I have considered starting a blog for quite some time now. The concept has always seemed somewhat sexy to me: a place to collect my thoughts, to share my ideas with the world and to get feedback from random denizens of the internet. Clearly exciting stuff 0_o
What spurred me into action?
Although several times prior I have "fantasized" about starting a blog, the most recent singular causal event would have to be the conclusion of the elections around the nation this past week because watching the experience unfold was such a wonderful reminder of just how silly our current political process is. Yes, silly. (And special shout-out to my wife for breaking the "silence" that "normal people" like us conclude is the polite and most rational option for fear of offending people or coming off as abrasive - she has instead been diving headlong into debates).
Why do I use "silly" to describe our process for selecting our representatives to govern us? Because I fundamentally believe that this media-frenzy spectacle that succeeds in capturing a large amount of attention from the world is actually ignoring the issues that matter more.
So that begs the question, what issues really matter then? I need a term for these issues, so let's call them "upstream" issues.
But to understand and appreciate "upstream" issues, we need to explore what issues were being discussed first and then contrast that with what I believe matters more.
This presidential election was fairly standard as American elections go:
- There was a Republican candidate (Romney) and a Democratic candidate (Obama).
|Trolls LOVE the election process|
- Hundreds of millions of dollars was spent on TV ads, ~88% of which were negative
- The campaigns started well over a year ago and many agree the process is far too long
- Americans continue to be polarized with both sides pointing the finger at the other with many debates turning ugly
The primary platform for each candidates can be summarized as below:
Obama's platform was:
- Taxes: extend middle class tax cuts & tax the rich more
- Abortion rights: yay pro choice
- Gay Marriage: yay gay marriage
- Immigration: documentation / path to citizenship
- Medicare: support medicare more
- Healthcare: attempt universal healthcare
- Defense: cut defense budget
Romney's platform was more comprehensive, but he attempted to simplify his message and focus it on jobs. And at the end of the day, his message didn't resonate with people, he came off as wishy-washy, he let himself be positioned as a corporate bad guy and he lost.
Now I'm not even going to debate the merits of each platform. That is not the point of this post. Sure, I can talk about why we're spending too much and why more taxes aren't the answer, but the point of this post is to highlight what is missing and what we are NOT talking about - because that is FAR more important in my opinion (IMO).
Both candidates, and virtually every election around the country was focused on coloring between the lines. Staying within the usual frame of reference for the average person. Clinging to the familiar. They were talking about issues.
They were NOT talking about the PROCESS by which we actually solve the problems and address the issues. And THIS is where our focus should be until we FIX it.
Let me walk through an example to explain why this is important, and highlight what is missing when we skip this step and move straight into discussion about the details (as my anecdotal experience suggests most political debates devolve quickly into):
- US primary schools (highschools) underperform vs. the rest of the world despite spending more money per head than other countries.
- Contrast this result with the fact that US Universities are world class and largely considered the best in the world
Goal: To achieve world class status with our primary school education system
It's a fairly safe assumption to assume the vast majority of people in the US are aligned with the goal that we want our education system to be world class and effective. Thus, we can assume that we have goal alignment, that we want our children to learn and perform well in school.
How to achieve this?
We should explore and openly discuss the best way to accomplish our clearly defined goal, yes?
Well, we don't.
In places like California (where I happen to live), there is largely the assumption that the only way to help schools perform better is to increase funding to them, as exemplified by prop 30, which recently passed in California and will have the effect of raising taxes on the "wealthy" and where there is no guarantee all of the proceeds will go to schools.
Per the step above about the goal, I would wager that the 46% of the people who voted against prop 30 still share the goal of wanting education to be great. So why would someone vote against something that would increase funding for schools? They probably voted against it because they have a perspective that is informed by different information which forms their opinion that this proposal is not the most effective way to address the issue (which again, they likely ALSO want to solve because they are aligned on the goal).
This is really where politics starts to get interesting, and where "upstream" issues start to matter. Oftentimes, the devil IS in the details, and once you achieve goal alignment, the next step should be a focus on understanding the "upstream" causes of the problem you are trying to solve.
So if we want to solve the education issue in our state, country, county or local school, what should our approach be? Should we just throw money at the problem? Maybe money is part of the solution, but it is not THE solution.
The solution is a PROCESS. We should solve the problem the same way we solve virtually every other tough problem humanity has ever faced:
Step 1: understand the problem. There is an old adage that "a problem well stated is a problem half solved".
Step 2: understand key metrics to establish a baseline and measure progress
|This has more steps - but you get the point|
Step 4: measure the impact and results of the solution
Step 5: Evaluate results
Step 6: Iterate and start back at step 1
The key issue that I want to highlight with this blog post is that our current political system BREAKS THIS KEY PROBLEM SOLVING PROCESS.
The more dependencies exist across different types of government (federal, local, state, etc) and the more layers of bureaucracy (meaning, the more government bodies that have responsibility over the area) the LESS able this process is able to execute. This is not just true for the government, this is also true for large organizations such as NGO's and Corporations. (Someone send me a chart that shows the directional relationship there and I'll add it to this post.)
Further confounding these problems is anything else which occludes transparency or obfuscates accountability. What else occludes transparency and obfuscates the issues?
- Special interest groups
- super PAC's
- industry lobbying groups
- Ineffective media coverage
Why are special interest groups bad? Because they essentially funnel large amounts of resources to drive government action to benefit themselves (as opposed to the whole, diverse population). This leads to all sorts of negative "downstream" consequences like bad teachers that can't be fired, subsidies for specific industries which give them an unfair competitive advantage (corn, what?), and examples of industries such as the music industry who cling to the old trying to protect the outdated status quo and try to get laws passed to stop technology progress despite what consumers want (iTunes anyone?).
As to the media, this can be summarized by the fact that humans are prone to confirmation bias. Thus, if you're a Democrat, you probably watch CNN or MSNBC and read the Huffington Post. If you're a Republican, you probably watch Fox news and read the Drudge Report. Conveniently, the information you're exposed to on a day to day basis from the news (but also your social circle) largely reaffirms your beliefs, as opposed to challenging them with the validity of the other perspective.
If you care about the future of our states, country, cities and local governments, then focus on raising visibility with your social circles about these UPSTREAM causes that can really be summarized by three problems:
- Bureaucratic government structure & inefficiency
- Special interest groups
- Confirmation bias through media
It literally doesn't matter what your primary issue is - gay rights, abortion, healthcare, national security, education, economic growth - the issue that is blocking "progress" in those areas all stem from the same upstream systemic issues. If you want to fix our society, start with fixing yourself and get out there and start looking for a broader perspective and be open to the possibility that the "other side" has merit to their perspective and is also well-intentioned.
Everything else is short term. Seriously.
- Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill
PS - It is simultaneously possible to be ideologically for something, yet against the specific implementation details of the actual legal proposal. It would be nice if the media and our citizens would stop characterizing people as "flip-floppers" that take this rational perspective, and instead start applauding this discerning use of judgment. IE - a person can be pro-universal healthcare (as a concept), but against the specific proposal which may be too expensive, ineffective, etc.
Don't be afraid to rational. It's OK.