Drug, gas-tax problems come with strong debates

From: Tom Lane


The two articles on the editorial page of Wednesday’s paper demonstrated what I see as a common problem we have in communicating. The lead article by Dr. Saddoris was about the struggle with addiction, and the second smaller article was about the recent proposed gas tax. Both were well-written and clear to me, but that is because I think like they do.

I do not mean that I agree with them, although I did, but that we use the same thought process. In my experience, most people think in a “cause and effect” manner, and that is certainly logical and useful for many things. But some people think in terms of “systemic interaction.” If you are only a cause/effect person, that may not make much sense. If you think systemically, this is obvious.

So the drug addiction article made the great connection that diabetes, heart problems and many other serious health issues are from a lifetime of multiple factors. Not a simple cause and effect. But most people who look at drug addicts put them in a cause/effect mode. “It was their fault. They chose to take the drugs, now they pay the price.” Can you see that if you are caught in only that way of thinking, that you will see the systemic view as simply making excuses, missing the point or even trying to complicate a simple problem? Drug addiction is complex and demands systemic solutions.

And the gas tax issue is similar. Placing a tax on gas that is geared to inflation seems like a good cause/effect way to go. You use the roads, you pay for the roads through taxes. Simple. But the author points out that it affects poorer people the most. They may pay more of their income on gas, they may not have wages adjusted for inflation, they may not be able to afford higher mileage cars, etc. A systemic view of the problem versus the cause/effect view.

My point here is that when we have complex problems, we all need to look more broadly to the critical factors, rather than jumping to a quick and simple solution. Sometimes that does work, but not often for our chronic problems. And believe me, it is very hard to have a meaningful discussion between people who approach the world with these different mindsets. One thinks the other is being too “intellectual,” and the other thinks they are being “simplistic.” One side is not the right one, but appreciating both approaches is key.