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Social Duct Tape

Crazy Ivan

Society is fraught with problems. One of those problems is that society is also fraught with solution. For every problem, real or imagined, there are hundreds of people or groups who believe they have the perfect solution. It may seem a paradox, but not only do most of the solutions eradicate the problem, but some of those working solutions are mutually contradictory. How is this possible? The key question becomes "what do you mean by solve?" Answer this question broadly enough and almost every problem facing the human race has a simple answer. Want to stop crime? Create a draconian police state. Want to end world hunger? Thin out the population. Want to protect the children? Isolate them, while stunting their cultural and intellectual growth. There are almost always easy answers which will fix a problem. But what happens if they aren't the best answer, when all the consequences aren't considered and weighed? In the worst case, you end up in a situation where the cure is worst than the disease. Although policy makers are usually(but not always) smart enough to avoid this kind of tragic reasoning, it is often the case that solutions only attack the surface of a problem and don't strive to find and eliminate it's underlying cause(for an instance where this happens see my essay(HTML RTF) on drugs)

So how are the solutions to be sorted then? The first and most vital step is to ensure the worst case scenario does not happen. In order to do this, society must lay down fundamental philosophical principles that will be invariant for all future actions. There principles must not be suggestions, guidelines, or "good ideas." The must form the bedrock of a society. They must be what a society stands for, the things it's designed to protect, the very reason it exists. If you start to compromise these principles then that society has failed in its purpose and is as good as dead. These principles are things like respect for life, individually, and individual rights. It is for this reason that the forced abdication of civil rights to fight terrorism or for any other purpose is so abhorrent. If we abdicate our most basic principles in defense of our society, what have we left to defend? If we are to undermine the society's purpose of existence in solving the problem, then perhaps we ought to look for a better solution.

The weakening of fundamental social institutions through problem solution is rare. Most of the time both a society's people and its policy makers are too acutely aware of those basic foundations to assault them. Far more common are solutions which appear to solve a problem, but in reality only manage to obscure the problem further. While these are not worse than the problem in the same sense as above, they do create a false sense of accomplishment and security, which prevents social growth. I refer to these types of solutions as "social duct tape." The application of duct tape will often fix a problem temporarily, but it rarely does it for the long term or in the most efficient manner. The only way to do this is to probe the problem to the deepest level, to the point where there are no longer symptoms, but root causes. Sometimes, duct tape type solutions are necessary to quickly solve an urgent problem. There is no error in this. The error comes from treating the duct tape as a permanent solution. Forty years ago, at the cusp of the civil rights movement, Affirmative Action was almost certainly needed to bridge the racial gaps which plagued this nation. Now it is a relic, serving more to break our society apart than to bring it together. I do not mean to suggest that we've achieved a degree of racial harmony which makes Affirmative Action obsolete. Quite the contrary, I think it is time to throw away the duct tape and work to repair the underlying social, economic, and educational gaps which continue to perpetuate the break. I doubt very much that those who fought so hard in the Civil Rights movement, meant to gain an equally only propped up by law. Sometimes the underlying issues are too deep to deal with immediately. That does not mean that surface solution will suffice forever though. If societies are to evolve, the hard problems have to be addressed and not obfuscated.

Why is finding the deepest level so difficult? It's because that level is so often within ourselves, if not individually, then as a species, as a race, or as a culture. There are so who would argue the human race is entirely flawed and it makes no sense to try and change these underlying faults. They're right, the race is entirely flawed if only because no one will ever agree on what it means to be non-flawed. Should we just give up, and label human society "abandon all hope, ye who enter here?" Well, maybe. I'm not quite ready to give up just yet. Altering human sensibilities is a slow process which literally takes generations. The point of the essay is that social duct tape obfuscates the fact that those change need to be made. Even if it seems to correct the problem entirely, most aspects of human society are too interrelated for it to serve as a complete solution. Affirmative action might solve employment discrimination, but it does nothing to protect those victimized by hate crimes or an all too often self-fulfilling racially-based prophecy of ignorance and poverty. What we need in this situation and problems like it is to evolve ourselves as a society, and eliminate the underlying flaws. I'm not suggesting this will be easy, evolution never is. But if we had not been willing to tackle difficult problems, we never would have come out of the oceans, down from the trees, and out to the stars. That's what organic species do: evolve or die out. They only difference is here we do not have to wait millions of years to evolve genetically, we can chose to evolve intellectually in a matter of generations, not eons. The only question that remains is whether we are willing to make that choice or whether we should return to the trees.

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