The world faces many problems – some of these are root problems which, if we strike at them first, will make it far easier to solve many other problems. The following things have been mentioned in feedback to this site:
"At the root of many social problems is an economic system that is based around the pursuit of profit instead of the pursuit of human happiness or some other value. This leads to all manner of problems such as war, poverty, unemployment, poor allocation of resources, the waste of human potential etc. This form of production also leads to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small minority of people, which in turn leads to their control over the media and political agenda etc.
Creating a better society must start with the development of alternate forms of economic production.
I would see cooperative forms of production as presenting an alternative to market-driven production. Production should take place only to satisfy human needs and desires, rather than satisfying the (insatiable) need to make profit. Profit-driven production means that scarce material resources and human labour are expended on unnecessary goods and services (such as new mobile phones every 6 months, an ever expanding array of destructive weaponry etc) while necessary forms of production are neglected (for example, community services in many parts of the world, renewable energy for much of the last century).
Cooperative production instead would focus on producing only those goods that are necessary and desirable. Socially harmful goods (such as weaponry) would not be produced and natural resources would be used and managed responsibly. Although this may seem utopian, there are very many examples of this type of production working. Elinor Ostrom for example has written extensively about the ability of local actors to manage common pool resources, while there are plenty of historical examples that demonstrate the practicality of cooperative based production. Mondragon is a comon contemporary example, as is the success of the Open Source / Open Hardware movement.
Michel Bauwens' work on Peer to Peer economics is quite a good exposition of these ideas.
For a new form of production to prosper, it must be able to offer participants the basic necessities of life. So we need to be able to get food, clothing and shelter via the cooperative network. This presents us with a critical mass problem, unless a cooperative network is sufficiently developed, it will be unable to take over from profit-driven production. For this reason, it is likely that there would be a period of co-existence with the capitalist system before a cooperative system could exist independently. This again, is what Michel Bauwens hypothesises in his writings.
On a more immediate level, it is worth noting that to start up any productive enterprise requires capital (usually acquired via a loan). This presents significant difficulties to a business that is not interested in earning a profit - what bank manager would realistically lend money to such a business?"
"Money and religion."
"As for the root problems, here's my (completely unhelpful) take: The human race is still very young. We haven't even managed, yet, to see all the other humans as cousins, probably because we are so few generations distant from our expansions out of Africa, which required us to see each other as potential threats.
We just need to grow up. We might not get there, but, for the time being, blundering from one crisis to the next, and shouting "it's not fair!" (in a typically teenage manner) is all we can do.
It's just not fair."
-- Outer rower
"[F]ood insecurity for example is a root problem, especially for the third world. That's pretty fundamental."
-- Dee doo
"Here is another root problem, at least here in the U.S.A. - the legal advertising of prescription medications for profit to the general public. Strike at this root and you help solve:
- health care cost control
- prescription drug abuse and addiction
- uninsured patients
- premature deaths due to overuse of medications
- unnecessary hospital admissions due to medication side effects
- class action lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies based on innapropriate marketing
[rootstrike.com/1] is one subroot, but there are others, such as pharmaceutical companies directly controlling the medical journals, the medical conferences, and the academic medical world, through legal bribery in the form of grants, financial support, "gifts", "honoriaria", "consulting fees", and so on."
"Scarcity of resources."
"But the real problem that underlies the RootStrike problems is that the average person doesn't have the luxury of spending a lot of time thinking about the world's problems, and hence is extraordinarily vulnerable to anyone who offers them a solution that they can believe in, or even a problem statement that allows them to believe that they at least know why things suck, and who to blame.
Getting money out of electoral politics, fixing the media, and stopping online censorship are all things that can happen easily if enough people want it and actually make it a litmus test when voting. But they can't happen at all if people are all caught up in solipsistic fantasies about the world, and aren't willing to pay attention to the world itself. Right now people seem to make their voting decisions based not on the fundamental issues that are important to them, but rather based on ideological labeling."
-- Ted Lemon[I would think this can potentially be traced back specifically to rootstrike.com/2, i.e. the job of media (or if they fail, us) to do a good job at educating people with limited time on issues of relevance? -Ed.]
"Unfortunately, no: this is putting the cart before the horse. Who is the "we" who needs these journalists? How will "we" get them to help us? Let's draw a cause and effect graph, starting with the effect you propose that we want: an informed electorate who can change things for the better. Call this A. B is "journalists change in such a way that they can help us." B causes A. Okay, but what causes B? The answer, of course, is that we need A -- an informed electorate who can change things for the better. So A->B->A. This is circular. There is no initiating actor here.
Of course, this is an oversimplification. Suppose C is a small subset of the electorate who is already well informed. Perhaps C can be the cause of B, which can then be the cause of A. This is a nice, virtuous cycle, and it sounds pretty good on paper.
The problem is that the way we're proposing to reform things is by getting people either to vote for politicians who will reform these systems, or by getting people to write to politicians already in office and give them a strong and (hopefully) accurate impression that they will lose the next election if they don't do something.
But how realistic is that? I don't think it's realistic at all. I don't think any politician in today's electoral environment has any real worry that they will lose an election because they fail to implement these reforms. The reason is that C doesn't currently exist, and so the electorate has no immune system to repel politicians who aren't really working for their benefit. A politician can safely pay lip service to the principles that A is pushing, while never actually taking any effective action to produce B, and hence C will never be produced either.
As long as we put politicians in as intermediaries to do our bidding and make things better, I think it's a losing battle. This is not because politicians are bad people -- I'm pretty pissed off at Pat Leahy for sponsoring PIPA, but he's a pretty good guy. But the people who speak to him most loudly are the legacy broadcast media. Garbage in, garbage out.
What I mean to say is not that we needn't bother to try to change politicians, but that we need to achieve A before we can. Any path to A that involves B isn't going to work because of this.
What I'm getting at is that we need to actually work on a grass-roots organizing movement that operates person to person and tries its damnedest not to get involved in divisive issues. It needs to be a movement that values truth over short-term effectiveness, because propaganda is like a sugar rush -- it gets people all riled up, but it doesn't have any staying power, because all you need to fight it is more propaganda."
"Communication, Wealth, World Parity"
"I think something also to be considered at the 'root' of many of these issues, but which I didn't see mentioned, is how people think in general.
As a teacher one of the things I've identified as a root problem in teaching is that we tend to focus on content over process. That is to say we focus too heavily on pedagogical (didactic) approaches as opposed to androgical (learner directed) and/or heutagogical (meta-cognitive/reflective) approaches. Many of the arguments within education are -- honestly or less honestly so -- reduced to the false distinction between these three, as though all we have to do is agree on one of the three.
In this sense then, and considering your 'root strike' approach, I think it might benefit from also understanding/discussing what cognitive science can add to this discussion if we see people as at the, if you'll forgive me, the root of the root.
For example, I'm sure everyone and their dog will have an idea as to what is a root issue, as well as how to address that root issue and, thus, create their utopia. Yet, at the root of this is what is called 'impressionistic thinking'. The following is from the Foundation for Critical Thinking.
Someone who thinks impressionistically,
follows associations, wandering from paragraph to paragraph, drawing no clear distinctions within its thinking and its writing from moment to moment. Being fragmented, it fragments what it writes. Being uncritical, it assumes its own point of view to be insightful and justified, and therefore not in need of justification in comparison to competing points of view. Being self-deceived, it fails to see itself as undisciplined. Being rigid, it does not learn from what it reads, writes, or experiences. Whatever knowledge the impressionistic mind absorbs is uncritically intermixed with prejudices, biases, myths, and stereotypes.
Such writing and thinking "lacks insight into the importance of understanding how minds create meaning and how reflective minds monitor and evaluate as they write."
I think that for people to, as your site states, "keep discussing all problems, including symptomatic problems" then problems with critical thinking coupled with deeper understandings of how our brains work (and sometimes -- many times -- don't work as well as we'd like to think they do!) is, indeed, such a root issue."
[S. criticizes citizen media as solution in rootstrike 2:]
"[T]here are vast, orders of magnitude difference in power and influence -- a "power law". There is *nothing* done to address the problems of honesty, fairness, accuracy -- in fact, arguably its 1) gotten WORSE and 2) There's a bunch of con-men and hucksters around it trying to justify the corruption and lack of fact-checking because that is more profitable for them and the interests they serve."
"The population needs to have better scientific training and had decent critical thinking skills. These skills would allow them to see through false arguments and weigh facts on their own rather than following sound bites and misleading news stories. We are facing a time of complex problems that will require complex analysis and complex solutions. We do not have a populace that is training to think through these complexities. Therefore, they are easily mislead by media and those who fear losing this quarters profits if rules and regulations are changed. We have viable political candidates who deny science and facts and claim that education is haven for Satan. We will be hard pressed to solve anything with a Mediaeval mindset."
"[S]elfinshness and greed"
"I'm not too attached to the idea of human (or any) biology having to be a prerequisite for an advanced intelligence. I think that life, at least as humans have come to define it, will increasingly become a maladaptive vestige, and a new epoch is emerging. ... It can't come soon enough.
Biological evolution on Earth once relied upon random mutation to bring variation to the clone-pool. Then natural selection (sex and death and uniquity) for a quicker and more consciously guided approach. Then artificial selection, genomics, and so on.
The trend is likely to continue, but none of the above has superseded its predecessor(s). In that sense, humans might coexist with 'higher' life forms and not fully recognize it. For example, societies could be considered an organism taking advantage of resources just as any opportunistic lifeform has always done. ...
Eventually, I suspect life on Earth will be as adept at adaptation as a cuttle fish would be in blending with its environment. Nearly instant, and without needing conscious thought. The nanotech coursing through its bloodstream would sense (and with great accuracy, predict) environmental conditions and make any necessary adjustments. Instant adaptation. Just another phase of evolution on this planet.
After that? No need for a physical receptacle at all I'd imagine. Matter, and any associated maintenance, transportation, etc., would be inefficient and quite an impediment.
No gender, mortality, fear or desire, and eventually, no mass -- at least in any form it would be dependent on. Essentially, it would have no limitations in its abilities to gather information, store it, access it, and process it in an exponential curve toward omniscience, and likely, omnipotence. Maybe a Type V entity on some extended Kardashev scale? In a word: transcendence.
I could see how this wouldn't appeal to humans, as individuality is so highly (though it would seem, superficially) valued. But this Singularity, at least as I can imagine it, would be the ultimate realization of oneness. The Cosmos fully awake and self aware. An individual if ever there was one."
"I have a theory that people endlessly discussing problems like politics, the environment etc etc etc on line actually prevents people getting off their backsides and actually doing something about it.
Change may or may not come through the barrel of a gun but it sure doesn't come through a keyboard."
-- Rob Cornelius
"If you really want a general concept on which to hang everything else, you might want to start with "resilience" -- a property that's sadly lacking in most of our social and ecological systems right now: [PDF at stockholmresilience.org]
Or, putting it all together, you can apply systems thinking to identify what kinds of change are most likely to be effective: [The Power to Change Systems]"
"A biggie I would call a fundamental problem is the issue of cheap, sufficient sustainable energy. Solving that would solve water, waste management, and possibly food. It would make a big difference on many extractable resources by making recycling economical."
"Soil drainage and phytophthora."
"I guess you can do this at different levels of abstraction. On a really abstract level I'd say that human lack of long-term rationality is the biggest root problem. On a more practical level I'd say that alcohol is the biggest root problem, at least in the western world. Worldwide alcohol probably causes about 2,5 million deaths yearly, which is more than all violence combined (much of which involves alcohol). Health issues from alcohol use up medical resources and strain the economy. Millions of children live with insecurity and the risk of abuse in their homes, because of parents who are heavy drinkers. In many cases the child is hurt by alcohol already in the womb.
And what response does the society give to this problem? It puts all the guilt and responsibility for change on alcoholists and risk users! It expects the people who are least likely to be able to abstain to do just that, so the rest can just go on with things as usual. That's a terrible strategy. In order to rid ourselves of this root problem, we have to address it on a cultural level. The part of the population that doesn't have any alcohol problems should be the first to stop drinking, making it easier for the other part, and stop introducing new generations to this destructive habit.
Lack of long-term rationality make people unable or unwilling to draw that conclusion, however.
"The inherent conflict between capitalism and democracy. In one power resides in property controlled by few, in the other power resides in law controlled by all.
The Military Industrial Complex and the global dependency on Oil.
Limited Liability and the Fed."
"I would suggest a lack of public scientific understanding to be a root cause of many pressing world issues, such as global climate change, overpopulation, etc. The lack of public understanding of science may have other root causes, like the anti-science stance of many religious/conservative groups, etc."
"If you educate people then they are more aware of what's happening so it is better to keep people dumb or make it incredibly difficult for them to become educated and if they do become educated then the idea is to keep people in perpetual debt so they don't have the freedom and time to speak out against the government or go protest."
-- Dee doo
"If you're talking about what's wrong with the US democratic process, I would think the things that make people susceptible to the things that this funding buys -- i.e., campaign ads -- is a lot more 'root.' After all, a trillion dollars of dirty money wouldn't have the slightest effect if people could see and understand those ads for what they are."
-- Ambiguity[What is the root problem of people not understanding those ads for what they are? Isn't that part of a job of us -- as in citizen media as part of rootstrike.com/2 -- to help educate on? For instance, already, YouTube is a great place to find user-made ad spoofs and analysis. -Ed.]
"It is often said the money is the root of all evil. I tend to disagree, as I think mankind is fatally flawed. But the subject of money needs more discussion ... .
An ecological catastrophe, the depletion of natural resources, social disintegration and a breakdown of the financial system are at the verge of creating a humanitarian crisis of unseen proportions. The main underlying cause of those developments is interest on money, often called usury.
-- Tom Pendleton
"Root problem: Since 1712 humans have been using fossil fuels to increase our population (to 7Bn) and improve our lifestyles. Right now, we are hard up against two physical limits: we have reached the maximum amount of oil we can suck out of the ground each day (peak oil) and have have greatly exceeded the atmosphere's carrying capacity of CO2 (peak oxygen, if you will).
Neither of these is the 'root' problem by themselves, rather the absence of a clean (no particulates, acidifying gas, heavy metals, CO2, etc.) abundant energy source is. Note that so called 'alternate' energy sources (wind, pv, conc. solar, etc.) are not really 'alternate', since they all have large capital requirements that must, in the short term, be met with fossil fuel energy; thus they are just 'fossil in green clothing' sources. Even if solar PV becomes very cheap, it will never to cheap enough to reverse the damage we have done in time to stave off catastrophe, or even to lift the remainder of humanity out of poverty.
The same argument applies to current nuclear fission technologies (PWR, AGR, pebble bed, thorium etc.), and even more so to the big-budget nuclear fusion efforts (ITER, NIF). The capital expense of these will likely push us over the cliff before they can save us.
We need a crash program to find a clean, concentrated source of energy that scales down to the 1MW level (or thereabouts) which can be manufactured in large numbers by all countries with modest technology.
There are only three *possibilities* that I have seen (they too may turn out not to work): tri-alpha (company), focusfusion.org, LENR. If one of these, or something very like them, doesn't work out then we are probably %$^&ed.
Why have we not solved this problem? a laughably small level of R&D effort; what there is mostly goes into 'conventional wisdom'/'low perceived risk' projects, rather than those that are most promising for producing a useful result. We are killing ourselves with caution. This is probably rooted in the known human 'loss aversion' phenomenon, aided by a healthy dose of wishful thinking. Getting some billionaires to put some of their loot at risk (most would be lost) might help. Funding these risky, marginal projects through politics will likely be impossible until things (climate change, wars etc.) are going obviously, seriously wrong."
"I would offer an economic "root cause," that is, markets fail to allocate resource efficiently unless prices send accurate feedback on the consequences of consumption. There are many ways that prices send incorrect feedback.
1) "externalities" occur when the full costs of production are not reflected in the price. For example, when clearcutting on private land causes erosion and water pollution that moves off-site. This shifts costs of production from the logger to the public, so the price is artificially low, and demand becomes artificially high. If the price of wood reflected the cost of remediating polluted streams, then the price would be higher, the demand would be lower, and fewer streams would be polluted. The climate consequences of fossil fuels would be another huge market failure based on externalities.
2) Health insurance results in excessive demand for services because the insured consumer of health care does not get price feedback when making choices among competing treatments.
It all boils down to this -- the free market only allocates efficiently when markets meet all the assumptions of a "perfect market" which is very rare.
Therefore, a truly "free" or unregulated market will rarely allocate resources efficiently. The solution is government "regulation" to correct market imperfections. "Regulation" is currently a hated buzz-word, but when done right, regulations actually make markets work better. We need to repopularize the notion that we can make adjustments to the market that improve allocation of resources, improve the environment, and enhance overall global welfare.
In the logging example, we need effective government regulation to "internalize externalities" (i.e. make loggers pay for the full costs of production thus ensuring that those costs are reflected in prices). Regulation is also needed to ensure adequate provision of "public goods" like clean water and carbon storage in forests. These goods are essential to the functioning of society, but they are not well-suited to trade in markets, so the government has to provide them either by supplying them from public land (like National Forests), or by regulating private actors so they can't refuse to supply them.
In the medical insurance example, the system needs to be restructured to ensure that consumers of medical services get some kind of price feedback (maybe insured people should pay small-to-moderate a portion of each treatment out of pocket).
"Personally I've always thought that a great number of the world's problems come from a tendancy to see everything in terms of polar logic. 'You're either with us or against us'; 'Either I'm right or he is"; "Either I love Mary or I love Jane'; ...
Most of the world's problems come down to "human nature" or "power vaccum", IMO -- the polar logic thing coming under the first heading. Not sure what we can do about human nature!
As for power vaccuums, and the idiots that fill them, we've been working on that problem for how long now? The workable solutions don't seem to be acceptable. The closest thing we have to a new solution is called Occupy, as someone else here said. And I think it's still a work in progress..."
"[A] big problem is making a system that works on competition as opposed to co operation."
-- Thomas Vesely