The tyranny of unsolvable problems
January 21, 2023•676 words
There is a certain liberation one feels when realizing that some, if not most, problems do not really have a solution. There is no "oddly satisfying" fit of a missing puzzle piece that is needed to make it all work. The problem may not even be difficult or intractable; it's simply that our mechanical, technical, analytical, and engineering minds are accustomed to thinking that problems can be solved. But in fact, most problems don't have a solution in the way you would want.
I risk igniting one faction or the other by citing examples, but you can pick any of today's hot issues and a sane, rational actor should come to realize that these problems don't have solutions in the technical sense, and they will perpetually live in a state of oscillation. Topics like abortion, immigration, or personal vs. population health don't necessarily incite me to emotional unrest because if you juggle the topic longer than three seconds you should come to realize just how intricate they are. Abortion is easy: on the one hand you're semi-luridly curtailing some wonderful biological process, but on the other hand biological life is cheap, manufacturative, and at the mercy of its bearer, so agency in a scientific world is warrantable. That one can't simultaneously hold both positions and riles up at another's stance is signs that one has not yet been liberated from the tyranny of unsolvable problems.
There is an uneasy sort of ferocity to insisting that problems have solutions. This is largely the generic basis of all political debates around the world. One faction states the solution is simple, obvious, and clear, and the other says, well hold on just one minute. Accepting that most problems don't have solutions is not an emotionally gratifying state to live in, so most people innately reject this stance. I don't blame them. I too would rather live in a world where the callous, brazen temperament of nature is not fact but a hell of our own creation. This would at the very least allow for some semblance of optimism towards our future. And when this optimism and hope is met with "well hold on just one minute" resistance, the faction wishing for a better world erupts in various forms of unrest, perhaps driven by a visceral impatience. Believing the myth of original sin—that is, that earth is a hell of our own creation—and that problems have solutions which are impeded by avarice, thus results in a violent clench on opinion which no physical or logical force on earth could break, other than another myth to supersede it.
But shall we then throw our hands in impassive despair at every problem because we realize it is unsolvable? No, I suppose not. But even the idea that one makes "progress" on these issues by debating them is largely mythical. How does one make "progress" on the issue of the value of unseen biological organisms or their future migration? There is, in my view, only oscillation. Give human civilization a million years of debate and progress on abortion and I promise you that even if a highly-scientific future society emerges where abortion can occur bereft of a second thought or an ounce of societal compunction, some local prophet will eventually emerge that will preach the value of all life and "open society's eyes" to life's precious nature—if for no other reason than a prophet's need for some sort of unique agenda to differentiate themselves.
If you find yourself getting heated about problems-of-scale (which are usually what all political problems are about), it may be sign that you are trying to be a "good person," which may sound comforting but is in fact worth introspection because good and bad are, unsurprisingly, problems without solution. Your desire to be optimistic about the world, and thus deduce—nay, enforce—that all problems have solutions and that bad people are impeding their progress, results in a restive and turbulent disposition that in the aim of trying to make the world a better place tomorrow, makes it less so today.