One of the most enjoyable things about being on social media – especially a “new social media” like Mastodon – is seeing all of the energy people represent for solving the problems they see.
It’s also one of the worst things about new environments, because people have a natural myopia in how they see problems that have solutions, and they tend to see their solution – something that works – as the solution.
When I first started writing, it was for Alan Williamson at Java Developer Journal. Alan – who is a great guy – and I had some arguments about Java’s direction and future, if I recall – Alan was seeing cracks in the edifice, and I thought his writing about those cracks was a little … overblown, shall we say, and he challenged me to put five hundred words in print for it.
I’m a sucker for challenges like that, so naturally I did it – and it turned into a series of op-ed closers for JDJ, and those turned into my joining the editorial staff as an editor for J2EE, and that eventually turned into a position as Editor-in-Chief for JDJ for a short while, until the owner and I had a crisis of intent and I resigned, because he was doing things with my name on the masthead with which I could not have approved, ever.
It was his product, and he had every right to use it how he saw fit – but I couldn’t attach my name to it. It didn’t matter if I agreed with him or not in his feelings about the matter; I just couldn’t be part of it.
But one of my favorite op-ed pieces for JDJ was an editorial called “There Is No Magic Bullet,” if memory serves. (I cannot find a copy of it online at the moment; there’s a site that says they have archives but it’s down as I write this. Joy!)
The summary should be pretty obvious: I was writing that there’s no one-size fits all solution. You get to solve each problem as it comes to you, examining axiomatically. That’s why we write new programs, day after day after week after year, because every problem is different. Even when problems have similar solutions, their starting points are not the same.
People on social media probably remember this – but social media doesn’t give you the room to observe it, so even if they remember that magic bullets aren’t real, they rarely say it out loud.
And since they can’t say it where others can see it (or hear it, I guess), they end up training themselves to stop thinking it, because it’s wasted thought.
So: want to solve carbon crisis? Electric vehicles everywhere! Today!
… Electric vehicles are a magic bullet. What works in a specific capitol city isn’t going to work in the rural areas. Fuel supply for hydrogen vehicles, even electric grid support for EVs… the problems there are going to be the same as they were for mixed-fuel vehicles. Those rural areas would be crippled by the mandates being demanded and dictated.
Here’s the thing: those rural areas, despite representing so few votes and surely being populated by GOP-voting morons, are where the cities get their food from.
It’s important to have data centers with highly paid devops staff, lawyers, accountants, high end coffee shops, clothing stores where the smallest purchase is $400 USD. But if the people who run those places die from starvation, none of those things matter. The lights go off, the cockroaches and the rats take over, the stone we’re on keeps revolving around the sun.
People in the cities who burden the people who feed them are playing stupid games and can only win stupid prizes if they lose.
The magic bullets the literati keeps suggesting, over and over again, without reprieve or reason or limit, would cripple the literati, and kill them in many cases.
That’s why the trucker protest in Canada was such a big deal, after all: Canada messed around and found out, in a very small way, what they were doing, and as a result went martial law, because why bother learning when you have political power and a system that has subjects instead of citizens, right?
Subjects can be dictated to. That’s what happened to the truckers, who had a legitimate protest.
In the United States, so far we’re still citizens. We’re a little harder to dictate to, no matter what our politicians keep trying. We comply, because we’ve had sixty years of our education system demanding compliance, but our core is still steel and what we’re seeing today is a little more spine than we’ve had for a while; compliance isn’t working, and can’t work.
It’s funny, too, because the grievance culture is planting the seeds of its own opposition: if it’s okay to protest in the name of what’s right, and what’s “right” depends on your context, well, that means a farmer actually has the moral impetus to push back when someone says something that endangers their livelihood.
The point is not that our solutions are wrong. Electric vehicles – the example I latched on early in this – are not bad things, at all. I’d prefer a hybrid, myself, but I can see a future in which an EV is right for me… but where I am, right now? An EV would cripple me. I live too far out in the boonies for the grid, and the distances EVs can travel just aren’t good enough yet.
If I lived in a city, my context would be different, and maybe the grid would be powerful enough to charge my EV (and the EVs of all of my neighbors, at the same time), and the distances wouldn’t matter enough; heck, I might just use public transport instead, really.
But … where I live, right now? There is no public transport. I can probably get an Uber or Lyft out here… but realistically, if I can’t drive my own vehicle, I’m begging one of my neighbors, with their gas-fueled cars, for a ride.
Because the solutions I see that mandate EVs are “magic bullets,” and they don’t work for where I live.
And the other thing about magic bullets is that they are, well, magic.
They’re solutions for the general case, often extrapolated from scant data (or no data, in some situations, just hopes and dreams), without testing against the actual real-world situations for which they’re offered.
I’m pretty liberal, when it comes down to it – classically liberal, really, as opposed to what people think of as liberal now. But I’m also fairly conservative in application, because I want change, but I want it to be the right change, and I want it to be advanced through observation.
We have a problem? Okay, what are our options? What do those options mean? What are the long term costs? How long do they take? How long do we have? Is there an emotional investment in a solution? If so, is that wise?
And what I see my fellow humans doing, more than anything else, is screaming “We have a problem! This is the solution!” with no thought, just… react, react, react, with no emotional restraint.
For example, I saw a post about gun control, where the poster was saying “This bad thing with guns happened to me and mine, how can people still have guns when this happened to me?”
I fully empathize. The emotion of being there is a real thing, and I have no intention of invalidate that person’s lived experience.
But rationally… guns were used to attack this person. And their response is to disarm everyone? Is that really the right response?
My thought is that while guns are dangerous (they’re weapons, and represent power, and power is dangerous), the long term response should rationally be that this person’s family should be advocating for a balance of power, not advocating against a balance of power.
You saw this when Trump took office: guns were the worst! But then… the power went to a person we did not and do not like. All of a sudden, guns were part of the resistance that prevented Trump from trying to become a dictator (because of course the military wouldn’t push back, even though it definitely would.)
And during the last six years, the party that was the most anti-gun has been purchasing new guns more than any other sector in the United States.
That’s amusing… and smart.
And it’s a message: that magic bullet (“no guns!”) was a bad solution. That’s how most such advocacy goes, and we should remember it. If it takes longer to type, or longer to say, or even diminishes the impact of your message… choose rationality over extremism.