As a nation, we have been fascinated with the idea of war. The country was forged in a Revolutionary War, held together in a Civil War, took the mantle of global leadership in World War Two. The sides were always clear. We knew who we were at our core.
Now in a culture shift of social media, we more than ever have the opportunity to join up to any number of causes or sides with a push of a button. In a moment, we can be engaged in any number of crusades. And not only can we join the cause -we have all the opportunity to comment at length sharing thoughts and opinions not based in fact, but rather spur of the moment ideas or fleeting notions that seemingly just come to us.
What is happening on social media is just an extension of the American habit of conflating causes with “wars”. not what to blame for our love of war. However, the platform provides a space to jump in and comment.
We have seen it with the “War on Drugs” and its unintended consequences.
Since the early 1980s, according to the ACLU’s original analysis, “marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.”
A war on marijuana in hindsight makes little sense, especially today when we understand the medical benefits and increasing the legalization. And here we are decades later with record deaths due to opioids.
So while the sound bite of the War on Drugs was pithy, the actual effects led to violence and inequality, with little to show for the real reduction in harm caused by dangerous drugs.
The National Institutes of Health reports that “Among the more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2016, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids) with over 20,000 overdose deaths.”
Another “War” in which we have lost our way is the 46-year-old “War on Cancer”. Today we have more cancer than ever, not less.
It seems that when we launch wars, we get caught up with a notion of the war, and yet remain distant from the goals we are seeking to achieve. We are focused on conquering, not solving, the issue; winning battles but not bridging gaps.
Too much is at stake to continually revert to this notion of “wars” on social causes. And one of the worst wars we encounter these days comes in the form of wars of words. This past year has been a nadir for “Us and Them” fights, engaging in wars of words as opposed to collaborating and putting heads and hearts together to solve problems.
As Americans, it’s our right and our job to fight for what we believe. And we need to do speak up to protect ourselves from the many economic, social and physical threats we see across the country.
To confront that reality, we need to step back from the wars and get to work.
2018 needs to be a year of opportunity for each of us to seize leadership in those places where we can make a difference. The steps don’t need to be large, but they need to be thoughtful.
The list is long and be it from food challenged children to homelessness to increasing poor health of fellow Americans. Whatever your passions and interests, do what you can to solve issues creatively.
My commitment to Less Cancer is to guard the evidence-based science; to provide access whenever possible to Americans can better protect themselves; to continue to produce opportunities that provide continuing medical education to physicians, nurses and public health professionals; to engage and inform the public at all levels, including students.
Let’s get to work, not with sharper words, but rather with real and smarter work for a more productive year!