About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Massimo's short list of really simple solutions to the world's problems
Some real world problems are also objectively complex: how to fairly deal with global warming without wrecking the planet's financial and political quasi-stability is one. On the one hand, highly industrialized nations are right in pointing out that the environment simply cannot take China, India, and perhaps eventually a host of African countries, all turning into US-style giant polluters. On the other hand, said countries have a right to accuse the US (and, to a lesser extent, Europe) of laughable hypocrisy when they (the developing countries) are asked to renounce obtaining the same number of large houses and big cars Americans have enjoyed for decades.
But there are many world problems that actually do have a reasonably simple solution, and about which we don't seem to be making much progress, if at all, simply out of the ineptitude or corruption (or both) of our so-called “leaders.”
Take the infamous Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our goal there cannot possibly be to have those people love one another, it just ain't gonna happen. But a more stable Middle East? Easy. The US could use its financial and military leverage on Israel to force overnight a two-state solution, withdrawal of all settlements from the Palestinian territories, and a shared, multi-national UN-secured Jerusalem. It's the only solution, and everyone involved knows it, but no American President has had the balls to force it (perhaps we need a woman to do it?).
Iraq: again, many aspects of the problem there are in fact tough or impossible nuts to crack. But the only way forward is to recognize that the country is a completely arbitrary entity created by the former British colonial power, literally by drawing lines in the sand without respect for the local ethnic and religious groups. There are actually two solutions here, just as in the former Yugoslavia: either put a Saddam-like (or Tito-like) iron man back in charge (not good for human rights, not to mention the acknowledgment that we spent billions to replace one Saddam with another), or allow the country to naturally divide into independent regions, with an international (not US) backed agreement to share oil resources.
Want more? Everybody always complains about the United Nations and its inefficiency. But most people who pay any attention whatsoever to the UN know where a lot of this inefficiency comes from: the ironically named Security Council, and particularly its permanent members. This is a complete travesty, essentially a way for the powers that won World War II (hello? It has been over for 62 years!) to dictate matters to the rest of the world. One single vote within the SC can veto any resolution, with no possibility for the rest of the planet to do anything about it. And guess what? Most of said powers – especially the US, China and Russia – have all the possible incentives on earth to block each other's moves and maintain the stalemate on major issues, from peace efforts to global climate change. The solution is the abolition of the permanent SC and its replacement with a truly democratic system in which every nation gets a vote. Further improvement would be achieved by structuring voting in proportion to population size, as well as making it conditional on each nation abiding by the UN Charter, including the articles concerning the civil liberties of their own citizens (no need to kick the non-complying nations out of the circle, just let them sit out round after round and watch until they get their act together).
Similarly, the corrupt electoral system of the self-professed “best democracy in the world,” good ol' US of A. The most (though by all means not the only) idiotic thing about it is the one state = two senators rule. This is a leftover of the compromise reached during the drafting of the Constitution, when states where largely independent entities, distrustful of each other. But it simply defies reason to seriously maintain that, for instance, the tiny state of Delaware has the same right to representation in the Senate as California. The second most stupid thing about the American system is the “winner takes all” mechanism within each state, which allows bizarre outcomes like someone winning the popular vote but losing the election (Gore in 2000, even without counting the dirty tricks perpetrated by Bush-Cheney), or presidents to claim a “mandate” because of a rather imaginary “landslide.” That system also perpetuates the myth of the “red vs. blue” states, while in fact the divide is much more along urban (more educated, more liberal) vs. rural (less educated, more conservative) populations, with a state-level balance that in fact often hovers very close to 50-50.
One more example: everyone keeps complaining about the sorry state of public education, and how badly our schools are doing, and so on and so forth. Besides the fact that the death of the public school has been declared quite a bit prematurely, there is, again, a simple solution: put money, and I mean a lot of money, into significantly improving the faculty/student ratio. Education works well when teachers can truly interact in a one-to-few fashion with their students, give them individual attention, and switch from the dreaded lecture mode to an open discussion, an ongoing Socratic (or Montessori, if you prefer) method. That's how the successful private schools do it, it ain't magic, you know. Of course, that would cost billions; then again, aren't we wasting a lot of them (billions) in Iraq these days?
Any chance that any of the above will actually happen? Nope. But don't blame me, I told you how to do it...