Start Small

14 Feb

Written in a moment of introspection

Start Small

If you read the Baen edition of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starman Jones, which I highly recommend, you will come across an afterword by Mike Williamson.  It’s well worth a read even if you don’t want to read the entire book, but I’m going to focus on a single paragraph:

Not every problem has to be solved right this moment, nor even within a given book or series, or in forty-two minutes plus commercials on the idiot box. Some issues are too large for an individual, and it really isn’t kind to whip up that kind of hope in a fragile youth, only to toss them into the depths or jadedness or despair too soon, when they realize it’s just not that easy in the real world.”

Now, there are people who will argue that a book should end with all the problems solved and the characters walking towards a new heaven and a new earth.  But that is unrealistic.  Small problems can be fixed relatively quickly.  Bigger problems take time, time and effort and understanding.  And if you give someone the impression that they can be fixed quickly, as Mike points out, they’re going to become angry when it turns out you’re wrong.

Society is the way it is because of a series of interlocking factors.  Some of those rest on human nature.  Others reflect economic or technological realities.  The underlying factors can be quite resistant to change, at least partly because things are relatively stable and altering the factors could lead to a rapid collapse into instability.  It is obviously difficult to effect any sort of positive change if you don’t understand the realities – or the point of view of someone who might resist you.  One might as well give a sick patient a series of random pills and expect him to get better.  He’ll probably die.

Over the last few years, there’s been an increasing number of people swearing to fight racism, sexism, economic inequality and other concepts that are often increasingly ill-defined.  I don’t fault anyone for being idealistic enough to want to make the world better, but how do they intend to do it?  Colin Kaepernick, for example, wanted to draw attention to racism in society.  It was a powerful statement, at least partly because he destroyed his career in order to do it, but what was his endgame?  How did he intend to translate his protest into something effective?  Did he accomplish anything at all?

This is true of many other protesters, all of whom seem to have embraced ‘underpants gnomes’ logic:

Step One – Call Attention To [Social Problem]

Step Two – ???

Step Three – Victory!

Many of these social problems are too big for individuals to tackle effectively.  Many of them have far more complex causes than the idealists think.  And so their efforts are – at best – useless and – at worst – counterproductive.  Kaepernick’s enemies had no trouble making the case that Kaepernick was an ungrateful so-and-so.  Fair or unfair, it lingered.

This leads to several problems.  Some people simply give up.  Others turn to political candidates who promise they can solve the problems if they’re given supreme power, blithely ignoring the simple fact that their programs will often cause more problems than they’ll solve (and that assumes they’re not just making promises to get into power).  And others just lose themselves in frustrated screaming, turning everyone else against them. 

But there’s a more practical approach to such problems.

You cannot solve a giant problem all by yourself.  You probably cannot solve a giant problem if you have an entire movement behind you.  But you can start small.  You can work to fix schools, you can work to fix social attitudes, you can work to fix your presentation so you don’t come across as a threat, a loon, a hypocrite or anything else that might turn people away from you.  You can open a food bank and help people who need it.  You can tackle the smaller problems and discover, perhaps, that some of the bigger problems simply go away.

2 Responses to “Start Small”

  1. Billy February 14, 2020 at 8:36 pm #

    Kind of like the Plastic/Trash is everywhere problem. Its in the Oceans so bad that there are islands of trash.

    Is is your average person fault ? So you should punish your average person.

    Or step back and look at where the bulk of it is coming from.

    A good example are some countries don’t do like here in the USA. Here we ether dig a new hole in the ground or use things like giant holes left from mines or places where in the past they dough out gravel or granite etc

    Then cities fill those up with trash and cover with dirt and make parks out of them.

    Some countries simply dump thier trash in the rivers that lead to oceans or simply dump right in the oceans.

    What is strange all the environmentalist have blinders on or are simply blind to what those countries are doing so they say nothing about it at all.

    I suppose it may be because you go to those countries and point that out and those countries throw you in prison or no one ever sees you again.

    I could name those countries but everyone on the planet already knows which they are.

    There is not anything anyone can do about that

    Banning straws or whatever will not fix it

  2. dichroic February 20, 2020 at 4:42 pm #

    I don’t expect to solve problems, I only have to try. In the Prike Avot, Rabbi Tarfon is quoted as saying “You are not obligated to finish the work (of healing the world), but neither may you refrain from beginning it.”

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