Don’t Blame Bush
not that I have any defense to make for President Alfred E. Neuman:
quite the contrary. Many have jumped all over the man for failing
to "take action" following the warning, weeks before September
11th, that Osama bin Laden’s operatives were planning
to hijack an airliner. In injecting presidential incompetence into
the analysis of that day’s events, we are once again confronted
with how the failure to ask the right questions will always
produce wrong answers.
As I watched the WTC towers collapse that day, my initial response
was that this event was to have very deep and profound significance
for how we think about such matters as "order," "liberty,"
"defense," and "peace" in our world. For so
long, we have been conditioned to think that a massive, powerful
state was alone capable of securing such ends, particularly as we
envisioned the threats thereto to come from other enormous
political systems. Like Rick, in the movie Casablanca, we
consoled ourselves with the thought that "the problems of three
little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this world,"
and waited for our supposedly more knowledgeable and competent "leaders"
to announce "grand strategies" for our lives.
We had, in other words, thoroughly internalized the mindset that
our world could be rendered orderly only through pyramidally structured
institutions, which would bring about such ends through the imposition
of laws, regulations, and other directives that flowed, vertically,
from leaders to followers. This model has been thoroughly
discredited by work in such fields as the study of "chaos,"
economics, biology, information systems, and managerial theory,
the implications of which have slowly been working their way into
With the same impact that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
introduced us to the cataclysmic powers hidden within the structure
of atoms, the WTC attacks have revealed to us – albeit at an unconscious
level for most – the illusory nature of state power as a means for
instilling order upon a society. The trillions of dollars spent
on military and intelligence systems, over the years, were unable
to protect the nation’s largest city from attack, while a president
– whose job, it was believed, was to formulate an effective strategic
response – spent the day hiding out in an underground bunker near
For a long time, supporters of the political power structure defended
the lack of governmental response to the "surprise" nature
of the attacks. On the one hand, such a defense reinforces the tenet
of "chaos" theory that complex systems are unpredictable,
thus stripping away much of the rationale for state planning and
supervision. But when the White House recently revealed that it
had received warnings of an impending attack, and took no
effective action to prevent it, the "we had no way of knowing"
excuse fell flat.
The defenders of statism angrily came forth with a new defense:
"we had no knowledge that the WTC was going to be attacked
on September 11th, so what could we have done?"
Post-9/11 events answered that question, for it didn’t take many
days for the government to formulate specific responses: increased
airport screening, reinforced cockpit doors, and present discussions
on whether or not to arm pilots.
Again, let me emphasize my point: I am not being critical of any
particular governmental proposal for dealing with such threats,
nor am I being particularly critical of Mr. Bush: let us separate
his shortcomings from those of the political system itself.
It is the mindset that societies need to be planned for and managed
by the state that is being challenged not only by myself, but
by the rubble at the erstwhile World Trade Center. Statism was dealt
a dual blow on 9/11: these attacks occurred because of prior
governmental policies and actions, and that same government was
incapable of providing the defense that millions of Americans mistakenly
believed their trillions of tax dollars had been spent to provide!
A few readers – those unwilling to take the responsibility for either
their own thinking or actions – continue to respond to my articles
with pleas to announce my solution to such problems. I have
always stated my alternative but, as it is not formulated as the
kind of legislative proposal one could forward to his or her senator,
or use as the basis for a petition drive or even a torchlight parade,
I am accused of being "impractical." But any pragmatic
response must begin with an awareness of the situation before us.
Is it not clear that our present civilization is in a state of collapse,
and that government officials are engaged in a futile act of trying
to reverse this decline by employing the very "command-and-control"
methods of violence, threats, and regulation that have brought us
to where we are? Albert Einstein is reported to have said: "the
significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level
of thinking we were at when we created them." He also stated:
"Past thinking and methods did not prevent world wars. Future
thinking must." It should be evident that we need to
rethink our assumptions, and that such efforts do not provide you
with the instant "fix" you are accustomed to getting from
either your physician or the politicians – "remedies"
that only cover up symptoms but do not address the disease itself.
Suppose that you were the president of Trans-Global Airlines, and
that you (not just Mr. Bush) had been told that such hijacking
threats were likely to occur in the near future. Suppose, further,
that there were no government regulations to control your actions
in response to such a threat. What would you do? Would you simply
file away the report and do nothing? Would you reinforce cockpit
doors? Arm the pilots and crew? Perhaps even arm the passengers?
Whatever your response would be, it would be made in the context
of the marketplace, with you doing a cost/benefit analysis
to assess the alternative(s) that best suited your airline. If you
thought you might meet with sales resistance from passengers who
might feel uncomfortable with their fellow travelers being armed,
you might reject that proposal and settle for arming only the pilots,
perhaps with a reinforced cockpit door thrown in as an added precaution.
The point is, you would be inclined to make a rational decision
because of the immediate consequences, to your airline, of whatever
decision you did make. If you make the kind of decision that (a)
diminishes any threat to your airline and, as a consequence, (b)
increases passenger confidence and, hence, revenues, your airline
will prosper. If, like Mr. Bush, you simply ignore the warning,
and your airliners are hijacked because of your failure to act,
you will suffer not only the loss of the planes, but likely the
confidence of passengers who might be inclined to take their business
Have any of us not figured out one of the fundamental distinctions
between marketplace and political decision-making:
if you make wrong decisions in the marketplace, you are punished
by a loss of income and, quite possibly, bankruptcy. If you make
wrong decisions in the political realm, you are rewarded with an
increase in revenues with which to operate. When the government
schools continue to diminish the quality of learning, or the criminal
justice system fails to reduce crime, how do most of us respond?
By supporting bond measures to put more money into failed
systems! We don’t buy cars or computers this way.
On the same day that the White House admitted to Mr. Bush’s pre-September
11th warning, Congress voted to give intelligence agencies
a sizeable budget increase. With additional monies being forthcoming
to governmental systems after failing to do what they have been
paid to do – be they schools, police, or intelligence agencies –
why would any of them have an incentive to be competent? Why would
any of the rest of us be so gullible as to think they would?
I suspect that the reason most of us continue to support the rewarding
of failure is not because we are unaware of the shortcomings
of political systems, but because we have become so thoroughly politicized
that we dare not admit, to ourselves, that we have been so much
in error. Like the man who continues to invest money in a failing
business in the hope that a reversal will ultimately vindicate his
previous judgments, many people are disinclined to "cut their
losses" in the face of repeated governmental failures. (I know
people who send their children to private schools, but support bond
issues for government schools because they are "essential to
I also suspect that alleged public opinion polls that show high
"confidence" ratings for a president during critical times,
may also be subject to this desire to reinforce support for the
political system. While one cannot know what is in the minds of
such polled persons, I wonder how many, when responding "yes"
to the question "do you approve of Mr. Bush’s performance?,"
might be trying to communicate nothing more than his or her support
for whatever the government is doing. Such declarations, in a time
of perceived crisis, may be more a vote of confidence in the political
system, rather than in political leaders, per se.
The events of 9/11 and subsequent revelations continue to make evident
the increasing irrelevance of the state to the quality of
life we wish to enjoy. For those accustomed to looking beyond editorial
pages and the 6 o’clock news for an understanding of events in their
lives, it has long been apparent that undercurrents of change have
been taking place beneath the surface. On a worldwide basis, social
systems are moving from centrally-directed to decentralized
systems of organization; vertically-structured pyramids
are being replaced by horizontal networks of interconnectedness.
No one – and, at the same time, everyone – is involved in driving
such changes, whether in the use of the Internet, alternative systems
of schooling or health care, or in the increased decentralization
of management in the workplace. The secession movements that abound
throughout the world also reflect these centrifugal forces.
As we have seen in this country, political systems will continue
to resist such changes in the most Draconian manner necessary to
their interests. This is what the "War on Terrorism"
has been about from the start: to restore the centralized authority
of the Leviathan state. This is why political leaders
are telling us that this war will go on "forever," with
the entire world as the "enemy." The "War on Terror"
is a war against life itself, and against the processes of change
which, while detrimental to structured institutional interests,
are essential to all living systems.
Bush’s failure to act on these earlier warnings is further evidence
of the irrelevance of the state to your well-being. The defense
of your liberty and safety will continue to depend, as it always
has, upon what you do to protect it, not upon political
leaders, whose efforts will only be to make you increasingly less
free, and less safe. Should any future attacks occur, you
can be assured that the political establishment – along with their
corporate friends – will be adequately protected. While you
and I defend our lives - and the lives of friends and family members
– from the consequences of their actions, they shall enjoy a heightened
security. Just like President Bush on September 11th,
they shall be escorted to underground bunkers, taking with them,
of course, the United States Code – the secular age’s equivalent
of the Ark of the Covenant. From such lowly depths – foretelling,
perhaps, the fate of all political systems – Mr. Bush and his operatives
can continue to play out the illusion that they are "in charge"
of processes that they can neither recognize nor understand.
© 2002 LewRockwell.com