The final topic of misconception is causality. I see assumptions of cause being used far too frequently as proof of an ideology or belief, when in fact no such causal relationship exists. Two things may exist at the same time, and yet neither caused the other. You would think, with all that we know, and the all that we have achieved, as a society, that we’d be able to move beyond ridiculous assumptions due to an assumed cause and effect relationship. But, of course, such discussions and beliefs would require reasoning, facts, proof, and testing. All of which are time consuming, and may very well prove the opposite of what we feel comfortable in believing.

Causality
From Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

1 : a causal quality or agency
2 : the relation between a cause and its effect or between regularly correlated events or phenomena

You also have to define causal, of course:

1 : expressing or indicating cause : causative <a causal clause introduced by since>
2 : of, relating to, or constituting a cause <the causal agent of a disease>
3 : involving causation or a cause <the relationship…was not one of causal antecedence so much as one of analogous growth — H. O. Taylor>
4 : arising from a cause <a causal development>

One common statement in arguments, and online forums goes something like this: “Detroit is a shit hole, therefore liberals create shit holes,” or “Republicans give tax breaks to the rich, therefore Republicans hate the poor and middle class.” Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on whether you’re using causality in your argument), “correlation does not imply causation.” In other words, yes, Detroit is a shit hole, but claiming it’s as simple as the political persuasion of it’s citizens or leaders, is nearly as baseless as saying flies are always on meat, therefore flies come from meat. This was once a belief (spontaneous generation), along with the earth being flat, and the sun revolving around the earth. Detroit’s big problem was, and is, a reliance on one gigantic industry to provide for all, as well as an avoidance of education, broken families, poverty, and a host of other things that reside just as often in Republican run states (see Mississippi and Louisiana).

In relation to causality, I’ve noticed a lot of blame for Michigan’s, and Detroit’s, current problems placed on one person. That person, of course, is Jennifer Granholm. I’m not here to defend our governor, but blaming more than 40 years worth of problems on one person? That’s dumb.

Jennifer Granholm may be the worst leader in the history of Michigan…or the best. It doesn’t really matter. Our current governor is not the cause of Michigan’s problems, and she won’t be the solution either. If anyone thinks Detroit’s problems began with Jennifer Granholm in 2003, they really haven’t been paying attention in the any of the last four decades. Instead of trying to find one person to blame, think about yourself. What have you done to prepare for the future?

The kind of simple causal argument that is often thrown about reminds me of this quote: “For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” – H. L. Mencken

Along the same lines, I came across an article about creationism in Scientific American, and found this excellent response in the comments section:

“Causation and purpose are not rational subjects, neither is who what when where or why. The psychological imperative of memory creates a pattern of linear time experienced as reality, but limited by the perceptive abilities of the observer.
The result is that a human has an imagination, an ability to associate all memories, emotions, and sense perceptions with possible future consequences. This frees the cognate mind to choose potential results. It also causes the great majority of individuals to adapt whatever cultural behavior provides the most comfort and supports the identity, the personality of the individual.
The result is a social commitment to a virtual reality, in effect a reality of belief supported by communal ritual and agreement.
The belief process itself explains the ability to remain objective or to require dependence on family, tribe. or cultural ideas of reality, or virtual reality.”

I found this comment to be especially applicable to not only religious or scientific beliefs, but political, economic, and social beliefs as well. It’s more comforting to believe that those who don’t have what you have, don’t deserve to have what you have. “They don’t work hard”, we so often hear. “They want something for nothing”. In fact I think this was the feeling someone got from a previous post, where I talked about low skilled vs. high skilled labor. I’m sure I came off as sounding as though I felt anyone who hasn’t made the changes I’ve made deserves their plight. While I think that, yes, everyone needs to look out for their own well being, and if that means making large, difficult changes to their lives, than so be it. That’s life.

On the other hand, I’ve never said anything about the amount of hard work anyone puts into their own jobs, or lives, which brings me back to comments like, “they don’t work hard”, or “I work hard for my money”. Unfortunately, I don’t know many who don’t work hard for their money, and honestly, on some days, I’d like to work a little less hard for my own. But the point is that it’s, often, easier and more comforting to believe something with no evidence than it is to look for the truth. Particularly when your circle of influence holds the same beliefs. It’s easier to believe you don’t have a job, because of those damn immigrants, than to face the reality of our changing times. It’s easier to believe race is to blame for crime than it is to face up to racism, prejudice, limited opportunities, and general societal problems.

I don’t claim to not make assumptions myself, but I certainly try to keep an open mind, and to allow myself to change my mind when reasoned and factual arguments are presented. Unfortunately, I fear that our peers too often don’t like us to change our minds on certain topics. It’s not ok to decide that the political or economic belief you once held may not, in fact, be true. Our political, racial, ethnic, and religious allegiances require us to give up some of our independent thinking in order to fit in neatly. All we you have to do is look at politicians who have made compromises to get something they believe in done. What happened to John McCain when he crossed the aisle to work with several Democrats to pass bills he believed in? He was brandished a liberal, a label that stuck with him until he won his party’s nomination.

September 23, 2009

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