I am re-reading the extraordinary World War 2 memoir “The Other Side of Time” by Brendan Phibbs. It is at least as good as I have remembered and said to various people. Easily among the top ten books I have ever read.
This excerpt below comes after some American soldiers have died needlessly in a stupid frontal assault ordered by a thick and egomaniacal commander, when there were perfectly good alternatives (flanking manouevres, waiting for air support etc).
I think it captures something crucial – that as you climb in an organisation (the Peter Principle had not been formulated when this discussion happened) – your incompetence will be covered-up/denied by others, in the (perceived) interests of the organisation, and the fear of a precedent being established that could clear out the Augean stables. And so, in the absence of robust feedback, incompetence, corruption, laxity of all sorts can grow.
Then, at the very top of an organisation, someone might get over-promoted (in part because they are relentless and remorseless self-promoters), and emerge blinking into the fierce sunlight of scrutiny, where mistakes and lack of actual talent cannot be ignored/denied. And then, those people will feel that they are being treated “unfairly” because, well, as per the observation, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
We are taught to defer. And it is terrifying – and socially dangerous – to realise that those “at the top” are often simply not very good at all. So most of us go with what we are taught, and avoid what would be terrifying and dangerous.
And here we are.