thinking backward


Causality is, like all things, shockingly complex. Lately I’ve been thinking about the way that causality never moves in just one direction. This is true for international development and it’s true for daily life. For example, we all know that low GDP causes higher infant mortality rates. But did you know that higher infant mortality rates drive down GDP. In most countries, that’s the case. It’s easy to be glib about vicious cycles until you realize they are everywhere.

Another example. Societies are affected by their dominant religion. Catholicism shapes life and community in Mexico, and Italy, and Malta. But it goes both ways. Catholicism is practiced in every different ways in each of those countries. Because the church doesn’t just affect the culture – the culture affects the church. See also: Islam in Central Asia vs Islam in Pakistan. Or Indonesia.

On a personal level, forgetting the two-way street of causality can lead us strange places. It can make me believe I can awareness myself out of experiencing mainstream culture – a false sense of security. Or it can make people feel so powerless they vote against their own self-interest just to feel like they have an impact.

Cause and effect are a circle, not a line. Remembering that makes me better at understanding the world – and at living in it.