DRAFT COPY ONLY
In complex systems involving millions of individual human parts, it’s rare to find systemic differences based on failure. Large networks of people tend to generate a built-in error correction, problem-solving and group improvement momentum.
Think of a logistics company with a thousand trucks on the road. Error correction: drivers who kept crashing would be noticed by the company and replaced with divers who didn’t. Incompetent analysts get replaced by better employees. Directors who’s decisions end in failure won’t survive shareholder scrutiny; or the company goes bust as better alternatives take the business.
Problem solving: initial driving routes between different city warehouses might follow public maps but as trucks use the routes, driver feedback is received. Map inaccuracy wastes time (e.g. blocked points en-route. Drivers will flag the dead end, find a way around and update the company maps with a time-saving detour.
Group improvement momentum: drivers feed data into a pool of information and the company will also be working on truck logfiles, fuel economy analysis, transport regulations, etc. There is a constant, multi-direction drive for improving business efficiency.
There’s two key observations to be made here, that don’t often get said and yet are essential if we want to understand the way big systems work in the real world.
Failure is one of the easiest, most attractive, lowest common denominator narratives available. Failure narratives pivot on apportioning blame and blame is a story made personal, uiniversal, accessible. Blame forces the good/evil dichotomy, reframing events in terms of victims and villains. It’s a go-to for media, especially in these clickbait times. Villains and victims sell copy.
Almost every event in the newsfeed is reported in these terms, concealing the real story while appearing to cover the angles that matter.
Villains and victims is a story of easy answers. Backed by a big platform, failure and blame weaponized gossip, which is the media’s stock and trade. Sadly it’s also a misdirection, deliberately encouraged by editors (and their bosses) to push a political, ideological or populist agenda.
Failure through the prism of blame may be gripping but it’s false narrative. It subordinates the world as its shown to most of the public to simple soap opera designed to consume public energy, push an agenda and give back nothing useful that might develop understanding.
Sidebar: failure narrative is the same as triumph narrative, where villains become heroes. The techniques are analogous and the unspoken aims are unchanged. Triumph narratives personalize and mislead same as failure narratives. Triumph may present an upbeat tone for the heroes soap opera but its objective – occupying public attention and diverting from the real story – all the same.
An example of the bogus failure narrative driving a clickbait blame soap opera of villains and victims is XXX. Example of a bogus triumph story making a clickbait hero soap opera is XXX.
[different agenda, which is never discussed but always pivotal; and the key to understanding a dynamic… agenda that’s general not often individual.]
The world of failure, blame and villains (or triumph, success and heroes) is more damaging than merely filling the national conversation with an agenda of media-driven soap opera bullshit wasting time and thinking energy so whatever’s really going on can continue unmolested by public scrutiny. Relentless repetition of this bogus world view conditions a population to perceive society (and its institutions) in a way that’s disempowering its capacity to make educated choices about the future.
The fantasy of heroes and villains may as well be reality TV for all the agency it gives to the general public. People get locked into the storylines and the characters, arguing in echo chambers or abusing along risible tribal lines, emotions excited to make it all seem legitimate and ensure its grip on their thinking stays tight from one installment to the next.
In the logistics company example, the villains and heroes technique would see media reporting on it by fixating on the drivers who crashed (broken home, drug abuse, violent history, whatever) or the failed directors (embezzlement, drug abuse, over-leveraging, sexual peccadillos, whatever). There will reams of description of the individuals and their villainy but little or nothing documenting the detail of the company’s real world activity in the context of the logistics industry and the national economic forces responsible for its timeline of decisions.
Example article#1 – something financial, where the profit is chased excellently and the article fixates on a failure narrative that blames XYZ but incorrectly cuz XYZ was doing the right thing for the profit chase, which was its actual job. Not incompetent. Not a failure.
Example article#2 – should be healthcare related, but maybe not coronavirus, like the profit made from healthcare and how this is the motivating force for corporations and Govt. Govt presented as having failed in how it does XYZ but actually its role is the maximum profit for companies (and jobs + American influence that come from it) which it’s doing a damn fine job of.
Coronavirus has brought the dysfunctional, disingenuous media – and the political establishment’s tactic of complicity – under the spotlight. The unusually extreme time-critical conditions have exposed not only the inadequacy of the public conversation (on a very serious issue) but the consequences of fantasy over fact for organising a national response to a preventable crisis.
What’s more, though the figures for cases, deaths and recovery reported by certain countries are rightly treated with a pinch of salt, there are enough densely populated countries tackling coronavirus in their own way to make direct comparison, detail for detail.
[it’s not about the choices made by a Govt. The cry of incompetence or Trump is a bastard or failure of the healthcare system – this is all misdirection bullshit. Reality is countries have different healthcare systems with different national objectives. In Germany it is to cover everyone, to each according to his need, not his ability to pay. In the UK it is to cover everyone as cheaply as possible while trousering profit from public-private partnership using taxpayer money.
In the US it is a vast engine driving the national economy, set up for profit, but also to provide as high quality healthcare as possible to those who’re part of the whole system (good insurance). Top quality healthcare for the entire population will not be profitable. High quality healthcare for 70% of the population, cutting loose the poor and the disenfranchised and those outside the system (immigrants, gig workers, etc) and you have a recipe for big profit that also satisfies the majority with healthcare as good as anywhere in the world (if not better than most). That 30% are docile losers anyway and American dynamism is fuelled on competition – actual competition – which means there has to be winners and losers, wealthy and wage-slaves. If you’re smart and dedicated, you’ll be one of the winners. It may be harder if you’re ethnic, but that’s all part of the game.]
Example article#3 – coronavirus 200-300% more likely to be fatal if you’re black or brown versus if you’re white. Even in NYC. This is healthcare in America. Sure it gets vilified as being racist (but it isn’t) and unequal (which it is) but the mistake is to think this is not by design. Healthcare as an industry is a vast complex system, but it isn’t an incompetent one. Its goals are not the same as the bleeding heart liberals who mistakenly think medical should be for all, the poorest getting the same treatment as the richest because nobody chooses to get cancer. If USA healthcare had to meet these criteria, it would no longer be the profit bonanza. Which would have a knock-on effect on a doctor’s salary, research dollars, keeping big pharma science in the USA, etc.
Conclusion: look for the real story. Don’t ever be fooled by the soap opera. Dictatorships go for mostly triumph model, the leader as the top of the hero pile. Democracies go for mostly failure model, picking out victims and villains and making sure there’s no continuity or insight that might detract from the next installments of the soap opera stretching off unto eternity. The reason most intelligent people find the entire media landscape so abhorrent is 100% valid, doesn’t matter which party political ideology you’re into.
But let’s not condemn the media as a failure either, or pick out the editor of the New York Times or a Fox News anchor to pillory or praise. Media is a profession that’s about profit through advertising and advocacy of certain political ideology. So long as it stays consistent with the latter, it will roam freely in story selection best suited to clickbait, selling the most ad space for the highest amount to the widest audience.
Just because you think we should use public platforms to further the public understanding, to inform the public decision-making, doesn’t make this reality. That persistent belief is, ironically, a perpetual fantasy of the intelligent consumer of news media – including many individuals making their living in the media industry. If anything’s a failure, grand scheme of things, it’s the perpetuation of fantasy, stubbornly judging events in terms of success or failure by criteria you’ve invented and your group is advocating; but that have no objective reason to be the terms used by the actual players in the real event.