Friday, January 13, 2006

World Peace, Go Away! (paca)

Well, I am going to do the same thing I did last post and elevate some items from a comment to the main page. Both kristybox and naughtyloki put nice Comments in the post below and in thinking about what they said, I came upon topics which I had been meaning to discuss previously. I won’t copy all that they said here, because that would be the entire post, so please read their stuff in context in the Comments. The main bit I wanted to talk about was this from naughtyloki:

“The sad fact is, homeless people die every day. I'm not sure that our programs actually do much. That's my biggest problem with our current social programs; we throw huge sums of money at problems without putting very much thought into root causes and actual solutions.”

Here is the reason for my title, which isn’t entirely sarcastic: A temptation I get into all the time is to want to solve problems in the abstract. We want to prevent Homelessness; we want to do away with Unemployment; we want to abolish Domestic Violence; and (the biggest of all) we want World Peace. These normal sounding desires are I think very dangerous. The easy to see problem is that often these Big Problems are so Big and so abstract that there is nothing you can actually do to move towards them. To be useful goals, you have to be able to take some step towards actually accomplishing them.

The bigger problem with Big Problems is that such goals forget about actual people.

Here is a way I am tempted to think all the time. “What’s the point of sending money to feed the children since there’s always another hungry child? What’s the point of working in the Soup Kitchen on Saturday since it doesn’t really solve the root causes for why they are there in the first place?” I think these thoughts of mine make complete sense if I am trying to solve a problem like Hunger or Homelessness. But what it actually shows is that I have forgotten about the actual person who is hungry. No, I can’t cure Hunger, but I can make an individual person not hungry for a few days. And isn’t that worth it? Maybe we can’t solve a problem for all 24 million people who suffer from it, but if we can solve it for 2 people, those are two real people who have been helped. It is not a failure at all to only help 2 of 24 million. It is a partial success.

So World Peace is dangerous as an idea because I think it prevents us from useful action as much as it inspires us towards it.

Naughty Loki again: “I don't have any answers myself, but I do often wonder if the warm fuzzy which many people get by saying, "I vote Democrat and we're doing something for the people." just stymies productive thought. I am certain, however, that the political reactions to any attempt to modify standard operating procedure for either party stymies productive thought.”

I basically agree and I definitely agree with the last sentence which was the primary focus of Loki’s comment. I guess I would like to see things work kind of like this: We see a real case of human suffering that we want to prevent. So unless it is clear that we are causing more damage, you do whatever the obvious step is. So, if people are starving, you give them food. As Loki sort of points out, this is where we usually stop. But really we should keep thinking. OK, they aren’t starving now, so what is the real solution? Why didn’t they have food in the first place? Etc. But because these are real people who are hungry now, we don’t wait to feed them while we figure the latter part out.

Loki of course also brings up the basic fact that a lot of government programs don’t work well at all. I think I see three different types of programs. 1) Government programs that government can do well and in fact are doing well right now. People can generally agree on these; not much to say without bringing up gigantic other issues. 2) Government programs that government can do well but doesn’t. There are surely lots of these. I would guess that feeding hungry people in the US is one. I don’t see any real reason the government couldn’t do this because governments are good at big massive programs. They could dump food everywhere, since we grow plenty of cheap food. There would be tons of waste likely but people would eat. We could then work and work to decrease the waste without destroying the program. 3) Government programs that government will never do well because governments by their nature suck at that sort of thing. Typically anything which requires creativity and unpredictability falls here. Entrepreneurship, art, science usually, but I bet there is a lot more too. It seems like we would all be served enormously if we could figure out what is in 2 and what is in 3, because the solution to the former is to tweak the program and the solution to the latter is to find an alternative and dump the government as fast as possible. However, as loki points out, most politicians have a vested interest in us never finding out which is which.

And, yeah, Ted Stevens is a loonie.

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