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The Root Cause

By 2353NM  

Frequently, when presented with a problem, we attempt to treat the symptom rather than the real issue. For example, if every morning when you get in your car you notice that one of the tyres looks a bit flat, you could treat the symptom by calling in at the nearest petrol station and putting more air in the tyre. However, as air doesn’t shrink or disappear for no reason, there is obviously a deeper issue involved. It could be that your tyre has been punctured and a screw or nail is still in the tyre, or it could be that the rim of the tyre has been bent or twisted. So, you could go on treating the symptom into the future (and calling at the local petrol station on a regular basis), or you could address the real problem and get the tyre or rim fixed. Sometimes however, the real problem or ‘root cause’ of the issue isn’t quite as easy to observe or fix as a screw in a car tyre.

Johann Hari has written a book entitled Lost Connections, which describes his quest to understand why increasing amounts of anti-depressants prescribed for him for a long time had little or no long-term effect. One of his findings was that people were treating the symptoms rather than the root cause. He uses the example of Kotti, a suburb of West Berlin where those who ‘didn’t fit’ within the general community were housed in decaying apartments in an area that was best described as a ‘nook’ in the Berlin Wall. When the wall came down, Kotti went from being forgotten to become an undeveloped area in a great location in the centre of unified Berlin. Soon after, the developers moved in and the decaying apartments were in danger of being bulldozed. The residents, who fairly typically when developers move in had nowhere to go and with a bit of help started to organise and ‘man the barricades’. Gradually, the barricades became more substantial and people were onsite 24 hours a day on a roster system. Hari describes a number of people rostered on barricade duty, who in the past had completely different lifestyles isolated from each other and society, (as individuals are usually afraid of talking to people that look or act ‘strangely’ or have different moralities), began sitting together with not much to do, and started talking.

Gradually, people started greeting each other in the street and stopping for a chat, realising that regardless of the individual’s beliefs or appearance, they also were human. And gradually a community was born. Shops opened and diversity was encouraged by the residents, leading to a community that had the energy to retain the best of what it had and become a place where people wanted to be, with the local government controlling development so the exiting residents were not overwhelmed. That’s when the medical services began to notice that the people that made up Kotti were gradually becoming happier. They observed the beneficial effect of less medical interventions and drugs being required for the people who lived in the area. Hari also looked at similar examples around the world (including in Australia) where belonging to a community has led to a reduction in mental ill-health and a subsequent decline in the use of prescribed drugs to ‘regulate’ people’s moods.

Obviously, pharmaceutical companies can’t really monetarise community and happiness, which is part of the reason why research into ‘making people feel part of where they live’ is not funded to the same level as the next ‘breakthrough medication’ that will be sold to help people feel (for a while at least) that they are happy and coping with life. There is certainly a place for medication in mental health, but the issue is that long-term use of increasingly stronger doses of drugs is treating only the symptoms, not the ‘root cause’.

It’s the same with politics where there is far more effort and time spent in identifying particular groups of people such as the ‘haves’ or ‘have nots’ and either lauding or persecuting them for the positions in which they find themselves. The reality is that the difference between ‘having’ and ‘having not’ is sometimes a decision made by a manager who might not know where Australia is and is usually totally unrelated to the individual’s performance or knowledge. So the ‘person who used to have’ applies for welfare and gets caught in a spiral where one side of politics observes that welfare is ‘too easy to obtain’ and implements some practice to ‘ensure the dole bludgers don’t rort the system’, making it more draconian, and so on ad infinitum with a resultant deterioration in welfare applicants’ feeling of ‘worth’ in the community where they live.

At the same time, the ‘haves’, observing the language used to justify increasingly draconian practices being imposed on the welfare recipients, believe they should get more as the ‘dole bludgers’ are ‘wasting’ the support they are receiving. So the government promotes tax cuts or increases business write offs/child care supplements/funding for health insurance or private schools, or similar payments (which are really welfare payments in all but name) to appease the ‘haves’ who are clamouring for greater levels of ‘support’.

While there is nothing wrong with targeting groups in the community with assistance to derive some holistic benefit, there is a problem when the targeting is done to seek votes or popularity with certain sectors of the community. Flatter tax rates and so on do benefit those on higher incomes; while the dollar amount they pay can be higher, the percentage of their income required to live in similar fashion to those on lower income is less, leading to inequality, which in turn doesn’t do anything for building or maintaining perceived equity and fairness in communities.

Some Governments, such as in New Zealand and the ACT, have realised that budgets are not just financial documents. How the wealth is distributed is important, as discussed in this ABC report. Bhutan has used a ‘Gross Happiness Index’ for decades.

Maybe they are on to something. We have discussed research that suggests that happiness comes from being in a community, so we can make the assumption that while ‘state against state’ and ‘mate against mate’ might be OK in football games, it shouldn’t be a way to run a country. Rather than creating ideological wars between different groups within our community and treating the symptoms, research suggests our community would be better if the root causes of greed and inequality were addressed. While the ALP seems to be on the right track, it’s hard to see how those promising to ‘Make Australia Great’ or claiming to be the ‘better economic managers’ are helping. Let’s just hope the ALP doesn’t change focus away from community to try to grab some votes in the next few years.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword.

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6 comments

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  1. Matters Not

    Re the attached article and Swan’s claim:

    Hawke and Keating were not neoliberals;

    Methinks he’s an historical revisionist. But perhaps he operates on a particular and peculiar definition of ‘neo-liberalism’? If so, then he might have provided same.

    As for the bigger picture, I suspect Labor’s focus for the next election will be on winning policy rather than good public policy. Lowest common denominator … and all that.

  2. Kaye Lee

    I do think the loss of community has greatly diminished our society in so many ways.

  3. Matters Not

    Re:

    within our community … the loss of community etc

    Perhaps we need to define the implied understanding of community? Maybe it has (or should) change? For example, is this site a community of sorts? Do people have to ‘know’ each other before the community label can be applied? Do they have to live in proximity? Do they have to share? Then what – values, attitudes, beliefs etc? If not, then what criterion (or criteria) need(s) to be applied?

    Have grandkids who are avid ‘gamers’ and over the holidays will play for hours in competition(s) against kids (or adults – males or females – who knows) in various parts of the world. Are they a community (of gamers)? Certainly, they have a common abiding interest. Perhaps we are members of more communities than we realise? (Definition of same might help.) Perhaps being a member of some communities is constraining – a brake on development? Anti-educational?

    Lots of possibilities.

  4. king1394

    Communities are not put in place from above, but communities can be helped to develop when there are public or common facilities and purposes. People become divorced from a sense of community when barriers to freedom of movement and assembly exist, and particularly when their time and energy is expended on survival
    Strangely, many of the people most alienated from community are the fully employed couples with a mortgage. The 10 hours or more they are out of home each day with work and the commute, the children boxed in daycare, and then normal home tasks take all the time and energy available. Engaging with a local community is impossible.

    A shorter workday would contribute to building better communities

  5. wam

    The sad factor is:
    Enough of “the ‘haves’, observing the language used to justify increasingly draconian practices being imposed on the welfare recipients, believe they should get more as the ‘dole bludgers’ are ‘wasting’ the support they are receiving”
    are workers, ordinary people who will neither benefit from the government they voted for nor from tax cuts but who are appalled at the handouts to Aborigines without having met one, shocked that moslem refugees get higher welfare handouts without believing labor lefties like me.and my bullshit about the rabbott’s debt etc.
    They have shameful faith in the liberal ‘voice’ they read, hear and see being completely trustworthy.

    The sad factor is “the ‘haves’, observing the language used to justify increasingly draconian practices being imposed on the welfare recipients, believe they should get more as the ‘dole bludgers’ are ‘wasting’ the support they are receiving” are workers, ordinary people who will not benefit much from the tax cuts but who are appalled at the handouts to Aborigines without having met one, shocked that moslem refugees get higher welfare handouts without believing labor lefties like me.and my bullshit about the rabbott’s debt etc shameful faith in the liberal being trustworthy.

    Unless Albo can address the economic lie the last 6 years will be forgotten and scummo will get the obligatory second chance
    .Already the labor are wasting time on penalty rates. Just playing. The pynenut fucked the subs to break the unions in SA and now is getting for a reward encourage the morning shows to go for him let the hungry media do your dirty work, go for the loonies over their cash grab quietly but make sure all labor party members know about the reason for the timing of bobby’s trip and show them the profits for di’s boys.

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