As I contemplate another election in which polls were off by bewildering margins, in exactly the same way as four years ago, I keep thinking that this is just one sign of a nation that can't do much of anything right.
Half the highly-touted social science papers of the past 50 years have failed replication. It seems like we either don't have the necessary tools to do social science right, or else social scientists don't care.
My youngest son recently downloaded an update to his favorite strategy game. I said, "How is it?" He said, "Well, it's interesting, but it crashes every time you click on a fleet." It's an experience so common as to be hardly worth commenting on.
It costs two to five times as much to build a mile of subway here as anywhere else, just one part of a cost nightmare in building any kind of infrastructure.
Our top manufacturer recently decided to murder people with airplane control software. They continue to exist because we need them, and because we think other corporations are just as bad.
We can't educate poor children, even though we spend far more than other nations (Finland, Korea) that do. We can't control drug abuse. Our mentally ill live on the streets, scrounging for survival.
We find ourselves caught between violent crime that, though way down from its peak, is still more dangerous than in most rich nations, and police departments we don't trust. We have more guns than we have people, far more than we have sense.
Pundits wring their hands over populism and our refusal to trust experts, but, honestly, what have experts gotten right lately? If they can't poll an election properly, why should we trust them about things that are far more complex, like the climate or regulating banks?
Yes, we're really good at some things, but many of them are things I and many others wish we weren't so good at: fracking, search engines driven by online advertising, cheap sugary food, hypersonic missiles, toy submarines for billionaires.
We fall for one fad after another: new math, back to basics math, Common Core math. The matrix corporation, the team-based corporation, the virtual corporation, the customer-focused corporation, the solutions-focused corporation. Litany after litany of irrelevance and failure.
I'm not saying, mind you, that things used to be better, although some things surely were. But is this really the best we can do? What is the knowledge we need, or have lost, to put competence at the center of our work?
I think our incentives are askew. We are rewarded for shallow, flashy successes, for "bold initiatives" and achievements that can fill a line item on a monthly brag sheet, for things that sound like "change." The like button and the viral video are metaphors for our whole world: one post that strikes a chord and gets ten million views, no matter how mediocre, no matter how wrong or distorted, matters more than all the careful research or deep thought you could produce in a lifetime. TL/DR to that.
I feel right now a great desire to see some big, public thing done really, really well.