Symptoms and Causes

Advertizing and politics are some of the most obvious examples of ‘idea bundling’, as I discussed in my last post.  But, these are not, by far, the only fields.  This trend can be seen everywhere around us.

Bundling ideas can be useful by helping us categorize our surroundings, yet it can also hinder us – especially when other people try to do the ‘bundling’ for us.  Sometimes it is intentional manipulation (advertizing, ‘spin’, propaganda), but often, the people doing the ‘bundling’ are not even aware they are doing it…..and these ‘bundles’ are often the hardest to ‘unpack’ into their components, since there is no ‘false note’ to detect!

One of the greatest dangers of this is that when a specific ‘solution’ is a part of a ‘bundle’, it is harder for us to recognize whether it is a ‘symptom fix’ or a ‘root cause solution’.  And mistaking symptoms with causes is so easy…and so unfortunatelly frequent in our society!

Perhaps it is a human characteristic, perhaps there is a lapse in the schooling we received in critical reasoning … but confusing symptoms for causes is just SO rampant!!!!  And so many of us do not even seem to recognize that this is even going on, much less see it as a problem.

The whole ‘banning cellphones while driving’ debate is a case in point: the cellphones are a symptom of distraction, the underlying cause is the apalling disrespect some drivers accord to the act of driving – considering driving an ‘automatic right’ instead of an earned privilege.  And, while bannig cellphones while driving may make us feel as if we are ‘protecting society’, and politicians may get a few extra photops, it does not fix the underlying problem of getting drivers to pay attention to driving….  What’s next:  banning the application of ‘mauve dreams’  shade of lipstick because statistics clearly showe that more people crash while applying that shade of lipstick during driving than any other?

Another example is the alarming attitude in our schools:  volunteers who wanted to help kids who were falling behind in math were turned away, on the grounds that being seen as singled out for extra help would stigmatize a child.  Oh no, the lack of math skills (for whatever reason) was not a problem at all.  No, the problem was being seen getting help!!!  The symptom (potential embarassment) is treated, not the undelying problem (lack of skills).  I would not have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes. 

It is part of the same absence of critical thinking that ‘protects’ children from being ‘stigmatized’ by having them repeat a grade when they have not learned material, and instead allows illiterate children to graduate from schools.  They will be completely unprepared to face the challenges in life, but they will not have had their feelings hurt along the way…..  We are teaching our kids that it is OK to be ignorant, but not OK to be seen working hard to improve… What was that about ‘learned helplessness’?

Perhaps it sounds like I’m picking on the educators (and they do make it so easy), but this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Just look around you – the examples aboud! 

We, ‘the Western society’, seem to be rapidly loosing the ability to distinguish between causes of problems – which need remedying, and the symptoms of problems – which can lead us to the causes, but would which it would be pointless and a waste of time and resources to address in isolation.

 …and don’t get me started on separating valid from silly idead which had been ‘bundled’ together!