Once upon a time, there was a land called America whose rulers became imcompetent. The amount of imcompetence coming out of the White House and various state governments was staggering. Yes, I said imcompetence, because, well, at first I made a typing mistake, and then I realized that this mistake more accurately described their imcompetence than spelling it correctly, so I decided it should stay, now and for the rest of this essay.
I was thinking about this story because I was reading today an essay by John Cochrane, who said that we wouldn’t be so desperately waiting for a vaccine right now if our testing systems weren’t riddled with imcompetence:
A vaccine is a technological device that, combined with an effective policy and public-health bureaucracy for its distribution, allows us to stop the spread of a virus. But we have such a thing already. Tests are a technological device that, combined with an effective policy and public-health bureaucracy for its distribution, allows us to stop the spread of a virus.
For that public health purpose, tests do not need to be accurate. They need to be cheap, available, and fast. When the history of this virus is written, I suspect that the immense fubar, snafu, complete incompetence of the FDA, CDC, and health authorities in general at understanding and using available tests to stop the virus will be a central theme.
Tsk tsk, Cochrane spelled imcompetence correctly, thereby completely whiffing on matching the theme of this whole essay. What an imcompetent boob.
There used to be a phrase “the strong, silent type”, which was meant as a good thing, meaning a sort of consistently reliabile person for whom competence was its own reward. Technology has changed all that. Television and the Internet have made fame the most valued character trait in our society. You can’t win in our culture by being silent, you have to call attention to yourself. If you’re not on social media, you’ll have no fame, and therefore no value. A person who shuns social media must be instead be some kind of creepy lonely pervert. Nobody admires that. Meanwhile, if you are on social media, every dumb idea that passes through your brain will lay bare your imcompetence for the whole world to see. But it doesn’t matter if you’re imcompetent, because at least you’re famous, which is what really matters.
But hey, maybe I’m just complaining because I’m jealous, because I’m the type of person who lacks the kind of charm and charisma to direct the world’s eyes on my visage, and therefore I have no choice but to pin my self-esteem on my worthless ability to avoid imcompetence. It’s not like I can invent a culture dedicated to cancelling the power of celebrity, and promoting the power of competence, or expect one to organically emerge. That will never happen. People love celebrities! So what’s the point of being competent if nobody notices it?
That’s my flaw, I guess. It’s my bad for being frustrated when we elect leaders who are complete geniuses at staying famous, while the imcompetence piles up, and millions of people suffer needlessly downwind of it.
I watched a baseball game today between the A’s and the Angels, played in Anaheim. It was riddled with all sorts of imcompetence from pitchers who couldn’t throw strikes, who walked a bunch of batters, and with runners on base, took forever between pitches figuring out which bad pitch to throw next, which if it wasn’t missing the plate badly, ended up being an utter meatball down the middle sitting on a tee to get crushed for a home run. The first six innings took a full three hours to play.
All that imcompetence was frustrating and depressing.
But in the middle of all this stumblin’ and bumblin’ emerged two men, one from each side, a pair of strong, silent types, named Matt Chapman and Mike Trout, who rose above all the imcompetence, to restore hope to mankind, to let us believe, for just a moment, that a good, solid trustworthy person could emerge and lead mankind into a better future.
And so we went to the eighth inning, the game was tied 9-9. Matt Chapman and Mike Trout were each 3-for-4. Each had already homered in the game, Chapman twice. Each had one at-bat left to decide the game, to decide who would win and who would lose.
Sadly for us A’s fans, the mighty Chapman struck out. The Angels’ Mike Trout–steady, solid, strong, silent, competent Mike Trout– came up in his last at bat, and hit a home run. The Angels won, 10-9.
And that’s how Mike Trout outlasted everybody else to become the Last Competent Man in America.