Surely, you’ve heard that the Congressional Budget Office study of the impact of raising the minimum wage to $10.10, would, by 2016, reduce employment by about 500,000 jobs. But it would also lift 900,000 families out of poverty and increase the wages of 16.5 million low wage workers. It’s become ammunition for the right and justification for the left. But beyond that it illustrates how many contemporary issues are not either/or, neither all good nor all bad. Most policies have positive and negative consequences, and whether or not they are constructive depends on placing both sides in context, the way costs/benefits analyses do. Issues have a down and up side. In societies as complex as ours, it is doubtful that any decision, law or policy will be one without the other, will exist without some trade-offs. That’s an old idea, several disciplines have been teaching it in any number of courses for decades. Yet given the nature of today’s political culture using facts to bolster the user’s agenda and today’s media, sounds bites and 140 characters messages, issues tend to be simplified to the point of distortion. Increasingly media sources want attention getters even when those bend, alter, exaggerate, minimize, warp and twist the facts that gave rise to them. And so it’s up to us to remember that with the minimum wage as with almost any issue in today’s economy, it is imperative to avoid seeing them in categorical terms.
The evidence points to Philip Seymour Hoffman having died of an overdose. Since his death was announced, and for days afterwards, stories and segments abounded, all related to his struggle with addiction and the loss of a great artist. No matter the subject linked to his death, what was forefront it seems was the compassion that colleagues, critics, the public or all involved expressed towards what cut short a promising life and career. People die of an overdose every day, and we label them, criticize them, condemn them, ignore them, whatever will convey our distaste and negative view of addiction. True, we may not know them, but then we really didn’t know Philip Seymour Hoffman either. Yet because we think we knew him we are willing to grant him understanding, and look upon his addiction with compassion. And in the same way his death opened the opportunity for us to know the new face of contemporary heroin addiction, let’s hope it will guide us away from our double standard of having compassion for actors who overdose but not for the nameless others. Let’s hope it takes us towards a greater understanding of addicts and addiction wherever they may be.