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Solutions vs. Trade-offs: The Insidious Lie About Reality

tradeoffThere is no solution, this side of eternity, for the human condition.

Anyone who promises solutions is either selling something, stealing something, or completely disconnected from reality. This is the liar, lunatic or liar paradigm. (Lewis, forgive me.)

The best we have in this world is a series of trade-offs. We have the capacity to diminish certain negative realities, like theft, murder, hunger, war, hate, bigotry, prejudice, immorality, birth defects, disease, violence (domestic or otherwise), child abuse, elder abuse, drug abuse, bullying, poverty, injustice, “inequality,” short life, ignorance and the like, but these things cannot be eradicated… they stem from fundamental “failings” in reality and human nature. Indeed, the small gains we make in one generation are in constant danger of extinction as a new crop of barbarian hordes in need of curtailing is spawned from our loins on a daily basis.

None of us either individually or in a group, or as a species are smart enough, wise enough, strong enough or self-less enough to cure what ails us… ‘til Jesus comes.

I’m a real killjoy, I know. It’s been a problem. I’ve spoken with professionals about it… mostly professional wrestlers… they seemed okay with it, though, so I let it go. (Yes… I must admit I did sing those last three words as I typed them. Disney, forgive me.)

Here lies the biggest problem with the way most people reason. People are short sighted, self-absorbed, and prone to the path of least resistance and taking short cuts. This is the human condition that is responsible for all the other human conditions. Even the wisest of us is incapable of tracing out all the ramifications of any act, good, bad or indifferent. Some are better at it than others… but we discussed it and decided that we don’t like those people… oops, I mean while some are better at it than others none of us are good enough at it to take up the challenge of solving any human dilemma.

If two people came forward, one offering solutions (usually at someone else’s expense, but presented as solutions that would magically materialize if only we want them) and the other came offering trade-offs that were going to cost each person something personally for every gain… who would most people favor?

We want solutions and won’t thank anyone who tells us that there aren’t any. We also want a free lunch and just can’t bring ourselves to believe that we can’t get one.

The problem is, that trade-off thinking reflects the nature of reality, and solution thinking is a manipulative delusion whose pursuit squanders the most valuable resources that we have available to us. Solution thinking short-circuits the more attainable pursuit of maximizing our potential as people in congress with one another… as a society… as a social species. Here, the delusionally conceived “perfect” is the enemy of the realistically obtainable “best possible for now, given what people are willing to spend on it.”

Our strength, knowledge, wisdom and resources are limited by reality. Our self-interest is foundational to our natures. The systems of ecology, economy, biology, culture, government and the like are too complicated to be orchestrated by the one or by the few, whose own self-interest (no one is exempt from the charge) and natural limitations make them unqualified for the job… always!!![1]

What does this mean? It means that everything is a compromise. It means that there is no free lunch… and even that “free cheese” in the mouse trap was paid for by someone. If you didn’t pay for it, someone else did, some way, some how. It means when the media or a politician begins to bleat about the need for a solution to some crisis that they have decided to champion, one must weigh the costs for their suggested action.

Costs may be measured in the allocation of resource for one thing by taking them away from something else… Remember, all resources are limited.

If a person is upset because some people live in squalor and pass legislation that forces these people into better housing in one way or another… then someone pays. If the landlord pays, he either raises rent, or goes out of business, diminishing the amount of housing available to these people. If the tenant pays, then the tenant’s limited money is forcibly spent on housing rather than food, clothes, schooling, or helping even less fortunate relatives. The person who sees the tenant in better housing pats himself or herself on the back, imaging what a good thing they did, but these rarely track the cost that others were made to pay (sometimes the ultimate price) for their sense of do-gooding.

If minimum wage is raised to provide better income for unskilled workers, then business owners have to cover those costs. They will have to raise prices (making the increased wage worth less… as well as everyone else’s money), or they will have to thin out the ranks of unskilled workers (costing those whom the do-gooder seeks to help, their jobs… the real minimum wage is always ZERO.) The do-gooder sees a person making more money and pats themselves on the back, but rarely tracks the cost that others were made to pay (sometimes the ultimate price) for their sense of do-gooding.

If tariffs are place on foreign iron to advantage American steel, then American product manufacturers are forced to buy steal at a higher price than their competitors around the globe. Their products are more expensive and they sell less of them… their market is diminished both at home and abroad. The do-gooder who saved 10 thousand steel jobs cost the American economy as a whole many times that in other industries negatively affected by the “well-meaning” tariff. Rarely, however, are the do-gooders made to confront the cost that they made other people pay for their sense of being a champion for others.

Cost may be measured in human freedom and oppression.

The whole history of humanity is a history of human oppression. Generations of Americans have lived their entire lives cradled safely in the arms of prosperity and freedom, little realizing the costs that were paid by others to provide that protection, to win that freedom. Our prosperity is not unshakable, but is the product of the principles of freedom and natural rights upon which the modern Western World developed. It is, unfortunately, from a position of assumed prosperity that those with unrestrained hopes for a perfect tomorrow fail to weigh the real costs for their pipe dreams in terms of human freedom. They are ready at a moment’s notice to steal away the natural rights of those around them for just a little more security, a little more health, a little longer life, a little more peace of mind.

The recent panic over the measles outbreak in California is a case in point. I have been shocked to hear people in every corner of the media, social and otherwise, rising up in mob-like fury to steal away their neighbor’s rights to make medical decisions for themselves and for their children. (What one thinks about vaccinations is beside the point.) Few pay any mind to the long term costs in human freedom for their bleating demands that laws be passed, that basic rights be stripped away, that the individual be forced into compliance for the good of the collective. They are willing to sell away their entire future right to make informed decisions about themselves and their children for just a little more peace of mind over measles.

Indeed, they fail to understand that all the hopes that they have in their present life exist because of the freedoms that they are ready to sell away… and what will the world look like when these freedoms are gone?

There are no solutions, only trade-offs. Trade well. Protect each individuals right to make their own trade-offs.

[1] Christ is (so to speak) worthy to take up the scroll, indeed, (Revelation 5:1-5) but no one else in human history is fit for the job.

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