Reading notes

image of the book The Fifth Risk

What is most remarkable about Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk is not that he makes us aware of more ways that the installation of a U.S. administration indifferent to the responsibilities of government is a threat to our safety and long term security but that he provides such a readable explanation of the workings of our federal agencies. As someone who has worked in state government first as a school teacher and later as a university staff member, I relished this celebration of the ways many people in these systems care deeply about what they are doing (or cared… apparently the folks now in charge of making sure our nuclear weapons don’t accidentally explode are sleeping on the jobs, and others are looking for a way to sell to the highest bidders little things like access to taxpayer-funded tornado warnings).

In my experience, the cultural assumption that there is no way that anything we were doing works or that we even knew what we were doing was far more harmful than some of the quirks of bureaucratic systems. Indeed, I even observed coworkers complain about the need for change as a given without recognizing that by complaining about the system as a monolith, they interrupted the power they actually had to contribute to our success. Worse, some would ignore what was working well and focus only on what somehow didn’t fit their usually unrealistic vision of a humans-can-be-treated-as-robots system in which everything runs like clockwork.

Not that I have an opinion on this.

As frightening as his topic could be (really, it feels as if any day we aren’t destroyed by reckless indifference, ignorance, and greed is a miracle), I embraced the chance to learn more about these dry topics in a way that wasn’t dry at all. I especially liked learning about individuals who care more about what they do than how much money they can make. Unsung heroes, yes, and role models of what it means to truly succeed.

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