Sunday, 22 June 2014

Going Forward with Cressida Dick

Cressida Dick, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, speaks today, on the radio, of the accidental assassination of Jean Charles De Menezes in 2005. She tells us how the policemen and women under her command have learnt a great deal from the egregious blunder in which the Brazilian electrician paid the price for the slight swarthiness of his skin by being sat upon in a tube train and having his brains scattered across the floor. It seems that the implication is that such an event is now less likely to occur because the upholders of the law have “learned” so much. Regrettably, this implies that, in advance of the event, the combined cognitive powers of the officers involved were incapable of deducing that identities can be mistaken and communications can go awry and that, therefore, caution and circumspection are de rigueur before committing oneself to shooting a stranger in the head in public. Ms. Dick presents us with a model of human life whereby all that is necessary is to study such ludicrous errors closely in order to avoid their repetition in the future. The fact that acting carefully and circumspectly in the present might be more likely to produce such an outcome and the further fact that an exact set of circumstances such as those which emerged on 22nd July 2005 will never recur in human history and, therefore, will never need to be avoided, seems by the by. The Assistant Commissioner’s words sustain a current fiction in which human affairs move inexorably towards perfection. As we “learn” from our ridiculous mistakes and eliminate such folly from a presumably shining and spangled future all manner of things shall be well. This, of course, is an eschatological lie. The world will not end with all policemen finally acting consistently, with perfect sense. In reality, policemen will always have the burden of being careful and thoughtful before they act. To maintain such fictions betrays a strange societal need to reassure our hapless selves, that fate can be controlled by ever more inquiries after the event rather than by our own courageous and sage conduct in advance of events. "Experts" will apply a quasi-scientific post hoc analysis and, somehow, that makes everything all right. The existential problem is somehow reduced and solved, and even those guilty of the incompetence can somehow “achieve closure”.

This brings me onto another example of this self-deceiving nonsense. It is customary in our times, for directors and managers of enterprises to stand up and speak to employees about the plans, strategies and intentions “going forward” of the directors and managers. For me the use of “going forward” uniquely betrays the incapacity of such managers to come to terms with the temporal existence, which we all lead. Burdened with the responsibilities of leadership of said enterprises they are filled with timorousness and lack confidence. They lean on phrases like “going forward” in order to reassure themselves that they are, indeed, advancing through time into the future and that they have chosen and set out a certain plotted route. They are like blind men feeling their way along a wall or wounded servicemen relearning the art of walking by gripping wooden rehabilitation rails as if their lives depended on them. In the case of the servicemen this is understandable. In the case of business leaders one has to ask if such a lack of confidence is a sensible attribute to advertise. Once again we encounter a modern failure to address the existential and the terrors it inflicts on us with any proper resolution. The public reiteration that we are “going forward” resembles a neurotic constantly telling us he will do something while never actually doing it.

I should say that I have no particular axe to grind with Cressida Dick. Daughter of Oxbridge academics and Oxbridge graduate herself, she is certainly an intelligent person and probably a person of good sense. She has simply had the misfortune, today, to utter the heretical existential formula paraded periodically and regularly by any number of grandees from the NHS, BBC, HMRC, the Police Service, or Social Services, for example, whenever their employees are guilty of spectacular incompetence or immorality. The fact that Cressida Dick’s position obliges her to make such pronouncements is surely to her disadvantage. The incompetences spawn “inquiries” which report findings and the offending organisations duly issue statements that suggest that their corporate life resembles a Super Mario style computer game. They bumble along in an amiable narcotic haze in a straight line until a fresh disaster overtakes or confronts them. This disaster always comes out of the blue, is unexpected and is met with amazement. No one could ever have guessed that such a thing might happen and now all we have to do is “learn” from it like schoolchildren who, unfortunately, just don’t happen to have tackled that chapter in their textbooks yet. Having done this we haplessly struggle to our feet and resume our amiable bumbling until we sleepwalk into the next disaster. No one seems to notice the disconnect between the conduct that leads to the “mistakes” and the qualities that, no doubt, the incumbents of executive (note this word) posts would have trumpeted on the occasion of the putting forward of their candidatures. One would assume that, at that moment, they proclaimed their fitness to field competently the full range of unpredictable contingencies that such positions might present them with. All of this leaves one with the strange feeling that what is sometimes called “intentionality” has deserted the field of human affairs. No one, above a certain level, seems to go into a job with proper convictions, a clear idea of what they are proposing and the unequivocal intention to carry it out with the aid of the courage that such intentions require. Everyone, it seems, lacks a proper sense of responsibility and accountability, should unforeseen contingencies intrude. The result is a sad parody of competence and an uncomfortable failure to come to terms with the human condition.

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