Wicked Problems. Might Our Biggest Challenges Be Just Too Tough To Solve?
There’s wicked, like the Wicked Witch. Wicked, as in evil.
There’s wicked, like “It’s WICKED hot!” Wicked, urban slang for ‘very’.
And then there are Wicked Problems; like the European financial crisis, or like the epidemic of obesity, or like climate change. Wicked, as in so huge, so complex, so tangled in conflicts over values and so profoundly the result of inherent human nature, that these problems might not be solvable at all, and the best we can hope to do is cope with them and minimize the harm they do.
I came across the idea of Wicked Problems at the Breakthrough Institute’s ‘Breakthrough Dialogue’ in San Francisco last week. It was one of those retreats that brings together people with diverse backgrounds and views and expertise to talk about how to solve some of the biggest problems we face. The retreat was billed as “Overcoming Wicked Problems.” Spoiler alert; we solved nothing.
But that’s the point of calling them Wicked Problems, the concept proposed in 1969 by urban planners Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber. By definition, a Wicked Problem has immense consequences, but no absolute solution, no right or wrong answer, just better or worse possibilities for dealing with the consequences…and even those adaptations and adjustments require profound changes in how all of society behaves. By definition, Wicked Problems are just symptoms of other deeper problems caused by human instincts and intractable conflicts over morals and worldviews. So you can talk about them all you want, as we did, and propose solutions all you want, which we did, but you can’t truly solve a Wicked Problem. And we didn’t.
Let’s get concrete here. Climate change - one of the topics we tackled - is a Wicked Problem. The likely damage will certainly be wicked (i.e. ‘very’) huge. Climate change is certainly wicked (i.e. 'very') complex. The solutions will require huge changes in the way society and the economy operate. The fight over those changes certainly invokes deep disagreement based on conflicting underlying worldviews and ideologies.
Most of all, climate change qualifies as a Wicked Problem because it is actually just a symptom of a much deeper and even more Wicked Problem, the unsustainable way that seven billion of us are living in a finite physical world, taking too much out of the system, and dumping too much waste back into it. Habitat destruction and the 6th mass extinction in the history of life on earth…desertification and loss of soil…depletion of drinkable water supplies… overfishing of the oceans…these are all just symptoms, like climate change, of unsustainability. And unsustainability is the result of nothing less than each individual’s inescapable animal drive for food and shelter and prosperity and resources in the name of security and safety and survival, which leads us to cumulatively overconsume the fixed resources, and contaminate the systems, on which we depend. The unsustainable way we blindly believe that Growth is Good, and the unsustainable way that leads us to live in a finite world, is probably the Wickedest Problem of all.
The participants at the Breakthrough Dialogue discussed, but didn’t solve, climate change, or energy policy, or environmental conservation. We failed to determine the right balance between free-market capitalism and government intervention in the name of protecting social welfare. I am sad to report that we accepted the historical evidence that unsolvable Wicked Problems usually lead to massive crises…often producing warfare… and it takes such crises to finally force the system to reset and resolve the problem, at least for a while.
Some participants hoped the global financial crisis in 2008, and the European financial crisis now, might force resolution of systemic Wicked Problems with the global economic system. Some hoped the fierce ideological polarization in America might force resolution of the profound political and social Wicked Problems such closed-mindedness and tribalism poses. Some hoped that as the harms of climate change start to become more dramatically clear (how extreme has the weather been where you live these past few days?), those harms might force the species to get off it’s collectively butt and address that Wicked Problem.
There was certainly a common commitment amongst the participants that just because problems are Wicked, we ought not throw up our hands and stop looking for solutions. And there remained a faith in the capacity of the human mind to do so (though no small part of this, at least among some, was smug self-congratulatory “Aren’t WE Smart” intellectual egotism and hubris).
But there was also a refreshing realism at the retreat that trying to solve Wicked Problems may be a wonderful goal, but believing that we actually can may be naïve…dangerously naïve…because faith that we can solve challenges that are massively complex, that create fierce conflicts over values, and which arise from deep instincts over which we have little conscious control…delays us from accepting that the best we probably can do with Wicked Problems like that is get on with figuring out how to cope with their consequences.
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.
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