One of the benefits of writing a column about solutions is that it offers an alternative lens through which to view the world. This week is the second anniversary of Fixes. Much of my time over the past few years has been spent talking to people about the creative responses to social problems that are emerging across the country and around the globe. It turns out there’s no shortage of these stories. I’m often struck by how much ingenuity is out there and being directed to repair the world, and how little we hear about it.
We’re seeing a more rational understanding of cause and effect.
As a result, I often find myself out of step with friends whose views are shaped by the big news stories — money-driven politics, unemployment, war and violence, seemingly irreparable education and health systems. After looking at hundreds of examples of social change efforts, I see a side of reality that goes unreported: namely, that we’re getting smarter about the way we’re addressing social problems. In fact, I would go so far as to say we’re on the verge of a breakthrough — maybe even a new Enlightenment.
If that sounds like an overstatement, consider the comparison. The Enlightenment was a period in history when fanciful thinking gave way to a more rational understanding of cause and effect. It promoted the scientific method, challenged ideas grounded in tradition, faith or superstition, and advocated the restructuring of governments and social institutions based on reason. (It was not always so enlightened, however. While Enlightenment thinkers sought to advance the public good — producing documents like The Bill of Rights — they also used reason to justify colonialism and slavery.)
Today’s Enlightenment stems from new understandings and practices that have taken hold in the social sector and are producing better and measurable results against a range of problems.
In Fixes, for example, we have asked questions like: Is it possible to systematically increase empathy and cooperation in children? Is there a way to teach math so virtually all children become proficient? Can we prevent thousands of cases of child abuse without removing children from their parents? Can we dramatically reduce — or come close to eliminating — chronic homelessness from every city in the United States?
Creating change from the bottom up – grassroots activism, certainly is nothing new. The introduction of evidence-based decision. Looking closely at and documenting successful initiatives, than evaluating them. Once that is done, on going tweaks to focus the effectiveness of social interventions. He notes something that has been obvious to some of us for quite some time, that people do not always act in their own rational self interests – they frequently and obstinately act contrary to their interests. That did remind me of political analyst and activist David Sirota and a blog post he wrote back around 2004. He noted how some of the locals in a western state constantly complained about how dirty the rivers were getting, how often times the fish had lesions from pollutants, yet they would pretty constantly vote for people who did all they could to weaken regulations of toxic pollutants and to weaken enforcement of the regulations that did exist. America’s rivers are still in a sorry state. When Hollywood made a film version of Norman Maclean’s modern classic novel A River Runs Through It, they could not use the original Blackfoot River in Montana because it was too polluted. When people listen to politicians they get the same old red, white and blue song and dance. While not the only element that goes into a voter’s decision-making, many of the outdoorsmen who voted seemed to key in on the boiler-plate rhetoric rather than the record of the party or the substance of what was promised. Even when the issue was addressed it was always in terms of real politiks – do you want jobs and economic progress or a clean river. A false choice repeated over and over. It is possible to have both. With a history of decades of framing environmental issues and others in terms of stark either or choices David Bornstein also observes in this article that the environment comes out ahead if framed as part of preserving our natural heritage rather than we need action now or all the fish are gonna die. I find the modern work place pretty miserable. The Office manages to put a surreal comic spin on places that are cesspools of vicious gossip, personality disorders and just plain awful interpersonal skills. people can easily find training to be a wiz at CAD or Excel, but during the learning process no one teaches those people how to accomplish something in a group setting. If people are getting their cues from TV or movies they are destined to come up way short. They’ll sabotage those around them and frequently, like the fishing voters, themselves. So When Bornstein looked at training programs he noted the lack of soft skills that can make or break a working career. I think he is overly optimistic about evidence based programs being sold further up the social-political structure. For example, it is hard to believe that one of the biggest issues of this election cycle is a woman’s right to the full spectrum of modern health care, including contraception. The Blunt amendment, which Romney supported, but lied about during the second debate would have given employers the right to not give any women’s health care insurance they found morally objectionable. Nothing was said of course about denying men the right to prostate enlargement medication or erectile dysfunction medication based on an employer’s so-called moral objections. Why, because men are automatically considered the best judges of what is right for them, but their mothers, sisters and wives need constant male guidance.
The voyage of life – manhood by american painter thomas cole. 1850. this is a print made from the original painting. Like Rembrandt, Cole was a master of light. a special kind of light. light from the heavens – an illumination. while there is some religious significance, the painting continues the Renaissance tradition of a religion that was more and more removed from a rigid dogma that could only be rightly interpreted by and commentary supplied by catholic clergy. the average human was capable of having some kind of divine insight or inspiration solely through their own mind and communion with God. had this painting been made in 1350, a completely representative piece, not a symbolic reenactment of any actual Biblical event, it might have been seen as blasphemous.
By nearly every measure, people who live in the blue states are healthier, wealthier, and generally better off than people in the red states. It’s impossible to prove that this is the direct result of government spending. But the correlation is hard to dismiss. The four states with the highest poverty rates are all red: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. (The fifth is New Mexico, which has turned blue.) And the five states with the lowest poverty rates are all blue: New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Minnesota, and Hawaii. The numbers on infant mortality, life expectancy, teen pregnancy, and obesity break down in similar ways. A recent study by researchers at the American Institute for Physics evaluated how well-prepared high schoolers were for careers in math and science. Massachusetts was best, followed closely by Minnesota and New Jersey. Mississippi was worst, along with Louisiana and West Virginia. In fact, it is difficult to find any indicator of well-being in which red states consistently do better than blue states.
“Any indicator”? Well studies only go far in refuting political dogma that is held as deep down as any belief ever was. As always dogma serves as a pretty good shield against rationalism. Though Cohn makes a good case and obviously has a good heart, he might want to consider something hard to measure on any scale – that some people enjoy suffering and making other people suffer. Any psychologist will tell you how difficult is to talk someone out of an addictive fetish.
True Skin is a neo-noir science fiction short film in the tradition of Blade Runner and The Matrix. Which is also the knock it is getting from some on-line critics. Why not show us something different. They may have a point, but that does not mean True Skin or the full length movie Zlotescu hopes to make someday is not an interesting addition to – I don’t know – probably a sub-genre of science fiction.