Magic and Mayhem, by Derek Leebaert
In the democratic model of citizen/government relationship, those in governmental power are charged with representing the interests of the people in a reasonable, rational way. Leebaert, in this book-long essay, goes to great lengths to examine the irrationalities that the U.S.’s leaders have foisted on us via their most consuming decisions since World War II.
What then are the warts on U.S. decision making? Leebaert examines six different aspects of the magical thinking he claims has led the U.S. to its current dilemmas, both internal and external:
Emergency Men: these are persons who step to the fore in hard times, partly informed on the issues at hand, who are telegenic and glib enough to garner the trust of governmental administrators and citizens.
The Mystique of Management: this is the tendency of administrators to impose management on what is unmanageable, particularly in foreign policy.
Star Power: this is the obsession Americans have with self-identified experts, who elbow their way into the national spotlight. Such persons are long on personality, invariably short on the expertise they’ve laid claim to.
Expectations of Wondrous Results from Nominal Effort: To paraphrase, Americans seek easy answers to complex problems. When self-styled experts rise to prominence, promising some catch-all solution to complexity, we’re invariably willing to accept it over an incremental, less showy approach.
History: We often misread history or accept the implications of history only in part.
The World Wants To Be Like Us: we’re so enamored of our nation’s history, of its rise to power, its particular path to economic well-being, that we assume (in error) that the rest of the world would evolve into international versions of our history, or success as a society, if only they had the chance.
Leebaert, while teetering on the precipice of rant, does provide incisive views into our decision-making history and the draining effect this history is now having on our dynamism and creativity. Identifying problems, however is always much easier and showier than providing solutions, particularly when the complexities of modern societies are highlighted.
However, the author does attempt to provide the first nibbles at solution here. Some involve re-organization and re-management of government to emphasize true professionals, not political snake oil salesmen. This, however, places a greater burden on citizens to ferret out these emergency men, these stars, and to demand that reason be imposed on those who step to the fore. But this has always been the project of the Enlightenment: to provide a society in which citizens may overcome the emotional baggage of history through education and understanding.
As with any complexity, Leebaert’s suggestions are only a start.
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
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