Work and Dignity   /   Fall 2012   /    From the Editor

From the Editors

From the Editors

An illustrated hedgehog. Via Wikimedia Commons.

When times are tough, solutions tend to be simple, at least as offered: get a job, get back on the horse, take this pill, work harder, spend less, follow this diet. We are counseled that “less is more,” to “keep it simple” and “just get over it.” But some problems take time to sort out. They do not lend themselves to a quick fix but involve extended attention of some sort—out in the world, at home, or within one’s self. A current running through this issue of The Hedgehog Review is that of the temptations and potential dangers of the quick fix.

Not that quick fixes are inherently bad things—replacing the battery on a beeping smoke alarm is an instantly welcomed quick fix for all present. But taking a pill to address a problem might not be the best path. Sometimes there are systemic issues to address. In the case of child misbehavior, it may be a chronic sleep deficit, over- crowded school conditions, or overstimulation from too much screen time and too many screens. Or it may be that the child does, indeed, need medication. But if the response to emotional and behavioral problems is immediately one of medication, how will these systemic issues be recognized and addressed? If medicine is the only genre of solution, then only one genre of problem will be visible—those that can be fixed by drugs. Julie Zito offers some data on the rising medication rates of children, at younger and younger ages, and suggests medication needs to be supplemented by other modes of care for the young. She also highlights the ways that economic factors may be influencing which children receive which drugs and at what doses and calls for more attention to the many worrisome trends in this area.

Likewise if there are problems with the allocation, valuation, and compensation of certain categories of work, and we focus on simply creating more jobs, when will we address the systemic issues that led to the loss of jobs, as well as to the loss of meaningful work for so many? Providing employment is a good thing; maintaining an unjust system of exploitation, for example, is not. If we look only at the quantity of jobs, and not at the quality of work, we evade the important public question of the role of work in human life. The essays and conversation in our thematic section explore the meaning of work and its connection to dignity; they look at problems related to the qualitative aspects of work that are not susceptible to any quick fix.

The temptation of the quick fix, the easy answer, may lead us to convert all prob- lems into the currency of money, into a financial calculus that allows us to buy a solu- tion. Need admission to an elite university, want to pollute the air, have an organ you want to sell? Such things are being made into marketable commodities. But by this economic transformation, we obscure deeper questions—questions that involve thick concepts like justice, the protection of moral and civic goods that markets ignore, and root problems rather than their epiphenomena. The book forum on Michael Sandel’s recent book, What Money Can’t Buy, provides a discussion of what exactly it is we are missing when all is converted to the logic of exchange.

Even our gallery essay on the timeline speaks to the issue of the quick fix. Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton situate the timeline within an historical context that shows it to be not the natural and neutral presentation of the facts as they occurred, but as one way of understanding, organizing, and presenting time—one that simplifies it for certain purposes and shapes it in such a way as to highlight and conform to certain ideals. The expression “time is money” buys into the economic calculus, but Rosenberg and Grafton show that time is many things, depicted in multiple modes, and constantly being renegotiated as a concept. Timelines can be useful tools, to be sure, but they can also constrain the imagination, obscuring the complex ways in which time is experienced, imagined, regulated, and manipulated.

This issue of The Hedgehog Review explores the lure of the quick fix, the reductionistic ways we look at the problems facing us and the conversions we make so that we are dealing with a familiar and easily paid currency. It also sheds light on the things that are made invisible, lost from view, or distorted before our eyes by these conversions.

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