Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Admiral Rickover on our Present Crisis

For many, from the war (let’s call it what it is, in a fashion) against ISIS to the ongoing fumble in the response to Ebola, we seem to be having a crisis in the ability of our self-selecting nomenclatura to effectively lead and manage even the most basic functions of government; national security from outside threats.

There are two broad things at work.

First, in a nation as large and diverse as the USA, an effective federal government governs best when it governs least, and only in those prescribed areas that it can do it best. All other things need to be pushed down to State or local government – or here is a shocker – the people themselves. 

That isn’t just right and highly functional; we are seeing the results today what happens when our federal government does the opposite. People know when a large and all powerful government in the USA is not working. They may not fully understand why, but they see its dysfunction right in front of them every day.

Secondly, at the very highest positions of power, we have elected and assigned all the right people who went to the right schools and know all the right people and who have all the right intentions … and yet, it is being run worse than the Virginia DMV’s C-team.

Are these leaders idiots? No. Are they evil? No. What they have, by personality and education, is a world view and professional practice that has a fatal post-modern design flaw.

This is not a new problem, but it has grown and become greater as the power of the federal government has grown with size and power.

Admiral Rickover saw it in a different venue back in 1953. In part:
… decisions about the future development(s) … must frequently be made by people who do not necessarily have an intimate knowledge of the technical aspects … These people are, nonetheless, interested …

… this confusion stems from a failure to distinguish between the academic and the practical. These apparent conflicts can usually be explained only when the various aspects of the issue are resolved into their academic and practical components.

The tools of the academic-... designer are a piece of paper and a pencil with an eraser. If a mistake is made, it can always be erased and changed. If the practical-reactor designer errs, he wears the mistake around his neck ; it cannot be erased. Everyone can see it.

The academic-… designer is a dilettante. He has not had to assume any real responsibility in connection with his projects. He is free to luxuriate in elegant ideas, the practical shortcomings of which can be relegated to the category of “mere technical details." The practical-… designer must live with these same technical details. Although recalcitrant and awkward, they must be solved and cannot be put off until tomorrow. Their solutions require manpower, time and money.

Unfortunately for those who must make far-reaching decisions without the benefit of an intimate knowledge of … technology and unfortunately for the interested public, it is much easier to get the academic side of an issue than the practical side. For a large part those involved with the academic … have more inclination and time to present their ideas in reports and orally to those who will listen. Since they are innocently unaware of the real but hidden difficulties of their plans, They speak with great facility and confidence Those involved with (the) practical ..., humbled by their experiences, speak less and worry more.

Yet it is incumbent on those in high places to make wise decisions, and it is reasonable and important that the public be correctly informed. It is consequently incumbent on all of us to state the facts as forth rightly as possible. Although it is probably impossible to have ... ideas labelled as ”practical" or “academic" by the authors, it is worthwhile for both the authors and the audience to bear in mind this distinction and to be guided thereby.
A shorter version by another great American, William F. Buckley, Jr;
I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.

Hat tip Cabildo.

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