When This Is, That Is

Exploring the world of conditionality

Examining—and Ignoring—Cause and Effect

Cause and effect is a natural law. It’s hard to dispute that one thing leads to another, especially when the links in a chain of events are short and close together. When they are long and far apart, it’s more difficult to see any connection between two events. It’s also easy to deny any connection whatsoever. In that case, it’s easy—intentional or not—to misattribute a cause to an event.

Two current events are examples. Today, the Republican Party begins the process to select a candidate to run for President of the United States. Listening to the news this morning about the Iowa Caucus (not to mention news from the past few years), it’s easy to detect the Republican theme that we have to get rid of Barack Obama to “turn this country around.” The implication is that Obama is the cause of the poor state of the economy and everything else they find wrong with this country. 

Does no one in the Republican Party remember (or care to admit) that the stock market crashed—losing 50% of its value—in October 2008? George W. Bush was President then. Barack Obama was only a candidate. Does no one remember (or care to admit) that economic policies of the Bush administration made Enron possible? 

The other event is far removed from the political arena. But perhaps it shouldn’t be. On January 1, a man shot and killed a park ranger on Mt. Rainier in Washington State after wounding several others at a party. These kinds of tragedies happen a lot all over the world. Some people are unbalanced, angry, frustrated, vengeful, hateful, and will do any number of terrible things to others. Who knows what causes lurk behind such acts?

Yet, one thing about this story that sticks out, begging the question of Why? The shooter was Iraq War veteran who was apparently suicidal and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. We don’t know what this person was like before he went to war. But we do know that when he came home he had trouble adjusting to civilian life. His wife had a restraining order against him because she feared for her own safety as well as that of their child. 

Can you imagine, all those years ago when George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and many others were planning their attack on Iraq that they could have seen the consequences of their actions? Suppose someone in the war room said, “If we go ahead with this, on January 1, 2012, a park ranger with two children will be murdered by one of our soldiers.” Would it have mattered?

The law of cause and effect is always at work. And it’s human nature to ignore it just as it’s human nature to ignore an inconvenient stop sign.

4 Responses to Examining—and Ignoring—Cause and Effect

  1. Paul Gerhards says:

    Hi Amy,

    No, I don’t think Bush and company would have changed their minds. After all, they had their minds set on Iraq before 9/11. They were an incredibly intelligent and calculating group of individuals. One can’t get into a position of power without being intelligent and calculating, right? But collectively they were wholly lacking in a quality that’s in short supply in Washington: wisdom. Only a wise person would understand the larger ramifications of cause and effect that go way beyond the capacity of self-serving individuals and political parties who use words like “freedom” to further their own causes. Unfortunately, a truly wise person—unless that person was extraordinarily gifted—would fail in our current and caustic political environment.

  2. Amy Stark says:

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for examining cause and effect in this manner. I wonder – do you really think the guys in D.C. would’ve changed their course of action had they known about a single event with one soldier? It seems to me that when one decides to take a course of action, they choose to ignore all consequences and manufacture reasons as to why they should stay the course. While incredibly sad, it seems that they would’ve found a way to turn it around and say that if it weren’t for terrorists lashing out, they wouldn’t have had to go to war in the first place, and the soldiers wouldn’t have been exposed to PSTD-inducing events – cause and effect.

    Anyway, thanks for getting the ol’ wheels turning this Saturday morning.

  3. Paul Gerhards says:

    Hi Ruby,
    Welcome to another little corner of my world. It’s always nice to see you. And thanks for commenting. It helps keeping me going.

  4. Ruby Allen says:

    Gee, Paul, I’m learning so much about you! I really like your writing as well as your thought processes. And, of course, I agree with you!

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