Probability and The Failure of Causal Thinking

There is very little point in understanding motives, be they nation state or religious or whatever pseudo-scientific category invented to tidy up the data points. Motives and causes don’t solve problems and don’t provide anything but temporary comfort. Unexpected death and suffering at the hands of humans is no different intrinsically than any natural causes. While we as embodied, sensitive humans have made biased decisions about how certain causes of life and death and suffering (religion, “mental” illness, addictions as character flaws, heterosexual private missionary sex, etc) are acceptable and others aren’t none of these ideas are part of the design of purposeful reasoned universe.

Life and death and suffering is circumstantial and accidental — at best it is only coincidentally attached to any choice or decision anyone — killer, victim, bystander, law enforcement — actually makes. If we wish to reduce the probability of death and suffering from a particular set of circumstances we need to get scientific and as unbiased as possible on the coincidental conditions of circumstances — what I call the infrastructure. Repeatable study after repeatable study clearly shows that humans, in all their apparent free, will and cause, is merely complex in its forage and adjustment behavior. That is, humans experiment with behavior, experience consequences, adjust behavior and move in and out of circumstances. Humans are no more willfully deciding to kill or torture than they are to be able to will money to show up in their mailboxes or be able to hex terrible spells on people they don’t like. Humans, like everything, are in relation to circumstances — environments and tools and each other.

Some circumstances have a higher probability of behavior — circumstantial change than others. A group of rocks in a remote desert will tend to maintain that circumstantial state for much longer than a crowded dance club with blaring music and people kissing visited by a human with clips and assault rifles.

In other words, life and death and suffering is an issue of probability. We will not find a justified cause (enemy, ideology, network) to go eliminate conclusively in any crime, much less a “mass murder of terror and hate.” We will find robust and coherent narratives that sound more or less good to your limited perspective, experience and history. If we are so shaped to abhor certain suffering and death then we will, eventually, find ourselves discovering the infrastructure to change to lower those probabilities. Religion and skin color and gender and all other manner of reductionism over hundreds of thousands of years history have not eliminated the probability of mass murder. The creation and proliferation of efficient technology to spread human death (assault weapons, nukes, bioweapons, drones) and false realities (unchecked mass media and well funded politics/religion) of cause and effect has increased the probability of mass murder and other suffering we do not value.

Perhaps the mass murder issue is too hot to handle as a discussion point, so instead replace the above with cars and traffic and roads. Roads, signs, stop lights, testing, licensing, safety standards all contribute to the circumstantial probability of getting where we all want to go and dying or not dying in the process. There’s nothing about religion nor skin nor motives nor gender nor ISIS in driver’s booklets or car safety standards but there is policy about state of intoxication, materials used in roads/cars, limits on speeds, when to turn left or right or change lanes — it’s all just words about infrastructure and behavior, not appearance or stated beliefs.

There’s no advocacy in the above statements. There is a questioning of “advocacy as solution.” There is a question of policy based on reductionist causal thinking. Advocating for the elimination of a particular perceived cause because of a perceived linear effect is a red herring and often increases the circumstantial probability (enrages others who see different causes and effects). While we can’t directly control anything, we can improve our chances.

— —

(as an additional consideration about adhering too much to the perceived thinking of the repeated past. Cars weren’t around when the Constitution was written so perhaps not so oddly we’ve been able to think sensibly about cars and use more probabilistic science to create policy and shared ideals about something that affects us all.)