Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I'm In Control

Blame is a way of simulating control: if we can just identify who was at fault, we can stop it.
Megan McArdle
There is a reason why we often term the rush to find someone to blame for something as a "witch hunt." The persecution of suspected witches is (remember, there are still people in the world who actively believe in witchcraft) simply a facet of the impulse to simulate control through blaming. (Once you link Satan to mortal agents, and say that he must act through them, you can control him by dispatching said agents.)

Humans are said to be the most advanced, intelligent species on the planet. Mainly because of the degree of control that we can exert over our environment. We've taken places that were deserts and made them green (and, when we are careless, vice versa). We have mastered the land, sea and air, and have even been able to set foot on the Moon. We could even go to Mars, if we wished - most of the technical challenges have been worked out - resources are the main thing holding us back now.

But we still have difficulty dealing with the idea that the world is mostly beyond our control. After the tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean in 2004, if you paid some attention to the media coverage, you could find people blaming everything from the sinfulness of those who died to secret nuclear weapons for the catastrophe. "These things" the reasoning went, "Don't just happen." But things always "just happen." Sure, they have reasons, but that doesn't mean that we understand what those are.

The understanding that the Universe is a big, cold place that will wipe you out of existence as easily as throw you a bone clearly isn't for everyone. And I can understand why. But it's also worth remembering that along with our other needs that the Universe doesn't provide for, it doesn't bother with giving us the means to satisfy our need for control. So maybe it's time that we worked to leave it behind.

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