Where We Are: Layers of Dysfunction
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There's a meme floating around that scarcity is an unfounded fear, as we'll have plenty of everything to fuel the Waste Is Growth economy for a long time to come. This is the "abundance" or "super-abundance" meme, based on the limitless advances of technology.
This presumes the problem is scarcity, so abundance driven by technology is the solution.
But what if the problem isn't so much scarcity but dysfunction in our essential systems? If that's the problem, abundance won't solve it.
As for technology solving all problems: what if technology enables new layers of dysfunction rather than solutions?
If we simply observe what's happening around us, it's clear that we're enmeshed in multiple layers of dysfunction that are interconnected and seemingly impervious to change.
What's abundant is dysfunction and sclerosis, what's scarce is truly leisure time, as we're forced to spend increasing amounts of time and energy sorting through increasingly complex, increasingly broken systems.
Consider healthcare in the U.S., which I have called "sickcare" because the entire system is predicated on the profit motive, which distills down to this: healthy patients who don't need meds and procedures don't generate any profit, while chronically ill patients generate steady streams of profit.
Is it any wonder promoting "healthy lifestyles" receives lip-service but little actual attention? Yes, the literature that accompanies weight-loss meds includes the sort of disclosures we're accustomed to ignoring: patients should maintain a healthy diet and fitness program, blah-blah-blah, despite living in a cacophony of adverts for junk food, snacks, alcohol and medications: "ask your doctor about..."
I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this, but I read that only the U.S. and New Zealand allow direct advertising of medications to consumers. In every other developed nation, these meds can only be hawked to physicians and other professionals. Not that long ago, it was not allowed in the U.S., either.
What I observe is individuals working within each layer of dysfunction are doing their best to do good work, but the system hobbles and frustrates them, leading to burnout. Each individual within the system sees what needs to be changed, but each is absolutely powerless to change anything: each inhabits a Kafkaesque world in which those supposedly empowered to change things are inaccessible. Or equally Kafkaesque, maybe even those in the Castle (the title of Kafka's novel I read recently) don't actually have the power to change anything, either.
Consider the many layers of dysfunction in healthcare.
We all know something changed in the past 25 years: 25 years ago, the majority of adults and children were of normal weight. Now 70% of American adults are obese or overweight, i.e. prediabetic.
What changed? The list of factors is daunting: addiction to screens, the decline of the nutritional content of food, the rise of highly processed food (a.k.a. junk food, snacks and high-calorie drinks, fast food), and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.
But this isn't the entire list by any means. We have to add food deserts, neighborhoods with few outlets selling real food, unwalkable cities that are designed for vehicles not humans, the decline of fitness programs in public schools, the concentration of food manufacture and distribution into a few mega-corporations, and the cultural inclination to see "delicious food" as what we indulge in and "healthy food" as unappetizing penance for our over-indulgence, the unhappy diet we give up to resume our indulgences.
Then there's the confusing mix of ever-changing dietary advice: seed oils are toxic, carbohydrates are the source of obesity, paleo, vegan, and so on. Oh for the good old days of wacky celebrity diets (grapefruit and steak, etc.).
Is it possible to change any of these sources of dysfunction from within the status quo? No. Each is profitable to powerful interests with a strong incentive to resist any change that reduces their sales and profits.
Even if there are no well-funded lobbies motivated to smother any truly consequential reforms, there's institutional inertia and the friction of complexity thickets. Our essential systems all claim to be responsive to demands for change, but the reality is these systems are not designed for fast adaptation or evolution, they're designed to protect and maintain the status quo, i.e. the way things operate now.
Next, consider how we pay for healthcare in the U.S.