Saturday, March 7, 2009

Problems in society, causes, solutions

This is the second of the series of articles that I am writing to build and present the complete hypotheses behind Zyxware. In the first article I had covered the concept of change. In this we are going to look into the problems that we face in our society, their causes and the solutions to these problems from a very high level and generic perspective.

If we look around the world we live in and observe closely, we can see that we live in a world full of problems. No I am not talking about a pessimistic view of life, but rather an objective view of life. Yes, there are lot of good things that we can cheer about, and sometimes even be proud of, but there are probably as many problems out there as well. Nobody wants to change whatever is good but people would like to see whatever is bad, changed/removed. So we will look in detail about these problems that people face in their lives.

We face lot of different problems in our lives, for example, power shortages, bad roads, bad infrastructure, corrupt officials, anti-social elements, communal problems, bad weather, drought, disease outbreaks, global warming, food shortages, unemployment, poverty, malnutrition etc... and the list goes on like this. The idea is not to list all the problems in the world but to figure out some way to study these problems.

If we look at these problems we can easily classify them according to the following binary logic :-

1) Caused by human action/inaction

    1A) Intentionally caused by human action/inaction

        1Aa) Caused with malign intent towards another human

        1Ab) Caused without malign intent towards another human

    1B) Unknowingly caused by human action/inaction

2) Caused independent of human action/inaction

    2A) Can be solved/mitigated/prevented by human action

    2B) Cannot be solved/mitigated/prevented by human action

So the simplified linear classification would be

  1. Problems intentionally caused by human action/inaction with malign intent towards another human

  2. Problems intentionally caused by humans action/inaction without malign intent towards another human

  3. Problems unknowingly caused by humans action/inaction

  4. Problems caused independent of human action/inaction but those that can be solved/mitigated/prevented by human action

  5. Problems caused independent of human action/inaction and those that cannot be solved/mitigated/prevented by human action

All the problems that we see around us can be classified according to the binary logic shown above and would fall into any of the six classes shown in the simplified linear classification. The objective of this classification exercise is to identify types of problems that can be solved and types that cannot be solved.

In the simplified list given above, we can see that type 1, 2 and 3 problems are caused directly by human action/inaction. Since the causal agent is human beings, these problems should be solvable by human intervention. Now type 4 problems are not caused by humans but these can be solved through human intervention. So we can seen that except for type 5 problems which are caused by non-human agents and not solvable through human intervention, all other problems are solvable by some kind of action by humans themselves.

Let us look at a few examples that we can easily see around us and classify them.

Consider the problem of societal violence that exists almost all across the world in varying degrees. This is a problem that is caused by human action with a malignant intention to harm others. There could also be problems caused by human inaction with an intention to harm others. A good example would be partisan authorities turning blind eyes to communal violence. Both these examples can be tackled both in the short term and in the long term by taking mitigating steps to root out their causes in the first place - eg: lack of education, unemployment, poverty etc.

Corruption is often described as the cancer of the society. Corruption is probably the single biggest deterrent to progress and growth in developing countries like India. However people who are engaged in such acts do not necessarily do it with an intention to harm the general public, which includes themselves. Other than a greed for money there might not be any other desire that drives corruption. Such cases of corruption therefore falls under category two.

Corruption is an intentional act. Also ineptitude and inaction from authorities are also good examples of problems in this category where the problem is an inaction rather than an action. Corruption can be tackled by bringing in transparency in transactions and by inviting and encouraging citizens to take active involvement in the functioning of the machinery. This would also be able to solve the second set of problems mentioned above.

A very good example of a problem caused by human beings without, mostly, realizing the consequences of their action is the massive deforestation happening across the rain forests of Africa, South Americas and East Asia. The cause of this problem is the human consumption of wood and wood products(primarily paper). Most people who are guilty of wastage and excesses might not even realize the indirect consequences of their actions. It is true that our dependence on paper cannot be stopped in a single day but excesses and wastage cannot be condoned any day. We might never be able to totally stop our usage of paper but we can always reduce, reuse and recycle to reduce the overall usage.

Retarded growth of nations or slow progress of nations, poor health conditions of populations etc can themselves be considered as problems and these can be, more often than not, attributed to inaction by relevant authorities. Yes there might be financial and other resource limitations that might add to the causes but ultimately these problems exist because of human inaction. Such inaction could be classified as type 3 problem. A planned and sustained drive to educate people is a simple way to improve the overall health of the population. This would also in the long term, help the nation to grow and progress.

The outbreak of any disease in an area is an example for a type 4 problem caused by non-human agent viz. microbial organisms. However with modern medical facilities and drugs most of the known diseases can be cured. There are those that cannot be cured but medical sciences are fast catching up on these. Another example is the dearth of drinking water caused due to fluctuations in climate patterns. This problem is something that has successfully been solved through artificial irrigation/drinking water supply schemes for the past several millennia.

A natural disaster like a tornado striking a city or a tsunami running over a coastal town are good examples of type 5 problems that are caused independent of human action/inaction and those that cannot really be solved by human actions. However with the growth of science and technology the effects of some of these unsolvable problems can really be mitigated. For example with proper early warning systems people can be evacuated before the tsunami strikes a town.

Finally, I should remind the reader that the view that all problems can be solved is very simplistic. Some problems, even those caused by humans (or for that matter caused by non-human agents), even if theoretically solvable, might not be practically solvable because of the different complex, often inter-dependent constraints that exist in our system. The objective of this exercise was to shine a light at this logical classification of problems and to bring to the fore the fact that there are problems that can be solved, avoided or mitigated through human action and there are those that can't be. For those that can be, we should really be able to solve them, if we put our mind to it.

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