III - Mechanistic Strategies and Research Methodologies: An Indifference to Spiritual Interiority
To be sure, much is known about youth violence. Studies have shown that youths experience disconnectedness, and uncontrollable anger and rage. These are facts. We also recognize these conditions often leave youths vulnerable to negative cultural influences as exhibited through violent television programming, music, video games, and anti-social groups. Likewise we know angry youths are easily tempted by widespread access to guns and other instruments of violence. These too are facts.
But -- and this is the point -- what is lacking in our national awareness is a clear understanding of why certain youths develop negative characteristics and why they eventually become vulnerable to the forces and means of violence. We simply don't know why this happens; we only know that it happens.
To understand the causal origins of violent behaviors requires us to move beyond material conditions to the formal causes of violence. Otherwise we easily fall victim to the same philosophical reductionism mentioned in the previous section. But even a brief look at prevailing prevention strategies and research methodologies indicates a striking indifference to spiritual interiority, not unlike that which was described earlier. Like it or not, we are captive to material causation.
Since the middle sixties, risk factor research has shaped the design and development of U.S. social policy and programs. In general, the thrust of this research correlates certain conditions and characteristics to specific behaviors. But correlations, despite being referred to as causes, are really about material causation, not formal causation. Indeed, they refer to an observed association of specific antecedents and specific consequents, not to real causes producing real effects. For instance, the lack of affordable housing is correlated with homelessness. But that correlation in no way indicates that homelessness will be prevented if each homeless person is provided with a house. There is more to homelessness than housing or any combination of economic factors. Thus for reasons of an incongruity between causes and correlations, risk factor research is not a good basis on which to construct a national prevention strategy. Prevention needs to alleviate causes, not just subtract risk factors.