There’s a lot wrong with the world, and unfortunately much of it is systemic.
And the systems that are in place are self-reinforcing.
So as time goes on, the systems just gain strength.
As activists and educators we challenge people to think about root causes – as if a hand trowel and a strong yank is enough to get the job done.
And it is a challenge to think about root causes.
Because it’s so much easier to paint over the problem in front of you. That’s a manageable task. And then you’ve accomplished something.
Isn’t that nice?
So we encourage people to go deeper. To not only feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, but to ask – why are people hungry and why are people homeless?
To address the root cause.
But what if even that is not enough?
Because systemic issues are so much deeper. So much tougher.
Systemic issues take in five, or six, or seven root causes. All tangled together and spreading like weeds. Growing up all over everything. Strangling all the other vines.
Peter Buffet – son of multibillionaire Warren Buffet – recently called for an Unger-smashing of how we think about global philanthropy:
“Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market,” he wrote in a NY Times op-ed.
A few days later, science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff delved into the science of stress and status:
“[Neuroscientists] talk about the ‘biological embedding’ of social status. Your parents’ social standing and your stress level during early life change how your brain and body work, affecting your vulnerability to degenerative disease decades later.”
Whether it’s “philanthropic colonialism,” as Buffet calls it, or issues of entrenched socio-economics, for me, the systemic issues covered in both articles feel much deeper than root causes.
After reading those articles, root causes seem easy.
Maybe it’s a matter of semantics.
Or maybe it’s about pushing hard while leaving room for hope.
But I, for one, feel like we need to start thinking broader and deeper.
I’m the first to admit that when I try to push past root causes in my own thinking, I am quickly overwhelmed by the scope.
Everything’s so complicated. And entrenched. And seemingly impossible to deal with.
And that may be true to some extent.
But I know I can’t address a problem if I can’t even conceive of it.