The War on Terror is a magnificent example of what Man can achieve when threatened by Evil. Pulling together, and led by some of the most outstanding strategic brains in recent history, the Western world has responded with a will to defeat the powers of darkness and to capture or kill the authors of Terror in Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan.
But what of that other necessary war that our leaders, Bush, Brown and Berlasconi have yet to declare, if only they could find time out from the War on Terror and defending themselves from corruption and incompetence charges? What of the War on Error?
Long ago when children were taught mathematics with the expectation of jobs in manufacturing or engineering, education was quite the opposite of touchy-feely. Children were taught to get their trigonometry right and their historical dates correct. It wasn't enough to say that a length of wood was "about" an inch thick; people back then, in the days of strong family values, were more exact — a one inch piece of wood was precisely 25.4 millimeters thick.
But now people do their jobs only roughly right (about 25 millimetres to an inch). All is relative and approximate. If a meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m, it is all right to arrive at twenty minutes past the hour. If you are invited to dinner at 7 p.m, it is fine to arrive at 7.30, having failed to inform your hostess that you are bringing your girlfriend, whose name is, er, something like Betty. You only have to show as much consideration to others as you have time and inclination for. It is important to be cool.
If you ask for a broadband service to commence on a Monday, it might or might not. If you arrange to stay home from work for a plumber between 8 a.m and 1 p.m, he might or might not turn up, depending on whether England is playing Portugal or the Circle Line is running in a clockwise direction. Ask Social Services to call on an elderly relative at 7 a.m, and they arrange a call at 9 a.m. All is sunk in a slough of relativism. You are lucky if they listen to you at all.
- You are told that that direct debit was cancelled, as requested, last month - - but the company forget to do it.
- You are told the taxi will arrive at 6 p.m - - it arrives at 6.40.
- You are told that your car, in for servicing, will be ready within the hour - - you are still waiting three hours later.
Thus England. But don't imagine that the United States is any better. On the contrary. I have a suspicion that the level of carelessness and poor motivation is perfectly correlated with "freeness" of the free market and increasingly unrestricted capitalism. Over a period of twelve years I have noticed courtesy decline, time-keeping get worse, promises get forgotten, and mistakes burgeon. The phrase "service economy" is one of those weasily pieces of political propaganda, like "death tax" (for inheritance tax), Clear Skies (which allowed polluters to pollute at will), and the Data Quality Act (which undermines careful scientific research). The service economy has little to do with service; it simply means that you can do away with factories and organized labor. Companies don't seem to care as long as the disorganized labor is cheap.
The economist will tell you it is what you have to expect with consumerism and a growing and "better educated" population. You don't need to make anything. Let the Chinese and Indians do all that. Don't worry. Society has invented the cognitive therapist to allow you to cope. Pay a visit to your friendly shrink and he will tell you it's their problem, not yours. Do not take it personally. Chill out. Be happy. Chant the modern mantra:
There's nothing wrong with the individual who's driving me up the wall. I am sure he or she is intelligent, well intentioned, loves cats and visits his or her Granny on a Sunday. It is the effect of his or her policies and actions that drives me stark, raving bonkers.
Well of course, all this sloppiness and incompetence is my problem and I do take it personally. Why not? It is messing up my day and consuming my short, and what would otherwise be a brilliant, life with frustration.
I want a War on Error!
If other people can have a war to seize new sources of oil, to dominate the Middle East,to protect Israel, to profiteer from non-competitive reconstruction projects, to stop Saddam denominating his oil exports in euros, whatever, why can't I have a concerted attack on sloppiness, lack of training, inertia, un-interest and chronic me-me-ism?
So how would I conduct this War on Error? George Bush has his Marines and bunker-busters, his Special Forces and guided weapons. I have an old-fashioned secret weapon, these days seldom used:
In the War on Error, the "nuclear option", after giving the guilty a ROCKET, is to FIRE THEM!
Nowadays most people in Europe receive annual reviews with verbal and written warnings and gentle letters enquiring as to whether they would like to consider accepting voluntary redundancy. They only hint at incompetence.
"Three complaints and you're out" would be good corrective, but it has to be accompanied by two important incentives:
- for those who actually do their jobs efficiently, methodically and conscientiously, an autographed photo of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
- for those who make two unforgivable and sloppy mistakes, two weeks living with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.