Discussing the real issues instead of the symptoms

By Luke Van Der Male | 9/10/14 12:46pm

By Luke Van Der Male


If it’s true that it’s how we think and not what we think that’s important, it follows that it’s how we talk and not what we talk about that is similarly essential. But what does this mean in the modern media landscape that is simultaneously exploding and contracting all of the time? Should we bicker about whether Michael Brown was a petty thief, or ask how he ended up shot? How about what it means that a global warming prediction from 1995 has been changed, or how to stop our economy from smothering our planet with CO2?

The fundamental difference in these topics is whether we are talking about the symptoms of a problem, which in their details can be confusing and irrelevant, or the systems of the same. Brown’s larceny or lack thereof, as a previous Columnist noted, is merely a distraction from race relations between the police and the black community. That is, unless someone is arguing being shot six times is a natural consequence of stealing. Determining the exact events of Brown’s shooting will at best shed light onto the existing problems, but more likely it will only absorb unwanted limelight until the national attention has wandered again. Society’s concern over an issue is a scarce resource, and we can spend that concern on either what is wrong, or how and why it is wrong. And I think it’s quite obvious which will assist progress.

An acquaintance of mine once insisted that the way to save the environment for posterity was not the vulgar taxation systems I proposed. Instead, she claimed, we must change our culture. Now, if culture is a system at all, it’s certainly not one that can be changed while New York is above water. But at least she and I were discussing the method of reducing imminent flooding, which is more than can be said of much of the national conversation on climate change. There is still furious debate on whether it’s even happening, regardless of scientific consensus, almost biblical Californian droughts, and steadily mounting average temperatures. I think the American conversation on Ferguson and climate change share a feature of revealing what we’d rather talk about as opposed to what we should be talking about. Why talk about the immense black prison population, or the lack of racial representation in police departments, or the extreme violence used against protesters when we can instead discuss the last time Brown smoked a joint? For that matter, why worry about how we will have to fundamentally change the global economic system to cap emissions if we can instead endlessly question the minutiae of climate science?

I once saw a photo of a skeptical demonstrator holding a sign that read “What do we want? Evidence based change! When do we want it? After peer review!” But evidence is only a part of the answer. Our focus on fundamental issues, rather than trifling ones, is every bit as necessary to evidence based change. Bickering over symptoms does nothing to the disease, and societal concern is not our only scarce resource.

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