News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sign posts on the journey to dysfunction

The attempted bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner has produced a classic epidemic of Monday-morning-quarterbacking.  And we hasten to point out that the term "Monday Morning Quarterback" is not exactly a compliment.  It designates those people whose only sense of consequence is to sit by while other people engage in all the work and action and then bicker and criticize, even though these kibbitzers have never had what it takes to play the game in which they pose as experts.  Monday Morning Quarterbacking is a harmless pretense, unless it is mistaken for informed intelligence.  When it is taken seriously, it becomes dangerous.  It has become dangerous.

Current polls show that few Americans have any confidence in Congress.   Many informed observers have written about the escalating dysfunction of Congress and its inability to do much more than bicker, obstruct, and resolve itself into resentful factions.  The real significance is that Congress is a direct reflection of the American people.  The country that fought World War II, moved forward with civil rights, and produced ideas and products that made it the world leader no longer exists.  The resentment, petulance, and petty malice demonstrated in Congress shows a deterioration of intellectual discernment,  The irrelevant and often foolish quibbling of the Monday Morning Quarterbacks are being taken seriously, probably because members of Congress are so slavishly devoted to garnering votes, no matter what level of inanity.

Discussions of national security are immersed in the muck of that petty  egotism which deludes people into thinking that inane bickering is intelligent discussion.  A survey of of the media and the blogosphere reveals how mired the nation, and therefore Congress, is in the sloughs of contention.  The Dutch government, for example, is planning to subject all airline passengers going through its terminals to full-body scans.  Many commenters decry that this technology has not been put in place sooner.  They forget that when full-body scanners were developed and demonstrated, there was an outcry about their invasion of privacy because the images of the full body included rather detailed scans of the genitalia.  A blocking device could be put in place over the crotch, but savvy would-be bombers would fasten their explosives in the crotch area somewhere.  This is exactly what the Nigerian Christmas bomber did.    The TSA delayed implementation of full-body scans because there was so much opposition to imaging the public's pudenda.

Then there is much criticism and accusation about the fact that the Nigerian's father informed the Dept. of State that his son was being radicalized by Islamic terror groups but he was not put on a list that  would have prevented him from boarding a U.S.-bound flight.  While the critics think he should have made the A-list of potential terrorists, they conveniently ignore the ruckus raised about just what criteria must be applied to curtail people's rights.  Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, has said that we need to practice outright discrimination in order to  prevent Islamic terrorists from entering the country or engaging in activities within it.  Some people have been wrongfully placed on lists and some have been subjected to humiliating searches and interrogations.  These instances show actions taken against people on the basis of false accusations.  With the aborted airliner bombing and the shootings at Fort Hood, we are told that the security measures following 9/11 are not working as well as they should be.  We even have some valid analysis as to why they have not worked.  But the questions of abandoning our fundamental principles of freedom, equality, and equal protection of the law loom over all information and discussions of deterrring terrorisim.

Predominantly, we have the  Monday Morning Quarterbacks sending up their sound and fury. Cogent and valid analysis gets intermixed and lost in the raging babble.  Instead of rolling up their sleeves and asking just what caused the malfunctions of the security system and what is the best way to correct it, the people in charge are busy looking over their shoulders to hear what the pundits will say, how the polls will respond, what the bloggers say, and what kind of political spin missiles they will have to deflect.  Responsible government is confused with responsive government.  And it is dysfunctional.

The loudest voice in all this is those who could care less about what happens to the people of the country as long as they can find some pretext in terror attacks for accusing the Obama administration of dire things which they hope will lead to its defeat.  Former Vice President Dick Cheney is the  loudest cheerleader for failure.   His latest sally can be easily demonstrated to be an outright lie, but truthfulness and accurate representations are not part of his party's operating standards.  That fact accounts for why government will not in the current intellectual climate be able to formulate a competent and effective means for dealing with terrorists.  A nation possessed by an unstable mentality lacks the capability of dealing with other unstable mentalities.  The insane asylum is being run by the insane.

Dealing with the pathologies in the human personality is the toughest of jobs.  It would much simpler to, as New Gingrich suggests, give in to an open policy of discriminating against anyone against whom we have suspicions.  We would become like Nazi Germany, the Stalinist Soviet Union, and contemporary Iran, China, and North Korea.  We would simply kill or incarcerate those we suspect or dislike.  And, of course, we would lose America in the corrosive mists of our reptilian past.  Those mists are present in the petty and often stunningly stupid discussion about how to deal with terrorism.  They are our biggest national threat.

The difficulties of making sound and justifiable decisions about people who pose possible threats is covered in two Washington Post articles of intensive reporting on the Nigerian bomber and on the Fort Hood shooter.  In both cases, the clues about the directions that these men took are ambiguous and not definitive.  They follow a pattern of men who live in isolated devotion to their religion.  If they were Christian, they would be termed monkish.  The recriminations about missing the clues they presented are demonstrations of how much easier it is to be stupid than intelligent.  People have a right to their opinions, but we have a dire need for cogent criticism of the presumptuous opinions of those who choose to be dummies.

America has gone about the business of defining itself since colonial times.  It wrote itself in lofty and inspirational words and went about the business of growing into those words.  During the last half of the twentieth century, America flourished.  But in the 21st century, the language that dominates American consciousness has changed.  It is the language of bickering, quibbling, carping, and denial.  If one gauges America's destiny by the quality of its language and the reach of  the words that define its sense of purpose, we clearly live in an age of intellectual decline.  When people become dysfunctional, their language expresses it.

As an old man, I have seen much failure.  I have seen corporations descend into failure.  (I worked for one of the  nation's most spectacular failures, International Harvester Company.)   I have seen colleges and universities lose their way when the small mindedness of the educational bureaucracy stifled the intellects of its scholars.   I am watching such a case now.  I have seen communities wither away and die when the petty resentment  and bigotry of the carpers in the town cafes characterized the town culture.  And we have entire states, such as California and New York, demonstrating the processes of dysfunction and failure.

There was a time when Americans for the most part could recognize when a job had to be done, such as in confronting Islamic terrorists.  They realized that something had to be done and there were multiple ways of accomplishing any such task.  They also realized that there are a number of ways of accomplishing a task, but that the real goal is to accomplish the task and not get diverted by bickering over just how to go about the task.  America, as in World War II, put aside petty preferences, rolled up its sleeves, and concentrated on accomplishing the task to be done.

As we have seen in the last Congressional session, that kind of cooperation and focus on end results is not possible.  Instead, we are immersed in the language of dysfunction and personal insult and abuse.  This state of affairs is exactly what terrorists hope to accomplish.

The better angels of human nature are being vanquished by its most insidious demons.  
The  language what swirls around us foreshadows an age of darkness, a return to those dark ages that the Age of Enlightenment dispelled.  Our country is being rendered incapable of cogent resolve and competent action.  The terrorists are winning because they know how to manipulate the strings of the dummies. 

The map to America's future has been drawn in words and images.  How many will follow it? 
[A state employee in Colorado is facing disciplinary action for 
circulating this picture  from her office computer.]

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States