Rather than being a wonderful opportunity for me to share ideas and discuss alternate viewpoints on important topics, I’m finding this blog to be one giant frustration. There are so many topics I want to discuss, but I can’t seem to figure out how to write about any of them in a way that does them justice. I want to talk about any of a dozen or more subjects including the abortion debate, charter schools, health care. I want to write about the Me Too movement, about voting rights, and working parents. About depression, guns in schools, and our tax structure. And I want to write about the way we talk to each other about all of these issues: about the way the media frames the debate, about the damage that social media has done to our civil discourse, about the flawed ways our education system teaches us to think about complex issues, about the reasons that we don’t have the time or the bandwidth to actually learn about or understand the complexities of any of these issues.
I could easily write a thousand words or more about any one of those topics, and that wouldn’t even begin to touch on all of the things that I want to say. As soon as I start to write about a topic I stop and start and stop again because I can’t figure out a way to discuss it without my post devolving into a complex multi-tentacled mess that even I don’t want to read. I try to break the issues up into manageable bits, but the result is disappointingly superficial and unsatisfying because I never really say what I set out to say.
In spite of the fact that we seem to have learned to communicate in 280 character chunks (up from the stifling 140 characters!), hashtags, short-hand phrases, and memes all of which seem to encompass what we’re thinking, the fact is, these subjects are all very complicated and inter-related, and no meme or tweet or # can convey their complexities. Complicated social issues cannot be contained or even understood within distinct boxes with neat edges; the fact is, they all bleed into one another.
Take just one issue as an example: abortion. Polls show that most Americans favor making abortion legal to some extent, but also want to have some restrictions on their use. Yet our discourse is divided into two camps: Pro Life, and Pro Choice, each with their own jargon, hashtags, shorthand phrases. And each with their own way of characterizing the other side. One side argues that abortion should always be illegal; the other argues that every woman should have unrestricted access under all circumstances. Neither is a reasonable position. Anyone who knows even a little about what life was like for women before abortion became legal understands that we simply cannot go back there. On the other hand, anyone who has ever had a child know that that child was a life long before it was born or even “viable.”
But as long as we continue to approach the issue from one side or the other, we will never have a meaningful resolution. We’ll just keep going around and around. And even though we talk about abortion as a distinct issue (“Should it be legal or illegal?’), you simply cannot meaningfully discuss the topic without also addressing all of the related and equally complex subjects. You can’t talk about abortion without also discussing access to birth control. That thorny topic requires a discussion of the related subject of our health care system, and of opposing notions of morality and sexual double-standards, gender-based income disparity, religion, psychology, the unequal expectations of the roles of women and men in childcare and the home, discrimination of women in the workplace. And those topics bleed into the related issues of our “rape culture,” “toxic” masculinity, exploitation of women, sexism, the commercial use of the female body, women and girl’s body image, absentee fathers, working mothers, income inequality, poverty, racism, and so much more. Why? Because every one of those factors — and more besides — plays a role in the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies. And every one of them is a complex issue with its own causes, effects, factions, talking points, and lines of division.
So how can I possibly write about abortion in a blog post?!
The truth is, all of the subjects that are important today are inter-related, because humanity exists at the intersection of individuals, families, communities, governments, societies, politics, religion, history, and philosophy and they are all complex and interrelated. How can we begin to understand, let alone fix any of our problems if we don’t have the capacity to understand all of the ways that they all feed into one another?
But if we ever hope to solve any of the important issues facing our society today, we must talk about them and understand them and share our knowledge and understanding about potential solutions. Some of us feel the need to write about them.
Because we always discuss the issues as though they are stand-alone problems, every solution falls short and or creates problems of another sort. This comes from never being able to address the real problems at their root. And then well-intentioned people throw various solutions at each separate problem: money, legislation, technology, people, foundations, grants, Go-Fund-Mes, ice-bucket challenges, marches, colored ribbons, and any damn thing we can dream up. The internet spawns hashtags. Political camps get involved and draw arbitrary lines in the sand that people on “our side” must hew to; they hire marketing firms to dream up catchy phrases and to focus-group the best way to win people to their side; they even try to rephrase the issue in order to deny that the problem exists.
But what does it ever solve? People still go hungry and homeless. The abortion debate continues decade after decade. Public education continues to deteriorate. Our health care system continues to bifurcate, leaving some people with the best health care system in the world, and some people with health care rivaling third-world countries. Our infrastructure deteriorates. Income inequality is on the rise: the rich are richer than at any time in history, while the 99% struggle to keep their heads above water. Technology companies have run amok. Our national discourse continues to coarsen and our country is more polarized than ever before. And our democracy itself is threatened as no time in recent history. And it’s not just America that’s imperiled. Europe, the Middle East, maybe the entire world is on the cusp of disaster.
When I start to look at all of our many complex problems that all feed into one another I keep coming back to one basic conclusion: our society is broken. And until we figure out a way to deal with all of the issues together, and understand what is at the root of them, I don’t see a way of fixing any of it. Maybe it’s simply time to give up. Maybe we should scrap it all and start again from scratch. But even that’s complicated. And where do I begin?!