Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Balance Of Power

Sometimes, events happen that make you think there truly is some plan, be it divine or Bilderbergian, to the world. Disparate seeds of information that innocuously land nearly simultaneously, and you know that they came from the same fruit.

And sometimes, randomness prevails, and we struggle to form some basis of rationality out of it.

Ultimately, both of these scenarios collapse to a unifying theory of the world: control. There's an almost fracticality to our lives: the world sets limits to our achievements, and we set limits to a small part of the world's achievements. I can't fly on my own, but I can clear a forest and build a house.

In both instances, however, there's illusion at work. I can fly, if I get an assist from technology. Gravity still exerts influence, but it no longer controls me in this regard so long as I can keep my airplane up.

Likewise, I have to mow my lawn and weed & clear brush often, or my house will eventually be reclaimed by the forest. Not in my lifetime, of course, but the world operates on time scales that you and I cannot begin to imagine.

This is the ultimate fantasy for an intellectual being like a human, however, that there are controlling forces at work in some respect that have power over the entire world. We seek order where there is chaos, and we find it, because that chaos holds still for an infinitesimal moment on its scale, but for an entire lifetime or life of a civilization on ours. We build cities on multiple fractures in the earth's crust, complacent in the knowledge that it "can never happen here".

But it has. And it will. We just haven't witnessed it. Moreover, there's little we can do to prevent it. This is how life is: it is aggressive, violent to the point of catastrophic. The world responds in kind. Eventually, random events occur that prove the theory of evolution, and a dominant species falls and a subordinate species arises.

God blessed us with short attention spans (and cursed me with a slightly longer one). A man is arrogant enough to believe that history began twenty minutes before he was born, and then he learns (one hopes) about people, civilizations, and societies that preceded him. Man as a whole is arrogant enough to believe that history started twenty minutes before the first man-ape swung down out of the trees (or Adam was created, if you believe that). Man as a whole, including most major religions, arrogantly believes we have some special purpose on this planet, that God or nature put us here for a reason.

The most arrogant belief Man has is that God put him in charge of the entire planet. God may have the werewithal to control the planet (omniscience and omnipotence are advantageous here), but he did not invest Man with that power, and nor has he given us the keys to attaining it.

Yet, we act as if we had them already.

All this is a prelude to my thoughts on the horrible tragedy at Virginia Tech yesterday. Many have called for better control of guns. Many others still have said "if only guns were more widely available".

Both positions are wrong, of course, in the context of what I wrote above. There is no reason to believe that if the entire college campus was armed, that there wouldn't be 32 students dead this morning. Likewise, there's no reason to believe that, if every gun in Virginia was taken away Sunday, those kids wouldn't be dead anyway.

None. Any presumption otherwise is flawed by the fact that this played out the way it played out, but in a different world based on the additional rule that either side wants to impose on this scenario, it would have played out differently. If the entire campus was armed, for example, who's to say this gunman wouldn't simply have gathered a posse of friends and together, 32 people die? Similarly, in a world where guns were banned from campus...well, a bomb in a crowded gymnasium could easily kill 32 people. Same outcome, different initial conditions.

It's the illusion of control, and the obvious lack of it, that has people grasping for explanations to support their viewpoints.

A gun is the illusion of control. There's a great line in the movie Grand Canyon:
Simon: Look, I don't know nothing about you, you don't know nothing about me. I don't know if you're stupid, or some kind of genius. All I know is that I need to get out of here, and you got the gun. So I'm asking you for the second time, let me go my way here.

Gangbanger: I'm gonna grant you that favor, and I'm gonna expect you to remember it if we ever meet again. But tell me this, are you asking me as a sign of respect, or are you asking because I've got the gun?

Simon: Man, the world ain't supposed to work like this. I mean, maybe you don't know that yet. I'm supposed to be able to do my job without having to ask you if I can. That dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything is supposed to be different than it is.

Gangbanger: So what's your answer?

Simon: You ain't got the gun, we ain't having this conversation.

Gangbanger: That's what I thought, no gun, no respect. That's why I always got the gun.
And yet, that gangbanger has no control, because he can just as easily lose the gun as get it, and even having it, there are bigger guns out there just waiting to be trained on him. And bigger guns on them, and so on up the scale. Eventually, you reach the biggest gun, but so? That gun, too, can be lost.

Or Simon could decide, "You know what? Fuck it, I got a job to do, you want to shoot me, shoot me." Now the gun isn't control. If anything, it's just randomized the situation (if this had been a real life situation, of course. In the movies, Simon likely would get shot to advance the plot).

Essentially, tho, I suspect this is what was going through the gunman's head yesterday: he felt in control, and yet his actions tell us he was desperately out of control, to the point where he shot himself dead (at least that's the current version of events).

Likewise, our attempts to make sense of a senseless act are an illusion of control. None of us will ever know what went on in the gunman's head, so none of us will ever fully understand this horror. What demons lurked there? What pain, real or perceived, had he suffered?

We'll try to understand, because we must, because all the gun control in the world or for that matter, all the guns in the world, will not prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. We probably ought to replace the Second Amendment with a Second Suggestion, for all the good those legal guns have done and will do for this country.

Life is aggressive and violent, and will find a way to destroy what it has to destroy in order to create new life. And man is life, just as life is man. The difference is, in life itself, chaos creates a rearranged order.

Only man can destroy for the perverse pleasure of destroying. And we're armed to do it on mass scales