America’s willful ignorance of unintended consequences

By Rich Purtell

Over the last 30 years, I seem to see common patterns in how we respond to various problems that face us in our country.  Here are a few examples:

Post 9/11 reaction:  I felt that we had a ripe opportunity at the time to make a paradigm shift away from such a materialistic and selfish culture.  That didn’t happen.  I also felt that nations such as Saudi Arabia (where all the 9/11 hijackers originated) were covertly spreading anti-American propaganda so as to deflect attention away from oppressive regimes who hoard wealth, and keep the majority of citizens in abject poverty.  Some self-examination of other things the USA has done to motivate terrorism would have been prudent as well.  But our choice was to go to war. Throughout the ongoing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have kept a laser focus on American lives lost.  But for lost innocent men, women, and children in these foreign lands, we have made little to no effort to qualify and quantify such collateral damage.

Vaccination outrage:  This is another issue I have been following closely for around 5 years.  This has been to say the least a galvanizing and hotly contested dilemma for our society.  We have very weak efforts to do real world, real time monitoring of how many kids are REALLY damaged by vaccines.  Doctors are not mandated to track and report “adverse events.”  Parents may or may not report injuries to a “passive reporting” database called VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System).  A streamlined monetary award process basically says “your child may or may not have been hurt, here is some money, now go away.”  These deficient processes leave the door open for much speculation and subjective opinions as to the risk/reward outcome for vaccinating our children.  Not all vaccines would have an equal risk/reward outcome if we really took the time to know the risks.  Plus we may find out about how things such as timing and multi-dosing affect risk.

Cronyism and corruption in commerce:  I’ve been victimized by this problem for 30 years.  Basically the federal government, New York state, etc. purchase many goods and services through the private sector.  Various gimmicks are used to bypass open, free market competition.  “Greater Good” logic is used to rationalize things such as “strategic sourcing”, “standardization”, etc.  But here once again, very weak effort is made to do real time, real world monitoring of the impacts of these decisions.  Aside from the damage to vendors like myself, is the taxpayer gaining or losing from many of these choices?  There is a very poor effort to close the loop and develop adaptive, continuous improvement.

The common thread here:  A lack of compassion.  Choices are made, and if those choices are 100% the best choice, we as a society choose to ignore negative consequences.  In the best case such willful ignorance breeds anger, resentment, apathy, and hatred for those who are damaged.  In the worst case negative consequences may be so great that if we really were willing to examine them under a microscope, we would realize that we have made a mistake!

A good democratic process shouldn’t mean that 51% of people are overjoyed and 49% are miserable about the choice for any particular matter.  A good democracy uses majority rule, but not majority oppression.  That means a majority decision needs to be respectful and compassionate about negative consequences that may surface. Every effort should be made to qualify, quantify, make transparent, and minimize those negative outcomes

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