The incompetence displayed by bureaucracies of all types, at many levels, makes it necessary to rethink America’s love affair with giganticism. We should recognize that, wherever possible, small is better.
March 13, 2007
A few days ago in this place,
Walter Reed was called but one in a line
Of long running, serial crime
That men who fought forever face;
Was explained as part of the human condition
That makes Bushes and Cheneys (bums) great,
While their betters by far suffer perdition.
But there also is another reason,
A truism existing in every season
Of the human experience.
The truth is: all of government
At every level.
This is a vast and sweeping statement,
Yet is vastly, sweepingly true, with exceptions few.
It’s just incompetent.
One does not know exactly why
(Though purported reasons abound).
It did not seem so when I
Lawyered for Justice in sixty-three, four and five.
But perhaps that judgment was naiveté,
Reflecting youth and the dominant sway
Of bright Harvard lawyers at the top --
I know the impression did not hold up
When six months were spent on the Hill
To get a different experience until
I left for Kansas to teach law
And there for the first time saw
True reactionaries in command,
Who thought Shelley’s lone and level sand
Should bury all New Deal works
Plus civil rights and other blights,
(Though they’d never heard of Shelley),
And thought as well that Viet Nam
Was freedom’s stopper, freedom’s dam
Against Godless Reds –
And better dead than Red.
For years those fools did not suspect
That their presidents’ war project
Was an example of incompetence,
Conceivably the first example of the incompetence
That would come to mark the remaining years
Of a century awash in tears
But would be ignored, would be forgotten,
When Bush launched his misbegotten
Adventure in Iraq,
A nation now in wrack,
A condition which can be put down
To the mental weakness of an egotistical clown,
An evil man advised by evil men.
Will no one rid us of these people?
’Tween these two wars one has seen
That rarely has there ever been
Competence in government
Which is at every level rent
Often born of bureaucracy
(Though not of bureaucracy exclusively,
Because plain dumb sometimes has its role).
Yet, in a way, it’s a phenomenon odd:
Because most officials do not seem a clod
If you talk with them one on one:
Even if they’re not an intellectual sun,
Or the smartest star in the firmament,
Still, they seem passably cogent.
Perhaps -- or so it often seems to me --
The problem is the number three
That’s the most participants, you see,
Who can discuss and act with competency.
Two can even better be,
Though I think magic may lie in three,
Although conceivably you can go to four.
But once its five or dozens more
You are liable to face inadequacy
Born of numbers and size.
(Have you ever noticed a Presidential meeting?
There is a huge rectangular table seating
Perhaps eighteen or two dozen,
While surrounding chairs hold helpmates to cozen
The American public.
But never from these meetings huge
Come plans showing a deluge
Rather from these meetings enormous
Comes the intelligence of a dormouse.
(Jesus H. Christ Almighty.))
In modern times, it’s no surprise,
We worship size. To be huge,
To bury others in a deluge,
Under an avalanche of power and spin,
Is thought the position to be in
In every walk of life.
An avalanche of propaganda and spin
In every walk of life:
The other side is not considered.
Contrary facts are not considered.
Thus good will isn’t merely frittered,
But one day is simply swept away,
As first some come to realize
And then more come to recognize,
And then nearly all
That what has descended upon us
Is fundamentally dishonest,
Is largely crap,
Is not an effort of the competent,
But propaganda of the malevolent,
Or the greedy,
And certainly is not the careful consideration
Of one from whom competent ministration
I’ve spoken of the phenomenon in government,
But it’s clear to one whose life was spent
In academe that there too it exists -- among the supposedly intelligent.
And in business it’s long been a curse
Everyday and also when
Companies merge -- and get worse,
So then have to demerge
While the bankers, executives and lawyers who propagandized this scourge
First get rich as pigs and then
Get rich as pigs yet again.
But then, that’s the point of the exercise,
Accomplished by flinging sand in our eyes
Once coming and once going.
They wouldn’t be peddling their load of baloney,
Let alone again and again,
If it didn’t lead to loads of money
To billions in dollars, euros, or yen.
Everywhere the curse is size.
It leads to dishonesty, to lies,
And consequent incompetence.
My philosophy is Brandeisian
Though he’s been dead almost seventy years,
While propaganda said the gigantic holds no fears --
While we’ve been trained to think in a way incorrect,
One we should instead seek to deflect,
Wherever we can, wherever we’re able,
In favor of smallness, which should be a grail
Against much that makes this society ail.
It won’t cure everything, and it can’t always be done.
But, whenever possible, two’s better than one,
And three better than two,
And twenty better than nineteen,
And 50 better than forty-nine
Notwithstanding the economists’ line
About alleged efficiency
Or a supposed need for size.
As a country it’s often (again) sand in our eyes.
To that which is small should go our thrall,
Especially when the web gives all
A chance in many fields to shine
Instead of being ciphers
Or jobless because of mergers.
If we continue worshipping at the shrine of big,
We can expect the same result as the pig
Fattened by industrial agriculture.
No good can come to a culture
Which worships the hugest vulture
On every island.
Small is better.
We should seek it.*
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