Al Qaeda is the most obvious example of a “viral” organization operating in the world. There is a basic objective, anyone is welcome to join the party, it doesn’t matter what the action is, so long as the figurative gun is pointed in the right direction, and the second and third order effects are not necessarily considered. They are as much fighting the ideas and philosophies of the west as we are fighting the ideas and philosophies of violent Islamic fundamentalism. They fight as a virus. We fight as a monolith. They operate as a virus does: opportunistic, flexible, quick to evolve. We operate as a monolith: bureaucratic, cumbersome, slow to evolve.
There are advantages to each, don’t get me wrong. But a swarm of very small termites can take down a very big house. That doesn’t mean that we should all live in a termite mound, it does mean that there is much to learn and apply from the forces that would infiltrate and destroy our metaphoric house.
At one point, the US perfected the fine art of reinvention. I’m more and more convinced that, as all empires do, we’ve lost that talent. And, as with all empires, an inability to see clearly and proceed with reality-based decisions and discussions will be our downfall. More and more, I’m convinced that the US Government had better pare down and revise itself in a more flexible framework, or we’re all in trouble.
Yes, I know, the military structures are reconsidering their approach so the on-the-ground troops are freed up to respond with agility and flexibility. That still doesn’t answer the rest of the US government, which is part of the battle overseas and has its own issues to manage here at home.
Take, for example, the disaster in the Gulf. The US Coast Guard has command and control, working closely with BP. They are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the disaster and with the number of people who are calling in to register their help. Where better to put a viral paradigm to work? Set up a registry of parties interested in helping and parties that need help. Include metadata in the registration process so the registry can be searched by location, expertise, resources, and interests. Therefore, doner x who has a thousand dollars and is interested in wildlife can run a search, find someone who is cleaning birds and direct the money to that effort. Tug boat owner Y can search for an effort that is in need of a tugboat and move his resources to the effort. The “command and control” can watch which efforts are gaining momentum and track them. Everyone who is interested can get involved. People know what they have to offer. It doesn’t take a resume for someone who cares about cranes to say “I can put in long hours, don’t mind getting dirty, and can learn how to apply Dawn to a bird, I’ll take two weeks of vacation to volunteer.” It’s a no brainer. That same registry can post lessons learned through connections to Facebook, Twitter, or their own micro-blogging or wiki format. I know a guy with oil-eating enzymes. Maybe there is a lab that is willing to stop production on their usual money-makers and grow enzymes for a week or two.
We all know what needs to be done. It isn’t like the oil is going to react in predictable ways. We need the random inherent in a crowd to deal with the mess. The Coast Guard can’t possibly be smart enough to make it work. BP clearly doesn’t have all the answers. There isn’t a single answer. There are millions of people doing what they can to help because cleaning up the Gulf means something to them.
This Gulf provides a unique opportunity to learn from our “enemy” and go with what might work. Who says that BP should be in charge anyway? Why are we waiting for permission and organization to do what needs to be done? We’re turning into a nation that stands in a line even though there is nothing at the end of that line that any of us want. We bitch about our politicians because they don’t raise the barn that the community needs, but no one shows up for the barn raising. Al Qaeda does not have the end-all-be-all viral capability. This is what made America great in the first place. We looked around, saw what needed to be done, and did it.
By the way, violence is no where on the list of things that need to be done.
Congress won’t do anything about it until we stop electing prom kings and queens and start electing people who are brave enough to talk about the bad news. And not bad news in the form of “the democrats are ruining America” or “immigrants are the reason why your life sucks.” There is a difference between blame and bad news. The reality is that we’ve got the government we (collectively) asked for. The gridlock, the party sniping, the leaders who rail against immorality by day and bathe in the stuff by night, the bureaucracy, the monolith… It is all of our doing. And unless we all get brave and recognize that the myriad of opinions and philosophies are all required to bring balance to the ship of state, it’s all we’re going to get.
Personally, I’d like to see us all get the balls to do what makes sense for once.