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Thursday, October 6

A few words in praise of incompetence and its arch enemies

"Pundita:
Regarding your "Force vs Power" essay: a very concise analysis. I'm sure that you have also considered one of the minor theme variants on this 'exhaustion of civilization' text, and that is merit vs connections. I keep wondering when the auction of general staff positions at the Pentagon will start. But they may not need an auction, when the currency of power seems to be swaggering bluster and dogma over reason. I can see the future now, a glittering technological society where nothing works right....
E"

Dear E:
Yes, but I comfort myself by thinking thusly: If competence triumphed we might attain heaven on earth. So the tradition of putting well-connected dolts in charge serves a divine purpose.

And consider: When it comes time to ring down the curtain on the human race, we might hope that a dolt is charged with overseeing the termination sequence.

However, the #1 reason to be philosophical about incompetents is that they make the perfect scapegoat when ordinarily competent people screw up.

If that's too much philosophizing for you, Pundita stands by the thesis I laid down in How do you run a government when the voters are smarter than you? and the series of essays titled Stuck at the intersection of government and the Mass Age:

For the first time in history large numbers of people are smarter and better educated than the elites in government. That translates to far less tolerance for incompetence and the traditions of promoting according to tenure and connections.

Any doubt that reason is making headway against bluster, consider how long Michael Brown stayed in his top post at FEMA once his job history was made public.

Also consider Bruce Kesler's October 6 report for Democracy Project (emphasis mine):
SurveyUSA just released a poll taken between September 30 and October 2. Not only does Proposition 75 now lead with 60% of likely voters, but the other Propositions have surged. Proposition 75 requires that public employees give annual permission for dues or fees to be payroll deducted for political campaigns, which will seriously dent liberal power in California and national elections

Proposition 74 is now supported by 55% of likely voters, to extend the probationary period for new teachers from 2 years to 5 years, and makes it easier to dismiss teachers with unsatisfactory performance evaluations.

Proposition 76 is now supported by 58% of likely voters. It limits the growth in state spending to not exceed recent growth in state revenues.

Proposition 77 is now supported by 59% of likely voters. It takes redistricting of Congressional and state legislative districts away from the Democrat-packed legislature and turns it over to a panel of retired judges. Common Cause today, also, came out in favor.
Bruce closes with the grim warning that the unions still have a month and many millions to fight the propositions. However, what happens in California politics is a bellwether for the rest of the country and from there, the rest of the world. Slowly but just as surely, American voters are making gains against institutionalized tolerance for incompetence.

Finally, consider the impact of the Internet. Before he was a moral coward and a man of no business ethics, Eason Jordan was simply incompetent. He couldn't think of any way to protect his CNN reporters in Iraq, other than collaborating with Saddam Hussein's regime.

Set aside Dan Rather's sacrifice of journalistic ethics to partisan politics. He didn't even do the most basic research on the 'evidence' brought to him about Bush's National Guard Record.

In fact, Rather didn't even need to do the research himself to do his job; all he needed was to turn the data over to a firm that specializes in examining forensic evidence and say, "Check it out."

As to how quick the turnaround would have been: the scariest aspect of Rathergate is that Rather's defenders didn't understand at first just why the blogosphere was so quick at calling out CBS over the evidence presented:

The bloggers who were quickest to catch the discrepancies were people who worked for firms that examine such evidence daily. It only took them moments to spot discrepanies!

So before he was a Democrat party hack who abused his position at CBS, Dan Rather was also getting paid megabucks to sleep on the job.

When Jordan and Rather were challenged by blogosphere researchers, their initial response to probing questions was the same one that didn't endear Marie Antoinette to the French masses. Well, Jordan and Rather were soon gone from their posts.

I note that more recently the patient efforts of one blogger, Dan at Riehl World View, have exposed incompetence at Fox cable and CNN in their reporting on the Natalie Holloway case.

To argue that Fox and CNN were simply intent on titillating the public is to imply that they were capable of doing thorough research on the Holloway story. There is nothing in the reporting to support that argument.

The above are but three examples from a long and fast-growing list of incidents that illustrate why the Internet makes it harder by the hour to get away with incompetence, whether it exists in the private or public sector.

So it's no wonder that incompetents the world over are calling for regulation of the Internet. But being incompetents, they have greatly miscalculated.

Too many people the world over who cherish competence are now working too hard to keep carrying the career incompetents on their back. And now those hard-working people have the means to investigate and quickly communicate on the patterns that give evidence of entrenched incompetence and the stonewalling that goes with it.

I know it can be hard to keep the faith that reason ultimately triumphs over dogma. But the defense of reason, as with the defense of freedom and civilization, is a process not a goal.

There is no impregnable fortress. There is no winning. There is just unending watchfulness and effort. Because in this uncertain world you can be certain of one thing: Dogma will never sign the terms of surrender.
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