One of the sadder misconceptions about a fascist dictatorship is that life will at least be clear and predictable. There will be clear rules, laid out in black and white, and if you keep your nose clean and do as you’re told, you’ll be safe and your family will be safe. Only trouble-makers will get in trouble. In this view, Democracy seems like a cool idea, but in reality, there is endless discord and disagreement. Some begin to think that we’ll all be so much better off if we just have one source of information that we all agree on, regardless of how bogus that source is.
What will actually happen under a dictatorship is the opposite of this promise.
There will be more chaos, not less.
Think about it. In our current society, truth ultimately rules over power. Yes, of course, there are people who are afraid to speak truth to power. And most of us have had that boss who is simply inept or opinionated and doesn’t care much about reality. But they are the exception. Most people in a corporation can be brought round if you have truth on your side. For some decision makers, convincing them of what is best for the organization as a whole is enough. But sometimes, you also have to find a way to explain that it’s also in their personal interest to do what’s best for the company. But most bosses and managers don’t act like complete jerks. And part of the reason is that they know they will be held accountable in some way if they behave too far outside the norm.
In a culture where power trumps truth, however, the only thing that matters is power, not truth. Some people will nonetheless have a tendency to be regular in their behavior. So, you can count on that, at least. Except, of course, that you cannot count on that. Because at any time, and for any unforeseen reason, that person who follows some principles or values or code or flow-chart or best practices — they can be over-ridden by someone higher up. If they don’t toe the line, they will be fired and someone else will replace them who will do as they’re told.
You might be doing a great job when all at once you’re fired — not for anything at all related to your performance — no, you could be fired for telling the truth. And, you could even be fired for your brother telling the truth.
There is no predictability. There is only chaos. Chaos is what a dictator thrives on. By continual change, dictated from the top in completely unpredictable ways, the dictator gains more and more control. For instance, let’s imagine that the dictator (or even a would-be dictator with inside knowledge) brokers a wonderful trade deal with China in which both parties benefit; a real win/win situation. If this happens in real life, word will leak out and eventually there will be confirmation and the stock market will tend to go up. But it’s a lot of work to make such a deal.
Imagine instead that you decided to grant some monetary favors to some of your largest donors. You tell them that you’re about to make a big announcement of a wonderful trade deal with China. They buy stocks low. You make your announcement. The stock market goes up. They sell stocks high. Everyone discovers there’s no “there” there and the stock market goes back down. Meanwhile, your friends made millions.
For everyone else though, it’s simply chaos. It makes financial planning hard; it makes career planning difficult; it makes all planning difficult. Remember: at any time and for any reason, an “order from headquarters” could render all your previous planning useless. The person you have teamed with for years could be hauled off suddenly for a political crime. Of course, at first you’ll find it hard to believe. After all, you’ve known Frank for years. He never seemed like the type to step out of line. But there is no-one to plead the other side in a dictatorship — not honestly. All trials become sham trials. The outcome is known in advance. If the powerful like you, you go free, no matter how heinous your crime and how strong the evidence. If the powerful don’t like you, you’ll be jailed, or executed, or (most fun of all) tortured until you give the names of five or six of your friends as also being enemies of the state. Truth doesn’t matter any more. The rule of law doesn’t matter any more.
More and more wealth will be funneled to the already very rich. That will make everyone else more desperate and crime will increase. More and more people will be incarcerated essentially being a slave work force. They will literally be working and surviving and nothing more. No more attempts at rehabilitation. Who wants them rehabilitated? They are cheap labor. And, what’s equally important, they serve as a great reminder to everyone not in prison that prison is theirs for the asking. All they have to do is utter the truth or fail to shout “Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!” loudly enough and they too can have a one way ticket to hell.
What happened when Mao became dictator of China? Educated people were sent out into the fields. Many were executed. Society was turned completely on its head. Russian Revolution: Same. Hitler’s Germany — much of it was bombed, millions killed, turned ordinary people into monsters. It’s always the same. The founding fathers had seen it over and over in country after country in age after age. Absolute power cannot be safely bestowed on anyone — not even a person of great character and wisdom.
George Washington faced danger, exhibited leadership and helped our young nation survive.
Yet, he did not want to be king.
Donald Trump ran from danger, exhibited no leadership and will have needlessly killed a quarter million Americans. He’s isolated us from our allies. He’s divided the country against itself. He’s railed against the free press since day one. He’s replaced non-partisan experts throughout government with inept lackeys. He is preparing for a fascist state. He’s a willing accomplice in the destruction of American.
Yet he does want to be King.
And if he does? Life will be less regular and less predictable and less organized. It will be more chaotic as well as more sadistic. Is that really the world you want your kids and grandkids to grow up in?
Dmitry paced the fifteen feet of his fifth floor studio apartment, sat down, immediately got up and began pacing again. “Damn!”he muttered under his breath. “I should have never gotten involved in this to start with.”
Natasha knew better than to follow her instincts and try to comfort him. She knew from their decade together that Dmitry never liked to be comforted when he paced. Instead, she tried to reason with him. “Why are you so sure you’re in trouble? Maybe … “
“Because I know, dammit. How many times has Vlad called someone in for a “special meeting” and that person simply disappeared?”
Natasha nodded. “OK,” she admitted, “but this time may be different. Do you have any idea what it’s about?”
“Oh, hell yes. I know exactly what it’s about! The GRU took up my idea to morph the American political party known as GOP into a death cult. They double checked my computer modeling and eventually most everyone agreed it was worth a try, however absurd it seemed on the face of it. But in six months of work, we have yet to find anyone depraved enough to come on board. We’ve compromised quite a few GOP Senators, but none of them will go along with actually killing tens of thousands of their countrymen.”
Natasha frowned and said gently, “Should you be telling me this?”
“No, but what the hell. I’m going down anyway. We couldn’t find anyone that crooked. No-one.”
Natasha realized that if Dmitry really did get disappeared, she was in mortal danger as well. After all, her job was to ensure his success. And, if he really did fail big time, the axe would fall even harder on his handler. He knew damned well that he shouldn’t be saying anything about this to his ‘girlfriend’. Maybe she would report him. Maybe not. First things first. “Hey, what about a prominent actor or businessman? It doesn’t have to be a politician does it? Didn’t they have a popular President who was only a second rate actor?”
“You don’t think we thought of that? We tried … we got close with a few. They’re okay with stealing money, but actually killing people — so many wimpy Americans. For some weird reason, they draw the line at murder. We need someone who has no grasp of reality. On the edge of insanity. Most business successes — unless they just inherited all their wealth — and even then, they’ll just lose their inherited wealth if they can’t face reality so … and actors? Sure there are a lot on the edge. But not over the edge…well, none that would be popular enough. We’ve tried successful people in religion, business, show business…but no luck. There has to be something. But we haven’t found it. What are we missing?”
Natasha spoke quietly. “What about unsuccessful people, Dmitry?”
“What? What are you talking about? Why would we want someone unsuccessful?”
“OK, Dmitry, just hear me out. Someone who is actually successful has some sense of accomplishment. They are not going to be that easy to puppetize. On the other hand…if you could find someone who is actually a failure as a politician, or a failure as a businessperson or a failure as an actor….”
Dmitry stopped pacing and looked at Natasha. “Wait a moment! You might be onto something, Natasha! We have been baying at the moon all this time when we really should be baying at the streetlight!”
Natasha smiled, “Or, even a porch light. Or a picture of the moon.”
Dmitry frowned. “A porch light? What are you talking about? What picture?”
Natasha tilted her head and clucked her tongue. “He — or she — but probably he — he could be a complete failure. But someone who wants to be seen as successful. Someone who has lied about his success would be perfect.”
Dmitry began pacing again. “I see what you mean, but there’s one problem. Someone that inept would be too inept to carry out the assignment even though — I agree that they might be willing — how can they be inept and competent at the same time?”
Natasha thought for a moment. “Their ineptitude could actually be an asset, Dmitry. They could be saying and doing all sorts of random and idiotic things. But that would distract the American people from the real action. See what I mean? The more inept and stupid he is publicly, the more people will discount the effectiveness of our puppet — to the point where they won’t see our operations and plans at all.”
Dmitry walked over to the window and stared out at the harsh sodium lit streets of Moscow. He wondered why he hadn’t thought of this himself. Someone who was actually an abject failure but who liked to project the image of a success. Someone who was a complete sociopath, obviously, and so hungry for success, they would betray their country, their party, everything. But does such a person even exist, he wondered. He turned back toward Natasha.
“It might just work. If I could go in tomorrow with a few likely names, I might just turn this thing around. Can you start searching? I’m not sure how to find such a person, but it’s worth a try. I’m going to call — it’s late — but not too late. I’ll get a research team on it too. I can’t tell them why. I just need the names of some complete frauds, maybe even someone in legal trouble but not in jail. There has to be someone in a country of 370 million people.” For the first time in many days, Dmitry laughed. “Maybe we can put an ad in FORBES or FORTUNE. Wanted: Complete business failure. Must be vainglorious and divorced from reality. If only we could be that open about it!” He laughed again.
Natasha smiled. She wondered whether Dmitry would ever discover her own assignment. She liked Dmitry. She really did. She enjoyed their love-making sessions. How would he react to discover that their falling in love had been orchestrated by the GRU. All their so-called geniuses had to be overseen. After all, how else could the Kremlin ensure that people such as Dmitry didn’t become jaded, compromised, or even double agents? Maybe she could make him see that. But maybe not. When it came to mathematical modeling, not to mention chess, Dmitry really was a genius. But when it came to people, his career would have been minor indeed without Natasha taking care of the people side of things.
She had grown genuinely fond of him. It was sad to think that if she succeeded in helping Dmitry carry out his audacious plot, she herself would probably have to be the one to poison him. Maybe she could talk her superiors into making it a quick-acting one or even a fall from the balcony? She had to be careful though. Too much push in that direction would bring suspicion on her. Her handlers might think that she had “gone soft” — really fallen in love. She couldn’t let that happen. No, she’d carry out whatever plans they had. There was always an outside chance that the powers that be would not want to “tie up the loose ends.” After all, he did do excellent modeling. And, teamed up with her, they might even be rewarded with a bigger apartment and a higher salary. Natasha doubted it, but — one never knew.
First things first, she thought. She sat down at the keyboard. How the hell to find someone who is both a gigantic failure but also a con man who has always portrayed himself as a success? Rich. That’s where to start. Someone who inherited a lot of money but never actually accomplished much on their own. As for Dmitry…she really hoped the GRU decided to keep him on. It would be a pain to be assigned to someone else. Ah, well, she thought, such is life.
She typed: fraud loser business failure con man
She smiled and thought to herself: This may be easier than I thought.
Two different stories originating in antiquity on the Isle of Right provided two theories about how the island had come to be.
According to one story, a giant rock fell from the sky. The rock was so big that a third of it still stuck out of the water. And that third is now the Isle of Right.
According to a different story, the earth growled beneath the ocean. Hot molten rock burst forth in great quantities. Eventually the sea and the air cooled the molten rock. And that once-molten rock is now the Isle of Right.
Sometimes, after a day of hard work, some of the people who believed that a giant rock in the sky birthed their island sat together around a fire and debated with some of the people who believed the island sprung from beneath the sea. Some of the people really enjoyed debating. But many more people enjoyed watching and listening.
And, it happened on rare occasions, that someone spoke up and said, “It actually makes little difference how the island got here. But here it is now. Here. And, in this moment, there are things that need to be done. And we could think together about how best to do those things so that they would be effective and enjoyable and cause as little harm as possible. And we all want those things. And we all know how to think and how to do things. So let’s work together on that.”
Such a one as this was met with blank stares, however. And the people went back to their debates.
Small harm done. Things were not quite as effective and fun and safe as they might have been, but on the whole, people spent the vast majority of their time working together to get things done regardless of how they thought their island was formed. Because, although the people enjoyed the debate, as a practical matter, they understood that they all needed fish and that the fish came from the sea and they traded ideas about how best to catch the fish and thus improved their fishing. So, by and large, the debates were little more than entertainment.
Those who did not themselves debate but enjoyed watching began to cheer for their favorite debaters. And since people liked a contest between bests, eventually one storyteller from each side would argue their side of the case. And, all the people listened.
The storytellers, to make the stories more interesting, began to embellish their creation myths with many further tales. For example, when the rock sank into the mud two third with only one third remaining above, that was, according to the storyteller, a sign that we too are sunk two thirds in the mud, and we must follow the “Way of the Rock” if we are to live a good life. And, by the way, the Rock makes the Sea look beautiful! (BTW, “The Way of the Rock” was something he or she totally made up at the moment).
“Oh, yeah!” Said his worthy opponent. “Well, if you follow “The Way of the Sea” you will not only live a good life here on this island, but after you die, you’ll go to a whole other island and another and another and another forever! For -EV-er! So follow the Way of the Sea! For it is the Sea that makes the Rock beautiful!”
The opponent however, was not so easily crushed, though they had to admit the unprovable claim of infinite reward was pretty cool. “Hogwash. Offering someone a reward, even if a bogus reward, doesn’t mean that if they take that reward and agree to believe as you say — that’s no argument for the validity of your position. That’s only an argument about the moral character of your followers. Not to say that that is why all your followers believe as you do. But the ones who take the bribe certainly don’t add any weight at all to the truth of your argument.”
Over time, as the storytellers became more and more skilled at rousing the passions of their audiences, they began to intimate that people who held the other point of view were not all that good at fishing, or farming, or raising children, or making love, or fixing meals. And because of this animosity, the people who believed their island came from Rock began to call themselves “The People of the Rock.” And they tended to avoid “The People of the Sea” whenever they could and for their part, “The People of the Sea” were equally loath to work or play with “The People of the Rock.”
I don’t need to belabor you with the details. You can guess the ending, right? All “The People of the Rock” and “The People of the Sea” are no longer arguing. They’re all dead.
And, they never did find out whether their island was formed by a rock from the sky or an undersea volcano. Ironically, if they had kept working together and focusing on what they could do, their science would have reached a point where they could actually and factually answer the question. It turns out, it was formed by a volcano…. But that’s kind of not the point.
There’s no-one left on the Isle of Right to care.
The coyotes certainly don’t care —just as long as there’s fresh meat aplenty.
The room smelled of old money, paneled as it was with Chestnut from a time when Chestnut trees grew to 100 feet tall. The draperies hung thick, blocking out the cheery morning sun. The trappings lent an air of solemnity and useless lavishness to the proceedings. Marvin saw one of the skirts sashay in with a tray of the sundry sweets and coffees. Everyone checked out their order — and the skirt which was appropriately short. Marvin could see from everyone’s expression that they were pleased. Apparently, she had brought the treats without messing up anyone’s orders for a change. Good, thought Marvin. A good omen. Let’s get this sucker started.
“All right gentleman. I hereby call this meeting to order. As you know, we have a weighty decision before us. Who is going to run our domestic business enterprises. Our first candidate has been running our Midwestern division for three and a half years. During that time, our profits have reached record numbers. Some of his detractors say he fudged the numbers. What we do know is that we have had a record number of lawsuits and fines from OSHA, the FDA, the EPA, and the EOC. We’ve tied all these suits up in the courts and they won’t be settled till long after everyone on this board, myself included, will be long dead.”
There were appreciative nods and chuckles throughout the room.
“I know there were those among you who didn’t think we should hire a reality TV show host instead of a competent and experienced engineer. And, it’s true that he’s shaken things up a bit. But I think, on the whole, the profit numbers speak for themselves.”
Marvin could see that Mark wrung his hands and bit his lip. He ignored it and pressed on.
Matthew broke in. “Marvin, I am just wondering: do the numbers really speak for themselves? Have we done any independent auditing of those numbers? And, if the profits are up, why is it taking four times as long per unit? Why are we losing so many sales people to the competition? Why are we having a record number of customer complaints?”
Thoughtful nods surrounded Marvin. He had to nip this crap in the bud. If Connie Boy didn’t get the job, Marvin knew he wouldn’t get his promised kickback or the 13-year old virgin he’d been promised. “Look, we can delve into the details in a minute or two and you can ask all the questions you want. But I just want to go over the high points first. So, let’s review more about his actual results before … “
Now, James interrupted. “Speaking of results, doesn’t it bother you that we’ve lost almost our entire Midwestern sales force? And no wonder! Connie Boy has repeatedly dissed them. He does it with his morning ‘Pep Talks.’ He does it on social media. And, there are reports that he goes out golfing almost every afternoon with the CEO’s of some of our major competitors. Doesn’t that strike you as strange?”
Marvin chewed his lips as though he were taking the objection seriously and opened his mouth to counter this new avenue of attack against the guy who would make him rich.
Too late, thought Marvin. Damn!
Luke, who rarely spoke, had launched into a new tirade. “I hate to be the one to say this, but we cannot ignore the fact that he’s clearly skimming off the top. The books are cooked, folks. This guy said he was independently wealthy so we didn’t even have to pay him a salary. I know we thought at the time we’d save some money for the shareholders, but actually he’s stolen far more than his salary and he uses the company cars and jet, not only for his own pleasure trips but for his family’s trips as well.”
Before Marvin could formulate a counter-argument, John piled on. “And, then there are his strange hiring decisions. He fired the Director of Engineering and replaced him with his caddy. He doesn’t know anything about engineering. And, he fired the VP of Logistics, who was highly respected in the field, with his son-in-law who doesn’t know diddly about logistics. In fact…have you met him? I’m not sure he knows much about anything. Anyway, he certainly doesn’t know logistics.”
Marvin jumped in by pounding on the table, “IF YOU PLEASE, Gentleman, I would like to finish my — look, I’m not advocating for Connie Boy, but I mean, he has been in the job and — yes, he has some foibles, but … “
“Foibles?” Questioned Timothy. “Foibles? From what I heard, his disdain of safety regulations is precisely why not one, not two, but three factories burned to the ground.”
Marvin scowled. “Those were accidents and you know it! Bad luck! No-one could have predicted that using smaller gauge wires than recommended would cause fires.”
Peter sighed heavily, “Of course it’s predictable! It’s simple physics.”
Marvin felt the blood in his temples pound. His heart began to race. The vision of the beautiful young virgin clouded up. “It’s not science! He says he knows more about science than scientists do! I believe him! I don’t know what’s wrong with you people! He was trying to save us money by buying thinner wires. Isn’t saving money a good thing?”
Marvin stood up and banged the gavel. “As Chairman of the Board, I am in charge here! And, we will have plenty of time to discuss the pros and cons later. I just wanted to review the record before his scheduled interview. It’s time for the candidate. Let’s table the discussion until we hear from him directly. I’m pretty sure you’ll be more amenable to his candidacy once you hear his plans for improving the entire domestic operation.”
He pressed the button near the gavel. Within seconds, the skirt returned. She smiled prettily and said, “Yes, Mr, Mitchell? What can I do for you?”
“Sally, bring in Connie Boy, would you?”
Susan reddened slightly. She thought to herself, I’ve worked here for four years and he still doesn’t know my name. “I’m sorry, Sir. He’s not here.”
Marvin clenched his teeth tightly. “Not here?! What the f+$# is wrong with you, Shirley? I’ve got the whole damned Board here! I distinctly told you to have him here at 9 am sharp!”
“You certainly did, Mr. Mitchell. And, he agreed to come. He confirmed when I called again yesterday. And, he texted me an hour ago that he would be here on time.”
Marvin knew that his face was turning purple but he didn’t care. “Well get him here now or I will fire your sorry ass!”
Susan reddened still more. “Am I the FBI? How am I supposed to find him. I’m not his … keeper.”
Timothy chuckled slightly. “Come on, Marvin, how is she supposed to make him appear?”
Marvin turned to Timothy. “How should I know? That’s her job! That’s your job, Sally! Or, was. You’re fired! Send in Betty! I’m promoting her. Clear out your desk.”
Susan took several deep breaths to calm herself. “There is no-one in the office named ‘Betty.’ Do you mean Barbara?”
Marvin knew he was skating on thin ice now, but he was past caring, “Send in the one with the biggest tits!”
“Certainly, Sir. That would be me.” She stared insolently at Marvin.
Marvin reddened, his blood pressure skyrocketing dangerously. “Fine. Get hold of him.”
Just then, Timothy felt his cellphone vibrate and he glanced at the face. He read it and held it up as he said, “It’s Connie. He wants to call in. Says his foursome got stuck behind a foursome of … well … of women — though that’s not the word he used. He’s going to call in on my phone. He didn’t have your number, Marvin.”
Marvin said, “Thanks. Put it on speaker.” Marvin made a sweeping gesture toward Susan as though he were brushing a fly off the desk. “Shoo. Shoo.”
The minutes went by in silence. Finally, the voice of Connie Boy came on. “Hey, guys! I hear you wanted to ask me some questions. I know it’s just a formality. But here I am. Ask away.”
Marvin tried to sound cheerful. “So, Timothy says you were stuck behind a group of … of … women and that’s why you’re late.”
Connie Boy yelled, “What? No, no. He misunderstood. We were stuck behind a foursome of pussies but I’m not late. It’s only 9:45 am.”
Marvin looked at the clock on the wall. It said 10:30. He glanced at his watch. 10:30. He checked his cell. 10:30. “Fine. Connie, can you please tell us about your plans for how you will improve our domestic operations if we make you President of that division.”
Connie thought in silence for a moment and then said, “But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done.”
Marvin put his face in his hands. He didn’t want to see the reaction on the faces of the Board.
Marvin chewed his lower lip. Maybe Connie Boy was just nervous. “OK, Connie. That’s good. Say more. How would you improve things?”
“Well, I hear there’s another candidate, and he’s a communist. And, he will literally burn down your factories. Look at the news! Turn on the news! There’s a picture of a factory burning! That’s what will happen if you choose him! He’ll burn down our factories. Turn on Fox News right now.”
Marvin, grabbed the remote and clicked on the TV. Sure enough, there was a picture of a factory fire.
Thomas walked over to the TV and pointed at the caption. It said: ‘Kenosha.’ “Connie, isn’t that our factory in Kenosha? That’s one of the one’s you’re in charge of, right?”
“Yes! Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! It’s horrible! It’s terrible! If you choose that commie, he’ll burn down factories like this!”
Thomas looked long and hard at Marvin.
Connie continued, “Look, guys, I gotta go soon. Any other questions?”
Paul asked, “Connie, can you just say a little more about what you actually plan to do to improve domestic operations?”
Connie Boy launched into another answer. “Well, I took over this job as a rookie. You know. I was famous. I should have won three, four, maybe five Emmy’s for my show, but whatever. Politics. You know. But I was not familiar. Not experienced with running factories. One of the things that will be really great — you know the word ‘experience’ is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word ‘experience’ is a very important word. I never did a factory before. I only was in the Midwest maybe I think 17 times. All of a sudden, I’m in charge of factories in the Midwest. I go to Chicago and ride down the Miracle Mile and I say, ‘This is great.’ But I don’t know anyone in the Midwest. No-one. But now I know everyone. Plus, I am a stable genius. So there’s that. Did I tell you I had a cognitive test? Yes, the doctors were like, ‘Oh, My God, this guy is a genius. He remembered the words.’ You know. Words. Like they tell me, ‘remember these words: Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn.’ Then they ask me the words and I say, ‘Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn Film.’ Okay. But then, like a few minutes later, they say, ‘Hey, you know those words. Tell us them again. So, I’m like, ‘Okay, Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn Star.’ And the doctors are like flubbergasted, falbergasted, whatever…amazed…they say, no-one in the history of the world has been able to remember five words like that. I got all of them. It was — I should win a Nobel Piece Prize — no-one else is such a stable genius. So that’s my plan. You know. And don’t pick the commie. Because he will set your factories on fire. Gotta go.”
Paul spoke up. “Before you go, why are we having such an unusually high number of employee complaints?”
Connie Boy said quickly, “Oh, that’s fake news. Nobody and I mean nobody has done more for our workers than I have! Nobody. Look it up. Everyone knows it. I’m the best friend any of those employees ever had. But now, I really have important stuff to get to. Bye.”
The line went dead. Marvin drew in a long breath. He felt like hiding under the table, but instead, he put on his most steely look and decided he may as well brazen it out. “Well, there you go. I say we vote him in. We don’t really need to waste time listening to the other candidate. You heard Connie. The other guy is a commie! We don’t need a commie running our factories.”
Marvin pushed the button and a dark-haired woman came in. “Where’s … who are you?”
“I’m Barbara. I’m Susan’s replacement. How can I help you?”
“What happened to Sally?”
“There is no-one here named ‘Sally’ — Susan — who was your secretary for four years — you fired her and I’m her replacement, Barbara.”
“You’re not … well, get Sally back! Anyway, never mind. Doesn’t matter. Cancel the other candidate. We’ve heard enough. Connie is our man. Right guys?”
Marvin kept his eyes glued on the gavel ready to shout anyone down who disagreed with him. “All in favor of appointing Connie Boy as President of domestic operations, signify by raising your right hand the ayes have it. Next order of business is….”
Peter spoke in a calm quiet voice. “Marvin. None of us voted for Connie the Con Man. Actually, you didn’t even raise your own hand. No-one thinks he’s competent to do the job. No-one.”
Marvin bit his lip so hard it nearly bled. “But. But. Sure, no-one’s perfect, but he was a TV Star! You heard him! He should have won Emmy’s!” Damn. I’m going to miss my chance on that virgin! thought Marvin. “Come on, guys! We’ve never had a porn star run one of factories before. He turned out pretty good though, right?”
Peter frowned, “Did you say ‘Porn Star’?
Marvin shook his head, “No, no. I said TV star. I didn’t say ‘Porn Star.’ Don’t be ridiculous.”
Much of our education trains us to make distinctions. Little of it trains us to see similarities. Both are important. If you are in the business of foraging for berries, it’s a very good idea to eat the edible ones and not the poison ones. This means that it’s a nice skill to be able to distinguish them.
On the other hand, for many purposes, it’s important to see similarities as well. When it comes to human beings, most of us spend far too much time noticing differences between people and far too little time noticing similarities.
In a large organization, focusing on differences among employees is often used as an excuse for keeping ineffective, inefficient processes, procedures and tools. For example, a manager might insist that all programming be done in a particular language that might have been state of the art decades earlier. As the organization continues to face deadline after deadline, it looks to the manager as though changing tools or processes will simply delay things further (indeed, it likely will for a time). So, year after year, the management delays a look at better equipment, tools, and training.
Part of their rationale is that some people are still very productive so it can’t be the tools and systems. It’s just that the other people aren’t working hard enough or aren’t smart enough so they promote the really good programmers to managers. Many of the best programmers will none-the-less eventually see themselves as getting more and more out of date in their technical skills and “jump ship” before it’s too late.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t real differences in programmers. Of course there are. But those differences are too often used as an excuse for bad management. Quite likely, everyone would be more productive if there were changes, but individual differences serve as the “proof” that none are needed.
It isn’t just in programming. When we meet someone, we are much more likely to notice how they differ from others. Are they unusually tall? Short? Striking blue eyes? Or brown? Are they more muscular than average? More obese? Unusually skinny? As they begin to talk, we tick off other boxes: are they smart? Well-read? Do they have an accent? Where were they born? Where do they live? What job do they have? Are they well-off financially?
Very seldom do we take the time to reflect on how very similar this person is to every other human being and to us, and for that matter, even to other life forms.
Perhaps we should think more about trajectories and less about points.
For example, let’s say you meet someone and they are older than you and bald with a salt and pepper beard. His young son is with him. The son is neither bald, nor bearded, nor older than you are. The three of you are all different! — at this point!
What if you perceived these features, not in terms of points, but in terms of trajectories? For example, age is a moving target. Some day, if he is lucky, the son will be the same age as the father is now. He will likely also grow bald. He might or might not grow a beard but he could. If he did grow such a beard at a young age, it would likely start out all dark and gradually turn to white — not uniformly in time, but with a trajectory that will very likely look a lot like that pattern of change experienced by his father’s beard (and the beards of many other males).
In general, we have more commonality in our trajectories than in our momentary status. For example, your bone density might be greater or less than mine, but the bones of both of us will generally become less dense as we age. And that trajectory is true for virtually everyone. Furthermore, if any of us go up in space, our bone density will lessen quickly. Conversely, if we stay on earth and do weight-bearing exercise, our bone density will increase.
Trajectories are typically more diagnostic than statics.
For example, would you buy a used car based on simply looking at it, or sitting in it? Of course not. You want to make sure the car actually works. You want to take it out for a test drive.
For your annual physical, the doctor might look at your fasting blood sugar level. If it’s too high or too low, he may order a more sensitive test — a glucose tolerance test. How your body reacts to a sudden influx of sugar is more indicative of underlying health than is static level.
Similarly, your Doctor might simply “listen to your heart” or take a resting cardiogram. A stress test is more revealing of function though.
Aristotle is credited for saying “Character is revealed by choices under pressure.” This is the great truth of literature. It isn’t one’s current status that reveals one’s character. They might have been born rich or poor or blind or in peace or in war. It makes a different to them, of course, but what the reader wants to see is that they make of what they are. How do they bend that trajectory to inspire others, save lives, learn from their errors, reform themselves, or prove their loyalty. Or, on the other side, how do they exhibit mindless selfishness, or betray others, or refuse to change, leaving disaster in their wake.
It isn’t the challenge, per se that’s critically important. It’s how a person either bravely met a challenge — or how they showed their essential cowardice and refused to see the problem; refused to admit the problem; and blamed everyone else for their inevitable failure to solve the problem.
Trying to put emotion and politics aside, here’s one way to look at #45 from a purely mechanistic viewpoint.
He’s an open loop system.
He wants absolute control about what actions will be taken by our government.
He wants absolute immunity from accurate feedback about what the impact of those actions are.
Where in life would you accept such a system? Would you hire an engineer who designed such a system? Would you put your life in their hands? The lives of your friends and family into such hands?
I think not.
#45 likes to call his actions mighty and powerful. He does it himself and requires all his lackeys to join in the chorus. “Look at me! I’m powerful and mighty.” If you’re driving your car blindfolded, it is not a feature that you are also breaking the speed limit.
What Donald Trump cares about is feeling adored by millions. That’s literally all he cares about along with absolute power.
He does not care about how many people are killed or made unhappy.
Solution? Take him out of the White House and put him somewhere appropriate to someone with that mindset and his set of skills. And where would that be?
A Theme Park. Trumpland.
It is staffed mainly by paid actors. Donnie “makes decisions” (all absurd) and gives hate-filled speeches and sends nasty tweets to people. Crowds get to come in and watch the performances. There are other littler parts for other crooks.
There could be “Failed-State Department Land” where fans can watch PomPomPeo violate the Hatch Act and make nice with people proud to be brutal dictators. The decor? I’d say a child’s representation of various lands; e.g., Egypt = Pyramids; Australia = Sydney Opera House; France = Eiffel Tower; America = The Kremlin.
“Injustice Department Land” where Bilious Barr makes up evidence, ponders weightily the meaning of “suggests” and teaches a class on how to Epstein people. The decor here should be inspired by the London Torture Museum.
“Education Department Land” is run by Bet-She’s Devoid and every day, she takes Monopoly money from poor people and hands it to rich people so they can give their kids an educational advantage just because maybe having just a financial advantage and a health care advantage and a environmental advantage and a nutritional advantage aren’t enough. The decor is stolen directly from the game of Life. (Yes, of course, it would be a copyright violation; but it is Trumpland! Laws mean nothing!)
Bringing up the rear, we could have “USPS Land” where crowds roar in appreciation as Loser NoJoy takes apart TV’s and microwaves and then trades parts and re-assembles them to make them more “efficient.” Of course, to make it more fun, he knows nothing whatever about TV’s or microwaves.
In the center ring, of course, we have #45 himself sitting behind his Irresolute Desk signing Amazing Bill after Amazing Bill. Just to make it more fun, every once in a while, he will open up the dark leather binder and instead of a Bill signing ceremony, he will sign a check for a porn star to keep quiet.
Around the periphery of the Evil Office are arrayed a score of large screen TV’s showing every remaining news channel: FAUX NEWS1, FAUX NEWS2, FAUX NEWS3…FAUX NEWS20. They are all broadcasting the wonderful news about how fantastic #45 is; proclaiming that this is unprecedented, ground-shattering, galaxy-altering, universe tilting, amazingly amazing stuff, sanctioned by GOD himself and anointed with secret Oil of Q-Anon and OKKK’d by White Nationalists and Pedophiles for POTUS.
It’s all fine.
But, importantly, none of it is real. Executive orders are not carried out. People’s lives are not ruined. Innocent people are not killed. In the real world, laws and justice still matter and democracy is more than a slogan.
Trump is happy as a clam. It’s what he’s been striving for the whole time! In his own words, “I take no responsibility.”
Others may object that he is essentially being lied to.
Wait. What’s that knocking I hear? Hello? Karma, is that you? I thought so. Come on in.
He’s told 22,000 lies since being Putin office. It doesn’t matter to him if he’s being lied to. Why should it matter to you? He doesn’t want to know the truth. He can’t take the truth. Heel Spurs hasn’t got the courage. Fine. Let him play President in a pageant named after him in a park named after him. He’ll be happy. And America will not be destroyed as it is when the game he’s playing has actual consequences on real people’s real lives.
Now, it may be objected that although it would be good for America, it would also be expensive. It would be expensive to build. But there are many who could use the work. We have the highest unemployment in decades. However, it would pay for itself very quickly! The capital pay-back and the operating expenses would be covered by the 40% of Americans who would gladly pay for an up-front look see at Trump playing Trump in Trumpland. For an extra fee, they could have a signed MAGA hat! (The signature is just printed but who cares?). And these MAGA hats will all say “Made in America” on them! Of course, they won’t actually be made in America, but here in Trumpland, there is no rule of law. Lying is standard practice.
Good gracious! I almost forgot to mention McConnell-Food Court. Here, there is a giant turtle standing and spouting nonsense the whole time the park is open. Since, like every other amusement park, there’s no place else to eat, the hamberders are expensive and gristley, with a faint aroma of dead cat but in Trumpland, you can always grab some, er, covfefe or Clorox to wash it down. Nothing ever actually happens here except the droning sound and the buying and consumption of food. Needless to say, there are none of those horrible plant-based options available that hippies — or whatever they’re called these days — want to eat just to keep from ruining the planet for human habitation or some other weird liberal thing like that.
Trumpland: Put him where he belongs – running an amusement park – not running the country.
Trump would be happy.
Trump’s supporters would be happy.
The rest of America would be ecstatic.
It isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s a lot better than what’s happening right now.
The main drawback is that Putin would not be happy.
In the immortal words of Melania Trump visiting kids in cages when their mothers brought them legally to America’s border to seek asylum:
Here’s an interesting thing about the way we learn. And, when I say “we” I don’t just mean all my 7.5 billion human brothers and sisters out there but also other, more distant cousins. What creatures tend to do is put particular emphasis on their first experiences. In my culture, we memorialize this truth with comments such as: “Now, make sure you look nice on your first day. It’s important to make a good first impression.” Given the prevalence of this kind of advice, I think most people seem aware of this effect when they go on job interviews, first dates, etc.
There seems to be an interesting asymmetry about our folk wisdom though. While most of us seem quite aware of how we can influence others by first impressions, we seem fairly oblivious to the impacts that others are making on us.
“I can’t understand it. They seemed so nice on our first date. And, then, every one of our six dates since, they treat me like trash. I might have to break up.”
Imagine instead someone saying this: “I can’t understand it. They treated me like trash on the first date. And on the second. And on the third. And every one of our first six dates. And, now, on the seventh, they seemed so nice!”
Many studies confirm the primacy effect under a wide variety of circumstances. In this case, the folk wisdom about the importance of first impressions is confirmed by science.
This has an interesting ramification for propaganda effects.
Let’s suppose that you live in a country where there are two competing parties. Each of them typically likes to put a certain “spin” on events. For instance, let’s say that there’s a big plane crash in the Colorado desert or a hurricane in Florida. These events are reported on the media. Now, the two parties might frame or reinterpret these events in different ways. One party might try to say that the crash was likely due to drug use on the part of the pilot and that drug use among pilots is because pot is legal in Colorado. And, they might claim that even though there is no real evidence. In fact, subsequent events actually confirm that the pilot was not on drugs, nor has there been any uptick in drug usage among pilots (they would lose their jobs) and these particular pilots lived in NY and just came from NY. They did not suddenly score a joint 30,000 feet in the air. But because people in the audience heard that story about pot usage being responsible first, some of them may recall it even years later — and are much less likely to recall the actual facts that came out later.
Conversely, let’s imagine another party puts out a statement that blames the crash on lax standards for air safety. It blames these lax standards on the other party. It further points out that the airlines who pushed for the lax standards were heavy campaign donors to the party who fought for the lax standards. If you hear this version of the story first, you will have a different first impression. It will be just as “uncomfortable” for you to now consider evidence that perhaps the pilots were high than it will be for the people in the scenario above to consider that lax safety standard were involved.
Similarly, one party might relate the hurricane and mention that global climate change makes for more and more severe hurricanes. Another party might use the opportunity to request funding to put up a hurricane fence around the Gulf of Mexico to keep hurricanes out. One of these explanations would be supported by the vast majority of scientists. Of course, no-one is saying that a particular hurricane could not possibly have happened without global climate change. But warming waters mean more energy goes into hurricanes in general. On the other hand, no real scientist would imagine a hurricane fence would do much to keep a hurricane out!
But if you hear about the hurricane fence story first, and then find that scientists think such a strategy is absurd, instead of rejecting the idea for the bunkum it is, you might check the Internet for someone to support the idea. And — given the nature of the Internet, you will definitely find someone to support the idea — a Russian troll, a nutcase, or an operative for the other party. Rather than using the Internet as a way of determining whether a particular idea is or is not reasonable given the balance of evidence, it will be tempting instead to use the Internet to find a way to reinforce your first impression rather than challenge it. Who gets the story out first has a big advantage.
You can see why parties compete to get their own version of stories out first.
The above scenarios were examples of reactions to external facts that “happened.”
But what if your party is not only reacting to disasters — what if they are intentionally creating disasters? This gives them a crucial and perhaps crushing advantage. Because they are creating the crisis, they can have a narrative for every story worked out ahead of time. They can release it contemporaneously or even slightly before an event occurs. In this way, they will be able to frame the narrative first every single time. And, equally importantly, people who eventually hear both sides of the story will underestimate how much they are swayed by the primacy effect.