Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Zero Sum Game

Okay, I've been trying to figure out, after reading posts at SWJ and various and sundry milblogs--upfront Starbuck at Wings Over Iraq--who keep reiterating the importance of advanced academic degrees dispensed by our elite academic institutions and administered by academic elites. I've been doing some soul-searching (okay, I'm on leave, I've been doing some heavy drinking and trying to look at things through a fresh perspective--that of someone who's had about nine Oilcans). But, is my distrust of our most hallowed and revered academic institutions just knee-jerk obstreperousness? Readers'll be shocked, I know, but I'm a little bit of a contrarian. My natural inclination is to poke holes into whatever plan or operational paradigm I'm exposed to. This is usually a good thing, but hey, sometimes a good idea is just a good idea.
So, I've been thinking about my almost reflexive distrust of the military putting its trust into academic institutions to help "round out" our officers. First, of course, I've got to calibrate my reflexive distrust of the military, then ask whether I'm being imprudent in reflexively distrusting academia. Okay, so when in doubt, look to someone smarter than oneself to articulate the crux of the matter. I'm a huge fan of Victor Davis Hanson, I think that Carnage and Culture is a book that every officer should read and reflect on (okay, read all his stuff, but this book made the biggest impression on me).
So, from one of VDH's blog entries, here's his explanation of the danger of relying on elites that, I think, represents my own misgivings:
...elitism is the deliberate deprecation, in active or passive fashion, of the other world of physicality and pragmatism. The true elitist values his books, his music, his refined taste in furniture, food, and fashion to the neglect of how one makes a book, to the absolute uninterest in the construction of a violin, a chair, a fig, or a pair of pants. The elitist always fails to appreciate, (1) that his existence, and his much cherished rarified world, are impossible without others that are as smart and as skilled as he, and thus due commensurate thanks and acknowledgment, and (2) that in the zero-sum game of life, hours spent at the piano, Smyth’s Greek grammar, the Sunday morning opera, or the Guggenheim Museum are a tragic trade-off in which one forfeits commensurate time invested in the physical challenge of chain-sawing limbs, the aesthetic sense of accomplishment in weeding an overgrown garden, or the satisfaction of re-roofing a house. The elitist, in contrast, simply cannot imagine that such tasks are as necessary as his own, or that such muscular experience can reflect upon character and knowledge as much as those interests of his own softer and more sophisticated world. Again, knowing how to chain-saw or hammer may be more valuable in dealing with Chavez or Putin than distinguishing Virgil from Horace.

So, in the case of life--and officer development--we're dealing with a zero-sum game. Do we really want to expend the limited time we have "rounding out" an officer locking him up in an ivory tower? Damn, I can't re-build a carburetor, and with my priorities in life I probably never will be able to, but I consciously made the decision to spend my time in other endeavors. I guess all I'm saying is that let's not think that there is a magic "Harvard elixir" that'll help us build a better officer corps.
Dredging up a paraphrase from memory, like the smart kid said in Good Will Hunting, are we assuming we have to expend the time and expense on an Ivy League education for what we could get for $7.37 in library late fees?

No comments:

Post a Comment