Veidah and the point of vanishing interest

This article is written by MoWo Gabriel Webber. It does not necessarily represent the views of LJY-Netzer.

In 1957, C Northcote Parkinson wrote about a committee meeting with three items on the agenda: (1) approving the construction of a nuclear power station at a cost of £10million; (2) approving the construction of a bike shed at a cost of £300; and (3) approving a refreshment budget of £50.

Item 1 was dealt with in a matter of 10 minutes. Nobody there could even picture £10million. None of the committee members understood nuclear science – why would they? – and the nice young scientist was terribly convincing so everyone trusted them and said yes.

Item 2, the bike shed, took almost an hour. People know what £350 is and what it can buy. People have had builders and plumbers and electricians before. Some of the more DIY-minded members might argue over whether the roof should be steel or aluminium. The less DIY-minded members have a view on the colour. And so the discussion rumbled on.

The refreshment budget, item 3 took an hour and a half, because let’s face it, not everyone understands the difference between steel and aluminium but (to quote Parkinson’s original sexism) “every man knows about coffee”. Everyone knows – or thinks they do – the cheapest way to buy it, and precisely how much of the stuff a group of X people will get through in Y days. Some might quibble about the amount to be spent, or even about whether there should be refreshments provided at all.

This charming little episode demonstrates how informed decision-making can go wrong. The biggest decisions, if they are too big for the decision-makers to comprehend, are waved through because nobody quite likes to admit what they don’t know. And the smaller and more inconsequential the decision, the more informed everyone is and the more they want to make their personal mark on the project – even if it’s a refreshment budget.

Veidah is a bit like this. (Although it’s been a good few years since LJY-Netzer built its last unclear power plant.) Every year there are dozens of detailed logistical motions about the precise mechanics of running camps – because the proposer has been there and know just how it should be done – which consume vast amounts of debating time because, of course, the rest of us have also been there and know just how it should be done, and everyone’s certainty differs violently from everyone else’s certainty.

Sometimes, when a logistical motion passes after a painfully lengthy debate, it is a mishmash of various amendments that nobody really likes – and the MoWos quail at having to implement – but people vote it through because they feel invested in it, having made their mark in the asepha.

And quite often, the MoWos would quite happily do whatever a motion asks off our own backs if anyone suggested it to us. We don’t need the approval of Veidah to add an extra Bogrim Role on Kadimah or to bring nit combs on events. We can just do those things straight away and – genuinely – would be quite happy to be asked and to say yes.

So what should Veidah be doing? I would say three things: (1) making decisions that only Veidah can make, eg. boycotts, pillars, charities of the OTY; (2) setting policy – I’ll come back to this one; and (3) holding the MoWos to account and demanding to know what motion there has been on last year’s resolutions (geddit?)

Of these, setting policy is perhaps the most important. This is something that Parliament has started doing recently: for example, passing an Act requiring the government to cut child poverty by 20% by 2020 but leaving it up to them how to achieve it.

This would be a great model for Veidah. Instead of proposing page after page of detailed mechanisms for doing something, and promoting the inevitable drawn-out ‘what colour should the bike shed be?’ debate, why not consider proposing a short and sweet policy goal – ‘We should have two Israel Tours by 2018’ for instance – and let the details be worked out where there’s more time, more data and a greater likelihood of a workable, informed decision.

This isn’t to say you can’t be part of that process. We love it when bogrim offer their time and experience to the movement.

But when the details are worked out democratically and collaboratively by 40-odd Veidahniks (and let’s face it, we are very odd indeed) it becomes a mess that takes ages and leads to the serious ideological motions – and nuclear power plants – being waved through because nobody quite has time to understand them.

Informed decision making. That’s what it’s all about.

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