Root Causes

Whenever there is a disaster, people are prone to want to do something about it. As a result, most people will accept any solution that is provided, most of the time, as long as it counts as “doing something about it.”

If a person sets fire to a building, there are tons of things you could do about it:

  • You could require all buildings in the future to be fireproof.
  • You could restrict who can own the materials required to start a significant fire.
  • You could post security guards around all buildings to watch for people who want to start a fire.
  • You could create a computer system that uses cameras to watch people and guess if they are about to start a fire (or are currently starting a fire).
  • You could create giant robots that look for fires and dump water on buildings if they see a fire.

And so on.

The fascinating thing about all of those solutions is that they require no understanding of the actual problem in order for me to propose them. They also don’t require you, a member of the general public, to have any understanding of the actual problem. They can “sound like a good idea,” without us needing too many additional details of what happened.

The harder thing to do is to look into the root cause of the problem—why it happened. Most people are so unwilling to do this that they will tell you it’s impossible, too difficult, or provide some other reason that it can’t (or shouldn’t) be done. Believe me—I have spent most of my professional career getting others to look into the root causes of problems, and the amount of insistence that it requires on my part is remarkable. And I’m working with some super smart people who have been professionals in their fields for years. What chance do you think we have of getting most people to look into the root cause of anything?

However, this phenomenon (the fact that people will accept any solution when presented with a disaster) is abused by people with agendas to forward their agenda. A disaster occurs, and then they beseech kind-hearted people everywhere to take action. However, it’s usually a very specific action that is not about the root cause of the problem. Since there are many kind-hearted people in the world, these then repeat that message, because they hate to see disasters (like human rights disasters, etc.) take place. Nobody wants that to happen. “Something needs to be done about it,” they will say, and that resonates with people—no reasonable person wants disasters to occur. And a lot of the details of these situations are very complex—too complex for most people to fully understand (because they wouldn’t have the time to dig into it, even if they had the expertise to do so). They trust their opinion leaders (whoever they consider an authority or a person worth listening to) and so they get on board with the proposed solutions.

The problem is that many of the “solutions” I proposed above to the fire problem wouldn’t solve fires at all. They would look nice, but they would be what we call “security theater,” where somebody takes some actions that don’t make anybody actually safer, but they satisfy people’s prejudices in some way that makes them think they are safer. This is actually terrible, because it (a) imposes restrictions on large groups of people that make their lives more difficult (b) could be tremendously expensive, and (c) can make people believe the problem is “solved” when in reality they are still in terrible danger. The “solution” becomes a new problem, sometimes even worse than the original problem.

The only way to make a problem disappear is to understand and handle the source of the problem. Otherwise, no matter how much PR you put out or how good a solution sounds, it will not resolve the problem.

The example that comes to mind is ethnic cleansing (genocide), a human rights disaster that keeps repeating itself on Earth, over and over. Almost every time it happens, eventually an army comes and crushes the group that is doing it, and we say that that instance of it is over. But lo and behold, a few years or decades later, there’s another insane dictator saying the same things and somehow convincing a population that they are true.

I think this keeps happening because the source of this problem is not widely understood. I believe that the primary source of this epidemic in the last few hundred years is the “science” of eugenics–essentially the belief in “breeding” human beings. But even more importantly, the source is the people who preach this philosophy. For example, from what I recall, there were two people primarily responsible for the ethnic cleansing in Serbia, Slobodan Milošević and Radovan Karadžić, who essentially believed in this philosophy and preached it heavily. Had those two people been removed from power or ignored, it seems possible that no ethnic cleansing would have happened. But even more importantly, had their ideas been treated as obviously idiotic, it would have been impossible for this horrific human rights disaster to have occurred. (And this is just one example—this philosophy appears over and over when you research the promoters of genocide.)

But is that even possible to solve? Actually, it probably is. It wouldn’t be that hard to educate people on the concept that “human breeding” is generally a destructive concept, and that they should basically ignore it whenever anybody talks about it. It would definitely require a lot of resources to reach the planet, but it could be done. Or you could simply educate people in basic human rights, and they would likely gain enough respect and understanding for others that such atrocities would disappear.

Instead what we have is either a lot of saber rattling (that is, one country says to another, “don’t do bad things or I will invade you,”) or people saying, “Well, I guess we can never really know the cause of these things, but we should still talk about how bad the results were.” Or they try to ban the groups that did the bad thing, like in Germany, where they even go to the point of saying that you can’t say certain things, use the symbols of the group (even in movies about the group), etc. Somehow, though, the problem doesn’t go away on the planet when you do any of these things.

Perhaps this is all a super-extreme example for the point I’m trying to make, but I wanted to make the point that there are root causes even for the worst disasters in history, and that those root causes can be known and resolved, even if it’s hard. The principle applies to lesser disasters, and even to normal, daily problems that people or businesses have. It’s a fairly universal idea.

But when somebody comes along and tries very hard to sell you a solution that doesn’t involve an understanding of the root cause, you should assume that they have an unspoken agenda and they are trying to get you to support it.

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