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Sunday, January 24, 2016

"War on _______"

We've all heard about the...

...War on Poverty

...War on Drugs

...and now, after the President's state of the union speech, the...

...War on Cancer.

I have a problem with all of these (and other, similar "Wars").

Now having grown up in relative poverty, I am not advocating it for anyone.  Also, I don't take drugs, mostly because I like having my wits about me (what little I possess).  Last but not least, I certainly know that cancer is a horrible affliction that takes far too many lives before their time.

My problem specifically is with the whole notion of the United States declaring "War" on something other than another nation.  Another nation can be fought and actually defeated in a war, and there is a certain concrete nature to the idea of an adversary that will engage with you in a way that is similar to how you will engage with them.  Wars have rules, even if those rules are broken.  Mostly though, those kinds of "Wars" can actually be won.

How do you defeat a state of living poverty?  What exactly would victory look like, anyway?  No one being poor any more?  By that definition a "War on Poverty" is doomed from the start, as it simply can't be won.  There is barely consensus on what poverty means.

How do you defeat a desire of some people to want to use illegal (and abuse legal) drugs?  Heck, given that learned folks on this topic (including the United States Federal Government and most researchers...see HERE and HERE) believe that drug addiction is a disease, how does our main weapon in this conflict, namely putting people in jail for mostly selling (but sometimes using) drugs help to win the war?  It's just not realistic or practical to use jail as the primary tool to win this fake "War", although we are certainly trying...


...without much success, as drug abuse continues to get worse, not better.  We're left with another unwinnable "War".

Then we have the "War on Cancer".  Like the other two "Wars" I've mentioned, there isn't a single adversary to fight in this fake conflict.  Cancer can be caused by lifestyle choices, by environmental factors, by genetics and even by biological agents (see HERE).  Who or what are we fighting in this "War"?  What would victory look like, by the way?  No cancers at all, ever?

Look, in the end it could be argued that I'm getting all worked up about semantics, and that's a fair criticism.  However...and this is a big however...words do matter.  Politicians like to use phrases like "War on _____" in part because they think the population is basically stupid and will fall for just about anything that relies on a patriotic or emotional appeal.  "War on Cancer" simply sounds better coming out of a politicians mouth than "the deployment of significantly more resources to identify and develop solutions for the causes of many forms of cancer".  It's also easier than saying "All of us need to get healthier in order to prevent some forms of cancer" as well.

I want less poverty.

I want fewer addicts.

I want cancer to strike less often.

I also know that we can do all of those things, but it will be result of smart people working together to come up with solutions that will be tried, adjusted and tried again.  It will require effort and money, not cheap sloganeering designed for the lowest common denominator of American intelligence.

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