The idea that we should go by results, rather than by processes, by outcomes rather than by appearances, was revolutionary. For most of human history, we were trapped in a cargo cult mode. We did the “right things” not because they led to the right results, but because we had decided that they were the right things. There were many competent people, but they were hamstrung by rigid institutions that made it impossible to go from Point A to Point B in the shortest possible time.
And we’re right back there today. The entire process of ObamaCare was the opposite of going from Point A to Point B. It was the least competent and efficient solution every step of the way. There was no reason to think that its website would be any better. The process that led to it being dumped on the American people was completely devoid of any notion of testing or outcomes. It was the right thing to do because… it was the right thing to do. It was cargo cult logic all the same. So was its website.
Healthcare.gov, like ObamaCare, was going to work because it was “good”. Its goodness was by some measure other than result. It was morally good. It was progressive. And so the deity of liberal causes, perhaps Karl Marx or Progressia, the Goddess of Soup and Economic Dysfunction, would see to it that it would work. Karma would kick in and everything would work out because it had to.
This brand of magical thinking was once commonplace. It still is. And it’s why things so rarely work out in some of the more messed up parts of the world. But the sort of attitude that would once have made anthropologists shake their heads is now commonplace here. Savages in suits, barbarians with iPads are certain that things will work because they have appeased the gods of modernity with their fonts, they have made a website that looks like a functioning website. And like the cargo culters who built fake control towers expecting planes to land, they thought that their website would work.
Competence is built on the unhappy understanding that things won’t work because you want them to, they won’t work if you go through the motions, they will only work if you understand how a thing works and then make it work by building it, by testing it and by expecting failure every step of the way and wrestling with the problem until you get it right.
That’s modernity. It isn’t glamorous. You can see it in black and white photos of men working on old planes. You can see it in the eyes of the astronauts who first went to the moon. You can read it in the workings of the men who built the longest suspension bridges, laid undersea cables and watched their world change. They were moderns and their time is done. They have left behind savages with cell phones who make decent tinkerers, but whose ability to collaborate falls apart in large groups.
The difference between savages and civilized men isn’t that savages are dumb and civilized people are smart. Savages can individually be quite clever within their parameters and civilized folk can be quite stupid. It’s the ability to extend that intelligence in groups that makes for a civilization.
Savages cannot work together. They can fantasize, but they can’t build anything bigger than a small group can manage. Savages are warriors, but not soldiers, they are tinkerers, not engineers, they are inventors, not scientists, they cannot work together on a large scale and thereby push past their own limitations as a culture and grow. They may have individual geniuses, but they cannot pass on what they learn.
We have not yet been reduced to savagery, but our incompetence increases in large groups to such a staggering extent that it often seems not to be worth the trouble. Individual geniuses can occasionally carry large groups on their shoulders, micromanaging them, terrorizing them and motivating them, the way that tribal chieftains do, but without that singular personality the whole thing collapses.
The United States government is the ultimate giant unworkable mess. It is a living cargo cult where everyone marches around following routines that are supposed to yield great prosperity, but never do. The processes themselves are broken and make no sense, but the cargo culturers of the government cannot and will not hear that. They know that the government will magically make everything work.