Monday, October 30, 2006

Conspiracy and Chaos

Here is a terrifying scenario: The world is run by a cabal of evil psychopaths who will stop at nothing to control every major event in world history. Their immense organizing capacity coupled with their utter disregard for the individual results in such catastrophic events as the 911 attacks, the Katrina devastation, and the death of Elvis.

Now here is a more terrifying scenario: No one is in charge. No one person, group or nation is capable of controlling the swirling psychohistory of geopolitics. We ride on the seismic ripples of history. The shifting landscape moves us here and there and we really don't have the power to resist much of the jolting perturbations.

I believe there is an inherent fear of chaos in our human nature. It's responsible for the drive of the scientist to figure out what makes the universe tick and is epitomized by Einstein's notion that God does not play dice with the Universe. It is also at the heart of the religious person's drive to understand our place in the world and this is characterized by the need to envision the Universe as caring and purposeful.

The alternative is too frightening to consider. So this fear of chaos is also likely at the heart of what makes people believe that complex historical catastrophes must in some way be in the control of some person or group of persons. Our anthropomorphic tendencies sometimes run wild and coupled with our unlimited capacity for hubris we somehow feel comforted that at least someone is in charge. The strongman or dictator exploits this tendency by offering the facade of strength and control. In the face of terrifying chaos and misdirection people are seduced by someone who has a simple answer to whatever scares them. Sometimes the object of fear is proposed by the same despot before offering a simple final solution to eradicate it.

There is nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. It is wholeheartedly encouraged and we must continue to question our leaders' actions, intentions and motivations. But do not be blinded by a zealous need to attribute rationality to irrational forces. What often results is a Rube Goldberg Machine approach to understanding history. Beliefs should be guided by intuition but supported and built with evidence.


Anonymous said...

Somethings going on!

Anonymous said...

In addition to Occam's Razor let me add Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." quote attributed to Goethe, William James, Napoleon Bonaparte, Richard Feynman and indeed, Robert Heinlein.