I see this idea a lot:

  • Something is bad and people want it to be better
  • There's no way for those people to make it better without a huge investment by others
  • Instead of trying to fix it themselves, people let the thing get worse so it will attract the attention of others at which point those people will be willing to fix it.


  • Politics: Things are bad, but individuals are powerless to fix it until everybody else realizes how bad things are. Rather than try to fix it, individuals let it get worse so others will notice the problem too.
  • Software: There's an annoying bug, but it takes a lot of resources to fix. Rather than fix it poorly, you let it sit around so it will eventually get fixed properly.
  • Relationships: After a major life event, your partner begins developing annoying habits that are getting slowly worse. Rather than address them head on, you wait until they're worse and then present a larger case.

It's probably clear I don't have a background in philosophy, but this seems like the kind of thing that would have a name. Anybody know? I've looked around a bunch but I don't think I know enough to find a good answer.

  • 2
    I don't understand the philosophical problem here, this looks like just a question about every-day usage of English. Commented May 27, 2015 at 19:13
  • It's not exactly procrastination, but related. Andrew Koenig on procrastination (paraphrased; I don't have the quote at hand): "Why don't you just defer the procrastination till tomorrow?". Anyway, like James K I think the question as posed is mainly an English language question, not about philosophy, but I think the behavior springs at least in part from a certain philosophy of life.
    – Cheers and hth. - Alf
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 19:59
  • Yes, I think it's a life philosophy. As I said before, I'm not a philosopher, but there's a line of thinking here that I think fits with politics and other areas of life. Seems like something that must have been studied and named at some point and I'd like to learn more about it.
    – mlissner
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 20:05
  • This is either a language question or a psychology question. I don't see any philosophical content.
    – Alexander S King
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 0:05
  • There probably are a few idioms for this, but I'm not thinking of any just now.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 0:35

7 Answers 7


It may pertain to the maxim "the worse, the better", often attributed to Vladimir Lenin in the years before the Communist Revolution.

There is a related philosophical idea: the modern (Hegelian/Marxist) use of the term dialectic. Hegel's idea was that each concept or position, theoretical as well as practical, continues to develope until it becomes useless and corrupt - entangled in its own contradictions. Then, a shift is made to another concept/position - the negation of the previous concept/position. Marx used the same idea in economical and political contexts. Hence the famous prediction concerning the imminent collapse of capitalistic economies, destined to be caught up in their own contradictions, until there is no remedy but a popular workers revolution.

  • I originally put this question on the Philosophy stackexchange site, and it was migrated over here, where I've been getting answers from dictionaries. This answer is much closer to the kind of thing I was looking for originally, thanks!
    – mlissner
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 16:52
  • @mlissner You're welcome! I did see your question on the Philosophy stackexchange site. By the time I got to try and answer it, it was already migrated. Personally I did not think it should have been migrated. Although there is also the linguistic question whether there is a ready term for the sense that you asked about. Commented May 29, 2015 at 17:35

As a British English speaker, I would use the rather broad but appropriate phrase of..

"come to a head"

If something comes to a head or someone brings something to a head, a situation reaches a point where something must be done about it.

  • 1
    We say that in 'Murica, too. (US) (Everyone understands a good pimple analogy.)
    – Oldbag
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 11:21

The best I can come up with right now is fester

Oxford examples use the word in context both of politics and relationships:

(Of a negative feeling or a problem) become worse or more intense, especially through long-term neglect or indifference:

Without freedom of the press, such problems will only fester, and that is not in the long-term interest of the United States.

The threat may ultimately have less to do with competitive fire than with a readiness to let resentments fester and anger flare without feeling any need to bridle emotions or discipline his temper.

Admittedly, this term doesn't quite guarantee the 'it has to be addressed properly' part.

I'll keep thinking.


In politics in particular, there is the notion of Accelerationism .

Accelerationism is the advocacy of intentionally accelerating a presumably unstable or untenable policy until the point that it totally breaks down or fails to the point that most people would agree it needs replaced.

Accelerationism - Wikipedia

What is accelerationism? - NewStatesman


You can allow for something to escalate.

escalate verb

make or become more intense or serious

The disturbance escalated into a full-scale riot.

Source: Oxford Dictionaries Online

An example:

The problem escalated so much that it had to be dealt with instantly.


People often talk about 'hitting rock bottom' to describe the situation you're talking about.

You might talk about an addict hitting rock bottom before they were motivated to improve their life. An organization might have to hit rock bottom before they're compelled to adjust their management structure.

I feel like there might be a better term for this but it's not coming to me.


I think the word you are looking for is "crisis."

A crisis is a situation that demands immediate action if it is to be avoided, usually brought on by the accumulated effects of some ongoing problem.

Example: "Continued over-borrowing will lead to a debt crisis, in which the borrower is no longer able to afford the interest payments on the loan."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.