Quitting and Going Home: Failure, Success or Complicated?

10 11 2007

I was reading “Death to the SAT” today:

“Considering the source” is a legit part of critical thinking — a fun part, easy to write and get folks to read! –but praising an idea solely because of the source is intellectual pandering, and attacking a source in place of analyzing the source’s idea is intellectual pathos (from which, the SAT might expect college-quality readers and writers to know, comes the vocabulary word PATHETIC.)

Any idea can and should be examined quite apart from one’s lizard-brain feelings about how its political critics and champions line up. Intelligent feminists and journalists need to do this with “education” issues, for example, instead of blindly buying teacher union and other liberal rhetoric on public schooling, homeschooling and parent-family privacy issues.

Evolution can be studied and discussed beyond either praising or mocking Jesus, Darwin, or the Pope. The meaning of life and death can be considered without ranting about Dr. Kevorkian; the meaning of war and peace can be considered as much larger than our personal feelings about Cindy Sheehan, George Washington, George Bush, Adolf Hitler or Jane Fonda.

which reminded me of my Culture Kitchen essay about Cindy Sheehan as empty celebrity icon we imbue with our own meaning. Although I meant to crosspost it here at Snook, it seems somehow it never got done. So here it is:

So the controversial Cindy Sheehan is quitting her one-woman crusade, maybe giving up her citizenship in disgust and moving to Canada? Did her 15 minutes of political celebrity make her a heroine, did it serve life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for the American people, or just serve as spectacle?

“I have tried ever since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful,” she wrote.

“Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives.”It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years, and Casey paid the price for that allegiance.

“I failed my boy and that hurts the most.”

Whatever her failures and disillusionment, is there anything better one individual struggling within massively failing systems could expect? Not according to the 1990 holistic system thinking movie “Mindwalk” . . .maybe save the system, save the world?

Actor Sam Waterston’s answer, after starring in Mindwalk, was to lend his celebrity to Unity08, trying to reform the whole system through new interconnections rather than win-lose adversarial elections.

Both Democrats and Republicans — who together “are” by definition the entrenched political system — are naturally resisting and ridiculing him in these efforts, as they have successfully done to Sheehan, manipulating all the media they can dominate to keep systemic change from being taken seriously by real, regular, reasonable people going about their private business and wondering who can save them from what they have wrought.

I think — although Sheehan herself doesn’t seem capable of such analysis — that the opening trick we can’t manage, is thinking well enough to understand what “saving” the system even means, in such complicated plot lines populated with infinitely interdependent characters, aka the Real World.

Making it do — what? Making it work — how? Making it serve — whom? Because we fail at that, we fail at everything we attempt after that.

This morning my expert public policy eye spots a (rare imo) right answer in the New York Times business news, real analysis and insight for all those of us who puzzle over public schools and party politics, religious wars, et cetera and just can’t understand why we keep doing all the wrong things wronger, regressing rather than progressing : “Overbooking, Bumped Fliers and No Plan B”by Jeff Bailey.

The whole story is about aggressive and insulated data analysts crunching endless numbers to create operational models that are statistically attractive to their own part of the “enterprise” but unfit for human consumption, thereby infuriating regular, responsible people just trying to participate in the system in good faith, in their own private, statistically insignificant roles.

Necessity being the mother of invention, savvy front line folks experiencing the fallout have to cope somehow. They create practical workarounds at their own lowly level that seem to compensate the consumer reasonably well and thus protect the system from its own longterm self-inflicted wounds.

But that in turn makes the analysts redouble insistence on THEIR strategies, further infuriating users and further hurting the systems’s credibility, requiring even more creative counterprogramming and loss of respect from the people caught up in it all. More and more regular people wise up to the system’s escalating adversarial shortcomings, thus making it all even worse.

Finally the system becomes neither workable nor fixable at any level . . Dörner’s Logic of Failure.
“Stuck in a quagmire . . .”
“Scant credbility. . .”
“People view [it] as not on the up-and-up”

. . .what psychologist Dietrich Dörner shows, is that the problem lies not in the world, but in our own world-view . . .most of us are too simpleminded, especially when it comes to anticipating future trends or interactive processes. We don’t think about the implications and consequences of what we want, or want to do, with results that come back to haunt us.

Nevertheless, and contrary to many current claims, Dörner also argues that there is no secret formula or mental trick . . . to overcome complacency or over-confidence. The world always has been very complex, but as the ambition and scale of our intentions has increased in modern times, the malevolent implications and consequences of our simple-mindedness becomes more and more frequent and compelling. . .
This is a book that public policymakers, politicians, planners, and the general public desperately need to read. We are squandering our environmental capital and undermining our social capital because we are trying to do things, or avoid doing things, that cannot be sustained for very much longer. . .

Remember that Kansas town that got wiped off the map by a giant tornado? Its mayor just quit, said he would not lead the rebuilding effort, wasn’t temperamentally suited to that kind of system work with competing ideas about what to do and how to do it. The town council said oh, don’t quit, we’ll just consider that you’re on sabbatical to get your own family squared away and then maybe you’ll come back and lead us. We’ll just wait.

HUH? But he *is* leading you, by example!
He’s doing a couple of smart, real, practical things. He has his priorities in order (family first) and he knows that not everyone is equally good at every task, “entitled” to it by system formula or not. And he knows that politics and government do not constitute leadership; it’s service.

Maybe Sheehan is quitting for some of the same good reasons as the mayor of Greensburg, and maybe in quitting she will find some leadership success that eluded her in public roles to which she clearly was not well suited, and from which we resisted her anguished message.

None of which is to say that individuals against the big bad system are always right, or even a better alternative for the public than government. Individuals can be our best hope when they are critical-thinking individuals, and public policy can be progressive and productive. Both are possible and desirable. I’m not anti-government or anti-system or anti-institutional. I’m certainly not anti-peace or anti-mom! 🙂

But I am anti-Logic of Failure.

I know we have huge problems in the world; tornadic activity is tearing us apart all over the place. I am working toward finding ecologically sound human-serving solutions with the same fervor that I believe drives most activists. But it takes more than passion. Spinoza AND Descartes?

The random, flailing, guilt-ridden, self-destructive, bathos-wallowing Logic of Cindy Sheeham is no less acceptable as The Right Answer than most of the rest of what passes for political discourse and analysis, which continues to fail us all.

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4 responses

6 03 2008
Growing Up Online: Who Me, Worry? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Which is goofier, a mom who worries about the wrong things in youth culture, or who doesn’t worry about the right things? Or do they tend to go together, feed into each other so that the real problem is an all-round lack of judgment, the logic of failure? […]

8 10 2008
Cindy Versus Cindy On War « Cocking A Snook!

[…] — last election cycle, it was Cindy Sheehan as the mom, and her equally heartfelt public policy message was the opposite. “I have tried ever […]

11 03 2009
Mrs. C

This is an excellent post, JJ. I think it also serves a bit to outline why politicians have open comment time policies often and things don’t just get rammed into law. Even though we have elected these people to be our representatives, sometimes they can use our help in understanding some of those unintended consequences with proposed legislation.

It certainly shouldn’t mean we need no legislation. :]

20 08 2010
We Need to Sing Our Epics or Lose Them « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Mindwalk and Harry Potter. And the beat goes on . . […]

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