Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Problems versus Challenges

Some time ago, problems went extinct. A devastating wave of optimism swept in Challenges and having no natural predators they soon overwhelmed the world of problems. The assault was so pervasive and aggressive that the slow and at time graceful problems were wiped out en masse.

Problems were an ancient race of phenomena. They manifested themselves as troubles that this world faced from time to time and were quite appropriately dealt with; with concern, gravity and deep analysis. The ecology they thrived in was called context and it was an ecology of great richness, complexity and history. It was also a demanding ecology that required of it’s inhabitants that they be informed and educated, aware and empathetic. Such a world is a world full of questions. But a world full of questions is bad for the economy – they make people think.

Purveyors of the economy do not like thought as that contains within it the option of not participating in choice. The economy depends on people making choices – not on people opting out of making choices or worse still coming up with their own.

Under the guise of ushering in an era of easy happiness – challenges were slipped in. They were said to be more optimistic – they needed only to be overcome – it was just a question of will and a bit of shrewdness perhaps. And therein lay the infection – just waiting for a host to burrow into and devastate. For, while problems carried within themselves the seeds of their own resolution – challenges are by their very nature a slap in the face; a gauntlet thrown down. They are to be confronted and overcome by sheer force of will. It is a confrontation – not to be resolved – but to be split in two: winner – loser. Or cleverly avoided and left behind in the pious optimism that in being avoided they have ceased to exist.

Unfortunately challenges defeated and challenges spurned do not cease to be. They infect you by becoming a permanent condition of conflict. You have always to be exercising that force of will and the strategy of escape; else you become the infected; the hunted; the loser. The challenge cannot survive without it’s host – it needs you; the challenged, to stay alive. Only when you die does the challenge die. This is appropriately apocalyptic but it is also economy friendly. As long as you must exercise the force of will and the strategy of avoidance you have to make choices – anything to try and get away from the challenge of having to deal with challenges – So much snake oil to buy.

However the greater tragedy lies in the ever accumulating stockpile of challenges. Like nuclear waste they seep into the environment and cause other organisms to grow sick through mutations and disease. They are quite impossible to store safely – prolonged and excessive use of ‘prozacs’ are proving ineffectual and self-destructive. Challenges refuse to be ignored – they simply return to haunt you in another disguise.

At the macro or social level challenges turn into ghettos. They become a case of the immovable object meeting the irresistible force. They become the North African youth throwing gasoline bombs meeting French police throwing rubber bullets – neither knowing what exactly would constitute the end of the challenge. What does overcoming the challenge look like in such a scenario?

It becomes corporate profit driving out cost from the system – what constitutes victory? What do we do when we have reached the smallest unit of cost? Is the final challenge getting profit from nothing?

The world of challenges is a cynical world. It banishes you to a world without redemption. You either overcome or you are overcome. There is no way of coming to terms with your environment – you cannot opt out of the choice. Pick up the gauntlet or die.