Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Solving" is not the standard.

Recently I've become aware of a frequent retort when discussing how to address a variety of complex issues. It's a retort I've heard in relation to education, climate, racism, gun violence, terrorism, and a variety of other complex, multifaceted issues. The retort comes after someone suggests a new rule, policy, or legislation And what is the retort? It's not going to solve the problem.

When did this become the standard? I suspect it's not. I suspect it's simply a cop out for those who have no solutions themselves but don't want to do anything (or have others make them do something). Or it's a way of getting oneself out of a debate in which they don't have the moral high ground.

Let's be clear:

  • Brown vs. the Board of Education didn't solve racism or inequality in education, but it certainly moved the country in a better direction.
  • The EPA and environmental protection laws haven't solved pollution problems, but they have certainly given the country better living conditions on the whole. (Anyone who disagrees can attempt to find clean air, water, etc. in a Chinese city. Good luck.)
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in employment based on race or gender. Has this solved problems of discrimination? No, but surely the situation has improved since 1964.

The list of examples could go on and on.

Whether or not a given policy or legislation "solves" a problem is irrelevant. Most of the important issues in our lives are too complex to ever be solved, let alone with one bill or law or mandate. The question is not and should not be, "Does this solve the problem?" Rather, our question should be, "Does this move us in a better direction?" or "Would the benefits of this outweigh the effects of doing nothing?"

I'm not saying that we should simply try anything. Nor am I saying that all attempts to address problems are successful. There are successful and unsuccessful policies, and there are intelligent and ignorant policies. Of course we need debate and critique. However, let us not succumb to the fallacy that being unable to complete solve a problem means an attempt should not be made.

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