2015/10/16

Myth of the Monofactor

I vaguely remember a while ago, I was talking to a couple of friends about World War 2, as is the fashion for a keyboard kommando such as I. A third party butted in, and said something along the lines of
"Oh, you know why the UK won the Battle of Britain?"
...
The one reason?
"They were giving all their best pilots meth amphetamine to keep in them in air for, like, days!"
Ok.
Being several drinks in and not wanting to really kill whatever mood there was, I probably dumbly agreed and carried on the conversation. However, it highlights something I (among many others) have noticed about the way we think about why these great big events plastered all over the news happen, and how those events are presented to us.

To that guy, whoever he was, there isn't a sole reason for why the Brits won. The Germans were also giving their pilots meth, so by the same train of thought one could say that the Brits won because of the invention of the screw, which held their planes together. The primary reasons for the British success, as I'd list them, would have been:
A sophisticated and well co-ordinated RADAR system
The inherent advantages of the defender in a bombing campaign
Incompetence at the highest level of the Luftwaffe
Poor Luftwaffe target priority
A well coordinated salvage system by the British
Meth pilots, being a tool used by both sides, is probably not a reason that Britain won, and even if it was a reason it would not rank as highly as the ones I just listed.

However, in media, large issues are presented as having a single factor. Mass shootings in the US are only a gun control issue. We are going to war with ISIS because they are evil. We are going to hunt down Al Quaeda to stop terrorism. etc. Even a cursory examination of these actions will tend smear the reasons that we purportedly use. As those reasons become bunk, we'll often be presented with another story.

This is important to note, as the changing narrative with respect to a single event isn't the media covering multiple factors, but rather backing a different single factor and forgetting about the previous one. The second Iraq War has been picked apart, and the various motivations for it have been laid relatively bare, so let's start with that.

Initially, the stated reason for going to war with Iraq was to stop terrorism, more specifically to hunt down Al Quaeda, who had claimed responsibility for the attacks on the USA on September 11th 2001. This was eventually shown as being bunk as Iraq had no real connection with Al Quaeda other than a few members coming from Iraq (and none of the pilots).

After that, the reason was to get the weapons of mass destruction he was obviously hiding.

After that, the liberate the Iraqi people from the thumb of a dictator.

After that..? Stabilising the region or something?

And so on. In each of these cases, it has been shown to be rather, uh, well wrong. But it does highlight the way we think about things (and may have done in the past).

A mass shooting is just about gun control, or just about mental health care, or just about having metal detectors in schools. I'd personally err on "only about gun control" if push came to shove, but mass shootings are also partly a mental health care and cultural problems that the USA suffers from. Toxic communities also.

Maybe start a "boring news channel" which goes over major reasons for why things are happening one way or another. You could easily fill 24 hours with that. Probably not much market for it though. Maybe it already exists.

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