Emergency Triage

In the emergency room the triage nurse must asses the danger to each patient’s life. He or she carefully considers the sum total of illnesses and injuries before them and sends the most urgent cases to get care first. In the emergency room it is not first-come first-served, because some need more help than others, and some need help sooner than others. No one on the staff with any knowledge of this procedure would argue, because they have been shown that some people are genuinely in need of care first, based on the severity of the problem.

At the same time, the health professional does not diminish one problem because another is worse either – all problems will be addressed in the natural course of events. Not one nurse or doctor would come into that room and tell those patients that all injuries and illnesses needed to be treated equally, fairly. Not one health professional would bring a patient into an exam room and treat that injury the same as the previous injury they had treated that day.  Each injury, and therefore each treatment, has its own features and requirements that may be similar to other issues – and as such the medical professional would recognize and use similarities to diagnose and treat the issue at hand. But they would not confuse that with treating all illnesses and injuries in the exact same way.

In short, no hospital treats a paper cut like loss of limb, nor do they treat the paper cut before the limb. Should the paper cut be cleaned and bandaged? absolutely. In due time.

In the realm of social justice, there are many injuries and illnesses to be addressed. Some injuries are worse than others. I’ll stand strong and long saying that because it is true. Some problems, some issues are just genuinely worse. That does not diminish the wrongness or badness of other transgressions. It does not mean that lesser problems should be ignored. But all in due time, and according to need would be better.

Oppression Olmpics is not going to garner more attention to smaller issues, nor will it treat the problems that cause any issues. Competing to be seen or known as the most damaged, hurt, offended or demoralized will not fix what is wrong. All that does is dilute the message and the efforts to address concerns.  Most importantly, oppression Olympics is a very basic and deeply damaging logical fallacy – it’s a false equivalence. Not all problems are created equal and addressing things according to their severity is mature and appropriate.

It would be great if we could point out each social and cultural behavior that is damaging, and make it disappear. Since humanity is not able to come to widespread agreements on what those issues are or how to address them, we need to triage the most important issues to address, and start with those. That is not to say that we should ignore or downplay smaller issues, but we cannot address those first in good conscience. We must address the worst and accept that when we can put the resources toward it, we will address the rest.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a pretty logical and straightforward chart that expresses the nature of human needs and desires. It has often been misinterpreted as static and rigid, but the concept can be useful if interpreted wisely. The idea is that it is significantly more difficult to achieve healthiness and happiness if we are unable to achieve safety and stability first.  We should build a strong foundation in physical support because overwhelmingly populations that don’t have physical security resort to violence or fall into dysfunction.

Microaggressions, hate speech, exclusion and discrimination are horrible. Physical violence is worse. We must be able to gain appropriate perspective to decide where and how to put our efforts to achieve maximum effect. We’re going to need to address war, torture, slavery, rape, deprivation and subjugation before we deal with hurtful speech. Yes, hurtful speech is inappropriate behavior that builds toward physical problems, but speech itself is relatively protected in the first world and as such is not a great target on which to spend limited resources.

Let’s fry the big fish for dinner and we’ll be full tonight. Let’s leave the little fish for cutting bait.


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