Marks and Remarks
Food for the Mind and Eye

No. 0143, October 24, 2017


  What's the Problem?

     "Urban Landscape No. 382"

Copyright 2017 by S.W. Paul Wyszkowski

     I believe I can say without fear of contradiction that all the people in the world, nay, all the creatures in it, share the same desire: to improve on the deficiencies of the status quo, to make the world better even if only just for themselves. Among the more highly evolved species there may be offspring, family, tribe, nation, the species and even the whole world included in that desire but oneself in any case.

     Before undertaking any action in response to that universal desire there's a question that must be answered: "what is the problem with the status quo? how can it be made better?". Aye, there's the rub. Even when the answer seems obvious it inevitably turns out to be more complicated than it appears. Indeed, to some extent it is always indeterminate. We cannot hope to know what is exactly the problem, we can only make a more or less informed guess, an approximation. Which may be and often is good enough for practical purposes. (Note that all problems can be resolved, if only approximately, one way or another. The actually impossible is a limit, not a problem.)

     At least half of the Art of Living lies in determining what, approximately, is the good and necessary thing to do now. (The other half consists of doing it effectively). The intention of an enlightened person, it is said, is to do all that is necessary and nothing that is not. The wisdom of that hinges on the question "what is necessary?". Which cannot be answered until we define for ourselves the problem we want to solve. And even should we conclude that there is no problem, that the status quo is what we want it to be (unlikely as that may be) the problem with that is that the only absolutely certain thing about the status quo is that it will change. (And so will our particular wants, needs and desires.)

     Ever since the ancient Greeks invented critical thinking much of it has gone into consideration of existence of an absolute universal "good" (a.k.a. "God") that would be the ultimate object of desire of all creation, one that does not change but is eternal. Be that as it may (Prickles, our resident critical thinker and an authentic hedgehog, and I are of the opinion that the world actually could not exist without such transcendental desire, but that's another story) be that as it may, there is an infinite gap between the status quo and the realization of any conceivable absolute "good". Which leaves us with endless opportunities to pick specific, finite term goals and to ask, and meaningfully answer, the question "what's the problem? how do we get from here to there?". "And a good thing, too," adds Prickles. Yes, it is.