Cures that cause their diseases

April 22, 2019 by Joshua
in Blog

I’ve meant to write this pattern: behavior that causes the problems that the behavior is supposed to solve.

Trying to strengthen an arch by supporting it from below. Arches derive their strength from the pressure its elements put on each other. Supporting its elements from below reduces the pressure between elements and weakens the arch.

parts of an arch

I think shoe makers love this effect. They sell shoes that purport to support your foot’s arch, which weakens it, which leads you to seek more support, which sell more shoes.

You can avoid this death spiral by strengthening your foot arch muscles instead of atrophying them.

Holding teachings responsible for student results in high stakes testing. This practice comes from believing that more accountability of teachers motivates them to teach more effectively. It sounds plausible, but doesn’t work. It motivates teachers to teach to the test, which lowers student morale an engagement. It leads planners to test more.

The practice worsens student learning, which leads administrators increase the practice. Yet another death spiral.

Imprisoning small-time, non-violent drug dealers. Sometimes prison helps, I presume, but when the person dealt drugs out of lack of options, a prison record would seem to make finding a new job more difficult, leading the person to deal drugs more.

Another death spiral.

Prohibition, either alcohol historically or marijuana today. Making something people like and have used since long before the country was around illegal leads people to do it illegally. Illegal means secret and more difficult to track. More people end up doing it.

Safe spaces and free speech zones. Designating one area to be a free speech zone implies that other places are not. While sounding like the policy is designed to promote free speech, it suppresses it everywhere else. Ironically, in the U.S., the Constitution says everywhere is a free speech zone.

Flying to see relatives more. Many people claim that relatives living far away force them to fly–never mind the pollution flying causes.

Once the family member lives flying distance away, flying may be the only practical way to visit, but why do family members live so far away? Because flying make living far away possible.

So flying creates a problem (living away from people we care about) that it claims to help solve. We live far from people we care about for the reasons we think we see them more.

Protecting kids from all harm. The strategy sound plausible. If any injury could end an athlete’s competitive drive, you’d think reducing a that athlete’s risk would enable him or her to improve their life. It seems plausible to me that reducing kids’ risk would help them.

But we learn partly from our mistakes. Removing the chance of mistakes removes chances to learn, which can lead parents to protect their kids more.

I expect there are more such patterns. I’ll edit and post more in this post as I come up with them.

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