Mechanisms of Inaction

Photo Credit: Petr Pavlicek/IAEA, used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 License

(Taking a break from cryptic fiction fragments to try organize some troubling thoughts.)

Lots of us are frustrated now with the many failures of our government. We see multiple crises looming, any one of which will cause massive upheaval and destruction if left unchecked. We see evidence piled to the ceiling that climate change is happening. We are reminded daily that police and intelligence forces are more inclined to control and contain, not protect and serve, the public. We are increasingly aware that a wealthy oligarchy has taken command of our economy, our media, and our government.

We see these threats, and we know that scientists and expert observers see them too. We feel the rising concern and anger in our communities as the inadequacies of our current system become clearer. We even hear government spokespeople pay lip service to these problems and suggest possible solutions.

But then come the difficult questions: “When?” and “How?”. That’s when the taps are open wide and the endless stream of sidestepping and excuse-making starts pouring down our throats.

“How?” is a simple question to avoid. The trick is, you don’t offer a single plan for solving a problem. You offer three, or five, or ten, and let their proponents fight it out among themselves. Because people who run for office are commonly alpha predators, they’re more than willing to vie aggressively for their little piece of policy turf. Believers in this form of ‘debate’ state confidently that out of this competitive squabbling, the best policy will surely emerge, like the hungriest shark at a feeding frenzy. Problem is, the sharks are all really good at escaping each other’s teeth, and the frenzy becomes an interminable slow-motion dance of avoidance.

“When?” is pretty easily dismissed too. It was once understood that outside of election season, politicians could find common ground on certain issues and agree on concrete action. But because of the nature of the contemporary election cycle, politicians no longer have that time of productive truce. They must be at each other’s throats at all times to avoid “looking weak”, which in past times was viewed as “behaving like an adult”.

The current dynamic, at best, results in weak and temporary solutions to most problems. At worst, it exacerbates problems by creating a false sense that a solution has already been implemented, like the way painting over cracks in plaster allows us to ignore them until they come back bigger and more unstable. Sooner rather than later, probably, chunks of ceiling are going to start coming down around our heads.

These are well-known weaknesses of our political system, but the will to repair them is not present. In fact, the current state of things is preferable to many to a process that fosters rapid, significant change. One might reasonably ask why anyone would find that desirable. I’ll address “Why?” in the next post.

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