Will All Mentats Please Call the Office? There’s a Lengthy List of Pressing Assignments That Need to Be Tackled Now.

Remember the mentats in Frank Herbert incomparable Dune books?

A mentat was a citizen especially trained to think. And think, as the late John Wayne might have drawled, “Damn well!” If Herbert’s mentats understood anything, they understood that thinking is the art and science of understanding what leads to consequences and how to produce—or avoid—them. Mentats were trained to be asking continually what needs to happen, with as few preconceptions as possible, searching all the while for living principles and the broadest possible sweep in the universe.

“Above all else,” wrote Herbert, “the mentat must be a generalist, not a specialist. It is wise to have decisions of great moment monitored by generalists. Experts and specialists lead you quickly into chaos. They are a source of useless nit-picking, the ferocious quibble over a comma.

“The mentat-generalist, on the other hand, should bring to decision-making a healthy common sense. He must not cut himself off from the broad sweep of what is happening in this universe. He must remain capable of saying: ‘There’s no real mystery about this at the moment. This is what we want now. It may prove wrong later, but we’ll correct that when we come to it.’

“The mentat-generalist must understand that anything which we can identify as our universe is merely part of larger phenomena. But the expert looks backward; he looks into the narrow standards of his own specialty. The generalist looks outward; he looks for living principles, knowing full well that such principles change, that they develop. It is to the characteristics of change itself that the mentat-generalist must look. There can be no permanent catalogue of such change, no handbook or manual. You must look at it with as few preconceptions as possible, asking yourself: ‘Now what is this thing doing?’”

If I had a corps of mentats at my disposal, I’d immediately assign at least one each to:

• replace Karl Rove.
• advise Howard Dean.
• consult with the moderates in Iran on regime change.
• plan next year’s manufacture of flu vaccines.
• help Big Oil get its greed back in bounds and its planning in gear.
• redesign the establishment of the post-Saddam Iraqi nation.
• start a Commission on Multilateral Religious Disarmament at the U.N.
• explain to the chancellors and presidents of the top 100 U.S. universities why their Lexus-in-every-lab policies are ruining American higher education.
• help China’s ruling elite arrive at a faster understanding of their world responsibilities than the U.S. Congress has arrived at any understanding of its world responsibilities.
• lobby Florida to close the doors.
• persuade President Bush to put his presidential library in New Orleans.
• draft a rationale for a 100-year moratorium on manned space travel.
• design a new way to transport people that people really like.
• convince state legislatures that Daylight Savings Time is a nutty idea.

And on and on.

Sigh. So much for mentats to do.

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