Thursday, October 15, 2009

Learning to Govern...from Wolves!

Even wolves seem to govern themselves better than the U.S. has been doing recently...

“An alpha animal may be alpha only at certain times for a specific reason, and, it should be noted, is alpha at the deference of the other wolves in the pack….The social structure of a wolf pack is dynamic – subject to change, especially during the breeding season – and may be completely reversed during periods of play.” [Barry Holstun Lopez, Of Wolves and Men, p. 33.]

Compare this wisely flexible social sophistication with the winner-take-all attitude that has been gaining increasing domination over U.S. society during the last decade or two. In the U.S., a politician, bureaucrat, or corporate executive is increasingly likely to have the ability to enforce his or her control all the time, across all issues to the limits of that leader’s purview regardless of his or her competence on the issue under consideration. Managers can sneer at staff scientists, politicians haughtily dismiss the results of their own review committees, and arbitrarily make and enforce decisions based on nothing but their own personal, uninformed preferences.

Such immature and irrational behavior is not only not widely condemned, it is lauded as demonstrating a trait now increasingly perceived in the U.S. as among the most meritorious of all: “toughness.”

And wolves have had the reputation of being wild and uncivilized beasts!

The above glib generalizations surely do not apply everywhere to the degree that they apply at management levels in Washington and on Wall Street, and I would welcome counterexamples as rays of hope for the future. That said, the argument is serious and the results harmful to society.

A foreign policy based on the military suppression, with endless slaughter of noncombatants, of social movements (e.g., radical Islamic protest against Western domination of the global political system) is a prime example of the harm that can result from granting uninformed leaders the power to ignore the counsel of experts and make arbitrary decisions.

A second outcome of this mode of socio-political organization is the confused health reform debate currently raging across the land. Uninformed politicians are tossing out a stream of ideas, while all ignore the specialists who understand that the core issue is whether or not in a modern civilized and democratic society, health care should be a profit-making business or a “right.”

When policy is controlled by “winners” rather than people with knowledge, it tends to be arbitrary, ineffective, counter-productive or even carefully designed to benefit only the policymaker. These traits appear clearly not just in the counterproductive military attacks on Muslims or the endless decades of argument over the health care mess that never produce real reform but in the perfectly needless recession created from scratch by tough but self-focused or brainless “leaders” who never bothered to think that bubbles always burst, in the idiotic faith that Iraqis would welcome U.S. invaders “with flowers.”

Even wolves seem to realize something Americans don’t – that leadership should be about more than “toughness;” it should be a function of competence.

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