Just as our American technocracy was ramping up another round of war by remote control in the Middle East, a gully wash of oddly related events swamped the national psyche.
First came the news that an Iraq war vet, apparently suffering from PTSD after two tours of duty, jumped a fence at the White House and managed to get all the way into the East Room. This news led to revelations about a variety of Secret Service lapses that have exposed President Obama and his family to potentially life-threatening risks.
Then, at almost the same time, another freaked-out person, this one a contractor for the Federal Aviation Administration, turned up at work early on a Friday morning and proceeded to set a regional radar facility on fire, crippling air travel across the country.
Finally, after hearing public officials rumble on for days about how Americans have no reason to fear the deadly Ebola virus because of the sophistication of our health care systems, a Liberian national, suffering symptoms, was sent away from a Dallas hospital though he turned himself in for treatment. Two days later he was in serious condition after having come in contact with a number of people, including some children.
What do these stories have in common?
All of them are about the breakdown of elaborate systems constructed to control people and the things we do. This is what is meant by technocracy — the notion that society is best run by people with technical expertise, and that solving problems equals finding the right protocols.
Technocrats aren’t sure what people are for. They try to get rid of us through automation when they can. Otherwise, they make do with as few of us as seems possible. This is called efficiency.
So soldiers are sent repeatedly into the furnace of war (they volunteered); contractors work without back-up (they’re lucky to have jobs); and Emergency Room staff are chronically sleep-deprived (and proud of it).
Now, in light of the abject failure of every one of these supposedly fail-safe systems, we will be told that what’s needed is more of the same. More, that is, security. Higher fences, more intrusive background checks, tighter borders. That we might benefit from more people on the job, more humane working conditions and more common sense isn’t likely to come up.
These events have also demonstrated the extent to which technocracy has neutered our political leaders. Shots are fired at the president’s residence and no one notices. One of the world’s busiest airports is virtually closed for several days and all the mayor can do is complain. A hospital fumbles its first Ebola case but the state’s governor still brags that there’s no better place to deal with such an illness.
The only person who has emerged from all this with even a shred of integrity is Julia Pierson, the now defunct head of the Secret Service. She said she would take responsibility for her agency’s failings. That’s what everybody says. Except Pierson meant it: she resigned.