Saturday, June 2, 2018

Mankind's Struggle Viewed Through The Peter Principle

Have We Hit Our Level Of Incompetence?
The Peter principle is a concept in management theory formulated by Laurence J. Peter in which the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate's performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and "managers rise to the level of their incompetence." It can be difficult to reconcile how an intelligent person can also be very incompetent. To an advanced species examining Earth, the search for intelligent life might not be as easy as we think. 

Humans may sport some of those traits attributed to intelligence but a short-sighted view of the future and the desire to continually shoot ourselves in the foot brings into question man's ability to reach the next level. With this in mind near the beginning of 2014, I penned a piece questioning how so many people were able to think the world's surging population would not become a problem because of new energy sources. While such faith can be sighted as a beacon of inspiration it hardly is justification for mankind to rapidly move towards the point of no return thinking everything will be fine.

Man Tends To Destroy What He Creates
I pointed out that anyone with even the slightest mechanical knowledge will tell you that solar panels, windmills and such take a lot of energy to build and often are maintenance intense. Both these complicated systems have a short lifespan and require a great deal of energy to be expended in just keeping them up and running. This includes all the BTUs being burned in producing parts that need to be constantly replaced. This was one of my arguments years ago when I expressed concern the optimism surrounding ethanol was being overhyped.

At some point, you are not creating enough "net gain" in energy from the total energy produced minus energy expended to claim a major victory in resolving your energy problem. This means the energy we produce in the future may very likely be very expensive. If so, that cost will slow economic growth and remove much of the plentiful bounty we have come to expect and have enjoyed during what I call man's "golden age" or roughly the last 200 years.

Carry no illusions the days of cheap energy are behind us and not only has the low-hanging fruit been picked it has been eaten. Sadly, if we look back we will see much of this energy was allowed to go to waste. America has adopted the same attitude towards its buildings. In our fast-changing world, we have made everything disposable.  A remove and replace mentality tends not to maximize gains or resources and creates a huge amount of waste. Often there is no way to reclaim much of this and even recycling is inefficient. This acceptable lifestyle and way of doing business has extended down to the point where most consumer goods have become non-repairable. With fast growth, we often see a lack of quality. I contend this is about to catch up with modern society.

Mankind Has Failed To Plan For Sustainability
Why should we think that we are immune to the rules governing the universe?  When we look at fast-growing cities where we see buildings erected and ripped down and replaced after only two or three decades we should ask if this is sustainable or our best use of resources. The reasoning behind remove and replace is often that it is far less expensive to just rip it down than to repair or upgrade a structure with labor being the determining factor. Ironically, this is in a world where the number of people in many developed countries choosing to work is declining and those being supported by government programs have risen dramatically.

As the noose of reality and finite resources begins to tighten around the neck of mankind do not expect to hear those in charge to scream out warnings from the rooftops. The few mutterings we hear will be from people tagged as "gloom and doomers" who only see the glass as half empty and are incapable of seeing it is really half full. When we approach the tipping point promises of easier, cheaper, and ever better ways of postponing the inevitable will prove to be an illusion. This means new problems will begin to materialize on a daily basis and the reality our options are evaporating will be both abrupt and harsh. As I ponder our fate is it possible the collective human race is also governed by the "Peter principle" and if so, how will humanity escape this trap?

Little Remains Of Mosul
An example of man's collective incompetence recently arose with the clumsy destruction of Mosul in northern Iraq. Much of the world chose to ignore what happened there when a coalition of anti-ISIS forces retaking Mosul rapidly reduced the proud city to rubble. Upon seeing the pictures of the city in ruins it is not difficult to imagine 100,000 or more of the innocent people trapped within the city killed as troops seeking to eradicate some four to six thousand ISIS fighters went about their task. Little praise can be shed upon those who allowed and enabled a few extremists to take their weapons from them and then wreak havoc upon this peaceful city.

As previously mentioned, the Peter Principle is based on the notion that employees will get promoted as long as they are competent, but at some point will fail to get promoted beyond a certain job because it has become too challenging for them. Employees rise to their level of incompetence and stay there. The question here is whether mankind will be halted by the same dilemma. I'm not saying that we should stop moving forward or should erect barriers to our progress, but it would be wise to give the issue of creating a more sustainable future a bit more thought. This should be a priority because it appears we are already sowing the seeds for a less than compelling future?

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  1. It has been recently postulated that "No device can produce energy in excess of the total energy put into constructing it".

  2. All I can do is shake my head at where so called "civilization" is headed. It's the final step of "the tragedy of the commons." I realized this long ago and decided at that time to leave no descendants, a decision I have never regretted