Worse still, they don’t care.
The old efficiency experts looked for minute gains that often failed to improve actual productivity, but made managers feel better about how much more efficiently their employees were working. But the country doesn’t do work anymore. Not of the efficient kind. The new efficiency is social efficiency. It’s figuring out how to get as many unemployed patients into and out of a doctor’s office in as short a span as possible while paying the doctor as little possible. And then locking up all the Tylenol so the patients don’t kill themselves. And then the social efficiency experts get a big bonus.
Once upon a time we used to make things. Now we make people miserable.
Nudges gamify progressive impulses. Score enough minor statistical improvements and you level up from a non-profit to an advisory board to a White House cabinet position. The big picture may be as bad as before, but that’s not your department. You’re acting locally and thinking globally and doing everything but actually helping people. And you get to feel good about helping to change the world.
Earlier generations managed to fundamentally change the world, without planning to do it. They just made things because they were worth doing. Later generations grew up being told that it was their duty to change the world and spent all their time doing nothing of worth and feeling good about it. And now the great revolution in data, the only actual revolution in generations, is being put to the service of social microsurgery, laser scalpel precision operations to tune society into a machine for manipulating people. But the people running the machine don’t really understand people.
That doesn’t mean they don’t get results. Your average marketing expert has less understanding of human beings than an alien from another planet. That doesn’t stop the machine that he’s part of from getting results through sheer power and pressure. Likewise, the media is mostly wrong and not trusted, but still gets results because it has the biggest megaphone.
The Asperger shortcuts to manipulating people that are such a big part of convincing you to try a new soft drink or selling voters on Obama 2012 worked, but getting people to buy your hairspray or vote for your candidate is fundamentally different than changing how they live. The nudges and the data streams may seem sophisticated, but they rely on a Pavlovian view of human beings reacting to impulses in predictable ways. It’s good enough for making a dog salivate when a bell is rung or a coed’s eyes fill with stars at a Hopey poster, but it doesn’t account for anything deeper than that.
A deeper view of human nature takes into accounts paradoxes and complexities. It understands that every act will have positive and negative consequences. And that people can be manipulated into acting against their interests and drives, but not into giving up on pursuing those interests and drives. That is where the Yugos and the Ladas of Communism ran into a ditch by assuming that the ability to control people at the macro level was the same as controlling them at the micro level.
The planned economy always runs into the paradox that the benevolent plan for the benefit of the People, even when it is endorsed and supported by the People, is torn to pieces by the individual interests and drives of the people, no capital letter. The collective is definitive in propaganda, but it is the personal that triumphs over the political. The unconscious drives of the individual triumph over the collective.
The People may be endlessly malleable, but the people are not. The People are defeated by the people.
The modern engineers of societies think that they are wiser because their nanny states take into account the micro. They tinker with the size of Tylenol containers and think that this means that they are better prepared for the challenges of a rigidly controlled totalitarian state than Lenin and Mao were. They aren’t. If anything they are less prepared. Lenin and Mao had the cruel cynical contempt for people so common to Communist dictators. Their idiot stepchildren, part IBM, part George Herbert Mead, all Google, treat people with contempt, but don’t even pay enough attention to people to be aware of the contempt that they have for them. Their contempt is as autistically mechanistic as their solutions.