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Philosophia et septem artes liberales, the seven liberal arts.
From the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century)

"When a leader pisses off their bureaucracy's Old Marys, they're posing for their own statuary; they're finished."

History seems inscribed with leaders' footprints, it's all Napoleon this and Hannibal that without properly acknowledging those who greased the gears of great revolution and, more significantly, the Pax Romanas separating upheavals. Those gear greasers came from the ranks of competent ministers, folks well out of history's limelight who designed, constructed, and maintained the vast bureaucracies which competently administered societies. We find no statuary commemorating the savvy minister, no steeples erected in fond memory of the geeks who broke only paper trails, no continents named after the genius who invented double-entry bookkeeping, but without them the touted leaders could not possibly have succeeded at anything. In our present time, with pandemic sweeping the globe, the scrupulous statisticians and hospital administrators have contributed more to containing the contagion than all the leaders proclaiming impotent dominion over it. Send me one Old Mary and I'll comfortably replace a Pentagon filled with Five Stars and a carrier fleet of sailors.

Back when The Muse worked in the property/casualty insurance industry, she interacted with many brokers and home office executives, but largely via their support staff, who typically reported to a matronly secretary who actually ran the operation, a role one broker referred to as "his Old Mary."
Mary had spent her career covering for an ever-shifting cadre of current inhabitants of that corner office space, executives who were typically far more comfortable on the golf course than in the sub-basement accounting records stack, for Mary was the master of administration. Even though the executive held the title of leader of that particular function, he was more strategist than cost accountant, more the schmoozer than master of the mysterious procurement policy. He was helpless in office without the tirelessly beneficent efforts of his Old Mary.

The Muse learned that one never, ever pisses off The Old Mary, for she could be one's most fervent ally or most formidable enemy. She knew where every body was buried, and not only because she'd personally assassinated at least half of them, but because she knew just where to bury initiatives that could not possibly improve anything. If she was a champion of some suggestion, it invariably got done. If she despised it, nobody would ever be able to find any record of it ever having existed. Think Mash's Radar O'Reilly, for he was a prototypical Old Mary. And so it's been throughout the ages, the boss takes the credit while the mere support staff carries the actual weight of the world on their shoulders. They soldier on more diligently and quietly than any front line assault troops, which, by the way, wouldn't ever receive their supplies without an even larger army of logistical specialists subverting the formal system so that it might actually deliver as needed.

As the next Presidential election heats up, most attention will focus upon the candidates and their leadership rhetoric, with little consideration extended to questioning how competent of an administration each might muster. Our incumbent has been long on promotion and absolutely absent as an administrator. It takes neither the wisdom of Solomon nor the carpentry skills of Noah to eliminate a regulation, but both wisdom and skill to create a beneficial one. Replacing all the Old Marys under suspicion that they comprise a suspected Deep State leaves a leader with less than half-assed politicals with zero appreciation for the system they need to successfully subvert to succeed, people who naively believe that breaking a bureaucracy best serves their society's interests. Incompetent administration has always been the one ultimately unforgivable sin, and one no leader has ever been able to avoid without humbly accepting the inescapable primacy of many dedicated Old Marys. When a leader pisses off their bureaucracy's Old Marys, they're posing for their own statuary; they're finished.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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