Take armed conflict: it's not difficult to reel off whole screeds of plausible reasons for its occurrence, or even its inevitability. Poverty, ignorance, despair, and differences of wealth, ethnicity, religion, class, culture or ideology: all these are thought to be some of the 'root causes' of war and violence. As also are: inequalities in access to resources, scarcity and economic decline, insecurity, the violation of human rights, exclusion or persecution of sectoral groups, and state failures including declining institutional and political legitimacy and capacity. Other key foundations for conflict could be historical legacies, regional threats, the availability of weapons, economic shocks, and the extension or withdrawal of external support. Demography is also significant: large numbers of unemployed males can catalyse conflict.
Sometimes inward factors are cited; such as individual pathologies; perhaps a history of being abused that predisposes someone to take up violence in later life. Often blamed too are the media, and the frequency with which our children are exposed to images of violence - especially when violence is presented as an acceptable and effective way of solving problems.
No doubt all these factors can and do play a part in fomenting and fanning the flames of conflict. But (1) every 'root cause' will have its own root cause and (2) even aside from the impossibility of eliminating every potential cause of conflict, there is no inevitability that these causes will lead to armed conflict. Selective memory has strengthened these linkages in the collective mind, but for each of these 'root causes' there are examples that disprove any simple cause-and-effect relationship. There are, for example, dozens of countries in which people of different ethnicity and religion live happily side-by-side.
Perhaps Tolstoy summed it up best:
The deeper we delve in search of these causes the more of them we discover, and each single cause or series of causes appears to us equally valid in itself, and equally false by its insignificance compared to the magnitude of the event. War and Peace, page 85, Leo Tolstoy, 1867Searching for alleged root causes, then, might not be the best way of trying to solve a problem. Applying the Social Policy Bond principle could be the answer.For instance, instead of policymakers' trying to look for and deal with root causes of armed conflict, they could raise the revenue to back Conflict Reduction Bonds. Then it would be up to bondholders to identify the most cost-effective ways of reducing conflict. That might involve looking for root causes, but only if doing so will be the most efficient way of achieving the outcome we seek.
As an aside, I'll quote the former Grand Archdruid, John Michael Greer on the subject of astrology :
Why do the positions of the planets relative to the 30° wedges of the ecliptic that astrologers call the zodiacal signs, and the position of these relative to another set of wedges of space, the mundane houses, which are calculated from the point of view of the observer, predict the future? Why do those 30° wedges have the effects they do, even though the stars that occupied those wedges in Babylonian times have moved on due to the precession of the equinoxes? And why should the chart cast at the moment of the spring equinox of 2019 in London provide insight into how Britain will fare through Brexit? There’s a simple answer to this, which is that nobody knows. Astrology didn’t come into being because somebody decided to cook up an elaborate theory about planetary influence. It came into being because people who watched the skies in various parts of the world in ancient times noticed that certain relationships among those little bright dots in the night sky provided reliable advance warning of certain events down here on Earth. An astrological interlude, John Michael Greer, 29 August (my emphasis)My point: the important thing is to solve problems, not try to work out why they have arisen. It might be a good idea to look for root causes, but it might be more efficient instead to aim for the outcome that we want without doing so. Trying to understand fully the relationships between cause and effect may be a waste of time, or actually delay and impede the achievement of our social and environmental goals. Outcomes are more important than theory, whether we are talking about ending war or predicting the future.