Humans have studied war for thousands of years. We fear war and are repulsed by its horrors but at the same time we are fascinated by the excitement and adventure. Great warriors force us to think about an ideal way of life – discipline, virtue, courage and dedication to a cause. People have admired even worshiped successful soldiers. Today, warfare is not conducted with weapons and physical killing (except in the Middle East, where civilization is a thousand years behind) – it’s intellectual warfare. Today there are thought wars rooted in base instinct and savagery. Moral warfare is being waged.
John Tooby is the founder of a field of study known as Evolutionary Psychology. He believes that causality itself is an evolved conceptual tool. It simplifies and focuses our mental representation of a situation. Our minds guide us to think in terms of a single cause for any given outcome. But causation in reality is an intersection, or a nexus of many factors.
Our minds, however, evolved to represent situations in a way that highlights a single element in the causal nexus that we can manipulate to bring about a favored outcome. Assigning cause is a survival mechanism. It was useful for a hunter or forager but far removed from reality in today’s complex world. What is THE cause of cancer, war, crime, unemployment or poverty?
The selection and assignment of a simple cause by humans is purposeful and sinister. It’s a tactical battle maneuver. Warfare among humans is now psychological and vicious. Tracing a single cause back to a person or group and affixing blame for both good and bad outcomes is how we engage in mental battle. Our species evolved for ruthless moral warfare. Economists, forecasters and portfolio managers do no better than chance over time, yet they command enormous salaries. A liability lawyer can win millions for his client and himself by convincing a jury that someone or something is THE cause of a death or injury.
As Tooby writes: The complexity and noise permeating any real causal nexus generates a fog of uncertainty. Slight biases in causal attribution or blameworthiness allow a stable niche for extracting underserved credit or targeting underserved blame. If the patient recovers, it was due to my heroic efforts; if not, the underlying disease was too severe. If it weren’t for my macroeconomic policy, the economy would be even worse.
Arm your war chest with awareness that in an increasingly complicated “civilized” world, we humans fight to win causation battles. Politics, law and economics are hostile and increasingly unmoored from traditional notions of right and wrong. Anything goes. Blame wars affix the cause of bad things happening on the greedy rich, lazy people on welfare, criminals who have learned to play the victim, illegal immigrants, foreign governments, and of course politicians. So, plunge into that causal nexus, grab a single cause that makes sense, ascribe it to someone else and fight like hell with anyone who disagrees! This belligerent presidential election cycle is just another example, manifestation or case in point of moral warfare.