Well, here it is – monocausotaxophilia. It’s a mouthful,
isn’t it? What does it mean?
Mono – single, alone. Causo
– cause, reason. Taxo – order, arrangement. Philia – love of,
Monocausotaxophilia – the love of a single cause that
It is a made-up word, which has recently begun to make
a name for itself. The German psychologist and neuroscientist, Ernst Pöppel,
coined the word as a joke. Some writers have since referred to the word, and
some have misattributed it to the philosopher Karl Popper.
It is also a mix of Greek and Latin origin. The three
terms mono, taxo, and philia are Greek. The odd one out, causo,
is of Latin origin. If we were to be consistent and require all parts of the
word to be Greek, then the word should perhaps be: monoaitiataxophilia.
But with a word this long and of whimsical derivation, who cares about
Notwithstanding the above though, the word is worth
Perhaps in his practice as a psychologist, Ernst
Pöppel noticed a propensity for his patients to want to attribute a single
cause to their problems and concerns. Without a term to describe his
observation he invented this one.
The wish for a single cause that explains problems
goes beyond the psychologist’s couch though. Collectively we seem to want to do
the same. We want to find a single cause of our collective problems. Because,
if we can do that, then we can firstly, attach blame, and secondly, we can
attempt to solve the problem.
With few exceptions, much social and environmental
action falls into the trap of monocausotaxophilia. A few examples may help.
The most obvious one is the climate. The biosphere is
warming and that promotes climate disruption. Why? There are numerous single
cause explanations. Some say it is capitalism. Some cite the Industrial
Revolution. More specifically, many point the finger at oil companies. Or
billionaires. Political leaders come in for a fair share of blame.
More nebulous terms such as consumerism, population,
or technology are sometimes posited as the single reason for climate chaos.
All these reasons influence and contribute to climate
chaos. No single one of them is the single reason. No single one is even
the predominant one.
In reality, our planet is a highly inter-connected,
mutually influencing, co-evolving, and co-emergent system. It is complex. It is
dynamic. It is never the same. It is diverse. It is responsive. It just is!
Sadly, our monocausotaxophilia penchant has us desiring
a single cause label. Once defined, that single cause can then be fixed. It can
be solved. The cause can be isolated, removed, or expelled. At least we think (and
hope) it can.
Yet, has anyone noticed that the more we try to fix a
single cause the more problems we create? What was complex before we tried to
fix it, becomes even more so after the fix (which generally is no fix at all.)
All we end up doing is add further complexity to the system, thus creating more
and more feedback loops. Doing so tends to destabilise a system. It becomes
chaotic. And, isn’t that exactly what we are witnessing in the early part of
the 21st century? A highly chaotic ecosphere, biosphere, and social world.
Furthermore, it may well be that our desire for a
single cause that explains everything is an added factor contributing to the
breakdown and collapse of our known world. A focus on a single cause blinds us
to the side-effects that arise from fixing that single cause. More often than
not a “solution” applied to a single cause can either; exacerbate the problem
we are trying to fix, or damaging consequences will appear in another part of
the system (frequently out of our sight, and therefore out of mind.)
Monocausotaxophilia makes us believe that there are
problems that can be solved. The reality is a lot different. We are not living
with problems, not even complex problems. We are living with and through a predicament.
A predicament does not lend itself to a single cause
explaining it. A predicament does not lend itself to solutions. A predicament
only has outcomes. The outcomes of a predicament are beyond the control of any
of the players inside the predicament. The outcomes of a predicament are not
even predictable. We simply do not know what will emerge on the other side of a
One thing we do know for sure though;
monocausotaxophilia is unhelpful and of no use to us.