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Archive for December, 2012

Faced with mass murders (e.g. Columbine, Aurora, VA Tech, Tuscon, Oak Creek)—62 over the past 30 years—coupled with the gun violence that happens every day we haven’t sought to understand these horrific events within the larger context from which they emerge.  Until very recently America has been unaware that it has a problem.

 

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, firearms were used in fully 2 of 3 murders in 2011.  Not only is the U.S. a more violent society it also presents a strong demand for guns: By about 3 to 1 there are more licensed firearms dealers in the U.S. than there are McDonald’s restaurants.  Though we love burgers we just adore guns!

 

What have we been thinking?

Being individualistically oriented and tending to reductionism as a problem solving approach we’ve turned our focus on the individual who committed the murder—as if these are all independent and unrelated to our culture.  Thus we have turned a blind eye to the societal context only seeking information about the characteristics of the individual person committing the crime—asking why did he do it.  We frame each event as the specific individual’s problem and this keeps us from understanding the system of causes, and so the pattern continues.

 

In the case of recent mass killings, some have brought attention (and rightfully so) to the fact that mass murders in the U.S. are not just a gun control issue but rather they are reflective of a mental health issue. Because of our society’s proclivity for reductionism and its associated either/or thinking many have shown the light of attention on mental illness as the problem thus keeping the prevalence and loose regulation of guns in society in darkness.  Unfortunately this can be the seed of a growing miss-belief that guns have no causal effect here that it all resides with mental illness.

 

Guns don’t kill people; people kill people!  The argument continues: Yes mentally ill people with guns is a danger but (and here lies the kicker) we can never eliminate the possibility of mentally ill people from committing mass murder with guns so we mustn’t infringe upon the right of law-abiding citizens to own any kind of gun they desire.  What this is saying is that a gun is neither good or bad it is just an object that people use; so it isn’t the gun but the person that is the problem. The implication being that guns—buying, having, owning, and carrying guns of any sort—are not the problem.  It is the particular person that is the problem.  Is this argument reflective of good solid logic and problem solving or is it reflective of avoidance behavior and problem deflection?   Would we be reasonable if we made the same argument about drugs and drug use?

 

Further there are those who don’t wish to see any real change so they employ a line of thought—that is a defense—where the only real solution is a 100% solution.  The only solution they will support must completely eliminate the chance of murder by gun.  In other words if whatever is proposed will not stop with 100% certainty every person who might want to use a firearm to kill innocent people then what is proposed is grossly inadequate, it can’t be a solution.  Until such a solution is provided nothing should or can be done—status quo is sustained.

 

Yet another argument reflective of the relationship we as a society have with guns goes something like this: if more people carried a gun (to protect their self and others around them) then there would be fewer murders—it would be a deterrent to gun violence.  The answer to too many guns in the hands of some people is to have more people with guns.  Apart from the fact that accurately shooting a gun is not as simple and easy as what you see on television and in the movies, this argument rests on the false logic that having a gun deters others from bringing a gun to a gunfight.

 

An argument based on false logic is simply a strategy to turn the attention away from the system of causes and the creation of an effective solution to a well-defined problem.  Offering up a red herring keeps people from defining the problem, identifying the system of causes of the problem and taking appropriate and meaningful action.  It is no wonder we’ve been mired in this for so long.

 

Is it possible that material self-interest maximization is playing a role? How much does the profit motive relate to what an industry, businesses within the industry and policy makers who receive funding from the industry (i.e. elected officials) impact what they are willing to do? That is, could it be that the gun industry (and its lobbyist and those who profit from a strong demand for guns) just can’t let anything get in the way of the profit that can be derived from having widespread availability and unregulated sale and use of guns?

 

It’s the System

Clearly the usual arguments have done little toward developing an understanding as to why we have a pattern of gun violence in U. S. society—which by the way is the most violent among OCED countries. Yet we seem unable to understand the system of causes of the pattern because we are unwilling to honestly look at how the society we’ve created contributes to this phenomenon as well as others.  Our problem goes far deeper.  Why don’t we go there?  Could it be that at some level those with the authority to affect fundamental change realize that what they believe and advance is no longer valid—what they know ain’t so—and that they too will have to change?

 

If a system doesn’t encourage and support something from happening it won’t continue to happen!

 

Unfortunately policy makers don’t appear to use both systems and statistical thinking, so they don’t continue asking why are the trends we have in society, such as gun violence and mental illness manifesting? We must cease trying to do a better job of inspecting individual events and turn attention to the system that supports/promotes the events continuing.

 

Understand Relationship

In their book The Spirit Level Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett discuss the strong positive correlation between income inequality by country and: the index of health & social problems; the index of child well being; children’s experience of conflict; imprisonment; the percent of people with any mental illness; and the number of homicides per million.  Negative correlation is shown between income inequality and social mobility and income inequality and level of trust.  Each pairing shows the U. S. to be at the high end of positively correlated pairings and at the low end in negatively correlated pairings—not a good report card for America.

 

Although a correlational relationship does not imply cause-and-effect it suggest that the variables are linearly related. That is, as income inequality varies so too do these other societal characteristics—they aren’t independent, they move together and so one may affect the other or both are influenced by the same cause or causes.  An understanding of the causes of the patterns begins with an understanding of the patterns caused, and so additional analysis leading to deeper understanding is needed.

 

We need to change

Unless people have the courage to let go of their attachments and the will to collaborate toward seeking a greater and deeper understanding of both the individual and collective (i.e. both cultural and policy/process) causes then the solution coming forth will be just re-action and compromise.  Systems thinking, collaboration and deeper understanding, not compromise, will lead to understanding that can inform changes in policy to positively affect life in society.

 

As discussed in Hey Einstein Solve This recurring problems such as gun violence, mental illness and poverty are not structured and well-defined problems.  If they were we’d quickly dissolve them and they wouldn’t recur!  These problems require soft systems methods whereby we identify and challenge the underlying assumptions, beliefs and the sought after objectives that have guided current policy and action.

 

We should be asking: what is it about our system of orientation—not the values we espouse but the beliefs and values-in-practice and the ends supported and sought—and correspondingly the way we structure life and define success that is giving rise to these symptoms?  What is the complex of causes—not the one cause or the one that various special interest coalitions are willing to compromise on—that is most likely at the root of what we are experiencing.  Until this is done, all we will get are re-actions that pacify the masses and keep things essentially as they are.

 

The cultural change that is required won’t be easy and because of that it won’t happen without heroic leadership.  However, the history of major change happening in America (e.g. women’s suffrage, civil rights, environmental protection, gay rights) shows that heroic leadership won’t emerge unless there is a critical mass of people that put their foot down making it very clear that we the people won’t accept anything less.  This could take awhile, especially if few of us become part of the critical mass.

 

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Many elected public officials formulate legislation favoring those who provide large sums of money to them (in support of their election/re-election) irrespective of the legislation’s impact on the citizens—the collective ‘we’—they are elected to represent. What is the consequence of such action?  Essentially there is no consequence!  Why? Because those who could take action are reticent to do so since they too benefit from this quid pro quo system.   So they cooperate—if not collaborate—with special interest.  If lobbying weren’t effective, why else would the number of lobbyist have grown?

 

There are corporate executives who create and manage an organization that behaves in environmental and/or socially damaging (if not fraudulent) ways.  More often than not this way of managing provides the executives and their minions significant material gain and the citizens of the country significant devastation. What is the consequence of such practice?  None to very little! Why? Because those who could take action are reluctant to do so since they too benefit from the way things are.  So they cooperate keeping things as they are.  This is likely why regulating agencies and corporate boards overlook rather than provide oversight.

 

Selfish Cooperation

What’s operative in each?  Self-interest maximization; a what’s in it for me orientation. In a socio-economic system that concerns itself primarily if not solely with self-interest—not the collective ‘we’, the interdependence of living systems and society at-large—the resultant quid pro quo arrangements determine the future we all will likely experience.  It is no surprise that follow the money often leads investigators toward identifying the puppeteers.

 

We cooperate with the system—no matter how dysfunctional.  In a democracy voting is the primary means for individuals to participate and thus cooperate with the system of government thus ensuring its continuance. In organizations striving to meet the measureable goals cascaded down from the top of the hierarchy is the primary means for individuals to cooperate with the system.  A profit making and maximizing system, exclusively for those directing the game, is the order of the day—so fall in line, play the game.

 

We Can All Hope

So we cooperate while hoping that changing the players directing the game will change the game—hence our obsessive focus on leadership.  Or is it we keep the game going thinking that once we get to the top of the hierarchy we will some how change the game.  Unfortunately it hasn’t and it likely never will happen!

 

Hope involves seeing/envisioning a way for things to get better so many have hope for change.  Some hope to return to the imagined better times of the past and others imagine a new reality.  In either case, people hope that the future will be better than the present.   Both are holding steadfast to an imaginary reality and thus not seeking to understand the why of what is.  It is the present that is most correlated with the future, yet many seem to run from it.

 

Game Change Requires Mind Change

Nothing will change unless the system itself is fundamentally changed!  You don’t change the game by continuing rolling the dice on your turn; this just keeps the game going.  Cooperating with a system ensures its continuance.

 

We aren’t independent individuals whose sole purpose in life is to amass as much material wealth as we can—bumping into each other as we each strive to have it all for ‘me’.  It is not that self-interest is not within our nature it is that self-interest is not the essence of our nature.  However those directing things would have us believe that we are at base self-interest seeking because it best serves their self-interest—they benefit most when we all are concerned about what’s in it for me.  This keeps people from coming together as we—divide and conquer works most times, but only in the short-term.

 

I remember (many years ago) being in a meeting where the president of a division of a company I was working for said, “look to your left and look to your right because 1 in 3 people won’t be here next year. “  What’s the message?  It is not I want you all to work together, but rather I want each of you to worry about yourself.  This president wasn’t seeking to foster an inspired collective we but rather bunch of me’s that could be easily controlled by fear.

 

I left the company within several months of that meeting.  Eventually the division floundered, not because I had left but because the division was never able to actualize the potential among those it employed.

 

Unfortunately when individuals act out of their self-interest, when there is little to no concern beyond what’s in it for ‘me’—when a sense of caring stops at one’s own skin—then the destruction of either the organization or society (which includes all individuals) is inevitable.

 

So why is there hope?  Could it be that because the absence of hope ushers in despair and so everyone is simply deluding him/her self to avoid feelings of despair?  Rather than being hopeful, I suspect we’d all be better off if we got heretical.

 

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