Problems and causality tend to repeat

Simple Solutions Part 3

  1. (Part 1) Blame is not a solution
  2. (Part 2) Problem definition requires open minds
  3. (This Post) Problems and causality tend to repeat (learn your lessons well)
  4. Solutions that restrict freedom create oppression
  5. Happiness, Justice, and peace result from well solved problem

Problems with problems

In solving problems, the first thing that we must do is understand what is a problem that needs solving and what is a problem that needs a healthy don’t give a damn attitude.  In other words, there are problems and then there are real problems.  What is a problem in the first place?

The first burst of wisdom in problem solving is to understand that problems take form through human contemplation and definition.  A problem prevents something from occurring or posts a threat.  Minor problems decrease our pleasure, cause a bit more effort, make travel a bit slower, that sort of thing.  Major problems threaten our lives, our livelihoods, our families, our societies.  Between the two lie the fuzzy ground of problems that may pose such threats or impediments.  And that’s where the second problem starts.

The problem with problems is that it takes action to resolve them.  If simple unilateral actions, like swatting a fly, can resolve a problem, all is good.  When, however, the solution impacts other people, like using an insect fogger in a crowded restaurant to solve the fly problem, cooperation and consent is required.  More complex problems require planning and leadership to resolve.  In both cases, lessons are an important thing, perhaps of ultimate importance.

Crises, Crises everywhere

“Create and resolve a crisis” can be sage career advice.  For an engineer, ascendance needs the reality, or at least the perception, of one’s capabilities to trend towards “problem solver extraordinaire”.   To enhance that perception, one needs a wider audience for the problems one solves, and this can be aided by increasing the perceived consequences threatened by a problem for which one has the solution, or at least a simple minded solution that people will agree upon.   Once the thusly created crisis has passed, accolades are received.  And, if the solution is not effective, one can deescalate the crisis by using facts to diminish the roar that one has created.

Throughout human history we find a repeated series of major crises created by human perception and inflamed to group action by visionary leaders.   Some of these have been real, major crises with amazing performance by huge numbers of people.  World War II was an excellent example – at least, the United State’s role.  Note that this role, obvious to FDR and others, did not take full form until the attack and Pearl Harbor created an existential crisis forcing our direct entry into the war.  It appears that FDR believed popular and congressional support for direct entry into the war did not exist, hence lend lease.

Germany, on the other hand, while in utter desolation from the Treaty of Versailles found inspiration in a leader who blamed German woes on the treaty (and not the prior war) and on a group of people who had nothing to do with the problem in the first place.  We humans do that a lot – listen to someone, often called a demagogue, who tells us things that we want to hear – untrue things laced with enough truth to make them palatable – and lead us into bad, very bad, actions that may impact a problem for a time but inevitably result in a far worse future state after a time.  Consider Venezuela, WWII Germany, Cuba, and other such places, if you will.  You may also wish to consider Jim Jones and the People’s Temple, Heaven’s Gate, and numerous other ill destined groups.

Lessons and Learning Them

How many of us have followed someone of our own accord, that is, not part of duty to country or condition of employment, only to feel betrayed when we found out this or that or when the group we’d followed went belly up.  Surely those who bought stock in Enron felt betrayed, but betrayals are common these days.

Why is that?  Betrayal is word and deeds contrary to trusted objectives.  And trust is based on belief that is not fact based, it is a kind of faith.  My definition of faith is “taking actions in the now in order to receive future benefits that are not presently tangible”.  In other words, doing something that is supposed to result in a great future reward that has not precedent or proof.  As you’ll read in any prospectus, past performance is not a guarantee of future outcomes.

That’s why St. Paul of Tarsus writes “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. “(1 Cor. 15:13-14 NRS)  The resurrection of Jesus is the proof of the future benefits of the Christian faith, you see.

To be sure, religious faith is a challenging thing but it is also faith in mankind and especially in charismatic leadership and other salespersons that requires lessons learned well.  And, for the most part, we neither teach nor learn lessons.  We learn facts.  We fail to learn how to use them.  We depend on others to shape facts, and tell stories, frame problems (that may or may not need solution), and to put forth solutions.  At some level, this is necessary – it’s a complex world and we must rely on the expertise of others to understand it and the problems we face.  We must learn to receive information from our leaders and evaluate it, examine it in depth, and understand things as best we can before we follow that leadership.   Just because someone tells you to do something does not give you leave to do that thing.  It didn’t work at Nuremberg, and it certainly doesn’t work today.  Yet we rely on that, don’t we?


  • When listening to a speaker, if you agree with everything she says, you’re not learning anything.  You may be acquiring more arguments to bolster your position, but you learn nothing.
  • When you disagree, listen completely and intently.  Read carefully.  Understand.  Accept the possibility that the other may be correct unless what is being said is patently untrue or harmful.   If you have trouble with this, force yourself to watch South Park – every position you have will be challenged there.  I love South Park for that very reason, it makes me think and think hard – and laugh.
  • When you see something referenced in the press, read it.  I mean read the court ruling, read the climate change summary reports – they are not hard to read.  Read the U. N. reports – they are not hard to read.  Remember that people sell things and that they will take the most inflammatory content and whip up agreement or discord.  This is not a partisan method.
  • Don’t be so trusting in your leadership.  Leaders, even preachers, are human, and they may not have as much experience or expertise as you do.  Be kind and don’t elevate such persons to lofty standards from which they will fall and which will cause you to feel betrayed.  Most often, such persons did not ask for your blind trust but you forced it upon them.  In such cases, it is us who betray ourselves, not our imperfect leaders.  By the way, if they do ask for such absolute trust, don’t give it to them.  They are human.  Drive to facts and understand solutions.
  • Learn to think critically and help others learn.  Insist that education be about helping the young learn to think and equipping the young with a wide rounding to enable trade offs in a human world.   Simply teaching to tests in rote is an exercise in computer skills, not an education.

In all things, THINK.











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