We're used to seeing Jack Bauer save a kidnapped Secretary
of Defense, stop multiple nuclear plant meltdowns, and find and
destroy a nuclear-tipped missle homing in on LA; moreover, doing
all this in a mere 24 hours. And he still has time to
mess up his personal life in the slack periods on the same day. So it's
little wonder that folks are disappointed with the government's response
to Hurricane Katrina.
What I've also been reminded of is Thomas Sowell's great book
The Vision of the Anointed, in
which he describes the "tragic vision":
In the tragic vision, individual sufferings and social evils
are inherent in the innate deficiencies of all human beings, whether
those deficiencies are in knowledge, wisdom, morality, or courage.
Moreover, the available resources are always inadequate to fulfill
all the desires of all the people. Thus there are no "solutions"
in the tragic vision, but only trade-offs that still leave many
desires unfulfilled and much unhappiness in the world.
This, in short, is the view that accepts screwups and delays as nothing to
be shocked about. People fail to forsee problems that are in retrospect
"obvious." They don't get the information necessary to make informed
decisions, or get incorrect information, or can't sort out relevant
and correct information from a deluge of noisy and unreliable facts.
They make the wrong decisions, or take too long to make the right ones. Or
they remain devoted to their course of action long after reality says
they were wrong. They say the wrong things, or fail to realize the
perceptions generated from their words, actions, or demeanor. Worse,
the magic computers that provide instant and infallible answers to any
vital query have yet to show up. Resources (shockingly) turn out to be
finite, and not (again, in hindsight) optimally allocated.
And people die.
Not that criticism isn't justified or important, of course. People
deserve to be called on the stupid or silly things they've done or said.
The tragic vision is not an inpenetrable barrier to constructive
criticism or reform.
But what I see is the assumption that all would, or could, have been
well under a different band of buffoons. And (of course), nothing but
anger, bitterness, and paranoia arise from that worldview. When it could
have been OK, the reason it wasn't OK was that the evil and/or stupid
people were in charge.
Here's Sowell again, who contrasts the tragic vision with the "vision of
The vision of the anointed begins with entirely different premises.
Here it is not the innate limitations of human beings, or the inherent
limitations of resources, which create unhappiness but the fact that
social institutions and social policies are not as wisely crafted as the
anointed would have crafted them.
The near unanimous chorus from politicians and media is: government
failed. Which is (trivially) true in one sense, totally wrong in another.
Governments will always fail, if you operate under the assumption
that their duty is to take care of everybody, everyplace, all the time,
even under the most catastrophic conditions.
So act accordingly. Even if your vision is "anointed", the smart money
says that you should plan as if you were operating under the tragic
By the way, Thomas Sowell's latest column is here.