Why do people (sometimes) come up with Rube Goldbergish ideas of how to fix some kind of problem they are having, instead of doing a fairly simple behavioral change?
I don’t even know if this is the right question for this. But, I was struck by this when I read Razib Kahns post today about how they are thinking about using early genetic screening to test for deleterious genes in Saudi Arabia, rather than simply avoid marrying first cousins. Could not change our mores now, could we. Let’s use complicated, costly technology instead.
As he points out, mores may change, and change rather rapidly (I keep thinking about Cozma Shalizi’s posted series of pictures from Afganistan from the 60’s). But, somehow, that is not what the people here think of first. Is it a feeling that cultures are fixed? An attachment to it? An inability to have a very long time-horizon? (We know that time-horizons can be hard).
I’m reminded about a letter in an advice column that I read a few years ago, here in Sweden. Sweden, of course, having a great deal of social security, and around 2007 or so the former Left party leader, now Feminist party leader were proposing that women should have free tampons and pads, because it was so unfair that women had to spend money on buying this necessity that men don’t need.
Sweden has a thing about unfair, and it has become one of those buzzwords you throw out to get the opponent to lose a bit of their balance. In fact, when my kids use the word unfair it doesn’t seem to really mean that some kind of fairness is at stake, but rather that they don’t like it. Occasionally it is tied to them noticing that a personal advantage is lost (little brother is having a bat AT THE SAME TIME AS ME, UNFAIR). But, I digress!
This woman, who I figure was somewhere in her 20’s (it was that kind of magazine, and you would hardly consider this if you were like close to menopause), asked how she could get a hysterectomy. She was very sure she was not ever going to want kids, and she really did not want to have to pay for tampons. This is where I snort derisively in the privacy of – well it was a pizza place and I was waiting for the pizza to bake and the magazine was there to alleviate my boredome. Anyway, I thought, so, you don’t want to spend a pizza’s worth of money once a month to stem the bleeding (nothing about cramps and other misery that you might want to avoid – avoid spending money was the point), but rather the taxpayers pay for a procedure and then lifelong hormonal treatment. Hmmm.
The advice columnist was much gentler in her response (I probably would have been too, had I been the advice columnist).
But why? What would make someone come up with a complex, dangerous, costly for others idea in order to avoid a minor cost?
I’m sure there are other examples. Some claim that the Japanese creation of more and more clever robots is an attempt to deal with the aging population problem, without having to either produce more offspring or import workers (is that true? I have no idea. I can think of other reasons to want to make cool robots, but then I’m a geek).
There are the nearby phenomena of aspartame and fake fat, and diet pills in order to attempt to attain slimness without having to give up cola and chips, but that is related to some very powerful human drives. It is hard to be hungry. It is hard to resist yummy stuff. And it is hard to find the time to do exercise if that is not somehow built into the day (and given that part of size is driven by things willpower can do little about, understandable).
This is more – cultural perhaps. I have no clearer thoughts about it, yet, but I thought it was fascinating.