Our previous go round on cause and effect concerned Saturday's tragic events in Tucson. What caused the death of six people and the wounding of fourteen?Conservatives tended to see a deranged man as the cause while dismissing permissive gun laws, a volatile political season, along with heated rhetoric and ads during the 2010 campaign.Liberals tended to see many causes for the event: the deranged man, Arizona's permissive gun laws, violent words and symbols during the campaign, and a general breakdown of public discourse.But let's take another example. Let us imagine that in Tucson that day a woman had an abortion. Would conservatives tend to see many causes: the woman herself, the physician, the free-standing clinic, legal permissiveness, moral breakdown and ultimately Roe V. Wade? On the other hand, would liberals argue that it is a woman's choice? She gets the abortion; it's not the doctor, the clinic, not the legal regime, nor Roe v.Wade that causes that abortion.Is our stand on cause and effect an outcome of our political views and the matter under discussion? Or are there guidelines that would produce a more coherent and less polemical assessment of cause and effect?
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.