collective Alzheimer’s?

Chance encounters or chance happenings are such a neat phenomena. Often these synchronous occurrences rise up from nowhere and strike us like that first beam of morning sunshine coming up over the hillside — or poking through the gray mass of cloud and fog if you live on the coast.

This is not really a post about those events — that’s a ten volume book… however, it’s certainly related.

The other day after sitting in a near-all-day meeting regarding salmon and “salmon-planning” I stopped by the used book store that was right across the street from the hotel where the meeting was at. In a matter of a few minutes of browsing I found two books that seem to fit quite seamlessly with my thought process of the day.

One, was the “Peter Principle” – the fun book from the 60s based on the theories of Dr. Peter. The principle suggests: “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.” As suggested on Wikipedia the book is “a humorous treatise which also introduced the “salutary science of Hierarchiology”, “inadvertently founded” by Peter.

It holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. This principle can be modeled and has theoretical validity. Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”.

I had certainly heard of the principle (and observed it more than I’d care to enumerate) but never seen the actual book.

The other book I found is by Canadian writer and thinker John Ralston Saul (husband of former Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson). It’s the book “The Unconscious Civilization” from his 1990s CBC Massey Lecture.

“Not only do we seem to be devoid of useful memory, but when we do remember accurately it has little or no impact on our actions. It is as if, when we come to public action, our greatest desire it to generalize and institutionalize a syndrome resembling Alzheimer’s disease. One-third to one-half of the population of Western countries is today employed in administering the public and private sectors. In spite of having a larger and better educated elite than ever before in history; in spite of knowing more than we have ever known about ourselves and our surroundings, we actively deny the utility of public knowledge”

Today I am sitting in an all day meeting discussing a “model” – a simulation program – for trying to better manage sockeye salmon.

And, yet, estimates suggest somewhere close to 100,000 people in B.C. participate in various salmon-related efforts — streamkeeping, stream rehabilitation, stream monitoring, etc.

In almost every First Nation community are folks with a wealth of knowledge about salmon, a wealth of stories about salmon from their parents and grandparents.

And, yet, the administrative elite continue to design model after model after model.

Ralston Saul:

To know — that is, to have knowledge — is to instinctively understand the relationship between what you know and what you do. That seems to be one of our biggest difficulties. Our actions are only related to tiny, narrow bands of specialist information, usually based on a false idea of measurement rather than upon any knowledge — that is, understanding — of the larger picture.

The result is that where a knowing woman or man would embrace doubt and advance carefully, our enormous specialized, technocratic elites are shielded by childlike certainty. Whatever they are selling is the absolute truth…

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