Got a very enthusiastic response to this week’s Friday Filosophy newsletter about the need for individualism today. In it, I highlighted the failures of our institutions – the failsafe, backups we count on – to protect us during this current pandemic. It seems not a day goes by that another glaring weakness is exposed. In light of the response I received, it seems like expanding on the topic here would be helpful.
In my Risky Is the New Safe book, I joked about the secret society that runs the world. In reality, most people do believe there is a group of really smart people (whether organized or not) who serve as guardrails – protecting us against chaos, disfunction, and calamity. They believe the government, media, medical establishment, courts, universities, and other venerable institutions will be the final defense against any kind of serious meltdown. Unfortunately, this is a delusional fantasy we possess, and times like the current pandemic reveal how dangerous this delusion really is.
If you didn’t realize it before, you probably do now: The World Health Organization (WHO) is hopelessly corrupt. The United Nations (UN) is impotent. Almost every government on earth has revealed its systemic incompetence. The institutions we’ve created for our protection can no longer protect us. They never could. We just like to lull ourselves into comfort by choosing to believe they can.
When the 9/11 attacks were happening, and that last highjacked plane was believed to be heading toward the Pentagon or perhaps the White House, the Air Force scrambled jets to intercept. The only problem was, none of the jets had live missiles. It’s considered too dangerous to do drills with live ammo, so not a single Air Force jet on the continent had attack capability. The conventional wisdom was that if adversaries such as Russia or China attacked the U.S. mainland, the radar and other early warning systems would provide enough warning to arm the fighters. If the heroic passengers aboard United 93 not crashed the aircraft into a field, the only recourse was for two Air Force jets to fly suicide missions into the United plane, one at the cockpit and one at midplane. Only after this attack did the government realized there must always be jets on standby with live ammunition.
Fast forward to today…
Judging by the situation on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, it would appear the United States Navy does not have a plan in place to protects sailors aboard ships against an epidemic. No one in the administration thus far even felt it necessary to airlift enough tests or facemasks to the ships. Yesterday the Navy released a PR video showing the sailors on one carrier sewing facemasks in the craft shop. The video said they made 30 masks a day and were hoping to increase this to 50 a day. I’m sure the Navy thought the video would generate warm feelings, but I was livid with rage. There are about 5,000 soldiers on an aircraft carrier. How is it possible the government never gave any thought to infectious disease epidemics on their ships? (And obviously, still isn’t.)
As you probably know, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been stricken with the coronavirus. Before being hospitalized, he was working from home, conducting Cabinet meetings by Zoom. How did the U.K. become the world’s sixth largest economy, yet be run by a government that has no plan for secure communications in times of a crisis?
Are you starting to realize that maybe governments are not the wise, all-knowing protectors of their citizens they would like you to believe? They have thousands of civil servants to make strategic plans, foresee contingencies, and be prepared for worst case scenarios. But look at what happens when worst case scenarios actually arise. It’s not just governments. There are numerous institutions that people turn their power over to, believing these institutions are inherently kind, judicious, and benevolent. But institutions are no more and no less fallible than the people who make them up. And people do dumb shit all the time.
Did you know the Titanic hit that iceberg because the second officer was changed just before sailing, and he forgot to give the key to the cabinet holding the binoculars to his replacement? Since no one wanted to break the lock on the cabinet, the most expensive cruise ship the world had ever seen was navigating the icy waters without binoculars.
How much time, resources, and money do you think it took NASA to send the climate orbiter to Mars in 1999? It disintegrated into the atmosphere because the ground-based computer software worked by the imperial system and the orbiter was set to the metric system.
That same year, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin offered to sell their little search engine to Excite CEO George Bell for one million dollars. He wouldn’t bite, so they lowered the price to $750,000. He still said no.
Back in 1962, the Decca record label were looking for fresh talent. They auditioned two young bands at their London studio. They opted to to sign Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. The band they turned away had four lads named John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
In 2016, the French state railway SNCF spent $15 billion on a new fleet of trains. Unfortunately, no one bothered to check the measurements, and the train cars were too wide to fit in the station platforms. (San Diego did this with trolley cars about two years ago. They were too long and when they stop at the stations, they block the cross street behind them.)
Two programmers named Brian Acton and Jan Koum applied for jobs at Facebook in 2009, but the company rejected them. They decided to do their own thing and created WhatsApp, which they sold for $19 billion. To Facebook.
Governments, institutions, and conventional beliefs were never going to save the world. The world will be saved by people with discernment, individualism, and critical thinking abilities – the entrepreneurs, visionaries, and dreamers. The people like you.