Flint Michigan was a teachable moment ; is a teachable moment

Flint Michigan was a teachable moment ; is a teachable moment. One we are failing to fully take advantage of.  Before we begin, there are some clarifications and terms we must agree on. We must agree on these terms in order to have a productive and responsible discussion on the topic. So, to start.  Governor Snyder committed a crime of almost genocidal proportions and I do not level that claim lightly. The effects of Flint’s water contamination have been deadly and done generation spanning damage from which the people and city of flint are unlikely to recover.  BUT for as grave as Snyder, and his administration’s offences are; they are not going to be my main focus here.  

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Instead I will focus on the “original sin” and by that I mean the core logical failing that caused the crisis.  I will point out repeatedly, that local government failed in numerous ways to do it’s job. Though local government is responsible for this catastrophe, they are not to blame for it. You cannot blame the victim of a crime for being a victim; even if that victim made poor choices that made them vulnerable to crime. It is those poor choices that will be our focus here. We are not casting blame, we are looking to learn a lesson so that we do not repeat these mistakes.

Flint Michigan, circa 2010, was in Disastrous debt. The water utility which was managed by the city was in crippling debt and had been for years.  The reasons why aren’t important, It doesn’t matter what Flint chose to spend it’s money on. It’s none of our business in fact. But what is our business is that the city was aware that the water infrastructure was old and near failing in some cases.  They knew this, but they chose to spend their money on other things; and so year after year the utility along with the city, incurred debts it could not sustain.  Here, I propose, is why. The government of flint failed to conceive of the idea that the utility could fail in a literal way.

Most Americans, exempting some specific plumbing failure, have never turned a faucet and had it not spit out water. Clean water is such a staple of urban life, so basic and so essential that it is largely not even thought about. Odds are, you too don’t often give a thought to it, The city government failed than to even consider the worst case scenario. They failed to conceive that the water utility could cease to function and that clean water could all together stop coming. Because they failed to even imagine this possibility, they failed to adequately anticipate the consequences of their actions; and therefore demonstrated an incompetence that is not forgivable in leadership and that leads me to the teachable moment I started with here.

Flint, it’s managing government mainly, took water and the complex macro systems that govern it for granted. I suspect even the governor, when he made his criminally incompetent decision to switch the water supply to the polluted river. Even he or even especially he, did not consciously consider that death and human suffering could be a consequence of his action. I believe this theory lines up well with the behaviors exhibited by both local government and State governor parties; both came from a place of taking the water supply for granted and THAT is the original sin.  When we consider it in these terms, the lesson we can derive from their failure is  to never take basic systems for granted. We must always, always, have a conscious thought to the gravity of our choices and the consequences of those decisions, especially how they effect our basic life sustaining systems. From flint, we can draw a cause and effect relationship between each failure of management. Each act of incompetency that drove the utility to ruin is relevant to us, because we are again,  looking at how to not repeat those errors.


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