Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"A myriad of social and financial problems"

"A myriad of social and financial problems."

This is a quote from a colleague and friend of mine made in the course of an argument about American politics. My friend was asking me what I was going to do or what would I do about all these problems that we are facing, allegedly. I gave him some of my wishes - which are like those horses beggars never will ride - but than I said that he was trying, slyly, to control the outcome of the discussion by using the words quoted above because if I accepted his version of reality then I would, quite logically, have to accept his understanding of the kind of politics we should practice, viz., a big national government with lots of regulatory powers.

Well, as I have continued to think about this, I realize that I was on to something although I couldn't explain it very well at the time. Here it is. Thinking that we face a myriad of social and financial problems is (a) only way of looking at the world. It is a very prevalent way of doing this, and we all pretty much accept it without really thinking about it too much, if at all. But (b) - and this is the really neat aspect - it is this view of reality which has led to, contributed to, our current state of affairs even if one accepts that we now face a myriad of social and financial problems.

For example: it was thought after WWII that we faced a problem with regard to our highway system or lack thereof. Hence, after Eisenhower arranged an "experiment" to illustrate this "problem," we built the interstate highway system. Of course, in the building of this highway system we created more social and financial problems, just as the completion of said highway system also contributed to our social problems, e.g., the demise of cities as middle class people used this system of roads to leave the city and move out, further and further out, into suburbia. Also, systems of public transportation and mass transportation also suffered, such as the railroads and trolley and bus lines. So, by building the interstate system we created social and financial problems, even while we were thinking that we solving one.

If we had never begun to think that the old highway system was a "problem" that needed "solving," we would not have some of these problems today because we would not have interstate highways. Would we have other problems? Of course we would but it is not accurate to say that what we deem to be "progress" actually reduces the number of social and financial problems we are facing. In fact, it might be that "progress" such as this increases our social and financial problems. In other words, we now have "a myriad of social and financial" primarily because we thought we did before.

So, if we think and act as if we have a myriad of social and financial problems, we will soon have them and, hence, we will need a pervasively powerful national government, an inherently bureaucratic government, to deal with these problems and by doing this we will create more social and financial problems and so on and so on and so on. This is what I meant when I said that my friend was trying to control the discussion by establishing a particular and peculiar view of reality, from which one was led to conclusions he liked.

So ask yourself: Do we have a drug problem in this country? The answer would seem obvious that we do. At least that is what all of us have been told to think, no? Yes, it is. So, we then need a solution. I know: How about a war on drugs? That seems to make sense.

But here is the thing. When Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, drugs were not really much of a problem. As one person has noted, when Nixon did this, in that year more people died falling down stairs than died from ingesting both legal and illegal drugs. [The book is: Smoke and Mirrors.] Now, of course, many years later, we still have a war on drugs and drug use is far more prevalent than it was then. Cause and effect? I doubt it. But perhaps we have to rethink how we think about drugs and their interactions with human beings. It might even be helpful not to think of "the drug problem" at all but rather of more limited and focused phenomena, such as the over prescribing of medications by some doctors for some "diseases" or "syndromes."

In any case, beware of how discussions are framed. Most times, if not all the time, the one who frames the discussion does so in a way that guides it to what that person thinks is the right conclusion(s). If we think we have "a myriad of social and financial problems" today, watch out. Because if we think this way, it is almost guaranteed that we will have "a myriad of social and financial problems" tomorrow.

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