Wednesday, February 04, 2009

David Brin on how bad it has been

David Brin is one of my favorite science-fiction authors, in particular I enjoyed his "Uplift" series. He is also a dailykos contributor. Here is an excerpt.

Which leads me to an article published recently in the Wall Street Journal by Eliot A. Cohen, Condoleeza Rice’s foreign policy advisor, or the (supposedly) smart guy who guided the smart people who guided Pax Americana for all but two months (so far) of the 21st Century. In "How Government Looks at Pundits" Cohen offered his list of reasons why government insiders have little patience or use for input from others, beyond the narrow circle of those who receive "three-to-six-inch-thick briefing books, every day."

On the discussion list of SIGMA (the "think tank of scientific science fiction authors") several members were all-aflutter over how this splash of cold water should remind us outside consultants to keep our expectations low, no matter who is in power or what philosophies or personalities guide our myriad agencies.

Appalled at this complacent acceptance, I’m afraid I went a bit ballistic! Nobody else seemed to recognize Cohen’s article as a lengthy and utterly horrific apologia by one of the chief architects of the demolition of the American Pax,. In-effect, a longwinded whine about how nobody but a uniform and self-referential ingroup should ever expect to be heeded.

In vain, I searched his article for any mention of processes that might track outcomes and/or re-appraise policies in light of predictive success or failure. No mention of the pragmatic aim of finding people - both inside and outside of government - who happen to be right a lot and bringing them into the "briefing books" layer. No interest - or curiosity - about how his own error-avoidance methods might improve. Nor, of course, any awareness that the self-limiting perspective that he described might be a pathology. A perniciously destructive one, that merits correction by smart, sincere, skilled and patriotic people. What I did find was the following especially bizarre excerpt:

"Do not prescribe a policy that the current group of officials cannot hope to implement because of who they are. I have had highly intelligent individuals -- including some with senior government experience -- sit in my office and lay out perfectly plausible policies that the current team, limited by time remaining in office, the pressure of competing and more urgent crises, and the all important mix of personalities, could never hope to put into effect. Moreover, core beliefs and style constrain policy makers profoundly. So don't ask them to do something outside their range of psychological possibility by, for example, proposing cold-eyed realpolitik to a band of idealists or vice versa."

So, let me get this straight. We are to be guided by a core "band" that steers the ship of state with gut-level certainty, while accepting no advice, no feedback or course-correction based on ongoing metrics, having culled themselves of not only diversity of philosophy, but any difference in personality? As if any leader worth more than a bucket of warm seawater would not make sure to employ realists and idealists and all kinds that might both temper and challenge one another? Questioning assumptions and seeking good ideas, whatever the source?

Reminder, this was the best and most highly-touted kind of "expert" that we got under Bush. The very brightest of the brightest of those who have been ruling us, all but two months of the 21st century. With results and outcomes that are blatantly obvious to all.

1 comment:

Zach said...

Aron - I work for Rush Holt and we love the pix you took at the recent town hall. Is there any way we can use them in the future? Call me at 202-225-5801 if we can do that. Thanks - Zach