glynn county, ga

BMPs, short for Best Management Practices, the playbook upon which environmentalists rely to guide developers and other soil disturbers to do the right thing, are failing. The question is why. I don’t think the spouse, who observes that, in his youth, BMPs referred to “bowel movements with pee,” is on the right track, even though the venue, the southland, is apt. I really don’t think the blatant disregard for best management practices, especially on the part of public agencies, ranging from the Georgia Department of Transportation to the Glynn County Department of Public Works can be blamed on linguistic disconnects. No, the devastation James Holland documents in his photographs is neither a mistake, nor accidental. Nobody drives a backhoe into a swamp on a whim.

Best Management Practices. One assumes that, like profit, striving for excellence would be beyond dispute. But, one would be wrong. After all, if excellence were a universal priority, an esteemed industrial enterprise like the Ford Motor Company would never have had to announce in 1981 that, henceforth, “Quality is Job 1.” Nor, if management were in top form, would they have jettisoned that slogan for the even more ephemeral, “Better Ideas. Driven by You.”

But, what both these slogans and the evidence of poor management on all sides seems to evidence is that the syndrome is pervasive and may well have a uniform cause. That is, management practices are poor because that’s how managers are taught to carry out their jobs. Instead of keeping their eye on the ball, so to speak, the graduates of management programs are really only taught how to manipulate their intended subordinates. Perhaps that’s because business schools, having discovered that economics, the “dismal science,” attracted fewer and fewer students, determined to re-invent themselves as social psychologists–i.e. manipulators of persons.

Manipulating the personnel is both easier and harder than one might expect. It’s easier because, people tending to be stubborn, the failure to comply is not only expected, but forgiven. It’s harder for the simple reason that an order given does not guarantee the person being directed actually knows how a specific task is to be accomplished. (As is clear from James Holland’s photographs, the operator of that backhoe had/has no idea what preservation of the environment even means). It’s not possible to have Best Management Practices when managers don’t know HOW to do anything.

How did we get into this fix? People in academe used to be derided for living in ivory towers. That was based on a recognition that their ideas were often untested in the real world. Then, for some reason, instead of testing ideas with functional experiments, ideas were assigned a reality of their own. A comparable development can be found in the art world, I think, where white paint on a piece of stretched canvass is characterized as a painting. “All it takes is the idea,” as Exxon Mobil says. Thus the disconnect between function and idea is complete.

What accounts for it? Laziness or incompetence. I’m inclined to blame the latter, but whence the incompetence arises is a puzzlement. A BMP manual is obviously not self-installing. Perhaps, if manual dexterity isn’t exploited it atrophies. If so, then banishing the manual arts from our school curriculum is even more serious than we thought.

Editor's Note: This story also published at Hannah's Blog. All the photos are by James Holland.

Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."