Root causes

When it comes to simplifying, we mustn’t forget those who also go for “the root cause” in all these policy messes.

But which root cause? Hegelian estrangement, Marxian false consciousness, Weberian disenchantment, Freudian defense mechanisms, Sartrean bad faith, Orwellian doublethink, Gramscian hegemony, or Goebbels’s Big Lie? Or is the root cause, in that famous “last instance,” Kuhnian exemplars and paradigms or Foucauldian discipline or God’s plan or that sure bet, money—or have I stopped short of the Truly-Rooted Root Cause?

Explanations via root cause are exaggerations, each pretending to be an outsized clarity that isn’t there. (Geoffrey Hill, the poet, put the point neatly, “the very idea of a ‘transparent’ verbal medium is itself an inherited and inherent opacity.”) Root causes wash out context, distinctions, and the differentiation. The crux instead is where to locate really-existing contingency: It is one thing to say the present advances to the future it gives itself; it is quite another thing to say the future advances to the contingencies the present affords.

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