1 Dimensional Problem Solving

Several years ago – during my electrician days – I wired a house. For some reason I returned a week or two later, probably to add something or make a change at the request of the home owner, when I happened to notice where the HVAC guy had installed his return air duct. I knew something was wrong but couldn’t quite put my finger on it, so I grabbed a ladder and went into the attic to investigate, where I found the wire I had run for the dryer simply cut in pieces. In order to solve his problem of wanting to put a return air vent in that spot, he just got rid of the wire that was already there. I call this 1 dimensional problem solving. Sure, it fixes the presenting problem, but it ignores anything outside of that narrow focus.

pen on paper

There are some problems that require a simple solution. Maybe the sink will stop leaking if you just tighten the nut up a little more. Maybe you’ll get out of bed on time if you move your alarm device (it used to be a clock but now soon it will just be the floating ephemeral head of Zuckerburg yelling at you) across the room. But then there are problems that incorporate more than 1 dimension. Perhaps knocking down that wall between your dining room and kitchen will solve your space problem. But perhaps it is a load bearing wall. Uh Oh.

A complex problem may require a simple solution, but that simple solution needs to actually fix the problem without causing other problems. I bring this up because when we hear people propose solutions to problems, we often hear a one dimensional approach. As soon as Covid-19 began spreading and impacting our nation, everyone should have realized that there are (at least) 2 axes in the problem solving graph. There is, of course, the problem of death and sickness and hospitalizations all brought about by the virus. But secondarily, there is the issue of government policy/authority. Anyone who wants to approach the issue one dimensionally will be – at minimum- annoying. On the one hand, you’ll get the rich actors and actresses who send out videos encouraging everyone to just stay home and flatten the curve and mask up ….from the comfort of their ridiculously large mansion (which has a far great carbon footprint, BTW, then the average American’s house) where they are sitting back and counting their money like Scrooge McDuck. Or they could become that person that thinks that every action of the government is a curtailing of liberty to be defied at all costs. Either way, the conversation will becoming increasingly polarized and summed up by memes or tweets. If you are able to keep both axes in mind, you can have intelligent conversations (even with those with whom you disagree) where the various risks and side-effects are discussed.

But we could really take this a step further and talk about a third dimension that exists every time you try to solve a problem that involves human beings, because humans respond in real time. Check out the first couple minutes of Thomas Sowell responding to AOC’s “tax the rich strategy”.

What Sowell understands that AOC doesn’t is that “human beings are not like inert blocks of wood or chess pieces that you can move around the board.” Does anyone in their right mind really think that if Nancy Pelosi were to spearhead an effort to pass a 65% tax on the super-rich that she would pay anything close to that at the end of the year? Rich people didn’t get rich by being stupid with their money.

Recently I received a little post-card in the mail from a gentleman running for office in my district. He seems like a decent man and is generally well respected. On the back of this post-card he had a list of priorities that he would address, and among others there were things like poverty and education. Well, who is running on the pro-poverty ticket? Who is running on the bad education ticket? These are obviously things that any moderately decent person would be against. But the first question that came to my mind is not whether he cared about those issues, but what exactly he thought he do as a Congressman to address them?

The reason I tend not to vote against men like this is because their solutions are one dimensional. Set some new educational standards and teachers learn to teach to the test so that their students are just as ignorant of history as ever but very adept at filling in circles. Pass prison reform and drug addicts learn how long it to takes to pass a pee test and begin scheduling their highs so that they can pass drug court and avoid jail. That isn’t to say that government doesn’t have a role to play in a society, but it does betray my frustration with the idea that some new legislation is going to fix the problem of a lack of virtue or the collapse of the family. Especially since those espousing such solutions tend to exacerbate the underlying conditions that led to those problems. That is not “loving my neighbor”.

There are some genuine social issues that exist between conservatives and liberals that are clearly in conflict, such as abortion. But I don’t know of a single conservative who wants more poverty or worse education. So why can’t we get together on issues like this and make some progress? Often the answer lies in the fact that conservatives tend to think that a government response is the most inefficient kind of solution possible.

However, if this attitude is adopted as a way to avoid actually helping one’s fellow man it is cause for shame. If I say that the Government has done a terrible disservice by creating a welfare state that positively encourages poor decision making and poverty, am I willing to actively engage in ways to improve my community and benefit my neighbor through other means? If I believe that the benefits offered by neighbors, churches, family, and community are far better solutions that political ones, am I contributing to my family, my church, my neighborhood, and my community? Probably more on this down the road.

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