It is said that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. I’d like to change that and say ‘the road to disaster is paved with simple solutions’. As humans, we have no choice but to have the perspective of an individual even though we may struggle to be wise and attain a more holistic perspective. Likewise, astronomers had no perspective available other than that of the earth being the center of the universe until we launched vehicles that escaped the earth’s gravity. Even so, in time, from an earth-centric perspective, astronomers learned to see the truth and our extraterrestrial wonder devices proved it out. We, too, must learn to see the truth about each other and our world.
Why, then, do I write that simple solutions are the road to disaster and what’s the role of perspective in that statement? Like many things, it’s not simple; it’s complicated, just as the word simple itself can be. Simple can mean uncomplicated and straightforward, it can also mean naive, foolish, and stupid as in simple-minded. For the purposes of this post, simple means ill contrived, not well thought out, lacking completeness. A classic simple solution to the problem of darkness is lighting a match. If one does so to see what’s in a gas can, and the can is nearly empty, an explosion can result. The same is true in a grain elevator or paper pulping machine – the simple solution, without complete thought, is a danger and can lead to disaster.
As the title indicates, this the first of a multi-part post, courses to a meal as it were. What’s the menu?
- Blame is not a solution
- Problem definition requires open minds
- Problems and causality tend to repeat (learn your lessons well)
- Solutions that restrict freedom create oppression
- Happiness, Justice, and peace result from well solved problems
Blame is not a solution
Our world now careens towards simple solutions, the primary offering of which is blame. Blame provides neither remedy for the future nor remediation for the past, yet it is seductively simple and often baseless.
In ancient Rome when a bad omen – lightning striking a shrine, earthquake, birth defects (animal or human), and so forth occurred, propitiation was made to the gods – simple solutions involving animal sacrifices and rituals. If there happened to be a vestal virgin who had not kept her vows, or who was accused of not keeping her vows, she was buried alive. The druids made it even simpler. If human sacrifices were believed to be needed and people were in prison, they were used (and burned alive in wicker cages). If, however, the prison was empty, well, they picked someone.
All that to say that simple solutions are often posed to solve problems that are not within our control in the first place; blame and punishment is not a solution, it satisfies our need for vengeance. If punishment offers a deterrent in future, it may be part of a solution but it is never the holistic solution unless there is no solution in the first place.
The question is not one of blame but, rather causality. What caused the problem? The answers for societal woes are almost always very complex, and the advantage of using causality is that there are likely many causes each of which has a different remediation rather than the simple one demonization fits all solution.
Blame or Persecution?
What about happiness then? You know, the Spanish Inquisition got a boost by royal decree in 1492 ordering Jews and Muslims to convert or leave Castile. Maybe old Chris Columbus, misanthrope that he was, had really good reasons to get on an ocean voyage with an inquisition afoot! Do we really think that the population, even those in power, can be happy during an inquisition? Well, that’s what the blame solution brings us. McCarthyism in all its glory, with a lot of innocent victims along the way – blame leads to the persecution of the blamed. How many hate centered groups exist, formed on the simple solution of eliminating … you name it … Jews, people with the wrong beliefs, with the wrong skin color, with the wrong sexual orientation, who are not ‘normal’, who don’t drink the cool-aid. (Actually, it was flavor aid at Jonestown.)
The blame solution is unwise and ubiquitous, it leads to fear and oppression, even those not being persecuted are in fear of being accused, and often double down on persecution as a result. Always. Why? Because blame is not based on causality or rational thought. Blame does not seek to correct, it seeks to soothe rage through revenge with that revenge quite often being against a class of persons and not some individual who has, in fact, done something wrong. Fault and guilt are not the same as blame, you see. Fault and guilt are specific whereas blame is almost always generalized and not directly related to causality.
Who are the historical victims of blame? Well, just about everyone. We can start with women who have been blamed for everything since the earliest records that I’ve read (that would be some 6,500+ years ago). Then of course we have religious recipients of blame such as the Jews, the Pagans, the Christians, the Muslims, the ‘Heathen’, the Gnostics, and so forth and so on. Of course there’s always the racial blame element which may or may not include skin color and ethnicity related physical characteristics. Then we have people who speak foreign languages and still can’t understand us every when we speak very loudly. Egad!
In my day, people who wore sharply pointed shoes were a popular target, or people who had the “grease” look in their hair. And we mustn’t forget the usual suspects, perennial ancient foes such as the actor, the homosexual, the effeminate man, and the aggressive woman. The common element is that these people are different than the majority of empowered persons in a society in some way, and they dare to let others see their true selves. We blame the boogie man.
Stand up and be counted
Yep, that’s what we say. Stand up and be counted. Express your opinion, but when your opinion turns to blame without causality then you’ve turned a corner. It’s like George C. Scott says in the movie Patton while addressing the troops. On the question of whether or not they will have the moxie to fight, he says something like “when you reach over to the face of what was your friend a second ago and find a pile of goo, you’ll know what to do about it.” In other words, you’ll lose your fear and fight for this person.
That sounds noble, and in wartime it’s true, but what about the cases where the enemy is not clear. Take for instance the movement that resulted from a recent school shooting. We all laud the students for their involvement and charisma, this is a just cause, and a noble cause. But they’ve led by playing the blame card against the NRA, against gun advocates, against a lot of people. And the link to causality is … it is specious at best. Yes, we need to restrict firearms, but that will not solve the problem of murderous rampages in schools and other venues. It will decrease the carnage, but it will not stop whatever drives people to do such things. The truth is that we don’t understand why people do such things, that there are neither single nor simple solutions, and that all of this rage and demonization has increased the polarization of the country, not led to dialogue to decrease the carnage. It’s hard to negotiate when your first offer is the appellation of a misanthropic murderer of children.
The MeToo movement is another just cause in peril of exchanging blame for remediation of causality. Thousands of years of subjugation lead to a temptation towards vengeance as this important movement goes forward. Like all just causes that involve things less visibly enduring than a stab wound, the temptation to easy solutions looms large. Should a man be fired for looking at a woman for a certain amount of time? Or a woman for looking at a man? Or one person looking at another? What comments rise to harassment, what are normal humor? I don’t think that humans can exist without puns and some level of personal interaction, otherwise we’d have robots on the job already.
The solution here is complex. It requires cultural change, you see. This is not about “women’s lib” or liberal versus conservative. It’s about human rights, dignity, respect, and all of those things that we claim to cherish. But it cannot be about creating the same oppressive atmosphere that women have endured for thousands of years.
The bottom line is that driving to causality rather than seeking blame requires leadership that is wise and steadfast. That’s what Dr. King brought, what our founding fathers brought, what so many have brought in this experiment known as the Unites States of America. They brought steadfast insistence on change with clear statements of what was wrong (the declaration of independence, for instance). They had vision towards a solution, painful though those solutions are.
Lots of words, but what is the conclusion? It is this: the path to wisdom and happiness requires the seeker to understand how things are and why. Affixing blame is worthless, and understanding causality is priceless.
And, lastly, problems don’t get solved without cooperation.