Sat. Jan 16th, 2021
Significant amounts of time get wasted by people in the advocacy of a particular sweeping ‘solution’ – like ‘give everybody secure housing and UBI’ or ‘nationalize the means of production’ or ‘close the borders’ – yet these ideology-over-practicality suggestions are seldom deconstructed into a workable next step in the context of society and the real-world of human inertia. It’s suspicious.
Are they a way to evade the hard questions without the feeling of having come up short?
Or, worse, is the zeal for magic wand change a psychological polarization: on the one hand, the conceit of having solved society’s problems (if only people would accept it), and on the other the comfort zone of the path of least resistance (satisfying being too lazy to deal in detail, too arrogant to give thinking time to the solution’s impact on real people or its path to implementation against extant institutions).
There are (almost certainly) better sociopolitical and economic systems than the ad-hoc plutocracy we live in today. Most thinkers share the conviction that the systems running America in 2020 are on a degrading trajectory. Economic and social markers are universally lower in Generation Z than Generation X, whatever the politics of the statistician. But so what?
We can agree there are problems. We can share the conclusion society needs to deal with various key issues else our children’s children are likely to live in a bleak, inhospitable world. Depending on our political and economic and socio-historical education, we’ll have learned many of the standard alternatives to 21st-century neoliberal globalist capitalism. Some will appeal more than others. Armed with our solution to the ills of society, we shift to extemporize mode and tell society (or our corner of it) what we think. If we’re in an echo chamber, the response will be a chorus of agreement, because what we think and what the group thinks will be the same thinking. If we’re on public social media, the response may include pushback from others also in extemporize mode. Thoughts clash. Debate follows.
But who does that help, if your desire to explore a possible fix is sincere? At some point the abstractions are familiar, the pros and cons (as commonly perceived) of your favored solution – versus the alternatives – such known territory it’s no longer productive to keep debating through variations on the same themes. This is where most people seem to give up on making progress (whether or not conscious of choosing to do so) and instead fall into a pattern of retreading old ground, often with different people so it doesn’t feel like such a pointless use of time. Ironically, whenever we fall into this loop of debating solutions, we become part of the problem.
It’s worth keeping in mind that spending hours debating subjects outside of immediate concerns and professional responsibilities is not possible for most. It’s therefore a prime example of entitlement: it’s an uncommon luxury to have free time, quality education, access to other human beings and self-confident conclusions that’s necessary to be having the debate in the first place. Someone living under physical oppression or toiling to feed a family enjoys no such privilege.
Social media is a problematic factor in the debate circle-jerk because it gives individuals open-ended access to venues for debate (online) and debate companions of any ideological flavor one desires. Whereas with no social media, the circular conversation about solutions might eventually exhaust itself and force us to confront the need to take theory into the world as practice. With social media, we can flip between new cast lists, engaging with personalities best selected to serve our confirmation bias or our thirst for antagonists, etc.
Social media is the tool for exponentially increasing the potential for wasting time, while at the same time finding patterns of community that best disguise this waste as valid engagement. The ruling institutions love social media’s capacity to absorb the public’s energy that might otherwise converge on group action that would force the authorities to accommodate.

Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect people to resist the allure of this particular path of least resistance, but – if you want to be part of the solution and not fuel the inertia that resists it – hold yourself accountable for the wasted time. Don’t lose hours to debating in circles. Judge solutions by actions as well as potentials: it’s no use having the most wonderful systemic improvement if there’s no possible real-world route to it being brought into existence.

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