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No Easy Answers

October 14, 2016

Most of us today can identify the major problems facing our nation and the world. Be they poverty, global warming, racial hatred, sectarian or religious fundamentalism inspiring strife and warfare, or drugs and crime, gun violence, nuclear proliferation, intolerance, greed, gender inequality – you name it. The list can go on and on.  The priority we afford each of them can also be rearranged like the deck chairs on the Titanic. But separately or in combination they all have the potential to destabilize or destroy the world’s civilizations and humanity itself.

I’m sure we all want solutions to every one of these issues, but while we say they must be resolved, far too many of us are looking for the easy answers and quick fixes that require no personal sacrifice or change of life-style. And far too many of our political leaders are willing to offer simplistic solutions if we would just give them the reins of power. All we have to do is trust them and not worry our little heads about the details of whatever issues are bothering us.

However, by now we ought to realize that there are no quick fixes or easy solutions to these questions. If there were, someone would have already applied them to rid us of the threat each presents.

We need only look at one example – crime – to see the fallacy of the easy answer myth. During the 1980’s and 1990’s the political mantra was “get tough on crime – throw the bastards in jail and then toss away the key.” Well that’s what we did and now the U.S. has by far the largest jail population in the world. With a total prison count of 2.3 million inmates we have 25% of the world’s prisoners even though we only have 5% of the world’s population.

Due to our willful ignorance, or benign neglect, almost every prison in the country is bursting at the seams as a result of overcrowding. And the American tax payer is shelling out well over a hundred billion dollars a year to fund our penal systems. In the federal system alone it costs thirty thousand dollars a year to house, feed and guard each inmate. And a large portion of those imprisoned are serving long terms for nonviolent crimes. We are doing close to nothing to rehabilitate these felons while they are in jail, especially when it comes to preparing them for reentry into society upon being released.

We as individuals and as a society haven’t come to grips with the underlying factors that are the major contributors to crime. Problems such as poverty, lack of adequate education, inadequate job opportunities and our failure to infuse the necessary moral values into the upbringing of those who become criminals. Instead, we opted for the easy answer of just “lock them up.” Obviously no amount of work, study, education, or reform will eliminate all crime. But the effort could massively reduce it if we would only focus our informed attention on the underlying issues before us.

The basic quandary this example highlights is that far too few of us have gone to the trouble of educating ourselves as to the root causes, facts and factors that have given rise to the laundry list of threats that face our world today.  Just think about climate change and global warming as another example. We all know it’s a problem although most haven’t really tried to understand the interplay of the various complexities that create it.  And our governments don’t, for the most part, want to have to foot the bill or implement the hard choices required to reverse its threat.  So everyone more or less acquiesces in kicking the can down the road in the hope that somebody else will bite the necessary bullet.

But they won’t unless we all do our part. So let’s get involved. Let’s admit we have a problem of inattention to the hard facts of the issues and begin educating ourselves. We have to become truly informed citizens who can resist the lazy temptation to buy into the easy street promises of political snake oil salesmen who just want to keep their day jobs. We have to make our leaders explain with exactness what they propose as the real answers to our problems and then be sufficiently informed ourselves to decide if we accept their proposals to solve them.  Because if we will admit it, in our hearts and minds we know there really aren’t any easy solutions – but instead solutions that in one way or another will require individual sacrifice. If we care about the futures of our children and grandchildren, then we will act and act now.

I’m up for the challenge. Are you?