Life is full of vicious circles. When you get into one, it’s very difficult to get out. Why is it so hard? All vicious circles have two or more components reinforcing each other that give you no incentive to break out. You must be able to identify and break them. Otherwise, they will drag you into a long downward spiral.
Addiction is an obvious vicious circle where your life gradually sinks under its grips. Bad habits leading to addiction include gambling, drugs, alcohol, and smoking. We all know how hard it is to kick a bad habit. The reason is that a bad habit gives you pleasure that prompts you to do more. This causes you to sink deeper each time. There is no incentive to get out until it’s too late. To extricate, you can only rely on your will power and perhaps the support of friends to help you take some drastic action.
Poverty is another kind of vicious circle. It reduces your chances for a better life. Children living in poverty are surrounded by all kinds of vicious circles. First of all, it’s lucky to be alive and healthy after being born in a bad sanitary environment. The schools in poor areas are known to be third rate where gangs recruit and drug dealers push their poisons. Due to substandard education, the chances of getting a job and becoming a productive citizen are very slim. A lot of potential young talents are wasted just because they happened to be born and raised in poverty. Occasionally, few manage to break out by sheer will power, hard work, or special talents. The rest are trapped all their lives, even into the next generation.
What about the insurance business? The operation of insurance depends heavily on a growing market and stable prices, regardless whether it is run by government or by private companies. The business is profitable only if a small minority in the insurance pool incurs accidents requiring compensation. If the compensation skyrockets due to a huge price increase (medical for instance) or a natural disaster (home), the insurance business will find itself short of cash to pay indemnities.
Health insurance serves as a good illustration. The vicious circle in the US originates in the late 1980’s when medical costs began to explode. The first reaction of the insurance companies is to raise premiums. This drives away many people who cannot afford to pay, especially the young and healthy who think they will seldom get sick. In addition, the insurers create various barriers to prevent the old and sick from joining in order to minimize compensation. In effect, the insurers have invariably cut down market growth that they desperately need to make the business profitable. The result is a shrinking insurance pool being emptied of young and healthy people who cannot afford to pay, leaving the old and sick behind to pay higher premiums. This vicious circle continues where a smaller market and rising premiums reinforce each other, being fueled by unrelenting increases in medical costs.
What is the worst vicious circle? Whatever you do and how you do it depend on your view and attitude. If your view and attitude are negative, narrow and unprogressive, you have a tendency to underestimate the vicious circle when it hits, thus preventing you from trying to break out. Your mind tends to shut out constructive advice and will defend the position you are in. Unknowingly, you have created a new vicious circle. This one is the worst kind because it affects everything else you do. This is the biggest all-encompassing vicious circle where a negative attitude and an effort to defend your position reinforce each other. The following three examples illustrate:
Despite all evidence to the contrary, most people had believed that the earth was flat for thousands of years until the 18th century. Why had this big lie lasted for so long? The negative attitudes of the church, the government, and the educational system perpetrated this big lie. In the old times, the clergy and government officials labeled the scientists and creative thinkers as heretics deserving persecution, especially the round-earth theory that contradicted their wrong-headed teachings designed to cultivate blind obedience. This vicious circle of suppressing the truth to preserve one’s high status had continued for thousands of years until its final collapse.
The price of oil has continued rising to this day since OPEC first raised the price in 1973. It is obvious that supply cannot keep up with demand, thereby giving OPEC this weapon to squeeze the rest of the world for 40 years. If there exists enough oil outside of OPEC, the oil companies would have wasted no time to extract more during the last four decades. Instead, they blame the government for imposing regulations to protect the environment. Why? The oil companies want to drill without the responsibility to pay for pollution damage. Therefore, the depletion of oil has never come up as the real issue, being overshadowed by corporate complaints about environmental protection. So we may have to face another 40 years of oil price increase. This vicious circle of failing to address the right issue for fear of damaging one’s self-interest continues.
Although climate change is a complicated science, you can find simple evidence in many places where more and more extreme weather conditions arise. The fossil fuel industry has a negative attitude toward climate change because it threatens their profits due to the big problem of carbon dioxide pollution. They spare no efforts in defending their position by bribing government officials, and ridiculing the environmental sciences as inaccurate and overblown. This looks like a replay of 18th century repression in 21st century America where a modern science is being stifled because it threatens the old attitude and power structure. This vicious circle of refusing the truth to protect one’s self-interest continues.
As we have seen, all vicious circles due to negative attitudes will eventually collapse because truth always triumphs in the end. Hasn’t everybody nowadays accepted the fact that the earth is round? Haven’t more people accepted climate change today than five years ago? Haven’t we seen solar, wind and other renewable energy taking shape today? Although not proceeding as fast as we want, truth will gradually tear down all artificial barriers because it appeals to the human spirit that longs for progress.