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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Finding Solutions for Problems We Have Already Solved

This is a rather meandering reflection on a number of issues which—I’ll be the first to admit—doesn’t do justice to any of them. I do think that it is useful, from time to time, to lay out exactly where you stand. Exactly where I stand is pretty much the exact same spot I’ve been standing over the course of my entire adult life. I think a lot of Americans didn’t really think about politics—one way or another—until after 9/11 and then a lot jumped on the neo-con band wagon because it made them feel good about not having given a shit about politics of about never having expressed their so-called patriotism in anything other than symbolic terms. There is nothing wrong with that except when they are worng wrong on so many issues you need to come to their senses and change.

If there is one thing that bothers me more than anything else in our daily lives it is when we look for solutions for problems we have already solved. Here’s an example. Our cars burned too much gasoline so we built engines that use much less fuel and we have developed tremendous mass transportation options, at least in many parts of the world. Then why are we still agonizing over what to do about our profligate energy usage in America? Why do we still drive cars which get atrocious gas mileage? Why are we still seeking solutions for this problem we basically solved a generation ago? That question is strictly rhetorical; we continue to seek solutions because we don’t have the moral wherewithal to implement the answers we came up with decades ago.

Why do we still use plastic bags when we have already decided that they are an ecological nightmare and we have dozens of satisfying alternatives? Just outlaw the damn things already. Today. When you go to the supermarket tomorrow you’ll either have to bring you own recyclable bag, buy one there, or carry your shit home in your arms. That was an easy fix so why I the hell are we still using plastic bags?

Global warming, climate change, or whatever you care to call it, is irrefutable at this point. There are few scientists outside the employ of the petroleum industry who don’t see this as one of mankind’s biggest problems. A big part of the problem is being caused by automobile emissions which is why the powerful oil industry is so violently opposed to any change to the status quo and has hired a stable of scientists to valiantly stand up against the vast consensus of the world’s climatologists. That really isn’t the way science works, I’m afraid.

You can’t seek an alternative theory just because you don’t like the conclusion reached by the rest of scientific community. You are certainly free to try this tack but you can’t simply ignore the facts while you seek out an alternative that is more supportive of your world view and completely devoid of evidence. I’m certainly not a climate scientist but I do read. Everything that I have been reading in all of my source material leads me to believe that climate change is a serious problem we should be addressing on many fronts. Not to think this way either makes you ignorant or irrational. Period. The deniers of global warming are always quick to hold up a single, flimsy study that supports their claims yet they ignore the other 99.99% which refute them. Which leads me to the next issue.

Why are we still—at least in America—squabbling over the teaching of evolution in schools as if this concept is at all controversial? It’s like the religious nuts want to find a better solution than the one science has provided. Their rallying cry is, “I didn’t come from no monkey.” Well sleep well tonight because you didn’t come from a monkey. However, human beings, like every other life form on the planet (and the universe if Einstein was correct) did evolve from some other form. If this conflicts with your religious beliefs then you should modify your stupid beliefs to reflect what science has proven.

Why do we continue to prosecute the “War on Drugs” when we realized decades ago that we lost and that the way to help alleviate the drug problem is with education and treatment? By imprisoning drug offenders the only thing we achieve is to further criminalize these people by warehousing them in our horrifically violent prisons. I don’t think that any non-violent offenders should be put in prisons, especially American prisons. Of course we don’t jail drug offenders if they are people like Rush Limbaugh and others of the elite. They usually receive treatment. Why? Because treatment works and prison doesn’t. Now we are working to amp up the war on the U.S.-Mexico border which is costing thousands of lives every year and is working to completely destabilize huge swaths of the Mexican government. Our failed anti-drug policies have already destroyed Colombia and now we are pursuing the same insane policy in Mexico.

Why do we still think that we can win guerilla wars in hostile areas when history has dealt us defeat after defeat? Just listening to the U.S. generals prosecuting out war in Iraq and Afghanistan you just have to wonder if any of them have even heard of Viet Nam. They are mouthing the same platitudes about warfare as the American generals in our failed war in Indochina. It’s not like that is ancient history.

Most European countries have solved their health care problems; at least they have solved the major issues. If you look at the list of the world’s top health care providers they are all state-run systems. So why do we in America think that we can somehow do things differently and cling to our privatized insurance system which has proved to be costly and largely ineffective? Once again we are trying to find a solution to a problem that has already been solved in many parts of the industrialized world. Why don’t we look at the country that provides the best healthcare for its citizens (France) and try to copy it in America instead of continuing with an utterly failed policy of private insurance providers?

Before building our cities in America we should also look to successful models of cities and duplicate them. Instead we build cities that best serve the needs of the retail industry without any regard to the needs of actual human beings. Most new residential and commercial development in America caters to the automobile, not pedestrians. To a lot of people there doesn’t seem to be any difference between the needs of humans and the needs of the automobile: people drive cars therefore we need to do everything in our power to facilitate the flow and parking of cars. Of course, this goes contrary to the factors that make up a good living environment for humans. In fact, it is almost diametrically opposed to what makes a place livable. For much of suburban America it is urban design by Target® and Pizza Hut® which aren’t exactly the most trusted names in city planning.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to design a city around another highly successful ideal of what a city should be? Many European cities made the mistake of making too many accommodations towards the automobile a half a century ago. Many are working furiously to undo those mistakes. My own neighborhood of Ruzafa here in Valencia is trying to roll back the mistake of allowing cars to dominate the manmade landscape of the area. A new project here is removing a lot of street parking while making sidewalks wider and putting in bike paths. I can’t wait to see the result. In this case, we’ve had the solution for centuries. The car was simply a mistake, a dead end, a wrong way we followed for too long and now it’s time to find our way out of the mess.