The ‘root cause’ rationalization

One modern phenomena, a part of the moral equivalence issue, is that of fixing a the ‘root causes’ to fix a problem. For instance, see Address ‘Root Causes’ of Terrorism, Muslim Envoys Urge Obama (February 05, 2009, Patrick Goodenough, International Editor, CNS)

The need to identify and address the “root causes” of terrorism was stressed by several speakers, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict high on the list.

The “root cause” debate pits those who say that terrorism is the result of national issues – such as poverty and economic injustice, the Palestinian and Kashmiri conflicts, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – against those who argue that it is driven by a jihadist ideology rooted in Islamic teaching.

There is a lot of appeal to finding out what actually causes some problem so you can fix what is really wrong. The problem, especially where people and their emotions are involved, is the source of the problem is not always well defined or even definable and measurable.

An example is in psychotherapy. Freud became well known for his progress in tackling the root causes of misbehavior. Because of the imprecision of the Freudian approach and its limited success, another approach is often being used. This approach targets the end result and seeks to modify the problem behavior itself through training methods.

When it comes to rockets raining down on Israel, airplanes flying into buildings, or the whole suicide bomber business, a root cause approach has not shown any significant success despite many years of effort. Perhaps it is time for a more focused behavior modification approach. This approach has proven effective in crime – the broken windows campaign in New York City, for instance – and in war where those who misbehave are simply eliminated.

The GWOT may have had its success in preventing terrorist behavior because it has put a focus on improper behavior but this focus has been attacked in many ways. Spying on suspects has been condemned as a violation of privacy. Detention of active participants has been condemned as a violation of individual rights. Honor has been given to those who misbehave whether it is in the propagation of propaganda as truth or it is the celebration of crime or the celebrity of miscreants. Consider the ‘reporter’ who threw his shoes at the President as a case in point. Yon’s report described in the previous post Upside down. It doesn’t make sense provides another case to study.

It is perhaps a ‘root cause’, As long as misbehavior is accepted or excused or rationalized it will continue. If one cannot distinguish between unprompted attacks on civilians and a response to those attacks, between using civilians as military shields and the resulting casualties, then the root cause remains and the problem will persist. Effective and proper decisions must be made about what is right and what is wrong. When idealism meets reality, tough decisions must be made and costs paid.

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