November 15th, 2009

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How America Is Hurting Itself

This article demonstrates how America's shrinking fault tolerance is causing problems.

Army Sends Infant to Protective Services, Mom to Afghanistan
Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service: "US Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson, a single mother, is being threatened with a military court-martial if she does not agree to deploy to Afghanistan, despite having been told she would be granted extra time to find someone to care for her 11-month-old son while she is overseas."


Let's take a look at how shortcomings in one area extend to cause problems elsewhere.

1) Alexis Hutchinson is a single mother. If she belonged to an immediate family with one or more other adults, she would have someone to watch her child so that she could deploy. One parent plus one child is a family system with no fault tolerance; this interferes with the parent's effectiveness on the job. The number of single-parent households is increasing, which means that there are more and more instances that directly oppose a parent's responsibility to their child and their job; and of course a job is pretty much required to support a family.

2) Alexis Hutchinson also seems to have an insufficient extended family. The only person she could find to watch her child was her own mother -- who was already overburdened with other duties. If Alexis had a larger extended family, there would be more people available for child care and other forms of social support. Extended families are fragmenting; like the rise of single-parent households, this lowers the overall fault tolerance and makes it increasingly difficult to find support when it's needed.

3) Now consider this: "According to the family care plan of the U.S. Army, Hutchinson was allowed to fly to California and leave her son with her mother, Angelique Hughes of Oakland. However, after a week of caring for the child, Hughes realised she was unable to care for Kamani along with her other duties of caring for a daughter with special needs, her ailing mother, and an ailing sister." That is, Angelique Hughes was already caring for THREE people with some kind of serious health issues that required special attention. Adding an infant was more than Angelique could handle. If America provided better health care, the burden of caring for those people would be reduced or removed; that would have left Angelique free to take care of her grandson so that her daughter could deploy. If Alexis had one or more other adults in the household, it wouldn't have been necessary to ask Angelique to take the baby; and if they were all part of a larger extended family, they would have not only been able to cover the baby but probably lighten Angelique's load as well.

4) The military is having a hard time finding enough personnel to meet what the citizens and government are asking of it. This is causing the acceptance of people who probably should not be in the military, deployment of people who probably should not be deployed, rushing of people to deployment in ways that cause other problems, and mistreatment of soldiers who are unable or unwilling to deploy. That's another failure of fault tolerance. If there were enough personnel, there would be less pressure to deploy people under inadvisable circumstances.

5) The military is not treating people very well. The citizens often don't treat soldiers any better. Vital services are often lacking, accommodations for people's needs are often unavailable, and emotional abuse is common. If soldiers were treated better by the military and the citizens, it would be easier for the military to attract and retain personnel. If soldiers were treated better, they would also have more resources to solve problems and stay in good physical and emotional shape so they could serve at peak performance.

6) When soldiers are pushed beyond their ability to compensate for the demands, their performance suffers both at home and in the field. Exhausted, destitute, unwell, domestically shattered soldiers are less effective in combat and other missions than soldiers who are rested, in good health, financially secure, with a stable home life. If the military had not forcibly separated Alexis Hutchinson from her child, then she would be in better shape to serve.

7) When the military focuses only on physical presence and obedience, again it degrades the quality of its own soldiers. No responsible parent would willingly abandon their child without making appropriate arrangements for care. A parent who did blithely abandon their child would be unfit to be trusted with anything important. Because the military does not care about soldiers' condition, it often fields soldiers who are not in good shape, and further degrades their capacity through mistreatment. So then the fighting force is less effective in the field and more likely to cause problems on return. If the military was more careful with its personnel, and paid attention to their condition in addition to their presence and obedience, then it would have a more effective force and one less prone to causing embarrassing -- or even fatal -- problems at home.

8) When children's needs are neglected by the adults around them who hold all the power, their ability to grow and thrive is impaired. They are then likely to develop emotional and/or physical problems due to that stress, which will make life more difficult for everyone around them and which are often costly to fix -- if indeed those problems can be fixed or if treatment is even made available to them. That eats into future fault tolerance by turning potentially productive people into burdens. If the military had not forcibly separated Alexis Hutchinson from her child, then he would not have been harmed by separation from family and placement in an unfamiliar environment. If Alexis had one or more other adults in the household, and/or a larger extended family, then she could have left the child with someone trusted and thereby avoid the harm.

9) In general, America is sliding farther towards a state in which few people care about anything but their own wants and needs. Loyalty is punished more than rewarded. People who do have strong ties are used up, crushed, and discarded. Society demands that people perform regardless of their abilities or resources. It does not provide an adequate safety net. And then society is shocked and angered when people break down in so many different ways, and systems fail to perform up to expectations. The fault tolerance goes down and down, so that it takes smaller and smaller challenges to knock something out.

What we are doing is not decent, and it is not sustainable. We are using up the human resources of this nation in appalling ways. As people get used up, they become less functional, then nonfunctional, then actively problematic. That throws more weight onto the remaining shoulders, wearing out people even faster. No matter how much you think something is "not your problem" and you don't care if someone else gets hurt, all things are connected and problems DO swing around to impact other people including you. "Every man for himself, and devil take the hindmost" is not a society; it is anarchy, which is neither pleasant nor admirable nor very long-lived at all.

We have got to find more effective ways of making sure that people's basic needs get met, so that they are then able to fulfill their responsibilities. We must rebuild the social safety net and our family ties so that one problem does not become a cascading disaster, but is instead resolved safely and effectively.