Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Sunk Costs of Stinkin' Thinkin'

Certain characteristics are common to all families who are characterized by substance abuse and addiction.  The central character is, of course, the addict, whose addiction and behaviors regularly cause damage to himself and to his family unit.  The pain of the damage caused is the sort of stimulus that would cause reasonable people to try to get to the root cause of the damage and to effectively fix it.  However, a family marked by substance abuse is not reasonable, for as the addiction of the addict progresses, so do his efforts to "train" the members of his family to avoid squarely and honestly facing the root cause of the damage.  Instead of looking for an honest, effective remedy, the family is therefore trained simply to try to control the damage caused by the addict while ignoring the root causes.

A straight-up discussion of root causes is usually off-limits in such families.  These families are not marked by very much honest self-appraisal and self-reflection.  Such self-reflection might provoke an existential crisis, otherwise known as "decompensation," so it is usually avoided like the plague.  Instead, when the family experiences the pain of a fresh episode of damage, they are also trained to look for scapegoats on whom they may project their frustration and anger for the pain they are suffering.  When the family encounters any honest outsider who is willing to openly name the root cause of the family's pain, the family will often unleash a barrage of blaming, scapegoating, projection, and creation of drama in order to deflect attention from the actual "elephant in the room."  As the damage caused by the addiction increases over time, so energy spent in damage control and blame-shifting also increases over time.  This energy and effort represents a sunk cost, that is, it represents resources spent in an activity that yields no genuinely productive results, resources which, once spent, can never be recovered.  Sooner or later the cost of damage control increases to the point where it can no longer be sustained, where the cost of further damage control exceeds the necessary pain of repentance.  At that point, in many cases, both the family and the addict can be said to have "hit bottom."

America's addiction to guns and violence reminds me of the dynamics of a family controlled by substance abuse.  Our fascination with guns and violence springs from the original sins which led to the founding of the United States, sins which this nation has enshrined and glorified rather than acknowledging them as sins.  Moreover, throughout our history, this addiction has led to regular episodes of ever more frequent damage, and ever-increasing pain.  Yet the discussion of the root causes of that pain is off-limits for many members of American society, who will react by blame-shifting, scapegoating, projection and drama creation whenever the subject of root causes is mentioned.

So there was another mass shooting last week; so we also see the attempt to honestly discuss root causes drowned out in yet another flood of drama and blame-shifting by people who would rather die than give up the "freedom" of their addiction.  But there is no discussion of the sunk costs of that addiction.  Yet people who seek to behave as adults should be aware of those sunk costs.  And people who have adult responsibilities involving the safeguarding of life and property have to be aware of those costs.

I am thinking now of the vast number of people addicted to right-wing Kool-Aid in this country who even today deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change, who are unaware that some of the adults who care for them are required to take the effects of man-made climate change into account.  They watch Fox News and listen to their favorite talking heads in environments whose air conditioning was designed by members of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, and they don't realize that for the last few years, ASHRAE handbooks and design guides have begun to address design of HVAC systems for a changing climate.  Why has ASHRAE done this?  Because they are part of design teams who have to design built spaces to withstand the damage done to our climate by our addiction to materialism.  If their designs are inadequate, this results in legal liability.

In the same way, those who design the built environment have, for the last several years, been forced to begin to design built spaces which mitigate the effects of this nation's addiction to guns and violence.  This can be seen in certain building codes such as NFPA 72 (authored by the National Fire Protection Association), which, several years ago, added a section dealing with requirements for mass notification systems in service buildings used by the public.  There is also the increasing attention to architectural design responses to the growing "active shooter" threat (see this, this, and this).  If active shooter incidents continue to increase in this country, I am sure that we will begin to see changes to State building codes requiring explicit design measures for all buildings in which people congregate, whether public or privately owned.  Some of these codes will require expensive retrofits of existing buildings and structures.  There will also be the increased costs of insuring and indemnifying such spaces.  This will greatly increase the cost borne by your average Joe Sixpack as he undertakes a journey to any built public space in his Chevy truck with his Confederate flag flying from the bed and his NRA sticker on his bumper.  He will grumble at the increased cost of going to places (and especially of being allowed entry into those places), yet he won't be likely to make the connection between his enjoyment of "freedom" and the increased cost of that freedom.  Meanwhile citizens like him who live in some of the other "developed" countries won't have to pay such costs, because they aren't all armed to the teeth and most of them aren't unstable.

Perhaps the discussion of monetary costs might actually persuade the masters of our addicted society to take a good look at themselves, because the human costs of our addiction to guns and violence has not had any effect so far.

1 comment:

Aimee said...

This is a fascinating and insightful post. As an addict myself I can recognize the family dynamics you speak of, and I think the generalizing to a societal level is probably quite sound. Also it was enlightening (and frightening!) to learn of the "adaptations" to mass violence such as new building codes. Forwarding this to my brother (who writes a blog you'd probably