What exactly is a paradox?


“When we are able to understand paradoxes, we understand our own limitations.” – Unknown.

It is not good or bad. It is not ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It is also not the grey area. If ‘hard is the good’, paradoxes tell us that we have to swallow hard truths, no matter how bitter or sweet.

In the case of the European debt crisis, it seems that austerity measures and reducing the debt loads of the troubled countries that set off the European debt crisis over the last three years just isn’t working. The bitter pills that the Europeans are told to swallow for the past years isn’t producing much result – the latest sign suggest so.

A paradox is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.

Hmmm…that sounds baffling. A situation can be so baffling that it is true yet there isn’t any clear solution to the situation. One example of a paradox would be an online newspaper that peddles porn in order to block online porn. The idea is to have family friendly filters to automatically block all internet pornography. Any internet subscriber who wishes to opt out of filtering will have to contact their provider to get it turned off. However, those who opt out would still be in violation of the law if they searched for porn that depicts rape or children. This idea is to legally allow porn – depicting consenting adults – and outlawing the possession of pornography that depicts rape or children (child porn is already illegal). This has been met with controversies, of course. To me, it is a measure, albeit a paradoxical one, that is for us to understand our limitations as well as our well-being. I’d like to argue that the intent is good but the implementation is tricky.

When it comes to economy, every nation wants growth. The austerity measure by European powers is good but the implementation produces a less desirable result – lower tax revenues, higher spending on social welfare programs, and zero progress on cutting debt. Furthermore, steep budget cuts can lead to hardship and suffering—and social unrest. The is what John Maynard Keynes referred to as the ‘paradox of thrift’. The paradox states that if everyone tries to save more money during times of economic recession (the smaller context), then aggregate demand will fall and this, in turn, lower total savings in the larger population (the larger context) due to lack of consumption and economic growth. The smaller and larger context are paradoxical in that what is true of the smaller context must also be true of the larger context. The smaller context contradicts this assumption and the larger one contradicts by implication because while individual thrift is generally averred to be good for the economy, the paradox of thrift asserts that collective thrift may be bad for the economy.

In simple words, Quartz (online digital news outlet) elegantly states,

‘while it is considered prudent for heavily indebted individuals and families to cut down on spending, the same process isn’t always wise for entire economies. That’s because unlike with an individual or family, in an economy spending on consumption and investment is needed to spur growth. One person’s spending becomes another person’s income. And if everyone tries to cut spending and boost savings at once, it means that the economy as a whole slows.’

Similarly, while it is considered prudent for authorities to govern illegal pornographic materials as well as to block internet pornography, the same process isn’t always wise for not doing so. This is because while majority of mature adults feel they have their rights to access legal pornography, they do not want to be caught red-handed about surfing into those that are illegal, intentionally or not. Hence the filtering process to block illegal pornographic materials. At the same time, in the case of the porn filters of Daily Mail, Britons are not anonymous when they surf porn, but that’s besides the point. The auto porn filters is a measure to tackle illegal porn – those related to rape or children.

This is what paradoxical means – a self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true. Regardless of intent, in the case of European cutting debt or auto porn filters of UK web, understanding paradoxes does help us to understand the limitations within us. The solution is not apparent and the implementation is tricky but the paradox remains.

A slow growth economy hurts while huge debt is a headache. Similarly a zero porn internet is improbable but a legal porn site sounds as sinful as it should. In the words of George Bataille in his paradox of utility, ‘if being useful means serving a further end, then the ultimate end of utility can only be uselessness.’

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