The West As We Know It Won’t Survive the Woke Competence Crisis

The West As We Know It Won’t Survive the Competence Crisis Caused by Woke. By Harold Robertson.

At its core, woke is essentially a political coalition of midwits and mediocrities using their superior numbers (the bell curve is highest in the middle) to demand equal outcomes for all. It increasingly sidelines and demotivates the most competent, just like communism mostly eliminated striving and effort in the Soviet Union. It’s as if woke want us all to be the “most equal” that we can be, not the “best.”

America must be understood as a system of interwoven systems; the healthcare system sends a bill to a patient using the postal system, and that patient uses the mobile phone system to pay the bill with a credit card issued by the banking system. All these systems must be assumed to work for anyone to make even simple decisions. But the failure of one system has cascading consequences for all of the adjacent systems. As a consequence of escalating rates of failure, America’s complex systems are slowly collapsing.

The core issue is that changing political mores have established the systematic promotion of the unqualified and sidelining of the competent. This has continually weakened our society’s ability to manage modern systems. At its inception, it represented a break from the trend of the 1920s to the 1960s, when the direct meritocratic evaluation of competence became the norm across vast swaths of American society.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, the idea that individuals should be systematically evaluated and selected based on their ability rather than wealth, class, or political connections, led to significant changes in selection techniques at all levels of American society. The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) revolutionized college admissions by allowing elite universities to find and recruit talented students from beyond the boarding schools of New England. Following the adoption of the SAT, aptitude tests such as Wonderlic (1936), Graduate Record Examination (1936), Army General Classification Test (1941), and Law School Admission Test (1948) swept the United States. Spurred on by the demands of two world wars, this system of institutional management electrified the Tennessee Valley, created the first atom bomb, invented the transistor, and put a man on the moon.

By the 1960s, the systematic selection for competence came into direct conflict with the political imperatives of the civil rights movement. During the period from 1961 to 1972, a series of Supreme Court rulings, executive orders, and laws — most critically, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — put meritocracy and the new political imperative of protected-group diversity on a collision course.

The core problem is that cognitive competence — IQ — correlates positively with so many aspects required for success today, but not all identified groups have the same IQ distributions. In particular, there is this (US data):



Unable or unwilling to invent a political philosophy that can accommodate this fact, the left pretends that all groups in society are statistically identical — and therefore any deviation from equal outcomes must be caused by systemic bigotry. This falsehood is now the basis for much public and private policy.

To achieve equal outcomes for all groups, the left increasingly demands we ignore merit and competence, and systematically promote the less competent.

There isn’t so much going to be an upcoming dark age, so much as an increasingly dumb age.

Administrative law judges have accepted statistically observable disparities in outcomes between groups as prima facie evidence of illegal discrimination. The result has been clear: any time meritocracy and diversity come into direct conflict, diversity must take priority. …

The prognosis is harsh but clear: either selection for competence will return or America will experience devolution to more primitive forms of civilization and loss of geopolitical power.

From meritocracy to diversity:

The first domino to fall as Civil Rights-era policies took effect was the quantitative evaluation of competency by employers using straightforward cognitive batteries. While some tests are still legally used in hiring today, several high-profile enforcement actions against employers caused a wholesale change in the tools customarily usable by employers to screen for ability.

After the early 1970s, employers responded by shifting from directly testing for ability to using the next best thing: a degree from a highly-selective university. By pushing the selection challenge to the college admissions offices, selective employers did two things: they reduced their risk of lawsuits and they turned the U.S. college application process into a high-stakes war of all against all. Admission to Harvard would be a golden ticket to join the professional managerial class, while mere admission to a state school could mean a struggle to remain in the middle class. …

All bad hires are costly but bad hires that are diverse are even worse. The risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit either draws out the termination process for diverse hires or results in the firm adjusting by giving them harmless busy work until they leave of their own volition — either way, a terrible outcome for the organizations which hired them. …

You pretend to treat us equally, we pretend to work:

The combination of a pyramid-shaped org chart and a senior leadership team where white men often make up 80 percent or more of the team means that the imposition of an aggressive KPI sends a message to the layer below them: no white man in middle management will likely ever see a promotion as long as they remain in the organization. This is never expressed verbally. Rather, those overlooked figure it out as they are passed over continually for less competent but more diverse colleagues. The result is demoralization, disengagement, and over time, departure. …

Reality must conform to leftist ideology, comrades:

Within large employers and government contractors, quotas are used for both hiring and promotions, requiring specific percentages of hiring or promotions to be reserved for favored groups. During the summer of 2020, the CEO of Wells Fargo, was publicly shamed after his memo blaming the underrepresentation of black senior leaders on a “very limited pool” of black talent was leaked to Reuters. Less than a month later, the bank publicly pledged to reserve 12 percent of leadership positions for black candidates and began tying executive compensation to reaching diversity goals.

When diversity still refuses to rise to acceptable levels, the remaining solution is the direct exclusion of non-diverse candidates. …

When explicit exclusion is used to eliminate groups like white men from selection processes, it is done subtly. Managers are told to sequester all the resumes from “non-diverse” candidates — that is, white males. These resumes are discarded and the candidates are sent emails politely telling them that “other candidates were a better fit.” While some so-called “reverse discrimination” lawsuits have been filed, most of these policies go unreported.

The reasons are straightforward; even in 2023, screening out all white men is not de jure legal. Moreover, any member of the professional managerial class who witnesses and reports discrimination against white men will never work in their field again. …

Competency is declining from the core outwards:

The steel girders supporting the competency of the federal government were the first to be exposed to the saltwater of the Civil Rights Act and related executive orders. Government agencies, which are in charge of overseeing all the other systems, have seen the quality of their human capital decline tremendously since the 1960s. While the damage to an agency like the Department of Agriculture may have long-term deadly consequences, the most immediate danger is at safety-critical agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). …

Since air controlling is one of the only jobs that pays more than $100,000 per year and does not require a college diploma, it has been a popular career choice for individuals without a degree who nonetheless have an exceptionally good memory, attention span, visuospatial awareness, and logical skills. The Air Traffic Selection and Training (AT-SAT) Exam, a standardized test of those critical skills, was historically the primary barrier to entry for air controllers. As a consequence of the AT-SAT, as well as a preference for veterans with former air controller experience, 83 percent of air controllers in the U.S. were white men as of 2014.

That year, the FAA added a Biographical Questionnaire (BQ) to the screening process to tilt the applicant pool toward diverse candidates. Facing pushback in the courts from well-qualified candidates who were screened out, the FAA quietly backed away from the BQ and adopted a new exam, the Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA). While the ATSA includes some questions similar to those of the BQ, it restored the test’s focus on core air traffic skills.  …

Recently, the tremendous U.S. record for air safety established since the 1970s has been fraying at the edges. The first three months of 2023 saw nine near-miss incidents at U.S. airports, one with two planes coming within 100 feet of colliding. This terrifying uptick from years prior resulted in the FAA and NTSB convening safety summits in March and May, respectively. Whether they dared to discuss root causes seems unlikely. …

While all businesses subject to federal law must prioritize diversity over competency at some level, the problem is worse at publicly-traded corporations for reasons both obvious and subtle. The obvious reason is that larger companies present larger targets for EEOC actions and discrimination lawsuits with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. … The more subtle reason for pressure within publicly-traded companies is that they require ongoing relationships with a spiderweb of banks, credit ratings agencies, proxy advisory services, and most importantly, investors. Given that the loss of access to capital is an immediate death sentence for most businesses, the CEOs of publicly-traded companies tend to push diversity over competency even when the decline in firm performance is clear. CEOs would likely rather trade a small drag on profits margins than a potentially career-ending scandal from pushing back. …

The American system is cracking:

Morale and competency inside U.S. organizations are declining. Those who understand that the new system makes it hard or impossible for them to advance are demoralized, affecting their performance.

Even individuals poised to benefit from diversity preferences notice that better people are being passed over and the average quality of their team is declining. High performers want to be on a high-performing team. When the priorities of their organizations shift away from performance, high performers respond negatively.

White male senior leaders reduce their engagement following the appointment of a minority CEO. While it is possible that author Ijeoma Oluo is correct, and that white men have so much unconscious bias raging inside of them that the appointment of a diverse CEO sends them into a tailspin of resentment, there is another more plausible explanation. When boards choose diverse CEOs to make a political statement, high performers who see an organization shifting away from valuing honest performance respond by disengaging.

Some demoralized employees — like James Damore in his now-famous essay, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” — will directly push back against pro-diversity arguments. Like James, they will be fired.

Older, demoralized workers, especially those who are mere years from retirement, are unlikely to point out the decline in competency and risk it costing them their jobs. Those who have a large enough nest egg may simply retire to avoid having to deal with the indignity of having to attend another Inclusive Leadership seminar.

As older men with tacit knowledge either retire or are pushed out, the burden of maintaining America’s complex systems will fall on the young.

We won’t participate in your rigged system:

Lower-performing young men angry at the toxic mix of affirmative action (hurting their chances of admission to a “good school”) and credentialism (limiting the “good jobs” to graduates of “good schools”) are turning their backs on college and white-collar work altogether.

This is the continuation of a trend that began over a decade ago. High-performing young men will either collaborate, coast, or downshift by leaving high-status employment altogether. …

The combination of new employees hired for diversity, not competence, and the declining engagement of the highly competent sets the stage for failures of increasing frequency and magnitude. …

Let’s see what happens:

The U.S. has embraced a novel question: what happens when the men who built the complex systems our society relies on cease contributing and are replaced by people who were chosen for reasons other than competency?

The answer is clear: catastrophic normal accidents will happen with increasing regularity. While each failure is officially seen as a separate issue to be fixed with small patches, the reality is that the whole system is seeing failures at an accelerating rate, which will lead in turn to the failure of other systems. …

Patching the specific failure mode is simultaneously too slow and induces unexpected consequences. Cascading failures overwhelm the capabilities of the system to react.

20 years ago, a software bug caused a poorly-managed local outage that led to a blackout that knocked out power to 55 million people and caused 100 deaths. Utilities were able to restore power to all 55 million people in only four days. It is unclear if they could do the same today. U.S. cities would look very different if they remained without power for even two weeks, especially if other obstructions unfolded. What if emergency supplies sat on trains immobilized by fuel shortages due to the aforementioned pipeline shutdown? The preference for diversity over competency has made our system of systems dangerously fragile.

Competence is not sustainable when diversity rules:

Americans living today are the inheritors of systems that created the highest standard of living in human history. Rather than protecting the competency that made those systems possible, the modern preference for diversity has attenuated meritocratic evaluation at all levels of American society. …

The path of least resistance will be the devolution of complex systems and the reduction in the quality of life that entails. For the typical resident in a second-tier city in Mexico, Brazil, or South Africa, power outages are not uncommon, tap water is probably not safe to drink, and hospital-associated infections are common and often fatal. Absent a step change in the quality of American governance and a renewed culture of excellence, they prefigure the country’s future.

The third world is coming to the West, in more ways than immigration.