Plus ça Change, Plus C'est la Même Chose

This old French saying is an elegant way of referring to the shifting-the-burden behavior so common in individuals and organizations. By continuing to follow familiar superficial patterns of action aimed at relieving symptomatic problems, attention is diverted away from the underlying causes, and things continue to show up in the same old ways.

George Packer published this interesting item yesterday. Try to read it without diverting your eyes to the last paragraph.

The huge organism of Detroit, for all its Middle Western vigor, is clogged with dead tissue now. You can see here, as it is impossible to do in a more varied and complex city, the whole structure of an industrial society; almost everybody who lives in Detroit is dependent on the motor industry and in more or less obvious relation to everybody else who lives here. When the industry is crippled, everybody is hit. “The cylinder-head has cracked!” says one official of a large motor company, “and when the cylinder-head is cracked, you have to get a new car. The system has broken down!” But the minds of motor company officials have not as yet been fertile in ideas for new systems.

From a recent Wall Street Journal or New York Times? No, this was written by Edmund Wilson in 1958.

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