The Silver Bullet Playbook

In the olden days, one could always tell which cowboy was the good guy and which one was the bad guy.  The good guy always wore a white hat.  Life was so straight forward, uncomplicated, and easy to understand.

There were other life lessons too.  One was destine to go to either heaven or hell.  Harder grasp but straight forward were F=M*A and E=M*(C*C).  Life could be explained by what it was and what is wasn’t.

Hmmm.

So, today we find the country facing a wide variety of challenges.  And where the challenge calls for a solution, for the most part, we look for a solution that looks like a “silver bullet”.  The bullet is designed to destroy the offending part while saving the rest.

Hmmm.

Consider drug use.  We do not want our youth dependent upon drugs.  Path forward, pass a law with serious prison time.  Not working?  Lengthen the prison time.  Result?  Drug use continues unabated and the US prison population per capita is the highest in the world.

Hmmm.

Consider K-12 education.  Testing shows US K-12 falling behind other countries.  Path forward, test more and tie poor results to the teacher involved.  Results?  Standardized tests continue to show the US trailing other modern industrialized countries despite spending the second most per capita compared to these other countries.

Hmmm.

Consider gun violence.  How can the occasion of mass murders be sharply reduced?  Path forward, take your pick, insist upon back round checks for all gun sales or outlaw the sale of “assault weapons”, or banish large capacity ammunition clips.  Results?  This is pending legislation but you can go to the bank that these measure will have a non-measurable impact.

Hmmm.

All of these issues have certain things in common.  Each issue are the result of many social factors.  These solutions recommended or tried are not unreasonable.  They were simply insufficient to eliminate the problem by themselves.

When life does not go the way we would like, the natural tendency is to identify a single variable and apply a “silver bullet”.  Why is that?

I would posit that an “authoritarian” does not willingly consider complex systems.  The notion that heaven might not be a place or that drug dependency might be a disease or educations involves far more than a teacher’s input or test results, or that violence is not limited to guns calls for the capacity to consider more complex systems.  Strict authoritarians find this uncomfortable.  And, complex systems thinkers tend to identify too many factors and conjure solutions too complex to implement.

Hmmm.

Silver bullet play books are easy to understand but extremely naive.  It seems, however, that our minds are condition to look for these easy outs.  It that is how things must be, then authorities who implement silver bullet solutions must include data collection and post legislations reviews.  Did the silver bullet work?

The answer will be most likely “no”.  The tendency will almost assuredly be to return to the “silver bullet play book” and select the next silver bullet.  And the cycle will repeat.

In a country as large as the US, there must be more effective approaches.  Nothing can substitute for informed study.  Selecting several proposed solutions and “trialling” each proposal in, say several States, under close observation.  When an effective combination is identified, expand.

This approach is taught for use in industrial quality problems.  It also presupposes that biases imposed by special interests can be identified and in some way neutralized.

Hmmm.  Where’s my play book?

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