Hot Topics

Wednesday, Jan 22 2014 11:00 PM

BRIK McDILL: Before setting off to find a cure, know if your problem is curable

It seems Bakersfield has some kind of dubious distinction for both drunken driving and pedestrian deaths.

Supervisor Leticia Perez says she's setting out to find a cure. A word about cures: Before you embark to find one, make sure you're not dealing with something incurable. What do we know about pedestrian deaths? The majority result from reckless jaywalking, drunken driving or both. As tragic as an accident or death can be for the victim's families and loved ones, there isn't any externally applied or traffic-engineered cure for not looking for a crosswalk or drinking and driving. No matter how ingenious the traffic or pedestrian engineering may be, the reckless will still jaywalk and the irresponsible will still drive drunk.

We've been getting drunk from time immemorial and driving for well over a century, and we've never found a remedy for the joining of the two. We can make street lights brighter, pedestrian crosswalks more numerous and better striped. We can fiddle with bus stops and speed limits and do all sorts of street and traffic modeling; but how all of this will eliminate drunken driving or middle-of-the-block shortcutting have yet to be shown.

We are beset with political leaders who rush to solve problems, but in their headlong rush they hop and flop around, coming up with cures that don't fit the illness.

For example: gun control. Drilling into the data, we find that not a single solution enacted, practically speaking, would have prevented a single mass killing. Don't get me wrong: It's not that I'm against gun control, but it's hard to imagine how much political effort and legislative budget have been utterly wasted chasing foolishly conceived remedies, not to mention the "opportunity costs" associated with irrelevant or unimplementable laws. What's an opportunity cost? It's a lost opportunity to do something else that might have actually worked. It's the thing that could otherwise have been done that has proven a benefit but could not now be done because of the expense of the thing found to be useless. And we are drowning in useless enacted things.

A second aspect of opportunity cost is the expense curve that rises quickly when the easily solved parts of a problem get solved, leaving the more difficult parts that can be solved only at increasingly greater and greater expense of time, effort and money (also known as reaching and surpassing the point of diminishing returns).

Moreover, we get creatively blinded by many things. Among them is what's called "functional fixedness." In part, that's the habit of thinking that something can be done only one way, or that a tool can be used only one way. There's also "group think." That involves a group believing that their consensus on an approach to a problem is the best and only approach ever conceived; and no one stands up to debate it. Everyone reinforces everyone else's opinion. They stop thinking, and other -- perhaps better -- approaches are left unthought of. There's "manager pressure" cutting off brainstorming when the leader weighs in with their plan and others decide it wise to shut up. In every group there's the "discussion dominator" -- the one who won't zip it and let others in on the discussion. Often it's the quiet, thoughtful ones taking their time mulling things over who might have the key to a cure, but they're drowned out by ones who think they're the golden boy with golden key.

Let's have our local politicians slow it down and think a bit (actually a lot) about what the problem is that they're attempting to cure. They should see if there's a true connection between the problem and their proposed cure, run some small-scale or local trials to see if there indeed is a connection, and then put something together that might actually work.

Since we've found a cure for neither, and likely never will, the reckless and irresponsible will always be with us. For good or for bad, human nature is what it is, and humans are what they are. Let's accept it, take a deep breath and recite together the Serenity Prayer of Assisi, "God grant me ..."

Brik McDill , Ph.D., of Tehachapi has spent 40 years in private practice in clinical and forensic psychology.

Have something to share? Comment on this story

Bakersfield.com Daily Deal!

Mauricio's Grill and Cantina

Daily Deal

$20 for Two Vouchers, Each Good for $20 Worth of Mexican Cuisine at Mauricio's Grill and Cantina ($40 Total Value)

Value
$40
% Off
50%
You Save
$20
35 Bought
Buy Now! See more deals