The Brave New World is Here

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DSC_0005 (Photo credit: Oddtwang)

Drones fill the skies, helping the government to spy on American citizens. States and municipalities can track through traffic cams and other devices where Individual Americans travel. The U. S. government has records of phone calls and internet records. Corporations routinely mine personal data in order to market their products. The distinction between public and private life has eroded, as has any distinction between secret life and private life.

All concentrations of power are dangerous in the contemporary world in which surveillance equipment has advanced to the point that anyone in power could theoretically invade any portion of a person’s life. the rise of federal power as well as the rise of corporate power has led to a centralization of information about people that should frighten even the most cautious individual. This is not a conspiracy, but a natural result, in the case of corporations, of the desire to make more profit by more efficient marketing, and the desire of government officials to gain greater power. In a utilitarian culture, all that matters to many people are the end results–if spying on people yields more profit, the greater profit is worth, so companies believe, the cost of privacy violations.

No human society can survive without some barriers between public, private, and secret lives. All of us, whether or not we admit it, have quirks about which we would rather others be ignorant. The Internet‘s “closed groups” were meant to allow people with various quirks to talk to like minded people, but the Internet is a public forum, and ultimately anyone can get information that a person does not want shared. With the veil between public, private, and secret shattered, trust between people is eroded, and ill will between people spreads like cancer.

There are times I wish I could live like a hobbit in a hole, living a simple life and not having to deal with the complexities of contemporary hubris. Technology can be a good thing, but too often human pride, lust for power, and lust for money corrupts the use of even the best technologies. Unless there is a collapse of civilization–which I certainly do not want to happen–I see no practical solution to the erosion of privacy in contemporary society. All the laws and regulations in the world will only slow, at best, what has been a freight train full of new ways for governments and companies to spy on people. The Brave New World has arrived. Are you satisfied with it?

The Need for Practical Wisdom in the Federal Bureaucracy


Washington DC - Capitol Hill: United States Ca...

Washington DC – Capitol Hill: United States Capitol (Photo credit: wallyg)

With the massive growth of the federal government comes growth in a complex bureaucratic structure that creates multiple layers of administration between government agencies and what they are designed to do. In the 1950s it was relatively easy to begin the interstate highway system–the government was more simply run and the number of “checkers” was reasonable. These days it takes years from conception to finish to build a small limited access route around a growing city. This is not only an issue of environmental regulation–it is an issue of paperwork, finding the right codes, administrator egos, and too many layers of management. In addition, any bureaucracy operates on a system of strict rules. In the case of the federal government, these rules are said to be necessary to protect the public from fraud, from unsafe products, from incompetent health care, or from shoddy construction on buildings and roads. Rules are essential to any organization–it would be irrational to deny that. People, left to themselves, are not often an orderly lot, and efficient, competent operation requires rules. However, beyond rules that are absolutely essential for safety or another vital value, rules often get in the way of common sense. A needed highway may be delayed by the failure to fill out some obscure paperwork that very few people knew about at the time. People in a local area may realize that what they request is badly needed, but someone in the bureaucracy nicks the request. Often, the requests of local people who know the needs of the communities in  which they live are overridden by someone who has never set foot in a particular community. The current trend in the federal government seems to be to follow the model of private business and focus on efficiency. Admittedly the federal government could do a better job of being efficient. However, efficiency should not trump service, and federal supervisors from upper management to “ordinary” employees should be given enough discretion to use practical wisdom to react in the proper way to a particular situation. As Aristotle pointed out, practical wisdom has to do with the local, the particular, rather than with an overarching universal. It is all too easy for federal officials to get caught in their abstract language and multiple abbreviations and lose sight of the very people that pay their salaries and whom they are to serve in a caring, responsible way. Discretion in spending of money should be broadened. Civil service should be reformed in such a way that seniority does not imply that an incompetent person or someone abusing his authority cannot be fired. But there should also be room for dissent and questioning of the decisions of middle and upper management as long as it is done in a respectful way. For example, suppose a federal employee lives in a community where a new bridge is supposed to be built. The employee knows that the road over which the bridge will be build will be re-routed so as to avoid the need for a bridge–at cost savings to the community. Higher federal officials say, “Congress appropriated the money for a bridge, and a bridge you shall have.” What would be wrong with local federal employees who know the situation informing their managers and those managers going up the chain of command so that Congress can allow the community to use the money appropriated for the bridge for re-routing the road? It is not insubordination to question a ruling. Not following a ruling after a final decision has been made would be wrong–but questioning if there is good reason to question should be a right of any American citizen including one who works for the federal government.

Some government programs work well; most do not. Why not work with those who do not to improve them, and if they are not viable, eliminate them? Federal programs, like federal employees, seem to be self-perpetuating no matter how useless or incompetent they are. This demoralizes good employees and empowers the cynical. Instead of focusing on “Which set of rules must we follow now,” focus on “What is the best thing to do in this particular situation?” The best thing will depend on the particularities of the situation and will require practical wisdom, learned by experience, rather than a list of rules to reach the best decision. This implies good observation and evaluation skills as well as the skills to creatively find ways to stay within the rules while stretching them to fit the limits of a particular situation. Experienced local officials should be trusted, unless they have proven untrustworthy, to make prudent decisions. Normally middle and upper management should, if sufficient funds are available, yield to the suggestions of the people who know an area and its problems best. Civil service, designed in the Chester Arthur administration to prevent political favoritism, should not be used to maintain the incompetent, the arrogant, and those managers who harm others by their laziness in performing their tasks. At the local level, conversations in the workplace between different units should be as open as possible so that “the right hand knows where the left hand goes.” Wise decisions are based on the most accurate and thorough information possible. Hopefully federal employees can then go beyond mere rule-following and exercise their discretion

The United States Should Not Bail out the European Union

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Constituency for the European Parliament elect...

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The United States, through the IMF, of which the U. S. is the majority owner, is pumping 250 billion dollars into the EU-IMF Stability Fund. Unlike the Marshall Plan after World War II, which helped keep Communism out of Western Europe and helped rebuild and stabilize Europe, this plan supports an organization which should quietly pass out of existence.

Since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, there have been several attempts to restore the political unity of Western Europe. Charlemagne, in A. D. 800, proclaimed a new Roman Empire, which quickly broke down into competing dukedoms and fiefdoms. The area that is now Germany was not part of the original Roman Empire and already had a different language from the languages developing out of Vulgar Latin that would later become the modern Romance Languages. The barbarian invaders had brought their unique cultures with them into the Roman territories where they settled, and the mix of barbarian and Roman culture produced very different cultures in different areas. The Holy Roman Empire kept the fiction of a European union, but it was basically a group of German petty states controlled by nobles (Germany was not unified as a nation-state until Bismarck did it in 1871). The Bishop of Rome kept an ecclesiastical unity in the West until the Protestant Reformation. But after the Reformation and  after the Feudal era, modern nation-states arose, especially with the Peace of Westphalia  in 1648. But the dream of European Unity did not end.

The European Union was an attempt to create at least an economic union with its own currency, the Euro. Britain, which treasures its independence, kept its own currency, the Pound, although it sends representatives to the European Parliament. But the European Union is intrinsically unstable. Europe has never had the linguistic and cultural unity it had before the fall of the Western Empire, and it lost its religious unity in the 1500s. There is not even a religious vision of the world shared by Europeans given the decline of Christianity and the rise of radical secularism. But French and German Marxists attempted to impose a union upon Europe that is an illusion more than a reality. To continue to support the boondoggle of the European Union is contrary to the best interests of the European nations in the so-called Union, but is also a waste of money for the United States.