The Power of Cause and Effect. In which my student and I begin the first of fourteen lessons for navigating life, and rediscover how important it is to keep asking why. If you have entered this story in the middle, click here for the table of contents.
She looked at me thoughtfully. “I’ve been considering the best way to introduce Episode One of Navigating a Whackadoodle World: The Power of Cause and Effect.”
“So you’ve decided to go with episode one, not rule one, or lesson one?” I teased.
“Makes it seem more like a story,” she replied seriously. “People respond much better to stories. They don’t really like lessons or rules. Don’t you agree?”
“I suppose I do.”
“Anyway,” she said, shaking her hand in dismissal. “I was thinking about using some of the articles that my Sociology teacher keeps assigning us. A lot of them seem to be about everything that has caused the world to be falling apart.”
“Sounds intriguing, if not a bit dire,” I nodded. “Which article did you want to start with?”
“Well there was this one called, Dear Millennials, I’m Sorry We Didn’t Stop Them by this guy named Thom Hartmann. He starts out by talking abut how much better life was when he was a kid. College was affordable. Families could survive on one income. Small business were everywhere, and unions were popular. People could afford mortgages and bought homes. They took vacations every year, and had faith in their government; then he goes on to describe a number of laws passed during the eighties and nineties that caused all of that prosperity to change hands.”
“Let me guess,” I said, having lived through those same years. “The money meant to trickle down really trickled up.”
“I don’t get it,” she said with a blank stare.
“Inside joke,” I offered. “So what were some of the laws he said caused the wealth gap?”
“Uhm,” she closed her eyes. “There was one called “The Right to Work Act, which he said kind of crushed the Unions, and then something where the government stopped enforcing Anti-trust laws, so that big businesses started buying up small businesses.” She paused then added, “Oh, and something about deregulating the financial industry.”
“I don’t suppose he mentioned the changes in the tax code, or eliminating State and Federal support for tuition, or that corporations started buying up homes to turn them into rental units?”
“He might have,” she acknowledged. “He talked about a lot of laws. I do remember he said that corporate taxes went from,” she paused to get out her phone. “Let me look it up.” A few clicks later she reported, “Reagan dropped the top income tax rate on the morbidly rich from 74% down to 27%, and cut corporate tax rates from 50% to functionally nothing.”
“And that’s only if the ‘morbidly rich’ reported an income. Most of them live off dividends, which are a whole other tax story.”
“Dividends are taxed differently than income.”
“Oh,” she said. “He didn’t mention that.”
“I bet he also didn’t mention that in the Seventies we already knew about Climate Change. Unfortunately, at that time, we called it Global Warming, so whenever we had a colder than usual winter, someone would bring a snowball into the Senate to illustrate that the globe was not getting warmer.”
“Really,” I nodded. “In 1979, President Carter even put solar panels on the Whitehouse Roof, but in 1981, Reagan took them off.”
“What caused him to take off the solar panels?” I shook my head. “There are a lot of theories. According to Natalie Goldstein’s book, Global Warming, Reagan felt that the Free Market was the best arbitrator of what was good for the country. Others say that he felt that whole idea of renewable energy and climate change was a joke. It is a fact that he drastically cut the Energy Department’s funding for research and development in the area of renewable energy, while continuing to support tax cuts for and funding of fossil fuel development.”
“I don’t like where this is going,” she said after a moment.
“Few people do,” I agreed.
“I think we should get back to your rules.”
“And why is that?” I asked her.
“Because they always give me hope,” she said in a rush. “If I can understand what caused something, I can actually make a difference. I can work to change the cause. Isn’t that what you teach?”
“Yes it is,” I said gently. “But only if you really get to the root cause, and find a way to pull that root.”
“So the laws enacted during the eighties and nineties weren’t the cause?”
“Sure they were a cause, but what caused the laws?”
“Jeeze, every time I talk to you, stuff gets so overwhelming,” she said at last.
“Yeah, I know,” I couldn’t help but laugh. “The world is very overwhelming. I think it was easier when we didn’t get phone calls unless we were plugged into a wall, and if we need to do research, we had to head to the library. If we wanted to find out what was happening in the world, we had to choose between four channels two times a day. Stuff was built and grown in our communities instead of overseas. Oh, and we had newspapers, and we paid our newspaper boys.”
“No, never girls. I was just my brother’s assistant. I helped him fold the papers, and he’d pay me a small allowance.”
“So even your generation wasn’t so great for everyone?”
“It wasn’t so great for many,” I assured her. “It was great for the American white male middle class, but everybody else was hidden. Women were allowed to keep bank accounts and hold jobs, but the jobs encouraged were teaching, childcare, nursing, and secretarial. We’d passed the civil rights bill, so civil rights were no longer a problem, right? Nobody we knew admitted to being gay, so what’s the big deal about gay rights? We ended Vietnam, but ignored our government’s military involvement in other countries. Yeah, our generation was great at ignoring things. We trusted our government, and rarely voted. We watched our quality of life fall away, and didn’t understand why. Then came the nineties, and people started to realize that the status quo was not working for everyone.”
“You’re even more depressing than my teacher’s articles,” she stated at last.
“Sorry,” I laughed. “At my age, I can barely help it.” She kept staring at me, so I finally asked to distract her, “So have you finally figured out how the rules work, or why cause and effect comes first?”
“Yes,” she said immediately. I waited for her to explain, only to hear her admit, “Maybe,” and then “No.”
“Then let’s get back to really understanding a root cause, and finding a way to pull that root.”
“You mean, what caused the laws?”
“Yeah, what caused the laws? Ronald Reagan had a vison of America. He believed in a free market. He felt climate change was a joke. He believed that lowering taxes would free up capital industries to invest in the economy and in their workers. I think he called it Compassionate Capitalism, and the theory was in great vogue at the time. More than that, he managed to convince millions of Americans to believe the same, and so he became President, along with dozens of like minded Senators and Representatives.”
“And that’s what caused the laws to change?” she concluded. “People believed?”
“Voters believed anyway,” I couldn’t help but smirk. “After all, convince enough people that their election is stolen, that their way of life is under attack, and that political violence is a necessary path to saving the country; and they might just storm the Capitol for you.”
“So is that why the Power of Belief is your second rule?” she asked uncertainly. “Because belief causes so many problems?”
“And solutions,” I corrected. “Belief can also lead to solutions. People who believe in and study logic are less likely to fall victim to the hundreds of fallacies thrown at them every day. They will notice the deflections, the what-about-isms, the name calling, the equivocations, and the appeals to emotion. They will be better able to insist on and discover the truth. They are better able to disregard any arguments not made up of propositions.”
“Propositions are statements that can be proven either true, or false, right?”
“Right,” I agreed, then added. “Of course no human will ever be as disciplined as Mr. Spock or the Vulcans. Personally, I don’t think any human would want to be. People will always be swayed by emotion. They will always be more attracted to people who share and reinforce their beliefs. But logic can help people see through to the truth, and there is a reason certain societies don’t like to educate their young in critical thinking.”
“They might start seeing all the illogic within their status quo.”
“Another cause and effect,” she suggested. I nodded silently. “So that’s why cause and effect comes first, because it’s about getting to the root, and the rest of the rules are like root whackers.”
“I’m not sure that I would compare my rules to weed whacking, but I like it,” I couldn’t help but laugh. “All the other rules are either causes, or possible solutions,” I went on to confirm. “Sometimes they are both cause and solution depending on how they’re used.” I could see that she was still a bit uncertain, “If I was to use your metaphor, I might say that the rest of the rules can either whack weeds, or plant crops.”
“So is there a bottom line with cause and effect?”
“It’s the same bottom line I always use with cause and effect. If you don’t understand the cause of a problem, you can waste a lot of energy trying to fixing that problem before you sit down exhausted, wondering why nothing has changed.”
“But how do I use cause and effect?” she asked, sounding frustrated. “I mean in your latest book, you describe cause and effect as a tool. So how do I use the tool?”
“You keep peeling away at possible causes. If someone offers you a list of possible causes, you make a habit of asking, but what caused those causes.”
Her brows furrowed in concentration, “So if you say that beliefs are the cause of many problems, I need to ask, but what caused those beliefs?”
“Exactly,” I confirmed. “You make a habit of asking, ‘What caused that thing people keep talking about?’ and you don’t accept easy answers. You stay as curious as a two year old who keeps asking why. You never listen to only one opinion. You listen to all sides. You ask your own questions, and dig down to the truth. You get out in the real world, and let it smack you in the face with reality.”
“You don’t take what people have taught you to believe for granted. You go out and find out for yourself what is real. A lot of beliefs fall apart once reality smacks you in the face. Consider how many people didn’t believe in Covid or vaccines until they found themselves in an ICU ward and begging for a vaccine when it was already too late. I heard that story more than once.”
“So did I,” she admitted.
“Or,” I continued. “How many people think that the LGBTQ Community is comprised of degenerates and groomers, until they actually meet someone from that community and discover quite the opposite. Or how many people believed Roe v. Wade would never be overturned, but when it was overturned, found themselves outraged when an eleven year old girl was asked to carry the child of her rapist. Such a change in reality might just cause a record number of people to register to vote for the first time.” I took a deep breath and concluded, “Cause and effect never lies like beliefs can. Cause and effect keeps us honest.”
“And when I find a root cause?” she asked eventually.
I had to think a while before answering, “You see what you can do to grow that root into a flower that people will love.”
Her eyes turned critical. “You can be so weird.”
“Yeah, I know,” I smiled. “You’ve already told me.” She didn’t laugh with me so I added, “Okay fine, you use the rest of the rules to keep your focus, develop a strategy, gain deeper understanding, attempt to persuade, and place events into context. When you try something, and it doesn’t work, you get smart enough to try something else. Do you like that answer better?”
“Yeah, I think I do,” she said, and began packing up.
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- Navigating Life in a Whackadoodle World
- Finding Sense in a Whackadoodle World
- Teaching Logic in a Whackadoodle World
- Navigating Life Through Turbulent Tides
- A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules for Navigating Life