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How Much Does a New Idea Weigh?
[Analysis] What is needed is a good balance between thinking and doing
Layne Hartsell (prose)     Print Article 
Published 2008-12-28 10:02 (KST)   

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In the last few years, a kind of social mantra has begun due to recent mass awareness of important issues. The mantra says that we need new ideas to solve the obvious social, economic and environmental crises that societies are presented with. There is a kind of frenzy for new ideas where groups are giving awards and money to people who come up with the next big idea. Developing new ideas is good, but it can have a tendency to delay actual progress.

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Certainly, it is natural when people become aware of a new social issue, or new information, they begin to try to think of new ideas to address the issue. Ideas are the beginning of action. However, what is new is the fact that society has become fully aware of the issues; the issues themselves have been thoroughly known and many solutions have been waiting for popular support.

It is true that society is in need of new ideas, big ideas, and innovation which is directed towards meeting certain clear and present crises. New methods and developments applied to human need will make life better. It is also true that there already are plenty of good ideas available; however, there is a need for the application of those great ideas. Some of the ideas are stunningly simple, and others are quite complex.

What is needed is a good balance between thinking and doing. Overproduction on thinking without actual testing, experimentation and application in society leads to sterility. If idea making and debate are largely in the realm of the mind, then society should pay little attention to ideas. However, if the ideas are brought to bear evidence in actual production in society, it is the responsibility of society to pay attention. And, fundamental to society are individuals.

Ideas and Action

What is needed is a good balance between thinking and doing.
There is no doubt that social issues, such as those related to the environment, economics and conflict resolution are in need of solutions. However, it is further asserted that many excellent ideas are not only on paper, but are highly developed through thoughtful consideration and testing, thus waiting for the general society to pick them up as a cause or as a mass integration into lifestyles.

Listed below is a small selection of important issues with a complex solution (social, tech) and a simple (individual) solution. The list is far from exhaustive on what is already available. In all of these cases, in the past, mainstream society has accepted the position of politicians, fanatical religious leaders and business over science. And, society has worked hard to marginalize activists and social workers who have made great sacrifices to raise public awareness. Hence, certain consequences, some devastating, have arisen because of the lack of critical thinking and complicity of society.


The modern idea of microcredit was developed by Dr. Muhammed Yunus in the 1970s. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The methods of the Grameen form of microcredit have been applied under varying conditions in numerous countries providing ample evidence of a successful idea for the alleviation of poverty and to provide a basis for the end of poverty. To advance this cause a complex solution is to develop a social and green stock market. A simple solution, which anyone can do, is to invest in microcredit banks.


Society is in need of better ways of producing and using energy, and has been for decades. However, the limiting factor has not been better ideas or technology, but society itself. Complex solutions can be found in any number of interesting technologies from photovoltaics to the harnessing of wave or tidal energy. A simple solution is to be found in the choice to significantly reduce consumption. By limiting the use of automobiles or airplanes, much could be done to save energy. There are also added benefits because there will be an increase in demand for accessible, comfortable public transportation, there will be less air pollution and less destruction of the environment and people, usually indigenous peoples, in areas where oil corporations operate.

Food and Water

The overproduction of food on the planet is a rarely discussed fact in the mainstream media leading people to believe that there is a food crisis based on a lack of production. The truth of the matter is that there is overproduction. The lack is created by the fact that much of the food goes to feed livestock and lack is artificially created by corporate control of markets. The "free-market" has been overwhelmingly focused on profit rather than providing for the needs of people. The complex solution is a complete regeneration of the market, which is underway, and a better distribution of food. A simple solution is the conscious choice to forego meat which requires much input. The feed and water that would go to fatten livestock can be used to feed people (also there is the consideration of the massive fossil fuel use to produce meat). For example, it takes 17lbs. (7.7kg) of grain, and more than 2,500 gallons (9,463L) of water to produce one pound of beef in the US. Rather than one, potentially unhealthy meal of a large steak for one or two people to indulge in, many healthy meals could be produced for many people to survive on.

Climate Change

The fact of climate change, caused by human activities, has been known for decades as reported by the most respected scientific organization in the world, The National Academy of Sciences. Until recently, President Bush called into doubt the scientific findings. The multiplex solution, whatever it may be, is becoming more difficult as denial and inaction continue. A combination of public organizing or activism along with scientific innovation in solar, wind, geothermal and tidal technologies will be needed to address the issue. The simple solution can be found in a serious reduction of the use of fossil fuels.


Effort will require certain sacrifices
There has never been a better time for massive application than now; this statement, not as cliche, but based on the gravity of current issues. The lack of leadership on the part of politicians and the lack of individual will in the citizenry to use scientific evidence as guidance (rather than self serving opportunism) will have to be significantly overcome. Also, individuals with have to widen their intellectual inquiry and end their subtle agreement with the media which says, "tell us only what we want to hear." Until the will comes forth, especially in the developed countries, people will continue to be dazzled by new thinking, rather than impressed by the determination to implement the best ideas in a concerted effort to do something. Effort will require certain sacrifices.

There are great solutions already available, and they will remain only great ideas until they are put into action.

Layne Hartsell has graduate degrees in biomedicine and developmental psychology. He works in education and social work with his wife, Patcharin Chaimongkol. They live in South Korea and Thailand.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Layne Hartsell

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