We sometimes fail to see massive changes in society because they occur in response to much smaller—seemingly innocuous—changes. For example, governments at all levels, over time, began to mimic customer service practices originally initiated by businesses. The idea was to streamline the bureaucracy; no one wanted to wait in interminable lines waiting to get or renew drivers’ licenses or pay tax bills. So, governments adopted business practices used successfully (an arguable point) by businesses to speed the process of dealing with customers. Governments’ intent was admirable, but that shift in processes triggered a sea change in governments’ perceptions of constituents. They were no longer taxpayers or individual members of the civic community; they became customers and, over time, consumers. Decisions once guided by moral adherence to the greater good changed into responses to shifts in consumer demand, regardless of the consequences for the broader community. It is that kind of environment and attitude that allows lynching instead of relying on the justice system to determine guilt or innocence and then to respond accordingly.
The paragraph above is a dramatic oversimplification of just one example of ostensibly positive changes leading to unwanted and unintended consequences. Such stuff happens all the time, though. But we are the fabled frogs in a pot on the stove; we do not realize the water is getting hot until it is too late to jump out; we’ve been boiled alive.
Fundamental problems involved in addressing such matters are many-fold: first, we do not pay sufficient attention to incremental changes to realize their impact; second, even when someone sounds the alarm, calling our attention to the problem, we tend not to believe the problem really exists; third, by the time the public tentatively acknowledges the problem, their elected officials often have been successfully lobbied by the beneficiaries of the changes, so they oppose reversing them; and, finally, the public’s insight into the problem tends never to reach the point of truly understanding what the problem is and how it can be rectified. Change becomes permanent, irreversible, and monstrously unsatisfying.
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