The great theme of every overrated writer in the past twenty years has been the interconnectedness of things. Butterflies flap their wings in China and famine kicks off in Africa. A man gets on a plane in Sydney and another man jumps off a balcony in Paris.
You can get your interconnectedness fix from Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column as he marvels at the flattening of the world or any one of an endless number of fictional tomes in which strangers from around the world collide and influence each other’s lives.
The interconnectedness of things is not just the theme of the next TED talk you’ll watch or the next Wired article you’ll read. It’s the theme of policy as well. Pull one string and everything changes. Policy is no longer about making things happen by doing them, it’s about finding the precursor to them and doing that and when that doesn’t work, finding the precursor to that.
The growth of government means that everything is interconnected and instead of trying to cut the cost of health care by trimming back the bureaucracy, you ban sodas to fight obesity in the hopes of eventually cutting the cost of health care. It’s the sort of thing that sounds smart when it’s made into the theme of a book that discusses how connected everything else is to everything.
It’s stupid in real life, but who pays attention to real anyway?
Public policy is wired into the next great insight into interconnectedness and the one after that. Doing things to do them is stupid. It’s the sort of thing that Bush, poor dumb ape man, would do. The smart set, the Obama set, do the things that they don’t want to do to do the things that they want to do. It’s the sort of thing that sounds stupid if you try to explain it to a cab driver, but sounds like absolute genius when explained to an audience consisting of dot com people and people who wish they were dot com people.
And sometimes it even works. Most of the time though it makes things confusing and miserable.
The opening premise of interconnectedness theory is that trying to do what you want to do is futile. You don’t make a hurricane by turning on a fan and aiming it as a cloud, you do it by getting on a plane to China and then irritating a butterfly so that it flaps its wings. And then the hurricane comes or it doesn’t. But while you’re there you’ll probably meet a monk or a street urchin who will go you a deeper insight into life or steal your wallet which will inspire you to write the next bestselling book about how everything in life is really connected to everything else.
Wars? Naturally we don’t do them. Only dumb brute apes think that you win a war by killing the enemy. That’s a positively medieval point of view. Even Bush knew better than that. No, you win a war by dealing with the root causes of the war. You find all the links to all the events, you win over the natives with candy bars and briefcases full of infrastructure money and then it all converges together and the war is over. Or it’s not. But either way you write a book about it.
Interconnectedness is the search for causes. It’s never a mismanagement problem, because that’s not a revelation.
Tell Mayor Bloomberg that health care costs are high because it takes four administrators to a doctor to get a patient through the system and he’ll look bored. That’s obvious. Tell him that recreating every new government building so that visitors are forced to use the stairs and those cold black marbles in his head will come awake.
Tell Obama that we’re losing the war because we’re not killing the enemy and he’ll hand you a pen and excuse himself, but tell him that the war is being lost because we need to get more Muslims into space and he’ll hand you a czarship.
We are becoming a subtle and stupid society, obsessed with nuance and a mystical search for the hidden social engines of life. And while that may seem advanced when you’re reading through the latest New York Times bestseller that explains how fishermen in Southeast Asia are influenced by sales of cotton candy in Michigan and the price of coffee in Brazil, it’s actually quite debilitating.