Systemic vs. Transcendent Change

We all want to change the world. Some on a smaller, more personal scale, and some on a much larger scale. If you are working or at least hoping for a better future for yourself, which I have yet to find someone who’s not even hoping, you want to change the world.

The question is how? From a recent discussion I had it seems there are two ways to change the world. Systemic change and transcend change. I am not going to say one is better than the other but I do want to think about the differences as they can be applied to most situations.

To try to give a few simple examples, a faster horse would be systemic change while an automobile would be transcendent. Similarly, a self driving car would be transcendent (not systemic I would argue) to the current car, while a particle transporter, like in Star Trek, would be again, transcendent.

In medicine, a vaccine that prevents and eventually can eradicate a disease would be transcendent, while a better treatment drug is simply systemic.

The discussion of systemic vs. transcendent change came up while participating in a book study in town with a larger group. The book was called “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs” by  Johann Hari. It talks about what started “the war on drugs”.

One important thing to take away from the book, although it’s not often discussed in the book, is the difference between drug users and drug abusers. Users can function relatively normally, at least outside when they are using the drug, similarly to alcohol, while abusers are focused on the drug use only. The abusers cause the problems while the users usually do not.

What I took away from the book was that people abuse drugs because they are missing something in their lives or are trying to cover or forget something terrible in their past (usually).This book focuses on people who are thrown “in the criminal justice system” and labeled as offenders because of their use or abuse of drugs. The book argues that users should be allowed to use while abusers need treatment instead of punishment. To that end, they discuss the legalization of drugs as a potentially good thing for  multiple reasons.

I think that we maintain the system of keeping drugs illegal because we are afraid. We don’t know what people will do if they are using drugs and we don’t know how many people will start abusing drugs if they use them. This is because most of us don’t know anyone who regularly uses drugs while it is easy to find a regular drinker. We know how people will react when they drink and when they drink too much, while trying to guess what someone might do when they have a “serving” of “drug” is a complete unknown to most of us. We are very uncomfortable with the unknown. Determining how to make us more comfortable with this the unknown is something I intend to address later.

I will leave it to you to read the book and draw your own conclusions on the drug war, if it should be continued or if we need to change how we look at it.

For my part, I shared with the group how I am involved with a group that works to provide meaningful relationships and role models into children who are at risk of being exposed to drug use, abuse and could be roped into the sales chain. This is where the statement was made that it seemed I was trying to transcend the problem instead of address the problem of too many people being affected by current drug laws. I conceded that that is indeed the case. I would very much like to transcend the problem. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The fight to legalize drugs would be a systemic change, while making people not likely to abuse drugs in the first place, would be the transcended change. I think both systemic and transcended change are both important in most situations.

When you look at a problem. How should you address it? Obviously there is not one right answer. For some situations, the systemic change is important. For other situations, the transcendent is important. Being aware of which change you are trying to drive and being aware of the different types of change and what they are affecting are very useful to helping you set goals for your work.

What types of things are you trying to affect these days?
Are you doing systemic change or transcendent change?

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