Friday, February 20, 2015

Refresher II

Has America peaked?  This question is on the minds of many citizens.  A standard question on opinion polls over the past 20 years has been some variation of:  “Do you think the country is headed in the right or wrong direction?” The answer to this question has been, for the most part, consistently and overwhelmingly negative.  Gallup has not gotten a positive answer since January 2004 and the result for all major polls has been about 75% negative going back to the early 1990s.

Why would Americans be so discouraged?  Look at the messages we get every day from the media and politicians. We are constantly confronted with news of failures, dangers and crises:  our education system, retirement insecurity, the disappearing middleclass, childhood obesity, healthcare costs, gasoline prices, food contamination, campus violence, climate change, epidemics, frivolous lawsuits, Internet scams, teens not getting enough sleep and many more.  Meanwhile, advertisers play on our fears and insecurities to sell us stuff we don't really need.

This dissatisfaction goes beyond politics or which party is in power.  What is worse, discussion of these issues often deteriorates into name-calling and accusations, because we lack a model for resolving them in a calm, objective and civil manner.

The on-line essays found here arise from the fact that our contemporary crises – what newscasters emphasize, what citizens worry about and what politicians try to fix – are not the real problems.  They are merely symptoms of an underlying problem.  The core problems can be traced to common behaviors of ordinary citizens:  what they say, what they do, decisions they make and how they react to news and advertising.

Behavior has consequences.  A good decision usually yields favorable outcomes.  Problematic behavior yields the opposite.  True of individuals, this also applies to the society as a whole.  Most of those issues and crises listed above can be traced to the cumulative effects of problematic behavioral patterns in five key categories:  Understanding the economic process, Discipline, Responsibility, Critical thinking and Perspective.

To look at the many different choices and actions taken all over America every day and classify them into these few dimensions takes some skill and practice, but doing so shows definite patterns.  Americans make poor personal choices about their health and finances, encouraging others to do the same by spreading unsubstantiated fears and bad medical advice on social media.  They waste time and money and compromise their stated values by succumbing to the lure of advertisers, the hype of pop culture and the scare tactics of the media and politicians.  They seem unaware of how financial decisions and programs can be traced through society to anticipate and predict common unintended consequences.  More and more they refuse to delay gratification and look to blame others for their failings.

By classifying behaviors into these five dimensions, it is possible to pinpoint and address core problems and to make a persuasive case that improvement in these dimensions will result in a stronger and healthier society.  Identifying and addressing only the behavior, and requiring everyone else to do so, puts an end to the bickering, accusations, name calling and insults that seem to dominate the airwaves.  It leads to a civil, more specific discussion of solutions.

The bad news is that examples abound – almost 400 posts in the last 4 years with some favorites listed below.  They appear every Monday and Friday to clearly show some of the failings that lead to nearly all our societal problems.

The good news is that we don’t have to wait for the government or any other outside resource to come riding to the rescue.  If the problems result from the accumulation of poor individual behaviors, then the answers lie in changing those behaviors.  Real American Solutions are in our hands.

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