We can’t call it a ‘failure’

The crux of the analysis in A Problem from Hell is really quite chilling: the author came to the conclusion, reviewing the U.S. response (and lack thereof) to genocide in different countries around the world, during different U.S. administrations, that our U.S. political system is working.

Our interests are being maximized, and no one is having to pay a price for doing what they want to do (mostly, fail to act). We prioritize calculations about how much risk we’re willing to tolerate, and the system allows us to preference decisions that maximize those ‘goods’.

So we can’t call it a ‘failure’, even when hundreds of thousands (or more) people die, essentially as we just watch.

If we’re not setting out to prevent, or at least interrupt, those deaths, then we’re not failing, by not doing so.

Stunning and scary, but pretty obvious, when you think about it. And about our reaction–and sometimes, lack thereof–to other social problems, too.

Since the goals of TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, what we used to call ‘welfare’) didn’t include reducing child poverty or improving child well-being, then is it a failure that the move to TANF has not achieved those ends?

If our educational system doesn’t set out to produce critical thinkers who can invigorate our democracy, are we failing that they aren’t…and can’t?

If our food policies do not aim to ensure that people have adequate access to healthy, affordable food, in order to promote overall health and well-being, is our system really failing us?

If our tax policies are not designed to provide adequate revenues to support essential infrastructure and core services, then are they failing when they inevitably produce deficits and necessitate retrenchment?

And if we don’t label these failures as such, because we’re not setting the right goals in the first place, then can we ever expect to generate adequate momentum for different policies, that could bring us to different ends?

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