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What could we do? vs What should we do?

‘What should we do?’ seems to be a fulcrum of our public discussions today. This is a question that is raised in the streets of Madison and Washington alike. The question—‘What should we do?’—is a precursor to action. It recognizes certain problems and wants to do something about them. The usual response by research institutes and think tanks comes in a form of lists of recommendations on how to solve or alleviate some specific problems.

The Interactivity Foundation (IF) asks a different question—‘What could we do?’—in its sanctuary projects and public discussions. This is a broader question. It is a question that invites reflection rather than action. And it does not presuppose a certain mindset in which we have identified a certain issue as a problem.

We do not look for or discuss problems per se in our discussions. We explore and discuss areas of concern. Many people think that our immigration policies, for example, are now a problem that this country has to deal with. This is because they presume a conceptual framework—consisting of certain concerns, values, beliefs, and interests—in which it emerges as a problem. But human migration is a broader area of public policy concern in which immigration could be seen in either way—as a problem or not a problem at all. There are, furthermore, many other relevant and important aspects of human migration—such as suburbanization or gentrification—that may merit discussion without yet being recognized as problems.

It is true that certain areas of concern may become problems sometime in the future. But that is part of IF’s mission, namely, to approach areas of concern with a broad view over the horizon and see what could be done about them.

There are times when more practical questions—or questions of ‘should’—take sway. This is when all or at least most of us agree on a certain conceptual framework. But even here, IF provides a wider range of policy possibilities for public discussion than are usually on the table. We encourage consideration and discussion of a broad range of contrasting policy possibilities before the sky starts falling. And we think that when the sky starts falling, it is better for the public to have an opportunity to consider and choose among a wide pool of public policy possibilities.

IF’s public policy reports aspire for the same universality, permanence, and applicability as great literature and philosophy have. The possibilities for public discussion in IF’s Privacy, Anticipating Human Genetic Technology, and Regulation reports are as applicable today as they were the day they were written—and they will be applicable in the future regardless of what political party is in power or what issues we regard as problems. This is because they aspire to answer the broader question ‘What could be done?’ about their areas of concern instead of ‘What should be done?’