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" … clinging remnants of our previous naivety about the nature of a difficulty …"

Can we all agree that we're surrounded by problems? Might we agree that they seem to be getting ever worse, more intractable? Certainly, the vocabulary of the times seems infused with problem language. The casual invocation of this 'P' word might have, at least to my mind, became a fresh category of problem, for many of the difficulties described as problems really hardly satisfy the criteria for problem-ness. I believe that if we could just clean up our language a bit, many of our most intractable-seeming 'problems' would cease to remain problems. I'm not saying that they might not still exhibit the troubling characteristics of genuine difficulties, but at least, perhaps, we could reduce the overload of problems haunting us.

There's something about a problem that seeks a solution.
Once a difficulty assumes the label of problem, problem-solvers start stalking its solution. Even before anyone steps up to start stalking, the notion seems fixed that there certainly must exist a solution out there somewhere, if only 'we' were clever enough to uncover it. The difficulty with this attitude seems to lie in the inevitable responses people make to it. They start seeking clever solutions. But what if this difficulty doesn't satisfy the definition of a problem? Since problems seem to inexorably carry a solution, although often deeply hidden, it seems obvious that the proper response to encountering a problem might necessarily be to start stalking its eventual solution. But what if the so-called problem isn't really a problem? Will that difficulty necessarily carry a solution, too?

Like the square root of infinity, some apparent problems don't carry an obvious solution, or any solution at all. We might in these cases just carry the unresolvable expression as a curious feature of the Principia rather than expending likely fruitless effort finding THE solution. In other cases, no simple solution seems to exist. One might then choose to deliberately leave the so-called problem unsolved to avoid inescapable externalities associated with actually solving it. We compromise and learn to live with the consequences. These days, with the ever-increasing complexities of our world, I think we more frequently encounter difficulties that cannot be usefully characterized as problems needing solutions. Some of these we declare features and get on with our mildly encumbered lives, but others remain difficulties without apparent discrete solutions. These, I believe, we dare not characterize as problems lest we focus precious energy upon trying and ultimately failing to solve them.

Just because we cannot imagine a solution doesn't mean that we can't take steps toward ameliorating the underlying tangle. We can improve our lot without completely dispatching the larger difficulty. Partisans will ask, "What's your solution for this problem?", goading the unaware into perhaps proposing some grand solution, only later to be vilified for failing to deliver on the grand promise. Of course we'd all like to hear that someone has an idea what The Solution might be, but the whole enterprise reeks of styrofoam. We might more usefully distinguish between actual problems and troubling difficulties and adopt other than 'problem solving' strategies to address them. Not all apparent problems have discrete solutions, and these, it seems can only be made worse by either insisting that they do or mustering a force to go find non-existent solutions, for these seem the very soul of cluelessness.

I can say with great confidence that global warming isn't a problem. I know this because nobody seriously believes that a vanquishing solution might lie out there currently beyond our reach. That said, we do understand some of the steps we might agree to take, which might ameliorate some of the troubling aspects of the difficulty without ultimately solving anything. The search for a solution in this case might be an advanced form of denial, a more complicating extension of the do-nothing denial that came before it. We pick away at these things without the expectations that we might throughly dispatch them and thereby make progress. Some of our actual progress will likely feature acceptance that some previous features will never be recovered and that we'll have to carry these forward unresolved like the square root of infinity. This additional fresh burden might leave us feeling kind of clueless, as if we should have found the solution, but that will probably be little more than the clinging remnants of our previous naivety about the nature of a difficulty that ultimately proved not to be the problem for which we initially mistook it.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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