Dangerous Party Scatomas Limit Policy Debate
A scatoma is a “blind spot,” literally a place in our field of vision each of us is unable to see. Spots on our retinas cause scatomas, and in some, these can grow and affect vision dangerously.
Other kinds of blind spots exist because of how we learn, how we perceive. Today, just as literal blind spots can be dangerous, these perceptive blind spots and the ways in which they affect public policy have become dangerous.
Whether we are Democrats or Republicans, Libertarians or espouse some other part affiliation, each of us would like to believe that we see the world around us clearly, accurately. After all, the primary function of the human brain is to find patterns of understanding that allow us to create order from our sensual input. In childhood, our brains learn to sort out stimuli we don’t need and reinforce stimuli that help us survive, thrive, and just as importantly, remain sane.
The brain accomplishes much of this learning process by generalization. A few experiences create the pattern the brain expects from similar situations in the future. These patterns become our personal paradigm, our way of understanding the world around us, and we become vested in these patterns. Bias is the word for our natural desire to hold on to our own paradigm, and reject alternatives. Biases are good and necessary in that they keep us sane, but biases that keep us from growing, or being able to change or see the world clearly can be terribly limiting, even dangerous.
As an example of how firmly implanted in our brains biases can become, consider this picture called the Checker Pattern Illusion. The amazing thing about this picture is that the squares labeled A and B are identical! You can test this with Adobe Photoshop if you must (I did). Bias in the way our brains perceive patterns literally won’t let us see that A and B are the same.
Today, our nation’s public policy debate exposes many issues in which party biases keep our county’s leaders from seeing clearly, and unlike the Checker Pattern Illusion, which we all share, these party biases are often polar opposites, dangerous to our county’s health.
For example, Republicans candidates must seem to be so completely committed to less government spending and an anti-abortion stance that many oppose funding family planning and the availability of contraceptives. Paradoxically, the facts support family planning and the general availability of contraceptives as the only public policies proven to reduce the incidence of abortion. Clearly, the long-term societal savings on funding to support family planning and the availability of contraceptives make these policies a good investment.
Democrats, on the other hand, must appear to support the poor and unemployed with ever-lengthening funding for unemployment payments and a burgeoning welfare system that literally pays some women to have more and more babies out of wedlock. There is no investment in this. There are only immediate and long-term costs to society.
Republicans approach the issue of additional taxation with closed minds. Democrats espouse taxing the “rich” in ways that are meaningless to overall revenues but appeal to constituents susceptible to “class-warfare” rhetoric.
All this posturing along rigid, biased party lines obscures the big picture, and prevents adopting a holistic approach to our country’s problems. The big picture is not less government spending or more government spending. The big picture is whether our government invests our money in ways that add value to society.
The vast majority of American homeowners went into debt equal to many years of income when they acquired their homes. This was not bad because their net worth remained the same. They invested in an asset (hopefully) equal in value to the amount they spent. Many college students at the undergraduate and graduate levels take on great debt to fund their educations, often in periods when they have little income. The asset they acquire by doing this is less tangible than a house, but this investment in themselves comes with a measurable future return. It is obvious to all that these investments are appropriate reasons to acquire debt, but it isn’t so obvious to a national accounting policy that treats all income and outgo as equal.
As a nation, should we not put our unemployed and welfare recipients to work, rather than just pay them to not work, turning at least some part of the largesse they receive into an investment, and perhaps teaching skills that may ultimately get them off the dole in the process? Should we not fund family planning and the general availability of contraceptives, and other similar expenditures when a positive return is so clearly measureable? Should not all governmental expenditures be put under a microscope to determine whether they can yield a return to society? This common-sense approach seems lost in the tug-a-war of biased party positions.
An example of an issue that cries for a holistic approach is education. There is general agreement that something is wrong with our school systems. People frequently use the word “broken” to describe them. Yet the vast majority of teachers in classrooms all across America are wonderful. I know some, and have met many. I have a degree of confidence that teachers are not “THE PROBLEM.” I believe any school system that has a ratio of more than .3 administrators to each teacher has a structural problem, but I am aware that over-burdensome state and federal regulation creates a huge portion of that issue.
Could it be that what we blame on our school systems is just a reflection of greater societal change? A more holistic viewpoint might notice that the last fifty years have seen the “liberation” of women in our society, a huge percentage of women entering the workforce, and an increase in divorce rates producing far more single parent households. Some of this change was long overdue, and offers substantial benefits to society. However, that change also comes with costs. I posit that these costs are exposed as problems in school systems which have become dumping grounds for kids by parents who, for a myriad of reasons, don’t have the time, ability or inclination to take personal responsibility for their children’s’ education.
Yet, in today’s “budget crisis,” neither party is evaluating education as an investment. Funding for education is being slashed as though doing so will not diminish America. Districts are cutting teachers, the number of days schools are open and the number of hours in each school day to reduce expenditures. Do these cuts add a direct cost to the lives of parents, students and to society? Of course they do.
A more holistic viewpoint might consider more than schools’ budgets and suggest longer school days and longer school years as a possible solution. Longer school days and years offer the opportunity for the more learning and supervised sports. By contrast, shorter school days and years create more “latch-key” kids, the delinquents of tomorrow, with a huge cost to society. A holistic examination might conclude that, like those college students who go into debt to invest in their futures, funding for more time in school is a worthwhile investment with a measurable immediate and future return.
The time is long past for ‘We the People’ to demand that our leaders and elected officials put aside party biases, dispense with party rhetoric, tear off blinders, and look holistically at the ways they invest our money. Those who have used the public trough to buy votes and appease constituencies need to be run out of office and replaced with men and women of character, who will respect the public trust and evaluate every one of our dollars as a societal investment, not merely expenditure.