Tuesday, July 29, 2008


My life is full of plot holes and continuity errors, probably why I have no problem with these things in movies and novels.

I have a problem with cause and effect. I’ve grown up, of course, educated in the high probability that actions have effects and that events do not occur without causes. It’s just difficult for me to recognize them in the real world, apart from fiction. (Novelist E.M. Forster demonstrated that causality is the very basis of fiction—“The king died and then the queen died” is no story; however, “The king died and then the queen died OF GRIEF” is a story.)

And given the exacting conditions of cause—that event X must precede event Y, that X and Y must be proximate, that X cannot occur without Y, and that Y cannot occur without X, it’s a wonder to me that anybody believes in causality.

Though I understand logic very well, I am not by nature a logical creature. I’m a thwarted intuitionist—“thwarted,” that is, by my education and a society that goes so far as to identify scapegoats—no problem if they’re innocent, in many cases—just to satisfy its craving for cause and effect.

I’m not denying that causes and effects exist. I’m just saying that they are a difficult concept for me to wrap my head around. However, the limits of language being what they are, I still use the language of causality, words like “therefore,” “so,” “because,” and “consequently.”

As I’ve gotten older, I am more skeptical about the efficacy of politics, expertise, even medicine—not just because they so seldom produce the effects they seem to promise but also because the so-called effects, when they are identified, are often matters of prior belief rather than open-minded observation.

I’m not holding my breath for science to tell me where my homosexuality came from or for politics to predict what’s going to happen in the Middle East—however much pundits and experts claim to base their positions on evidence.

I’m also a bit less curious now about what caused the world (God?) or what causes all the bad things in life (the devil?). To quote another favorite novelist, Joan Didion, I give you perhaps the most thrilling opening lines of any novel: “What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.”

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