Monday, October 02, 2006

Why so many good ideas fail

"The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind."
- Maya Angelou, writer, actor (1928- )

The need for change seems to be on the minds of many people these days.

We need change in the ways we deal with our environment, with the way we use so much fossil fuels and contribute so much to the accumulation of greenhouse gases.

We need changes to our political system so that corruption is not possible. Or we need more honest politicians.

We need changes in the way nations communicate with each other so that solutions to problems may be found before two sides that are deaf (or invisible) to each other face off in war.

We need changes to the process of globalization so that multinational corporations don’t set up fiefdoms in poor countries and use their cheap labour while polluting their water, their air, their bodies and tossing them away when they become disabled as a result of lax safety.

We need changes to our attitudes, to our ways of shopping, to the form of faith to which we adhere.

Or not. No one can be completely certain that any of these changes are an absolute necessity.

But if they are, why can they not come to pass? Never mind global warming as an evil, we are polluting our air so that we can’t breathe properly, our children get asthma, elderly people die because they can’t get enough oxygen into their lungs, and everyone is subject to illness that would not be necessary if we had cleaner air to breathe.

Pick up a magazine or newspaper or listen to radio or television any day and you will hear all manner of arguments about why we should clean up our air. Why is it not happening?

The reason is that those who provide the science behind any of these proposed changes know nothing about sociology. Sociology is known as a "soft science" because the supporters of the "hard sciences" aren’t sure that sociology is worth anything to anyone.

Allow me to provide some examples of those who know their sociology and use it with magnificent success. Advertising agencies. Supporters of war (though it’s usually those at or near the top who actually manipulate the minds of the war mongers lower down the scale). Leaders of fundamentalist religious sects (remember Jim Jones and the suicide bombers). Leaders of charismatic religious groups.

Maybe even your mother. If your mother or father had a great influence on the values you hold dear today, then they practised the principles of sociology even if they were not aware of them through studies.

How to change people’s minds is one objective of sociology. The people who know it and use it make things happen, often without the people they influence knowing anything about it.

The second reason why perfectly valid and important arguments for critically needed change fall flat is that no one has a good plan to bring change about. That is, major social change requires the approval of a vast majority of the population. A plan that is devised to obtain that approval from the outset is critical for change to come about.

How many people do you think want governments and corporations to continue polluting our waterways and our air? Surely the answer would be near zero. That’s the kind of grass roots level question that needs to be asked of voters, such as in a referendum. On the basis of the results, legislation could be crafted that makes the results into law.

Learn the principles of sociology and get a plan that will garner wide approval from voters and the change you want will happen. OK, so you will have to tell others about your plans. But if your plan includes a change for cleaner air that would reduce health care costly tremendously, people will listen.

Next time you read or hear someone explaining how we must act now to improve our environment, see if they offer a plan. If not, you can be certain that they may be more interested in study grants than in social change.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, striving to bring the issues, the proposed solutions and the plan to every voter.
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