William Larsen: The need for cause-and-effect logic | TheUnion.com

William Larsen: The need for cause-and-effect logic

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William Larsen

I loved how The Union's publisher Don Rogers shifted to religion in one column, then tackled "root causes" in the next. Whoosh, enough of politics already, right? Sure, you bet.

Don notes that religion relates to free will, and how the main quest of religion is using this will to "be good." The problem here is that what's "good" in one line of thinking is stupid (or worse) in another; and one person's god is often another's demon. It sure is amazing how the One True Dude can be so fickle, isn't it? Which makes the case for shielding politics from religion.

But religion need not be a divisive contest of opposing "goods." Surely, if God wants us to be "good," She/He also wants us to be smart. To discern good from evil and see the consequence of our actions. Don's column dealt with a Christian believer and an ex-Christian unbeliever, but there's another perspective to consider.

In the religions of the East (e.g. Buddhism) the focus is on understanding as much as it is on virtue. Here, "understanding" refers specifically to comprehending — and living within — the Universal Law of cause-and-effect, otherwise known as karma. There's absolutely nothing woo-woo here. The point is simply that all of our actions, including public policies, have multiple effects, and it is only in knowing these effects — and acting on our knowledge — that we can devise wise policies in both our private and collective lives.

This is not a partisan issue. The focus is simply on observing the effects of our actions, and, hopefully, adapting accordingly to achieve maximum positive effect.

This is not a partisan issue. The focus is simply on observing the effects of our actions, and, hopefully, adapting accordingly to achieve maximum positive effect. Solutions, within the bounds of basic morality, are left to the individual. For sure, statements like "bounds of morality" create a murky landscape, but observable results stand alone. The trick is to create the right causes to produce the desired effect. When we fail to do so, as individuals or governmental bodies, we create needless discord and suffering. Our criminal justice system (from start to finish) serves as a prime example.

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As noted in a recent NPR report, bail in America is based on the crime not the situation or perpetrator. Consequently, poor people arrested for a crime are routinely jailed following arrest, whereas people of means post bail and go free.

Incarcerated until trial, the poor then lose their jobs, which throws families into crisis making them more dependent on governmental support. In fact, the highly regarded Human Rights Watch found that in 2008, fully 87 percent of poor people arrested for a misdemeanor, and assigned bail of $1,000 or less, were unable to post bail at arraignment, and were subsequently incarcerated.

At trial, they entered the court room in jail attire and hand cuffs while those who posted bail arrived in civilian clothes, usually with private attorneys. Pre-trial release, therefore, decreases the probability of conviction by nearly 16 percent, and the vast majority of prisoners are comprised of individuals dwelling in the bottom one-third of the economy.

Some on the far Right might argue the justice of this, but what's unquestionable is that our country has the highest incarceration rate in the world (500 per 100,000 citizens, the majority being people of color). This misguided system is shameful, and is costing federal, state and local governments a fortune — and elected officials around the country (both liberal and conservative) are searching for ways to reduce their prison populations.

Another example is the misguided push by Attorney General Jeff Sessions for states to prosecute all crimes at the harshest possible level. This policy would drastically reverse the current trend to lessen the sentences of nonviolent offenders in order to reduce the unconscionable overcrowding of our jails and prisons. Governors and legislators throughout the country strongly opposed this move, and continue to search out more humane, and less expensive, methods of dealing with those transgressing the law.

So, we have a criminal justice system rooted in class warfare and racism, which serves as a finishing school for criminality to the many individuals whose crimes do not merit lengthy incarceration among truly violent felons.

If we applied cause-and-effect logic to this issue, our country would greatly benefit both socially and economically. Gaining a better understanding of this issue would definitely constitute an attempt to deal with this problem at its "root cause."

Doing so would also force us to deal with the underlying issues of poverty and racism at their root causes. And this may well be the reason so many on the political Right refuse to do so.

William Larsen lives in Nevada City.

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