A Shortage of Competence

A report describing ship handling incompetence on two US destroyers which led to the deaths of 17 sailors raised the possibility that American can-do, once the envy of the world, may suddenly be in short supply even in places where it was once taken for granted.  Everything suddenly seems to be going wrong, from a terror attack in Manhattan made possible by admitting an ISIS supporter under the Diversity Visa Program to the seeming ability of Russian hackers to turn the giant American social media industry against itself.

As Noah Rothman notes, the one common denominator in the public post-mortems of disasters seems the assumption everyone is stupid; everyone needs to be protected from the sly world. Not just dumb but "so staggeringly stupid that even the most mind-numbingly asinine foreign propaganda can convince a critical mass of voters to drive a stake through the heart of American democracy".  Yet this apparent hyperbole is merely self-description. Person after person mounts the podium to present himself as victim or fool; from Hollywood celebrities who 'never suspected' the sex abuse all around them to seasoned politicians who can't even remember how they came to hire the shadowy agencies which did opposition research on their political opponents.

Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Trey Gowdy trolled for laughs by observing that nobody can no longer remember anything.  "I am also interested in sharing some memory tricks with folks at the DNC because no one can remember who paid $10 million to a law firm to do oppo research," he said. "Ten million dollars and no one can remember who authorized it, who approved it."

Maybe that's because nobody at the DNC even knew who they were working for, according to Donna Brazile who told Politico that after taking over the Democratic National Committee not only did she discover its vaunted war chest empty and stuffed with a pile of Obama IOUs but that the entire party was working for Hillary Clinton without even being aware of it.

Analyze that.

The institutions may appear to be breaking down in unison because they are all running up against the same thing: an increasingly complex world which has become far less controllable than before.  Social media is a frequently cited example of how radically things have changed. Information that once could be suppressed with a single phone call can now "go viral" in minutes experts warned as early as 2011.  "One bad review, or one mistake ... can break a reputation." If there are a whole crowd of skeletons clamoring to get out of a closet the flood of scandal can break an entire industry.

No man is an island, not even those on Madagascar. Advances in air travel technology have transformed its picturesque local customs into serious threats. "Relatives dancing with the corpses of their loved ones" in Madagascar are threatening to spread the plague over the planet, forcing health officials to screen passengers departing the island.