10% Less Democracy

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Garett Jones suggests we try 10% less democracy and see how that works out.

Politicians behave differently near the end of their term, when they play more to voters’ irrational biases, including their anti-market bias, make-work bias, anti-foreign bias, and pessimistic bias.

Jones cites an unusual source — Jennifer Hochschild, Professor of Government and of African and African-American Studies at Harvard — on epistocracy:

Three uncontroversial points sum to a paradox:

  1. Almost every democratic theorist or democratic political actor sees an informed electorate as essential to good democratic practice….
  2. In most if not all democratic polities, the proportion of the population granted the suffrage has consistently expanded, and seldom contracted, over the past two centuries….
  3. Most expansions of the suffrage bring in, on average, people who are less politically informed or less broadly educated than those already eligible to vote….

Putting these three uncontroversial points together leads to the conclusion that as democracies become more democratic, their decision-making processes become of lower quality in terms of cognitive processing of issues and candidate choice.

Jones recommends six-year terms for the House and more autonomous agencies like the Fed.

The Dark Science of Interrogation

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Five years ago, President Obama created the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which has funded studies into the dark science of interrogation:

Not too long ago, as part of a test designed by psychologist Melissa Russano, a young woman in a tank top sat at a table with a look of growing apprehension, hunched protectively over her handbag. A student, she had just taken an exam, and a test administrator was accusing her of cheating: Her answers, he said, matched up with those of another student. The administrator said he had just called the professor running the study and reported that he was not at all happy. “He may consider this cheating, I don’t know,” the man said, with sympathy. “I’m sure you didn’t know it would be such a big problem to be sharing. I probably would have done the same thing if I were in your shoes…. It would ease my professor up if you were seen to be cooperating.” He slid a piece of paper toward her with a confession written on it.

“I don’t think I should sign it. I didn’t do anything,” said the student. Shaking her head, her face pursed in disgust, she signed. As it turned out, she was innocent.

A decade ago, Russano, a professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, set out to design a study that would replicate the social and emotional dynamics of a real interrogation in the lab, where conditions could be controlled. And where, unlike in the messy world of actual cases, the truthfulness of confessions could be easily evaluated. Her study had subjects take a cognitive ability test in a room with another student. Half the time the second student, who was actually working for Russano, would ask for help. The test subjects knew it was against the rules, but most would willingly share their answers. Later, after the test administrator had ostensibly looked over some of the results, he would come back, say there was a potential issue, and leave the subject to stew alone in a room for five minutes. Then some version of the interaction above, taken from a video of one subject, would unfold.

Russano was interested in testing what have long been the twin poles of interrogation styles: “minimization” and “maximization.” They’re forms of coercion that correspond, roughly, to “good cop, bad cop.” Minimization plays down the significance of the crime and offers potential excuses for it — “you just meant to scare her” or “anyone in your situation would have done the same thing.” Maximization plays it up, confrontationally presenting incriminating evidence and refusing to allow any response except a confession. The two are the most widely used tools in the American police interrogator toolkit. The Army Field Manual, which governs all military interrogations, lists approved maximization methods such as “Emotional Fear-Up” and “Emotional-Pride and Ego-Down.”

[...]

“Guilty people are more likely to confess” when minimization and maximization are used, she says. “The problem is, so are innocent people.” Minimization alone nearly doubled the number of cheaters who confessed in her studies. But it tripled the number of noncheaters who falsely confessed. The videos of those false confessions make for fascinating viewing. Some are angry, some resigned. One young woman keeps her composure until the test administrator leaves the room with her signed confession, then dissolves into tears.

[...]

Russano is still running versions of that first interrogation study, changing the script to see how it affects the outcome. In one iteration, she explored whether minimization could be purged of the implicit offer of leniency. She had her interrogators be sympathetic, even flattering — saying things such as, “I am sure you are a good person, and no one wants to be accused of cheating or breaking the rules” — but without playing down the seriousness of the offense or its potential punishment. They got just as many true confessions that way, but far fewer false ones.

Research has also found that the biggest difference between professional and amateur lie detectors is that professionals are much more confident in their abilities — despite the fact that they’re no better at it.

Cult Anarchy

Friday, February 27th, 2015

As the chaos of the Cultural Revolution deepened, and the cult of personality surrounding Mao spread, the Party lost control over its symbols and entered a period of cult anarchy:

Different factions of Red Guards started using Mao’s image and words in incompatible ways, and new cult rituals emerged from the grass roots, sometimes from the enthusiasm of the genuinely committed, sometimes seemingly as protective talismans against the uncertainty and strife of the period. Everybody appealed to Mao to signal their revolutionary credentials, but there was no longer anyone capable of settling disputes over the credibility of these signals. Mao himself wasn’t much help; whenever he spoke at all, his messages were often cryptic and didn’t really settle any important disputes. The cult was now a “Red Queen” race of wasteful signalling, rather than a carefully calibrated tool of mobilization or discipline, driven by a complex combination of genuine desires to signal loyalty and identity and fears for one’s security. (Leese notes that failure to conform to the arbitrary protocols of the cult put people at risk of being sentenced as an “active counterrevolutionary” and documents many cases in which minimal symbolic transgressions resulted in incarceration or even death).

By 1967, for example, statues of Mao first started to be built, something that CCP leaders, and Mao himself, had discouraged in the past, and still officially frowned upon. The statues were typically built by local factions without approval from the central party, and they were all 7.1 meters high and placed on a pedestal that was 5.16 meters high, for a total height of 12.26 meters. (26 December = Mao’s birthday, 1 July = the Party’s founding date, 16 May = the beginning of the cultural revolution. People arrived at this precise convention for the statues without any centralized direction, merely through a signalling process). Later “Long Live the Victory of Mao Zedong Though Halls” were built on a grand scale, again without approval from the central party. Billions of Chairman Mao badges were produced by individual work units competing with each other, which were themselves subject to size inflation (“[a]s the larger size of the badges came to be associated with greater loyalty to the CCP Chairman, … badges with a diameter of 30 centimetres and greater came to be produced,” p. 216); Zhou Enlai would grumble in 1969 about the enormous waste of resources this represented. Costly signalling demands kept escalating; some people took to pinning the badges directly on their skin, for example, and farmers sent “loyalty pigs” to Mao as gifts (pigs with a shaved “loyalty” character).

New rituals and performances emerged too: Leese discusses the “quotation gymnastics,” a series of gymnastics exercises with a storyline based on Mao’s thought and involving praise of the “reddest red sun in our hearts,” and more bizarrely perhaps, “loyalty dances,” which, like the quotation gymnastics, was “a grassroots invention” designed to physically signal loyalty, and which spread “even to regions where public dancing was not part of the common culture and thus led to considerable public embarrassment” (p. 205). People wrote the character for “loyalty” everywhere and developed new conventions for answering the phone that started by wishing Mao eternal life. One of the most bizarre and interesting stories in the book concerns “Mao’s mangos:” the story of how some mangos that Mao gave to a “Propaganda Team” became relics beyond the control of the Central Party.

The Mao cult went through about six different stages:

The first stage can be characterized as one of “controlled inflation,” lasting from the initial building up of the cult in the late 1930s and early 1940s to Stalin’s death, more or less. At this time, the cult was fostered by the entire party leadership and served primarily a mobilizing function, though the party was careful to prevent excessive praise of Mao; we might say that the initial cult building project shifted the base level of flattery upwards, but did not yet produce powerful inflationary pressures on the growth of flattery. The second stage, lasting from Stalin’s death to the failure of the “Hundred Flowers” campaign, more or less, can be characterized as one of slight flattery “deflation.” At this time, a number of events, including Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, prompted a certain amount of liberalization directed from above that led to a slight lowering in the level of flattery and a relaxation of inflationary pressures. With the failure of the “Hundred Flowers” campaign, the cult enters a stage of “sustained inflation,” and control over the cult shifts to Mao and his close associates, who promote it primarily for disciplinary purposes. This stage lasts until the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, when they lost full control over the symbols of the cult. At this point (stage four) we have “runaway inflation”, driven by the need to signal loyalty in factional struggles and avoid punishment. By 1971, however, the party had regained some control over cult symbols, Lin Biao had fallen from grace, and the party engaged in some flattery deflation, helped somewhat by the death of Mao in 1976. (Interestingly, there was not a great deal of spontaneous public grief at the time; as Leese notes, most people were probably rather cynically disenchanted with Mao by then. The old rituals of the cult had lost their emotional power). Finally, one may add the resurgence of something like a posthumous Mao cult after 1989. Here cult practices are driven by many motivations – “disillusionment, nostalgia, renewed national pride, the incorporation of religious traditions, and commercial interests” (p. 262) lifting the background level of flattery from its nadir in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but incapable of sustaining runaway flattery inflation in the absence of encouragement from the CCP Center, which can’t live with Mao, and can’t live without him.

The Woman Who Invented Iraq

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Britain’s Orientalists saw an opportunity to bring modern coherence to the desert by imposing new kingdoms of their own devising:

Into this coterie of schemers came two mavericks, both scholars, both fluent Arab speakers, both small in stature and psychologically fragile, both capable of extraordinary feats of desert exploration—a young man called T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, a more seasoned connoisseur of the desert life.

Both had been recruited before World War I to gather intelligence on the Ottomans. Both were hard to accommodate within a normal military and diplomatic machine and so ended up working for a clandestine outfit in Cairo called the Arab Bureau, which was more aware of their singular gifts and more tolerant of their habits.

Bell’s epic desert trek in 1913-14 was already legendary. Her objective had been a city called Hail that no European had reached since 1893. Under the cover of archaeological research, her real purpose was to assess the strength of a murderous family called the al Rashids, whose capital Hail was.

[...]

But as a woman, Bell enjoyed an advantage over male colleagues that she was to deploy on many missions: molesting or harming women was contrary to the desert code of conduct, even in a family as homicidal as the Rashids. For a week or so, Bell was warmly entertained by the women of this polygamous society, and the women’s gossip provided a rich source of intelligence on palace intrigues, of which there were many. From this she was able to see what her British minders valued: That the Rashids were yesterday’s men and the Saudis would likely be a formidable and independent power in Arabia. The Rashids released her, and she went on to Baghdad, Damascus, and home to London.

[...]

While Lawrence left the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 stricken by the guilt for a British betrayal of his Arabs to which he had not been a party, Bell was sent to Baghdad, where Feisal was to be given his consolation prize: the throne of a new Iraq.

As well as the prospect of huge oil reserves, this new Iraq was crucial to the lines of communication to the great jewel of the British Empire, India. And, ostensibly, it was the diplomats and generals of the Indian administration who ran the show in Baghdad. But they depended on Bell as an expert and a negotiator, fluent in Arabic and used to the schisms and vendettas of the region. In fact, many of the decisive meetings as the British struggled to create a provisional government took place in Bell’s own house.

On August 23, 1921, at a ceremony in central Baghdad, Feisal was installed as the monarch of Iraq, even though he had no tribal roots in the country to assist his legitimacy. “We’ve got our king crowned,” wrote Bell with relief. And she made a claim about this election that would be echoed decades later by Saddam Hussein, that Feisal had been endorsed by 96 percent of the people, even though he was the only candidate and the majority of the population was illiterate.

Indeed, Bell was so carried away with her confidence in the nation she had helped to create that she crowed: “Before I die I look to see Feisal ruling from the Persian frontier to the Mediterranean.”

Japan’s Oldest Businesses Have Survived for More Than 1,000 Years

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Japan’s oldest businesses have survived for more than 1,000 years:

Century-old American companies like General Electric and Ford appear ancient when viewed alongside modern upstarts like Google and Facebook. But there are a number of Japanese firms — some of which have been around for more than a millennium — that exist on another scale of time entirely. Japan is home to some of the oldest continuously operating businesses in the world, among them a 1,300-year-old inn and a 900-year-old sake brewer.

While this longevity is not confined to East Asia — the Italian gun manufacturer Beretta has operated since at least 1526 and the cymbal maker Zildjian was founded in 1623 in Turkey — these Sequoia-like firms are relatively common in Japan. The country is currently home to more than 50,000 businesses that are over 100 years old. Of those, 3,886 have been around for more than 200 years. As a point of comparison, only one in every four U.S. companies founded in 1994 was still operating in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But in the past decade, some of Japan’s oldest businesses have finally shut their doors. Last month, the roughly 465-year-old seafood seller Minoya Kichibee filed for bankruptcy, which came after the news last year that the 533-year-old confectioner Surugaya met a similar fate. In 2007 — after 1,429 years in business — the temple-construction company Kongo Gumi ran out of money and was absorbed by a larger company. Three companies going bust doesn’t quite make a trend, but it seems like there has to be something larger going on if a company that’s been around for more than a millennium suddenly blinks out of existence.

The first question to ask about a company like Kongo Gumi is why it stuck around so long in the first place. For one thing, these companies tend to be clustered in industries that never really go out of style. Kongo Gumi specialized in building Buddhist temples — a pretty dependable bet in nation with a strong Buddhist history. The company’s first temple, near Osaka, was completed in 593, and has been rebuilt six times since then (by Kongo Gumi, of course). “There’s a pattern,” William O’Hara, the author of Centuries of Success, told The Wall Street Journal in 1999. “The oldest family businesses often are involved in basic human activities: drink, shipping, construction, food, guns.”

The other reason these companies proliferate in Japan is because of how the country’s family-run businesses have been passed down through generations. Japanese business owners typically bequeathed entire companies to their eldest sons, and there’s a 10-foot-long 17th-century scroll tracing all of Kongo Gumi’s previous owners. But what fostered corporate longevity was that owners were permitted some leeway if they didn’t trust their offspring to take the helm: They could adopt a son, who would often marry into the family and go on to run the business.

Japan has recently moved away from its traditional banking culture, where banks were supposed to bail out such companies, and many traditional products have lost their allure, too.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)

The End of South Africa

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Things are very bad in South Africa:

When the scourge of apartheid was finally smashed to pieces in 1994, the country seemed to have a bright future ahead of it. Eight years later, in 2002, 60 percent of South Africans said life had been better under apartheid. Hard to believe — but that’s how bad things were in 2002. And now they’re even worse.

When apartheid ended, the life expectancy in South Africa was 64 — the same as in Turkey and Russia. Now it’s 56, the same as in Somalia. There are 132.4 rapes per 100,000 people per year, which is by far the highest in the world: Botswana is in second with 93, Sweden in third with 64; no other country exceeds 32.

Wait, Sweden?

The Swedish police recorded the highest number of offences – about 63 per 100,000 inhabitants – of any force in Europe, in 2010. The second-highest in the world.

This was three times higher than the number of cases in the same year in Sweden’s next-door neighbour, Norway, and twice the rate in the United States and the UK. It was more than 30 times the number in India, which recorded about two offences per 100,000 people.

On the face of it, it would seem Sweden is a much more dangerous place than these other countries.

But that is a misconception, according to Klara Selin, a sociologist at the National Council for Crime Prevention in Stockholm. She says you cannot compare countries’ records, because police procedures and legal definitions vary widely.

There are other factors, too.

Anyway, back to South Africa:

Before the end of apartheid, South African writer Ilana Mercer moved, with her family, to Israel; her father was a vocal opponent of apartheid, and was being harassed by South African security forces. A 2013 piece on World Net Daily quotes Mercer as saying, with all her anti-apartheid chops, that “more people are murdered in one week under African rule than died under detention of the Afrikaner government over the course of roughly four decades.” The South African government estimates that there are 31 murders per 100,000 people per year. Or about 50 a day. That would make South Africa the tenth most murderous country in the world, outpacing Rwanda, Mexico, and both Sudans. And that’s using South Africa’s official estimates — outside groups put the murder rate 100 percent higher. Choosing not to trust the South African authorities is a safe bet — South Africa’s government, which has been led by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress since the end of apartheid, is outstandingly incompetent and corrupt.

Of course, de facto one-party rule doesn’t promote integrity. Unemployment is 25 percent, but President Jacob Zuma, of the ANC, recently spent $24 million of public money to add a pool and amphitheater to his private home. Not long after the story broke, he was elected to a second five-year term. Think-tank theorist Leon Louw, who helped defeat apartheid, calls the crime and corruption “a simple manifestation of the breakdown of the state. The government is just appallingly bad at everything it does: education, healthcare, infrastructure, security, everything that is a government function is in shambles.”

He adds — citing “anecdotal data” — that “most people don’t bother to report crimes.”

It appears that South Africa is about the most dangerous place you can be outside a war zone. What’s more worrying is the chance that it might become a war zone. Nelson Mandela was able to hold the “rainbow nation” together, but he’s passed on. Now, according to the human-rights organization Genocide Watch, South Africa is at pre-genocide stage 6 of 8: “Preparation.”

Genocide? Of which tribe?

With the country skidding toward anarchy, naturally, the people want to know whom they should blame. In 2010, a prominent member of the African National Congress named Julius Malema revived an old anti-apartheid song whose lyrics — says Genocide Watch — call for genocide: “Shoot the Boer, shoot, shoot.” “Boer” means “farmer” in Afrikaans; colloquially, it means “white South African.” Malema was ejected from the ANC and convicted of hate speech; he has since formed a new opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, which is currently the third largest party in parliament. Seven months after Malema’s conviction, President Zuma sang the genocide song himself, leading a crowd in a musical chant: “We are going to shoot them with machine guns, they are going to run… The cabinet will shoot them, with the machine gun… Shoot the Boer, we are going to hit them, they are going to run.” Watch the video on YouTube — it is surreal. Nelson Mandela’s successor, the president of South Africa, addresses a crowd of — according to the Guardian — tens of thousands, in a giant stadium, and calls for the murder of what amounts to about 10 percent of his constituents. Among the audience, uniformed members of the military dance.

According to Genocide Watch, the murder rate among South African white farmers is four times higher than among South Africans en masse. That rate increased every month after President Zuma sang his song, for as long as accurate records are available: The police have been ordered to stop reporting murders by race. The police have also disarmed and disbanded groups of farmer-minutemen, organized to provide mutual security. Consequently, says Genocide Watch, “their families” have been “subjected to murder, rape, mutilation and torture.” Meanwhile, “high-ranking ANC government officials… continuously refer to Whites as ‘settlers.’”

Josh Gelernter recommends that the settlers form their own Singapore-style city-state.

Occupation is the Root Cause

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

The main risk factor people think is associated with suicide attack is Islamic fundamentalism, Robert Pape says:

Religion, and specifically Islamic fundamentalism, because they witness, they observe the attackers on 9/11 were Islamic fundamentalists. Many of the attackers in Iraq, ISIS is an Islamic fundamentalist group. Well what this research found, really for the first time, is that religion is not as prominent a cause of suicide terrorism as many people think. The world leader during that 24-year period was not an Islamic group. They were the Tamil tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist group, a secular group, a Hindu group. The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka did more suicide attacks than Hamas or Islamic Jihad. What over 95% of all suicide attacks have in common is not religion, but a specific strategic objective: to compel a democratic state to withdraw combat forces from territory the terrorists see as their homeland or prize. From Lebanon and the West Bank back then to Iraq and Afghanistan today, this idea of military occupation is the leading risk factor producing over 95 percent of the suicide attacks that we see even as we speak.

Professor Pape recommends two things:

First is not make the problem worse. Before the invasion of Iraq, there were about 50 suicide attacks occurring around the world in 2001 and 2002 and only a handful of those were anti-American. Then we thought we’d fix the problem of terrorism by going into Iraq and essentially wringing the Islamic fundamentalism out of the Middle East by democratizing it. Well what happened by 2007 is that there were over 500 suicide attacks that year, over 300 of them in Iraq, which had never experienced a suicide attack before. So we made the problem dramatically worse. And in fact, the roots of ISIS and as I just told you the Paris attack, go back to the American occupation, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib. These are the ingredients, the cocktail of what we’re living with today. So if we were to then respond to the terrorism that we see by putting another massive army in either Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, these are very big countries, very big populations. Many people might think that we couldn’t make the problem worse. Oh yes, we can make it much worse, very quickly, as we saw with Iraq.

The second thing is we should be focusing on especially empowering moderates in local communities to compete head-to-head with terrorists. We did this in Iraq, starting in 2000- late 2006 and 2007 and 2008 in the Sunni community when we started to foment and foster and empower the Anbar Awakening. This was essentially 100,000 Sunnis, many of them connected with local Sunni tribes, where the United States paid individuals $300 a month to do just one thing: Don’t kill us. Don’t shoot at us. Some of these had been shooting us before. This was a controversial thing when the Bush administration did it. But this had a dramatic effect in weakening suicide terrorism, the most important effect of anything that we did. We should be doing this as we go forward in Iraq. We should be doing this as we go forward in Yemen.

The ROI on terrorism is immense — if you do in fact have a zero-sum mentality:

9/11 by all estimates, including the 9/11 Commission, cost Al Qaeda less than a half million dollars and it produced many billions of dollars of damage, not just in the loss of air traffic over the next year and a half, but in launching two major wars, one of which, in Iraq, turned out to be extremely expensive, extremely costly.

Two governments understand terrorism:

One is the Basque government. So we used to have in Spain a Basque terrorism problem. That terrorism problem has essentially gone away. It was a major problem for several decades in Europe. And in the early stages like many governments, the government tries heavy-handed military force to try to deal with the issue. Publics, of course, are afraid and fearful. The publics like to see tough talk and tough action. But that just made the problem worse. And then basically through a series of education and demographic policies, the Basque separatists, basically that political movement disappeared. And it disappeared because the Spanish government stopped treating the underlying Basque community as a separate community and started to have more integrationist and assimilationist policies.

In the case of Northern Ireland with the IRA, the British had an enormous problem with the IRA that really was just awful, thousands of people dying in the early 1970’s. And the British at first tried to deal with this problem by being very tough. And Maggie Thatcher, who was a very conservative leader of Britain in the 1980’s, was known as being a very tough woman. Well she’s the one who started the secret talks with the IRA leaders, which the public didn’t know about at the time, but ended up leading to the Good Friday accords in 1998 that essentially cut a deal for a tremendous amount of political autonomy for the local communities in Northern Ireland, which effectively ended, virtually ended, I guess I would say, terrorism that had gone on for decades. So what we have see is we have seen a pattern. And we’ve seen a pattern where states who face terrorism initially want to react with very heavy-handed force — some force, of course, is necessary, I’m not saying none — but often overreact, make the problem worse, and then over time learn.

Waltzing with (Leo) Strauss

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

The first part of Philosophy Between the Lines is a simple chronicle of evidence of just how widespread the use of esoteric writing really was from the pre-Socratics through the 18th century:

Melzer presents an impressive litany of important (and not-so-important) thinkers across the centuries, including Cicero, Alfarabi, Aquinas, Erasmus, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Montesquieu, Bacon, Hobbes, Diderot, and Rousseau, who either pointed to hidden meanings in their own writings, or acknowledged esotericism in their reading of other writers. He also presents some clear examples of esotericism in practice, as when Machiavelli in The Prince misquotes a familiar Bible story in a way that underscores the broader critique of Christianity he is apparently making.

This section of the book is wonderfully erudite and leaves no uncertainty that esotericism was indeed a major art that is now all but lost. Melzer points to four reasons for past uses of esotericism. First, it served as protection from prosecution; he notes its widespread use in totalitarian countries like the former Soviet Union and contemporary China. Second, it served to protect the political community from dangerous truths, such as philosophical skepticism about the city’s gods and traditions; third, it served a pedagogical purpose by forcing readers to engage on a deeper level; and fourth, it was used as a transitional strategy for modern writers seeking to undermine dogmatism.

Its greater merit, Francis Fukuyama believes, lies in the final chapter, which explains why esotericism was so important to Leo Strauss.

The Opposite of Post-Freudian Liberation

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Randall Collins suggests we’re seeing the opposite of post-Freudian liberation

The more gender equality in the future, the more Neo-Victorian repression in the realm of work and politics.

China’s Wealthy Parents Are Fed Up With State-Run Education

Monday, February 16th, 2015

China’s wealthy parents are fed up with state-run education and are turning to “progressive” Western alternatives, like Montessori, Waldorf, and unschooling:

Parents hope to spare their children the dull, stressful grind of the state education system by finding them something more laid-back that affords greater freedom for intellectual exploration. Some, like Zhang, have established private academies featuring curricula inspired by ancient Chinese philosophies from Confucianism to Daoism; others have opted for home schooling. With some schools costing up to $8,000 a year, more than three times the average annual income of a Chinese household, alternative education is an option only for a wealthy minority. It has thrived on the growing desire to drop out among those Chinese best positioned to lean in.

[...]

Many of the well-connected and affluent parents who have opted to remove their children from the Chinese state education system have themselves often emerged as winners from that system. That means they understand its drawbacks and perils better than most. Nicholas Chang, a former IBM sales manager, attributes his decision to quit his job and home-school his 8-year-old son, Felix, to his personal experience with Chinese schools. Bespectacled and with a youthful smile, not to mention an engineering Ph.D. from prestigious Tsinghua University, Chang exudes the self-assurance of a scholar. But he remembers his time in the classroom as one of ennui and confusion. “I never understand what the purpose of school was,” said Chang, who easily mastered its required routines but felt little interest in learning. “I spent most of my time wondering what one gains from the practice, and what should be the meaning of a true education.”

Chang is seeking the answer by experimenting with his son’s schooling. Chang had enrolled his son in a top-ranked public elementary school, but it was rigid and monotonous; Chang then tried a swanky private academy, but found it too conscious of status and wealth. “The primary role of education is to produce workers and consumers,” Chang said of these schools. “It is a factory.”

Drawn to the philosophy behind the “unschooling movement,” which grants children full autonomy in deciding what to learn in an environment free from institutional constraints, usually at home or within their local community, Chang is testing the method by degrees. His son, Felix, spends his morning memorizing German vocabulary and practicing guitar chords. (“Rote learning is still a crucial skill,” Chang reiterated). In the afternoon, Felix roams the spacious apartment, thumbing through books such as the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and the popular Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Young foreign expats stop by now and then to provide private lessons in piano, drums, and playwriting.

Chang says he plans to expand the experiment. He named his project Armada Education, embodying his conviction that learning should resemble a joint voyage between the adults, who are the proverbial aircraft carriers, and the children, who are the boats. “They are free to explore,” he explained, “but we are there if they need to come back for fuel.” Asked if he believes his method could be widely adopted in China, Chang strikes a more ambivalent tone. “I believe the way to cultivate a general is not the same as that to train a soldier,” he said. “A true general definitely does not walk such a conventional path. It requires a different set of skills.”

Chang’s view echoes the traditional belief of elite Chinese scholar-officials that education is a vehicle for self-cultivation. In the past century, as China came into increasing contact with the West, this belief often found expression through an admiration for progressive Western ideologies. A few days before the 1919 protests that sparked the May Fourth Movement, the famous American educator and philosopher John Dewey had arrived in China to promote his theory. Among the intellectuals intrigued by Dewey was a young Mao Zedong, a fresh graduate from a local teachers college and Dewey’s stenographer in Changsha. Mao, later to become the figurehead of China’s communist revolution, called Dewey’s thoughts on education and democracy “worth studying.” He carried the philosopher’s books when he opened a revolutionary bookstore in Hunan in 1920.

That flirtation with liberalism ended in 1949, when China’s new communist leaders introduced an education infrastructure closely based on the Soviet model. Teaching instead focused on inculcating a communist worldview and developing skills that would help graduates fulfill assigned social roles. Though the ideological component faded after Mao’s death, today’s education system, with its emphasis on math and science and its tendency to funnel students into narrow academic paths early, still bears a Soviet imprint.

Unearthing a Buried Body of Knowledge

Monday, February 16th, 2015

Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) met with Anthony Bossis and Stephen Ross to discuss their psilocybin trials at NYU:

Ross, who is in his forties, was dressed in a suit and could pass for a banker. He is also the director of the substance-abuse division at Bellevue, and he told me that he had known little about psychedelics — drugs that produce radical changes in consciousness, including hallucinations — until a colleague happened to mention that, in the nineteen-sixties, LSD had been used successfully to treat alcoholics. Ross did some research and was astounded at what he found.

“I felt a little like an archeologist unearthing a completely buried body of knowledge,” he said. Beginning in the nineteen-fifties, psychedelics had been used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including alcoholism and end-of-life anxiety. The American Psychiatric Association held meetings centered on LSD. “Some of the best minds in psychiatry had seriously studied these compounds in therapeutic models, with government funding,” Ross said.

Between 1953 and 1973, the federal government spent four million dollars to fund a hundred and sixteen studies of LSD, involving more than seventeen hundred subjects. (These figures don’t include classified research.) Through the mid-nineteen-sixties, psilocybin and LSD were legal and remarkably easy to obtain. Sandoz, the Swiss chemical company where, in 1938, Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD, gave away large quantities of Delysid — LSD — to any researcher who requested it, in the hope that someone would discover a marketable application. Psychedelics were tested on alcoholics, people struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depressives, autistic children, schizophrenics, terminal cancer patients, and convicts, as well as on perfectly healthy artists and scientists (to study creativity) and divinity students (to study spirituality). The results reported were frequently positive. But many of the studies were, by modern standards, poorly designed and seldom well controlled, if at all. When there were controls, it was difficult to blind the researchers — that is, hide from them which volunteers had taken the actual drug. (This remains a problem.)

By the mid-nineteen-sixties, LSD had escaped from the laboratory and swept through the counterculture. In 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act and put most psychedelics on Schedule 1, prohibiting their use for any purpose. Research soon came to a halt, and what had been learned was all but erased from the field of psychiatry. “By the time I got to medical school, no one even talked about it,” Ross said.

The clinical trials at N.Y.U. — a second one, using psilocybin to treat alcohol addiction, is now getting under way — are part of a renaissance of psychedelic research taking place at several universities in the United States, including Johns Hopkins, the Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center, and the University of New Mexico, as well as at Imperial College, in London, and the University of Zurich. As the drug war subsides, scientists are eager to reconsider the therapeutic potential of these drugs, beginning with psilocybin. (Last month The Lancet, the United Kingdom’s most prominent medical journal, published a guest editorial in support of such research.) The effects of psilocybin resemble those of LSD, but, as one researcher explained, “it carries none of the political and cultural baggage of those three letters.” LSD is also stronger and longer-lasting in its effects, and is considered more likely to produce adverse reactions. Researchers are using or planning to use psilocybin not only to treat anxiety, addiction (to smoking and alcohol), and depression but also to study the neurobiology of mystical experience, which the drug, at high doses, can reliably occasion. Forty years after the Nixon Administration effectively shut down most psychedelic research, the government is gingerly allowing a small number of scientists to resume working with these powerful and still somewhat mysterious molecules.

As I chatted with Tony Bossis and Stephen Ross in the treatment room at N.Y.U., their excitement about the results was evident. According to Ross, cancer patients receiving just a single dose of psilocybin experienced immediate and dramatic reductions in anxiety and depression, improvements that were sustained for at least six months. The data are still being analyzed and have not yet been submitted to a journal for peer review, but the researchers expect to publish later this year.

“I thought the first ten or twenty people were plants — that they must be faking it,” Ross told me. “They were saying things like ‘I understand love is the most powerful force on the planet,’ or ‘I had an encounter with my cancer, this black cloud of smoke.’ People who had been palpably scared of death — they lost their fear. The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding. We have never had anything like it in the psychiatric field.”

Conan the Corded Ware Maker

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

In the second half of the 20th Century, academics engaged in a concerted effort to make the prehistory of Eurasia sound kinder, gentler, and much, much duller, Steve Sailer notes:

For example, the Battle Axe culture of Northern Europe of 4,000 to 5,000 years ago was renamed the Corded Ware culture. Less invasion, conquest, enslavement, and rapine; more different peoples getting together in a spirit of sharing to teach each other their arts, their crafts, their languages, their values, their hopes, their dreams.

For the entire 21st Century, though, Greg Cochran has been predicting that when genome analyses of ancient buried corpses are finally done, the prehistory of Eurasia will wind up looking a lot less like the later 20th Century conventional wisdom and more like the fantasy world created by the bookish Robert E. Howard for his Conan the Barbarian stories in the 1930s. Howard summarized the fantasy prehistory of his Conan stories in an essay entitled The Hyborian Age published in 1936, shortly before he killed himself at age 30.

A new genomic paper suggests that the barbarians of the distant past were quite barbaric: Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe.

How to Minimize Politics in Your Company

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Ben Horowitz, of Andreessen Horowitz, explains how to minimize politics in your company:

A CEO creates politics by encouraging and sometimes incenting political behavior—often accidentally. For a very simple example, let’s consider executive compensation. As CEO, senior employees will come to you from time to time and ask for an increase in compensation. They may suggest that you are paying them far less than their current market value. They may even have a competitive offer in hand. Faced with this confrontation, if the request is reasonable, you might investigate the situation. You might even give the employee a raise. This may sound innocent, but you have just created a strong incentive for political behavior.

Specifically, you will be rewarding behavior that has nothing to do with advancing your business. The employee will earn a raise by asking for one rather than you automatically rewarding them for outstanding performance. Why is this bad? Let me count the ways:

  1. The other ambitious members of your staff will immediately agitate for raises as well. Note that neither this campaign nor the prior one need be correlated with actual performance. You will now spend time dealing with the political issues rather than actual performance issues. Importantly, if you have a competent board, you will not be able to give them all out-of-cycle raises, so your company executive raises will occur on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  2. The less aggressive (but perhaps more competent) members of your team will be denied off-cycle raises simply by being apolitical.
  3. The object lesson for your staff and the company will be the squeaky wheel gets the grease and the political employee gets the raise. Get ready for a whole lot of squeaky wheels.

Now let’s move on to a more complicated example. Your CFO comes to you and says that he wants to continue developing as a manager. He says that he would like to eventually become a COO and would like to know what skills he must demonstrate in order to earn that position in your company. Being a positive leader, you would like to encourage him to pursue his dream. You tell him that you think that he’d be a fine COO some day and that he should work to develop a few more skills. In addition, you tell him that he’ll need to be a strong enough leader, such that other executives in the company will want to work for him. A week later, one of your other executives comes to you in a panic. She says that the CFO just asked her if she’d work for him. She says that he said that you are grooming him to be the COO and that’s his final step. Did that just happen? Welcome to the big time.

As he developed as a CEO, he found three key techniques to be extremely useful in minimizing politics:

  1. Hire people with the right kind of ambition.
  2. Build strict processes for potentially political issues and do not deviate.
  3. Be careful with “he said, she said.”

The last is the most interesting:

Once your organization grows to a significant size, members of your team will, from time to time, complain about each other. Sometimes this criticism will be extremely aggressive. Be very careful about how you listen and the message that it sends. Simply by hearing them out without defending the employee in question, you will send the message that you agree. If people in the company think that you agree that one of your executives is less than stellar, that information will spread quickly and without qualification. As a result, people will stop listening to the executive in question and they will soon become ineffective.

There are two distinct types of complaints that you will receive:

  1. Complaints about an executive’s behavior
  2. Complaints about an executive’s competency or performance

Generally, the best way to handle complaints of type 1 is to get the complaining executive and the targeted executive in the room together and have them explain themselves. Usually, simply having this meeting will resolve the conflict and correct the behavior (if it was actually broken). Do not attempt to address behavioral issues without both executives in the room. Doing so will invite manipulation and politics.

Complaints of type 2 are both more rare and more complex. If one of your executives summons the courage to complain about the competency of one of their peers, then there is a good chance that either the complainer or the targeted executive has a major problem. If you receive a type 2 complaint, you will generally have one of two reactions: a) they will be telling you something that you already know or b) they’ll be telling you shocking news.

If they are telling you something that you already know, then the big news is that you have let the situation go too far. Whatever your reasons for attempting to rehabilitate the wayward executive, you have taken too long and now your organization has turned on the executive in question. You must resolve the situation quickly. Almost always, this means firing the executive. While I’ve seen executives improve their performance and skill sets, I’ve never seen one lose the support of the organization then regain it.

On the other hand, if the complaint is new news, then you must immediately stop the conversation and make clear to the complaining executive that you in no way agree with their assessment. You do not want to cripple the other executive before you re-evaluate their performance. You do not want the complaint to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once you’ve shut down the conversation, you must quickly re-assess the employee in question. If you find that they are doing an excellent job, then you must figure out the complaining executive’s motivations and resolve them. Do not let an accusation of this magnitude fester. If you find that the employee is doing a poor job, there will be time to go back and get the complaining employee’s input, but you should be on a track to remove the poor performer at that point.

Progressive Labor Theology

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

The most durable liberal narrative, Henry Dampier suggests, is that liberalism led to gradually improving labor standards:

The planks of this story are:

  • Work-hour reduction laws
  • Environmental protection laws
  • Minimum wage guarantees
  • Workplace safety legislation
  • Mandatory unemployment insurance
  • Outlawing of child labor
  • Workplace-centered tax collection legislation
  • Abolition of slavery, indenture, and heavily regulation of apprenticeship
  • Transference of workplace training to the regulated school
  • Gender equality legislation
  • Banning of hiring practices that lead to disparate racial, gender, and sexual orientation impact

The trouble with this story is that it did not actually end any of these practices in the world. It simply displaced many of the older labor patterns into the third world, which is where the West shoves all the practices that it finds aesthetically and morally displeasing to make their own countries more appealing to their moral aesthetics.

On occasion, there is a temporary moral craze about labor practices overseas, but those crazes are always short-lived, because the only way that liberalism can be maintained is by shunting the necessary labor that goes into supporting it out of sight, into foreign countries.

The shunting of these labor practices overseas creates a pervasive sense of guilt on the part of those inculcated into the higher strata of liberal spirituality, but part of that guilt can be abrogated by importing more third world inhabitants into living in the purer, more moral states which they inhabit.

Making a great show of how ‘anti-racist’ and ‘tolerant’ these liberals are makes up for their denial of the unpleasant (to their sensibilities) work must go in to supporting their shining cities, which are not really all that shining at all when judged against the great cities of traditional Europe.

A Cabal Of Its Enemies

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Francis W. Porretto published his screed, A Cabal Of Its Enemies, over a decade ago, I cited it a few years ago, and since then it has disappeared into the ether. Through the black arts, I have summoned its shade to speak to us about Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics:


September 2, 2003

Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics:

  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
  2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
  3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently, on the Web and elsewhere, about the State Department’s well known tendency to impede the implementation of Bush Administration policies as they touch on the Israeli / Palestinian conflagration, the Muslim Middle East generally, and the ongoing crisis in North Korea. Some have speculated that Secretary of State Colin Powell, though a retired soldier, is more comfortable with appeasement than with confrontation. Others have opined that the institutional tendencies of the State Department are simply more geared to talk, the polite fictions of diplomacy, and the consequent compromises, than to face-offs from which one side or the other must back down.

Professor Conquest, as noted above, had a simpler take on it. Historically, his capsule seems to hold true, at least for “mature” bureaucracies in which structural and personnel changes have dampened to “holding” levels. But questions of no little importance remain: Why should the incentives that govern America’s State Department perennially produce results that better suit the interests of America’s enemies than those of her people — regardless of the ideological alignment of the executive administration or the majorities in Congress? What is the nature of the mechanism? Can it be exclusively the incentives produced by civil service tenure rules and governmental inertia? Why should those things work against us, rather than for us?

It’s a life study. One of the master intellects of the past century, the great Cyril Northcote Parkinson, made such matters his special field. Despite his penetration, he left the work unfinished. But your Curmudgeon is here to pick up where that mighty mind left off.

Parkinson promulgated a number of laws of bureaucracy that serve to explain a huge percentage of its characteristics. They’ve exhibited remarkable predictive power within their domain. The first of these is the best known:

Parkinson’s First Law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

Parkinson inferred this effect from two central principles governing the behavior of bureaucrats:

  1. Officials want to multiply subordinates, not rivals.
  2. Officials make work for one another.

Like most generalizations, these are not always true…but the incentives that apply specifically to tax-funded government bureaucracies make them true much more often than not. They make a striking contrast with the almost exactly opposite behavior observable in private enterprise.

In his wonderfully humorous book of business advice Further Up The Organization, former Avis CEO Robert Townsend advises the young manager to try to eliminate his own job. “No one ever got fired for telling his supervisor, ‘They do it better without me than with me. What should I do now?’”, writes Townsend, and in the world of free enterprise, he’s right. Profit-seeking enterprises prize that kind of effectiveness. It is not so in government.

Government work is never done. In part, that’s because, in the grand scale, the problems addressed by governments are eternal problems, to be solved only by the Last Judgment. But in greater part, it’s because solving problems even on the small scale is antithetical to the personal well being of bureaucrats. Charles Peters, editor of the Washington Monthly, noted this in his book How Washington Really Works. He observed that it is the least effective organs within government that invariably receive the largest increases in funding and staffing. The lesson is seldom lost on the young bureaucrat with a hankering to move up.

That young bureaucrat will profit from deliberate ineffectiveness to the extent that he can get himself viewed as an asset by his superiors and a non-threat by his peers. His superiors want him to produce justifications for the enlargement of their domains. His peers simply ask that he not tread on their provinces.

To justify enlarging his sub-pyramid of the bureaucracy, a manager must represent his efforts as vital and his resources as inadequate. This can put peers in a bureaucracy into conflict with one another, but the budgetary constraints on the bureaucracy as a whole will often give way even if every sub-bureaucracy within it demands more people and funds simultaneously, provided only that Congress can be made to see the alternatives as unacceptably worse.

How does one engineer the required perceptions? By a combination of techniques, the most effective being the partial suppression of information, both about the nature of the problems one addresses and one’s labors to solve them.

Contrary to what intuition might say, a fully informed superior is usually an unhappy man. Even if things are going swimmingly in his organization, if he knows exactly what’s being done at the detail level, he’ll always see things he disapproves — because he once did those jobs himself, and will invariably contrast his subordinates’ methods unfavorably with his own. The temptation to micro-manage is amplified by the possession of those details. His subordinates will know this, of course, and so will suppress any details below the level required for a broad-brush status report. This is an example of Robert Anton Wilson’s “Snafu Principle” in action.

So the portrait of a bureaucracy’s operations, as it emerges from the nether depths at which specific tasks are addressed, becomes ever vaguer and less detailed as it approaches presentation to “outsiders”: the president, Congress, and the general public. In a sense, the “outsiders” are lucky to get any accurate information at all. If it could get away with it, a bureaucracy’s status report to its external control authorities would say nothing but: “You need us desperately, and we’re working as hard as we can, but we need more people and money. Send them soonest.”

Another of Mankind’s master intellects, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, has approached bureaucratic inefficiency from the standpoint of the incentives that govern the use of resources, particularly money. He presented the following matrix of spending decisions:

The Benefit Will Accrue To Me The Benefit Will Accrue To Others
The Cost Will Be Borne By Me I II
The Cost Will Be Borne By Others III IV

This is the incentives matrix each of us faces any time he has to make a spending decision.

In Type I and II situations, the spender is spending his own money, and so has strong incentives to control cost. In Type I situations, where the spender will be purchasing some benefit for himself, he will attempt to maximize the quality of the thing purchased. In Type II situations, where the benefit will go to someone else, the quality of the thing purchased declines in importance, and is sometimes sloughed entirely.

In Type III and IV situations, which embrace all government spending, the spender is spending someone else’s money, and so has little or no incentive to control costs. In Type III situations, where the spender is buying something for himself, he’ll attempt to maximize the benefit. In Type IV situations, where the spender is buying something for someone else, there are no compelling reasons to control either cost or quality.

Most bureaucratic resource allocation falls into Type IV.

But Friedman’s insight ought to be a starting point, not a stopping point, for the understanding of bureaucratic spending decisions. A bureaucrat will learn, given time, how to “spend on others” in such a fashion that the primary benefit flows to himself, particularly as regards the perception outside his domain that what he’s doing is critically important and must not be interfered with. It’s no accident that every department of the United States federal government runs a public-relations office, something that would be incomprehensible if each department did its work economically and effectively, and were viewed thus by the general public.

In the case of our State Department, it is the bureaucrats’ desire that we see their operations as critically important to the nation’s interests, as America’s relations with other governments affect them. Central to the maintenance of this image is the related perception that, unless the State Department is allowed free rein and generous resources, America will be perennially, ruinously at war.

It’s one of the present day’s largest ironies that our Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the most celebrated soldiers of recent memory. The State Department and the Defense Department are bureaucratic peers and therefore rivals. Each strives to minimize the importance of the other.

Von Clausewitz and others have termed war “a continuation of politics by other means,” but when viewed from the perspective of the State Department official, war is the declaration that his organization has failed of its purpose. He sees it as bad public relations for his entire function. Thus, even when the nation’s interests would be overwhelmingly better served by war than by the continuation of diplomacy, the State Department man will prefer diplomacy. It’s in his demesne, and enhances his prestige by enhancing the prestige of his trade.

It’s not too much to say that averting war regardless of its desirability or justifiability is near the top of every State Department functionary’s list of priorities. In this pursuit, the State Department will often find itself opposing even peacetime operations of the military designed to improve its effectiveness, such as the acquisition of new weapons or the enlargement of its ranks. Tom Clancy provided a fictional example of this in his novel The Cardinal Of The Kremlin. The State Department set its face against the perfection of an American anti-missile defense, in no small measure because it would reduce the desirability of arms-control treaties with the Soviet Union.

In the real world, we often find the State Department opposing military decisions, for example about troop deployments or weapons development, specifically out of fear of the reactions of other governments. Objectively, if those decisions made the United States stronger and safer at an acceptable cost, it would be madness to oppose them. But to a State Department loyalist, who has no control over the instruments of force wielded by the Defense Department and whose primary goal is to avert war at all costs, what matters most is the reactions of those other States. If they make unpleasant noises or military adjustments of their own, the State Department man instinctively assesses the risks of war as increasing. Other governments know this, and exploit it.

Not every new State Department employee enters his responsibilities with all these attitudes already in place, of course. But over time, the department’s institutional incentives and outlook will filter out those who fail to adopt the dominant view in Foggy Bottom: War always means failure — for the State Department.

There is a final set of considerations, the least agreeable of the major ones, that must be addressed before we conclude. They relate to the worldview that forms among diplomats and their supporting staffs as a result of their professional circumstances.

The diplomat lives among foreigners. His usual society is, therefore, not aligned with the supposed point of his job: the maintenance and advancement of his country’s national interests. Given this, it would take a will of iron to resist the tendency to draw closer to the representatives of other nations, with whom he must work closely over the span of decades, even at the cost of distancing himself from his fellow citizens. He will unconsciously edge toward the attitudes and convictions of those who form his usual environment. This will affect everyone who makes dealing with foreigners his life’s work; there is no obvious countermeasure for it.

Even more important, a professional diplomatic corps, organizationally separate from its control authorities, is a target of opportunity for the governments of other countries. Inducing America’s diplomats and support staffs to see their own welfare as more aligned with pleasing other governments than with representing America’s interests is a primary objective of foreign powers. They have many kinds of inducement at their disposal.

This is not to suggest that every ambassador, every consular official, and every State Department employee must be constantly scrutinized for indications of treason. However, it would be foolish to deny that foreign powers, who have a large measure of control over how pleasant America’s representatives to them find their work, can thereby influence the mindset and responses of those representatives in all manner of venues. Obviously, that influence is unlikely to be in America’s favor.

Inner Conclusions:

This survey of influences on the State Department and the incentives that affect its personnel appears very bleak. Unfortunately, its implications are strongly confirmed by experience. We’ve seen our State Department embrace the interests of America’s adversaries far too often to wish the matter away.

Everything discussed here touches on motivation at the institutional level. Such motivations arise from the large-scale characteristics of the institutions and the surroundings in which they operate. They cannot be undone by changes in personnel, even the most massive, except over the very short term.

Can anything be done for the long term?

Possibly, but more likely not. The conditions discussed here arise from the nature of the institutions discussed: the State Department and the government milieu generally. They cannot be changed without changing the nature of those institutions in radical ways — and the institutions could be counted upon to resist externally imposed changes with all the powers at their disposal.

A new Secretary of State would find himself thwarted in any attempt to reform his department, absent powers so sweeping that Congress would be exceedingly unlikely to entrust them to a presidential appointee. After all, those who labor in those institutions would easily persuade themselves that they knew better how things should be than any boss imposed upon them from outside their sphere. They would be “conservative about what they know best,” naturally inclined to reject the suggestion that their worldview was in serious error. In the end, the Secretary would almost certainly accept the appearance of change in place of the real thing. Following the incentives that apply to his position in the bureaucracy, he would present it to the nation as a triumph. As Arthur Herzog has noted, “Change is hard, and difficulty makes people impatient.”

Outer Conclusions:

None of the ideas presented above are original. Each one emerged from some other, greater mind, a master in a highly demanding field. Your Curmudgeon has merely attempted to synthesize a coherent picture from them. As compelling as he finds the result, he ardently wishes it were otherwise.

In reflecting on the totality of the thing, your Curmudgeon finds himself struck by Parkinson’s final Law, the last of his intellectual gifts to Mankind:

Law Of The Vacuum: Action expands to fill the void created by human failure.

Action takes many forms. In the world of geopolitics, the most perceptible form is the military kind: the exchange of fire as governments attempt to impose their wills upon one another. War is the ultimate negative-sum game. Even the victor is worse off after a war than before it. This is not to say that war must always be avoided; sometimes all the alternatives are worse. But war becomes ever more necessary to a nation whose professional representatives to foreign powers cannot bring themselves to do the job for which they were hired — to champion their country’s interests plainly, confidently, and fearlessly. To embrace any other agenda than that, whether out of habit, institutional inertia, or the promotion of personal or sectarian priorities above national ones, is to embrace failure itself, and thereby to create a vacuum into which bullets, bombs, and troops will rush.

Verbum sat sapienti.