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Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 14 March 2013

WHO DONE IT?

By Jim Jordal

Many of us enjoy a good "whodunnit" mystery, probably because it combines suspense and the need to find someone guilty, with relief when the culprit is finally brought to justice. Novels usually gradually eliminate all possibilities until a final cause can be isolated in a single person or group. It seems as if the temptation to identify single groups or events as the sole cause of major human problems pervades the human thinking process. It’s comforting to be able to blame a person or group for situations that we find threatening to ourselves or to society. It’s also convenient because blaming others helps shift any responsibility for unpleasant situations away from us. And it’s kind of fun because we can now feel superior to those miscreants as we saddle them with the blame. We can then proceed with ostracizing or blaming and probably punishing those we hold responsible, thereby removing ourselves from any personal responsibility for events. And unfortunately Christians seem not to be exempt from this affliction.

For example, get into a discussion with almost anyone over the issue of poverty and you’ll most likely hear the fallacy of single causation in operation. "If they’d only get jobs they wouldn’t be poor," is one common explanation. Or, "If they weren’t so immoral they wouldn’t be poor," is another. But almost nobody attempts to view poverty as a many-sided social problem with multiple causes arising from human, institutional, and cultural behaviors and values. Many people are so attached to their simple, single views that they won’t admit that any alternative even exists.

Next, try immigration as a topic. Again it’s "the foreigners took our jobs," or "they’re all on relief," or "they come here to get on the gravy train." Gone is the idea that perhaps some of them came here for the same reason our fathers did: to escape bondage by oppressive political and economic systems, to save their families, and to gain some possibility of improving their lives. Also lost is the understanding that perhaps a continued influx of new blood enhances a society. After all, look at the lists of honor graduates from various schools, and see if you can find many old American names. Most seem now to be either immigrants or the children of immigrants. Is this bad?

Now try to discuss the topic of crime and its causes. Again you’ll find single causation in operation. "They’d rather steal than work," or "the poor do all the crime," or "we should put ‘em all in jail if we want crime to lessen." But, as with all social problems, crime has many causes and cannot be alleviated with one simple policy or program.

Some writers on social justice now openly wonder if we even want to deal effectively with crime. The prison-industrial complex with its almost free labor creates large profits for private corporations that have taken over many correctional institutions as states become unable to fund them. One such contract requires that the local government guarantee to keep the prison at least 90 percent full in order for the agreement to remain valid. So it’s not too difficult to see that there may be hidden reasons for not dealing more effectively with crime.

Or open a discussion on family breakdown. You’ll likely hear: "If they wouldn’t have so many children," or "it’s all the children born to single parents," or "they don’t have the old American values," or "there’s no discipline anymore." Again, all examples of single causation thinking.

But my favorite (since I used to be a teacher) is one of the public’s favored "whipping boys," education. I’ve heard comments like this: "Teachers are all lazy and in it for the money." Or "they just like having summers off." Or, "Teachers can’t teach because parents don’t take care of their kids." But none of these comments, sincere as they may be, seem to understand that teaching is a complex process involving, but not limited to, good teachers, concerned parents, adequate public funding, clean modern buildings, good administrators, a public value for education, eager adequately prepared students, and a proper curriculum. Failure of any one of these factors is serious but not fatal to the learning process, and none by itself causes

the educational shortcomings we hear so much about.

I hope I’ve made my point that the modern world is complicated almost beyond comprehension, yet we remain too often locked into single cause thinking, which only complicates the issue and creates conflict where there ought to be cooperation.