Sam Smith, 2003 – The two most powerful subcultures on Planet Potomac are the Clingons and the Process People.
The former got their name from their skill in hanging onto various branches of power with one hand while speaking on the phone with the other, valiantly ignoring the laws of gravity, ecological factors, common sense, and all the non-Clingons grabbing at their feet and trying to pull them to the ground.
While the Clingons traditionally exercised their power at will, typically to the distress of the humanoid serfs on the planet and elsewhere, in the past decade or so they have been so successfully challenged and infiltrated by the Process People that it is increasingly difficult to tell them apart.
Whereas older Clingons liked to brag about what they actually did, the newer ilk discovered that the Process People had it much easier for they didn’t actually have to do anything – they just talked about it. They have also changed the nature of language so that adjectives have become nouns, numbers have become adjectives, and reality is but a mission statement away.
On an average day this doesn’t matter much. There are enough humanoid serfs around to actually do what needs to be done, so the elites can concentrate on impacting, strategizing, partnering, thinking, reporting, commenting and holding conferences about what is happening. Where this breaks down, however, is when the things that need to get done suddenly become too large and too real – as on September 11 or when someone decides to start a war.
The response of the Clingons to September 11 reflected their subversion by the Process People: the first thing they thought of was to create a new bureaucracy second only to that of the Pentagon. Their assumption that this would make us safe illustrates what happens to the brain after years of inactivity. Like higher functioning autistics, the neo-Clingons could only recycle what already filled their minds and perseverate about it rather than respond in a pragmatic and rational fashion based on judgment, perception, and experience, informed and adjusted by the actual situation in which they found themselves.
Thus we were presented with a series of suggestions – some of them deadly, some just silly – about how we might react to a bio-chemical attack. The local colonial government – long in the grips of the Process People – even inexplicably suggested that pet owners stock up a longer supply of food for their animals than for themselves and the city’s health department went out and hired one of the city’s least effective ex-mayors to conceptualize, integrate, and communicate its own anti-terrorism strategy for a mere $236,000.
The Washington Post reported that a D.C. official acknowledged that former mayor Sharon Pratt did not know “specifically” about bio-terrorism. On the other hand, according to the contract, her five-year-old consulting company “has the capability to provide the necessary expertise based on its established relationships.” Which is to say, it’s not what you know, but who.
Said a department official, “She came with some big management expertise before she was mayor. We needed someone to represent and to think strategically as to how, where and what we need to do to interact with that office.”
When, on a subsequent talk show, I pressed her as to how many emergency beds would be available in town should a bio-chemical crisis arise an hour from now, she was unable to give me an answer but said that officials were attempting to improve “surge capacity,” not to mention planning for “syndromic disease surveillance programs.”
Under the agreement, Pratt is to meet with high-level government officials and write a report outlining opportunities and tentative communications and resource-sharing agreements. The report is to include timelines for achieving collaborative goals and solutions to potential obstacles.
But, when the bomb goes off, who has time for achieving collaborative goals?
What is far more frightening though, and more immediately relevant, is that the Process People have also taken over key elements of our military. This has been going on for some time, although still not generally recognized. As early as the late 1980s, the Pentagon began talking about things such as a “generic composite peer competitor,” “myriad formless threats,’ and even an “asymmetrical niche opponent.” If only we had only known then that they were thinking about Iraq.
Today many of our top generals are verbally barely distinguishable from your average management consultant. Take, for example, that former haven for plain talk, the Coast Guard. Its current commandant, Admiral Thomas Collins, in just one recent speech, managed to use the following phrases:
Comprehensive legislative framework to enhance. . . systematic approach . . . assessing vulnerabilities. . . protecting vital infrastructure, partnering with others at home and abroad. . . acquire and build Critical Security Capabilities. . . prepare our forces to transition easily “Between homeland security and homeland defense operations. . . sustain a lasting partnership between the military and law enforcement communities. . . flexibility to embrace necessary change, while maintaining vital continuity in service, is crucial to our enduring commitment to operational excellence.
It was especially comforting to know that “we have developed state-of-the-art techniques for assessing crew endurance risks; we have instituted new crew endurance management principles into our operational doctrines.” If Admiral Collins had been around at the right time, the Lifesaving Service would have undoubtedly been called the US Maritime Endurance Management Collaborative.
This sort of gobblygook has spread throughout the military so that we now hear grown men with lots of medals talking about a ‘robust battlefield environment; a commander complaining that “the enemy we’re fighting is a bit different from the one we war-gamed against,” and a Pentagon representative reassuring us that the Secretary of Defense believes in “a mix of services and capabilities they offer.”
While such language is initially used as a way to deceive others, it soon becomes a form of self-deception because it is based to an extraordinary degree on abstract and ultimately meaningless euphemisms. Language forms the structure of thought and increasingly in Washington that structure, even in the military, is one of cards rather than of bricks.
Reality becomes indistinguishable from the mushily contrived.