Fareed Zakaria wrote an insightful column on the botched Afghanistan withdrawal. A key fact for him is that the National Security Council met on the situation in that country 36 times since April 2021. What decisions were made by that body that has grown so large over the last 20 years? Apparently, none. What attempt was made to bring in information from the outside that might upset some of the ruling assumptions? Zakaria thinks the bureaucracy hunkered down, protecting turf that had political approval at the WH and Pentagon.Harry Marks wrote:.
Digging into the beginning of the book, the first thing I came to was the Mann Gulch fire. And oddly enough I had just been reading about that in Michael Lewis' fine book, "The Premonition" about the beginnings of the covid crisis and the difference between the response of those who were primed to look for threat and those bureaucrats who were primed for same ol, same ol'. (Yes, the same Michael Lewis of Moneyball and The Big Short.)
The group who had realized what a devastating effect a pandemic could have (reacting, as Lewis would have it, to George Bush, Jr. having read about the 1918 Spanish flu in the wake of 9/11 and allocating some money to study what could go wrong) had a culture of passing around bits of news, insight, concern, or just picking each other's brains on whatever problem they were dealing with (definitely a scientist's approach, in my view) and when someone ran some numbers on the likely numbers of infected individuals in the US in Feb 2020, after it was realized that it could be spread asymptomatically, they re-told the story of the Mann Gulch fire to convey the idea that the flames were on their way, just over the ridge, and would engulf the country before anybody in authority had moved to do a thing about it.It is worth thinking about why a collaborative and inquisitive culture must be a respectful culture. There is an awful lot of gatekeeping in academic culture, and it threatens the possibilities for collaborative and inquisitive progress. When we consider how valuable it is to engage, one on one and thoughtfully, with those inclined to prefer their own conspiracy theories to any established consensus, we can recognize that the disrespect often starts at the center, where scientists are busy jockeying for influence and grant money and may be as resistant as anyone else to re-thinking.Robert Tulip wrote:This insight from Grant is deeply important for the morality and productivity of culture and politics. Conventional societies see the maintenance of a rigid social hierarchy as a key political objective. That means admitting error is to lose face – Napoleon’s dictum never to retract or retreat. Unlike prosecutors, politicians and preachers, scientists need a respectful, collaborative, inquisitive culture. By extending scientific method into all areas of society, leaders can affirm the value of a constantly questioning approach, promoting a far more democratic and inclusive world.
Grant said that companies don't make decisions, people do. That may be true in one sense, but in another sense the company or organization (perhaps especially in government--and academia?) exerts influence and sometimes control over individual thinking. Groupthink is real.