When trying to solve a societal problem (X) I like to ask myself two questions.
- How can I solve X in a way that will help me?
- How can I solve X in a way that will also help everybody else?
If we’re being intellectually honest we must admit that we look out for ourselves — I would probably include immediate family here as well — first. I don’t think anybody will dispute that.
It seems it often stops there for a lot of people. I’m specifically referring to the far right and far left here but any views that are the extreme can likely be included.
The second question is a tough one. What does “everybody else” mean? Because some (most?) solutions probably can’t help everybody. So another way to look at the question is, “What won’t harm others?” or “What will do the least harm to others?”
This is why the best way to handle topics such as gay marriage, abortion rights, healthcare, welfare, GMOs, immigration, and more becomes clearer to me. It’s not that they’re black and white issues, but there is often a solution that is both best for me (“what I want”) and best for everybody else (“what they want”).
This is also why I don’t identify with so many of my friends and family on the far left or far right. Their solutions, while not objectively terrible, are often skewed to looking out only for those specifically like them. And sometimes, due to lack of knowledge but strong opinions, their solutions aren’t even what’s best for them anyway. I can’t fault them for lack of knowledge, of course. (Can I fault them for strong opinions based on lack of knowledge? Good question. I don’t know.)
Let’s take an example: healthcare.
What I want
I don’t want to worry about debt or bankruptcy if I get sick. I’m a citizen of the wealthiest nation in the world and I feel like it would be nice to be taken care of if something goes wrong. I don’t have a problem if I have to pay for insurance. I have a problem worrying that I’ll be denied “covered” treatment because my insurance company isn’t good. I have a problem being overcharged treatment because of lack of transparency. I have a problem with being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
What they want
The far left: comprehensive healthcare for all, paid for by additional taxes on the wealthy (among other ways)
The far right: everybody for themselves, pay for it or don’t get it
Let the folks on the right have their private doctors, private hospitals, and private insurance. Let the folks on the left not worry about having their lives ruined because of an accident or illness.
Now, I know that’s simplistic, and it’s not yet even a solution. It’s more like the seed of a solution. I’ve written a longer essay specifically on this topic that I’ll try to post soon.
But it starts there, with two questions. Getting me what I want, and also getting others what they want.
I know it’s possible. Although the divisiveness I’m seeing in politics is going to make it difficult for these types of solutions to see the light of day any time soon. But history shows that we will move towards fairness, even if things are unfair in the present and near future.
A previous version of this essay stated that the left wants “free healthcare for all.” I’ve updated it because that is not technically true. Also changed the sentence, “I don’t have a problem paying for healthcare” to “I don’t have a problem if I have to pay for insurance” because it’s more to my point.