Tag Archives: Causality

Thoughts on causation and tolerating complex answers

Three things have me thinking about causation: a comment on autism my wife heard on the radio…the Arizona shooting…and the ending of my Congo book (mentioned in the previous post). We love to know WHY something has happened. Why autism or any other illness? Why a senseless shooting? Why so much corruption and unrest in central Africa?

Why is a good essential question. Might it be part of being an image bearer of God? It is hard to have dominion over our world if we don’t have the capacity to understand cause and effect. But, being human and therefore limited hands us a challenge. How do we understand complex facets of problems. Too often we mistake correlations for causes. And even more often we limit the cause to one simplistic answer.

Simple works for us. It is more efficient. We consider a problem, conclude an answer, and move on to other subjects. If we couldn’t move on, we might bog down and lose traction in our lives. Simple also works for us humans when we want to lay the blame for something that has happened at someone else’s feet.

Here’s what I notice in many of these kinds of conversations. If you try to single out a particular causal facet for focused discussion, there will be others who say, “yes, but, you also need to consider…”. It is extremely hard to play out one part of the cause/effect without being accused of being biased.  And if you try to develop a laundry list of causes…the conversation often loses traction and some hear you as letting others (e.g., vaccine manufacturers, Sara Palin, Mobutu, etc.) off the hook.

Try this experiment!

So, try to have a conversation today where you either (a) try to single out a particular cause for some widely discussed situation, or (b) try to list the complexities of the situation…and see what happens. Would love to hear your experience! What happens when you single out a possible cause? What happens when you try to include all of the possible causes?

Not sure what to talk about? Try one of these:

Consider autism. Why does it happen and why does it seem to start happening soon after a vaccine? There are known neurotoxins in vaccines…child seems to develop them after being vaccinated…thus it is the fault of companies who make them (and the medical establishment that promote them). See if you can talk about the relationship between the two without getting into an argument. Or you might decide to discuss the fact that autism is higher in subsequently born children if they arrive within one year of their older sibling. (Of course, if this were true then we should be able to document higher autism rates in Catholic families from the previous century!)

Consider the Arizona shooting. Why would someone shoot so many people and have so little disregard for human life? Sounds like the shooter was delusional and probably suffering from paranoid schizophrenia (armchair diagnosis). Try discussing the possible causes of this behavior? Schizophrenia? Over the top political fighting language? Failure of the educational system to get him to treatment?

Consider the Congo. Why is there so much corruption and unrest? African culture? The sad effects of so many decades of European rule and racism? Greed over the countries natural resources?



Filed under Cultural Anthropology, News and politics