The ‘quality’ (I use that term with a great deal of hesitancy) newspapers in the UK (and no doubt elsewhere) along with social media fora have offered a litany of references to the British government’s incompetence in myriad areas. In the category of ‘definitely not ancient history’ are the suggestions that the Grenfell tragedy, the Windrush travesty, and issues with the new Universal Credit were functions of government and ministerial incompetence. Most recently we've witnessed the ‘A level’ grading debacle and, more pertinently, the decision to shut down/replace/restructure (delete as applicable) its Executive Agency responsible for public health in England, Public Health England (PHE). PHE has (usually without foundation) been described variously as a ‘fiasco’, ‘shambolic’, ‘incompetent’ and ‘shameful’, to offer a few of the more printable adjectives. Further, and adding a global dimension to this debate, the continuing COVID-19 outbreak has led to a constant and increasingly loud portrayal of the WHO as incompetent, not fit for purpose, and in need of replacement, not to mention the unfounded questioning of the integrity of its leaders. How looming Brexit will be handled, irrespective of one’s position on the issue, is obviously worrying.
However, I have increasingly wondered if the more innocent implications of incompetence are suitable, or adequate, in such circumstances. In short, what we’re seeing, what we’re protesting isn’t mere incompetence, it’s rather a deliberate strategy that reeks of the gung-ho Silicon Valley concept of ‘move fast and break things’ where what most would consider mistakes or errors are merely the ‘cost of doing business’. This particular framing of the issues that are the subject of government incompetence (along with paradigms and power another area of expertise for the mysterious editor of this site) is crucial. There is an implicit suggestion that ‘breaking things’ is acceptable or endemic to those freely flexing their ideological and political muscle – it is tolerable (indeed anticipated) and they can get away with it. Their contempt for the electorate, lest we forget the vast majority of whom placed their ‘x’ elsewhere, seems to also render accusations of incompetence as inconsequential to them, and to the press. If the lives of the majority of the country don’t matter beyond their function as a source of cheap labour, clearly their protestations, insults, and accusations of incompetence are going to fall on deaf ears. We end up being treated by those in power and incompetent as inconsequential. It is bizarre and humiliating, but deliberate.
Beyond this ‘Sceptred Isle’ (I’m in more of a ‘dark, satanic mills’ kind of mood) where my gaze inevitably focuses, events at numerous august US institutions add fuel to this particular fire. For example, globally respected academics have repeatedly pleaded with university administrators not to return to face to face teaching lest they risk localised outbreaks on campus (which are already occurring). Again, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears, their growing body of evidence an irrelevance to those preoccupied with the potential economic benefit of master’s programmes, yielding in some cases in excess of USD100k per student. The government is supporting this process, another government blithe to its own incompetence and its spectacular impacts. Aside from the ideological prioritisation of income over the health of students, it all rather challenges the value of a high-priced global health course, the content of which is effectively dismissed by those banking the cheques. This is not just irony, it is perversity and power at play as part of government and business strategy that evades facts that are inconvenient.
Returning to the determined campaign being waged primarily by the US government against the WHO, anybody who can be bothered to read even a little will realise the vast majority of claims are not only unfair, they are wilfully wrong and based upon blatant untruth(s); a situation noted in countless commentaries and editorials authored by experts around the world. Again, these unbiased and truthful interventions are side-lined, overpowered by the relentless ideological rhetoric of the administration of the ‘leader of the free world’.
All of these are wilful, deliberate, strategic acts. They are not missteps, or mistakes, and most certainly not instances of incompetence, at least not to a sufficient degree as to render those responsible accountable. These people are good at this stuff. To think otherwise is a profound mistake…a new strategy of resistance is required.