It’s the everything, stupid
Taken from perhaps the finest television program ever made, this book title says it all really. There’s no point in seeking a single cause explanation for anything because there’s always more going on.
Yes, there may be a big factor such as epidemic revolution, the invention of the horse, the discovery of god, the smelting of gold, etc. But other factors shape the pattern of behaviour in such a significant way that events will play out completely differently if the second factor is ignored.
But this begs the question, ‘How many factors do I have to consider when trying to come up with an explanation of anything? Do I have to consider three… four perhaps… please don’t say many.’
Deep down you know that many is the right answer. But that’s completely demoralising. You might as well say ‘History is just one damn thing after another,’ and abandon any attempt to explain anything. This is currently voiced is the exceptionally popular ‘It was a perfect storm.’ I mean, that’s just lazy.
I guess that the problem here is just how detailed a time frame one chooses to look at something. Year by year loads of things are going on. Stand back to look at century scales and little factors, driven by chance events, might cancel out (I hope) or at least drift gently (I know, this is very anti ‘tipping point’. I guess I am). Big factors, on the other hand, which are being pushed constantly by some bias, may become more obvious.
So my rule of thumb is currently to look for no less than two, maybe three, big factors that lead to a particular series of events. It may not be right, but it at least gives one a chance to come up with an explanation.
Gladwell, M. 2000 The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference. Little Brown, pp304.
Swain, B. 2007 It’s the Everything, Stupid, Tomsville, pp183.