The 'Ugly' of Progressive Public Policy

In large part, policies currently implemented in many states show a profound misunderstanding of human nature.

Every human being is a living structure made up of at least four components: biology (the physical, the behavioral, a.k.a. what humans do), psychology (the mind, a.k.a. what humans think), social connections (our relationships to other beings), and spirituality (our beliefs in something that transcends, goes beyond the physical).

Each of these components has inherently good features, bad features, and ugly features (the GBU, for short).

In the physical, the bad is illness, disease, genetic defects; the good is excellent form and health; the ugly is deformity, accidents, overdosing, killings, or any such early terminal event that robs the individual of life beyond a few years or that devastates a family by the loss of a provider, a loving companion, and a positive contributor to society.

In the psychological, the bad is mental illness such as chronic anxiety or stress, depression, bipolar disorder, and other non-severe mental disturbances. The ugly is addiction to mind-altering substances or alcohol, severe mental illness such as psychosis or schizophrenia. The good is a well-adjusted, well-informed, well-functioning mind that connects with reality and achieves a good balance between thought and emotion.

In the social, the good is a wise, fair, and positive disposition toward other human beings and creatures of the Earth, the ability to form stable relationships, the desire and the felt need to give lovingly as well as to receive graciously in close intimate relationships. The bad is a poor self-image that impedes spontaneity in human contact, social anxiety, habitual neglect of the other’s needs and wants. The ugly is criminality, antisocial behaviors, verbal and physical abuse of others, and a history of failed relationships in more than one setting.

In the spiritual realm, the good is a positive, personal relationship with the beyond. The bad is a belief that there is nothing more to human life beyond a few years of meaningless existence. The ugly is a radical fundamentalism that turns spiritual matters into weapons of abuse and violence toward other people, the undertaking of “holy wars,” and the embracing and celebration of anti-societal evil.

The policymaker should possess a basic understanding of human nature in order to conceive and implement laws and regulations that promote the good, mitigate the bad, and circumscribe the ugly. There should also be an understanding that the GBU is a fact of life and all three exist in each of us in small, medium, or large measure. For a few, the size of certain components can be extra-small, for others extra-large, or even XXL.

Throughout history, humans have sought to idealize themselves by expecting the good to prevail over the ugly more often than vice versa. We have developed an incredibly detailed understanding of the bad (illness and disease) and the remedies (medicine, psychiatry, neuropsychology, counseling) that mitigate its impact and prolong life. And we have realized, with mixed success, that the ugly often escapes our ability to anticipate it, to comprehend it and, most importantly, to eliminate it.

It is the ugly that, in this day, has known a revival of idealization by some perhaps well-meaning but profoundly ignorant policymakers. The ideas of defunding police, sending social workers to active crime scenes, promoting “safe” drug use, and other idealistic remedies of the ugly, have known a flourishing in recent years, especially in Western society. Moreover, a profound misunderstanding of the complexities of human sexuality has produced a “remedy” that consists of normalization at all costs, which has spilled over into promoting indiscriminate conversions from one sex to another in impressionable individuals who may have had mental disturbances that should have been addressed psychologically, and not surgically.

The situation on the streets of San Francisco and other American cities that are governed by a certain type of policymaker reflects this profound misunderstanding of the GBU and its corollaries. None of the problems of homelessness (living on the sidewalks), drug addiction (illegal, prescription, alcohol), mental illness (severe depression, schizophrenia, other psychotic disorders), criminality (from petty thievery to murder), antisocial behaviors (peeing and pooping in public), and other manifestations of a disordered and suffering human being can be ignored and require targeted intervention.

Everyone, even the most obtuse policymaker, understands the need for intervention. But, for many, that’s where the understanding fails to take into account the GBU of human nature. Some ugly just can’t be prevented, fixed, or eliminated. Some bad has no workable or lasting remedy. The good is not as appreciated as it should be and fails to spread by example. Some people get sick, some die, some steal, some kill, some fail at life, and some cannot live in harmony with other people. Every day. Everywhere.

If the mayors and city councils of the cities plagued by this profound misunderstanding of the GBU were to consider their options through its lens, better policies would be implemented, better laws would get on the books and be enforced, better rules would bring order to their society. We don’t need to torture criminals, but we must remove them from society for as long as it may be necessary to protect the public and in relationship with the magnitude of their transgressions. We don’t need to criminalize the homeless, but we must not tolerate their defacement of other people’s habitat.

Solutions are needed that are tailored to the GBU of human nature. Modular, flexible solutions with varying degrees of intensity, frequency, strength, and severity. Solutions that show a clearer understanding of human nature and, above all, a radical acceptance of such nature -- without fruitless (and dangerous) idealisms and platitudinous statements.

Image: 7th Street Theatre Hoquiam, WA/G. Akers

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