Never accept the status quo

Never accept the status quo

Ever since I was 16, I wanted to be a politician. I saw things that I hoped would change and didn't trust actual politicians to do it. Many factors led me to this conclusion, but perhaps the most important was the fact that I was never satisfied by satisfaction.

My friends and family members called this motivation many things, including pessimism, greed and ungratefulness. I tended to think the opposite. I believe that everyone has a purpose that only they truly know. Everyone has a goal motivating them to become the best that they can be. Sadly, there is a continuous obstacle to this type of improvement: status quo bias.

Status quo bias tricks us into forgoing the necessary cost-benefit analysis of every decision in favor of mindlessly continuing the existing state of affairs. The harms of status quo bias are usually small, like our society's continued acceptance of pennies, which serve little to no practical use.

However, bias towards the status quo has also led to some of our country's biggest problems, and the only way to bring them to the light is by addressing them; moving them from an unquestionable given into the realm of change. Throughout American history, our society has only gotten better as the result of people complaining. Change has come when a certain group of people recognized that the system was disenfranchising them and decided that they wouldn't deal with it any longer.

Six of the largest movements in American history, the American Revolution, the fight to abolish slavery, the labor movement, the Civil Rights movement, the push for gender equality and the recognition of the LGBTQ community have all had their foundation rooted in rejecting the status quo, bucking the restrictions of establishment politics and never being satisfied.

This tenacity is what makes our country great.

I'm not saying we should never recognize achievement or celebrate accomplished goals. Nor am I saying the world is in terrible shape and that no one should be happy until it's fixed. Our society, both here in America and across the globe, is extremely impressive.

Over the past 25 years alone, the international community has cut extreme poverty, infant mortality and HIV infections by significant amounts. These are staggering accomplishments, and deserve praise. But our job isn't over. We must learn from these successes to continue down a path of improvement. We still face major issues ranging from social inequality to international terrorism to global climate change and we can't afford to be complacent. Ignoring major issues has lead us to systematic mass incarceration, a persistently neoconservative foreign policy, a new era of Jim Crow and the destruction of our ecosystem.

While the situation may appear bleak, I am encouraged by what I see here in Tuscaloosa. While I may disagree with the ideology of many of my peers, no one here is apathetic. Everyone is looking for a way to improve their surroundings, whether the means be through politics, business, academics or service. Constantly striving for a better life is not greedy or ungrateful. It is a thirst that will never be quenched, and never should be.

Mike Smith is a sophomore majoring in economics. His column runs biweekly.

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