulations are like the terms and agreements u receive when u install new software..cept u really can NOT ACCEPT.” As I wrote these tweets I was reminded of the Terms and Agreements you never can read–I mean really who would have the time and power of concentration?–but nevertheless must default accept to install new software. When we join a group we accept similar terms and agreements, except the ones written down are supplemented by unwritten ones you figure out yourself through trial and error, like playing a giant game of Myst. Demonstrations and popular uprisings are not unlike mass selections of the “I do not accept” and “I do not agree” options. To function better as societies, we need to make the “I do not accept”option much less traumatic–by the way, software developers need to do the same for this step to become meaningful again in software deployment. Government and business engagement in social activities and networks and their willingness to adjust in real time and meaningful ways to feedback are the only ways to ease the trauma of rejection.