Doing Something

6 March 2001

In the newspaper this morning: the school where they had shootings yesterday had all the right programs. The experts are saying they "did everything right." All those of you who believe that kids who are likely to shoot fifteen classmates are likely to seek out "conflict resolution programs," raise your hands. All those of you who think that kids whose parents don't pay enough attention to know whether they're planning to go on a rampage, will be fine if only they have a fifteen minute session with a school counselor, raise your hands. All those of you who think that the solution is more general programs, raise your hands.

Not a lot of you, are there?

I think the thing that gets me about it is the emphasis on Doing Something. The school started a conflict resolution program. Therefore they had Done Something. They are Not To Blame. (Well, they're not. Schools don't kill people, people kill people. Schools just try to kill their brains and their souls.) (Only some schools. I know. All sweeping generalizations are bad.) Why is it that Doing Something takes precedence over doing something useful? Over and over again, when I still bothered to ask people why they were voting for a given candidate, I would hear, "Well, he [or she, but mostly he] wants to do something about _____." Often they had no clue what, exactly the person wanted to do. They had not gone through the SHITS that Doc Tichy so diligently taught us, clear back in my freshman year of high school, for evaluating a policy debate case. They just wanted Something Done. Then they could sit back and feel better.

(Oh, don't you know the SHITS? Significance -- is this plan going to do something substantial? Harms -- what are the possible or likely side effects? Inherency -- are the effects unique to the planned solution, or would they happen under other plans or without intervention at all? Topicality -- does it focus on the problem at hand, or is it a rhetorical red herring? Solvency -- can it feasibly fix any part of the problem? I think most people use SHITS without labeling it that way, but most people aren't trying to get a roomful of rowdy high school students to listen.)

Returning to the point. The idiotic dedication to Doing Something has permeated pretty much every cause there is. At my college, there was a "sleepout for the homeless." A bunch of privileged Minnesota college students slept out in front of the Chapel for a night to "promote awareness" of the plight of the homeless. I don't think it's unreasonable to take a guess that not a single homeless person was helped by this action, nor did a single homeless person feel all warm and fuzzy inside because of spiritual solidarity with suburban rich kids. But, darn it, they had Done Something. Raised Awareness. It had been So Worthwhile.

Listen, people. You don't get extra credit for trying real hard. This is not high school, and high school should never have worked that way in the first place. Good intentions are not enough. They never were. Sure, there are times when you can't reasonably foresee consequences. That doesn't get you off the hook for the times you can, and you don't bother thinking through it enough to do so. There is no "society" to fix things, to make sure that your half-assed efforts come out meaningful. There's just you. You have to do all that yourself, or at least give it a truly reasonable shot.

I'll probably have something more to say later today. Something less ranty. We'll see.

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