Stability, Stasis, and Comfort Levels

A comment on another blog got me thinking about stability and comfort in society. The discussion had drifted to “why do to people, and some governments, want to lock things into a certain level of economics/cultural norms/seasonal patterns forever and ever?” Part of it is the comfort of familiarity – we want the sun to rise in the east, the seasons to change when they are supposed to, cinnamon to taste like cinnamon, and our pay-check to arrive on time. Among other things. For most of human history, major changes to the routine generally meant Not Good Things – natural disasters, wars, plagues both human and livestock . . . Stability was safe. Predictable change was good. Children were supposed to grow up and marry and either move out or start working in the family business or farm. The old overlord died and his son or widow took over and did things just like he had. The occasional trader or traveler from a few villages over, or from a different part of the region, added a little variety but not too much.

Then you also have the “things were better back then.” It could be “when the old lord ran things, taxes stayed reasonable.” Or “in the golden age, when Numa Pompilius was king of Rome,” or “before Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil . . .” or what have you. For peasants it was the ideal time before overlords started taking over the “traditional rights” of free commoners. For the nobles it might have been when [kingdom name] was the greatest power in the region. Or back when peasants knew their place, and everyone stayed contentedly in their station of birth and no one challenged those who were born to rule. Or the wonderful era when wise women and subordinate men lived in harmony with Nature and farmed and all was at peace. Or when you were twelve, and old enough to ride your bike unsupervised and go to the candy store and stay out until the fireflies swarmed on long summer evenings, but didn’t have to pay bills.

Three of those scenarios are about control. ‘When we were in control, things were better. So if we stay in control/go back to those days, things will be better and we can lock things into place and Paradise.” If you look at some the Great Reset ideas, or some of the ideals of groups like Extinction Rebellion, you see a lot of both control and “going back to when everyone was poor (but dignified) peasants farming the land and doing folk-crafts with native materials.” Not that they phrase it like that, but “a less consumptive lifestyle that makes fewer demands on the environment” translates to poorer, when you measure standards of living. Experts and the self-appointed elite should be in control, because they are the experts and elites. Switch “nobles” for “experts and elites” and we’re back to the Renaissance and Middle Ages. Use “Confucian scholars” and you have the mandarins of imperial China. Again, control.

Chaos is the default state of the universe, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Most people don’t do well in chaos. I don’t. I like a theme with variations, variations of my choosing for the most part. That’s not how the world works. Chaos created on a temporary basis, for a reason, can be a little scary even for the creators, because chaos doesn’t always behave. Fire behavior is predictable on a macro scale, for certain terrains, fuel loads, and weather patterns. On the micro scale? You can’t predict which embers will be picked up and tossed over the fire-line to land in just the right materials and start an explosive blaze. You can’t predict which person will cut the wrong wire and take out a municipal water system.

Totalitarian systems are about control. Certain pyschologic conditions are also about control, often control over how others see the individual or react to the individual. When those combine with a Cause, trouble for society really ensues. “I’m doing this for your own good,” ranks down there with “True [philosophy] has never been tried. We’ll get it right this time!” as far as words that should strike terror in the hearts of the sane.

I want to be in control of my particular slice of reality, such as it is. I game out situations in my head so that if X happens, I can control my response and (ideally) limit the damage and chaos. But I know darn well I can’t control other people. I can’t even control the characters I put onto the page! [Yes, Joschka von Hohen Drachenburg, I am looking right at you as example #1.] The idea of me trying to micromanage a world full of other people should scare the socks off of everyone, especially me.

The technocrats and fans of a neo-feudal order don’t see that. The totalitarians have always believed that they really can have total control over what is in people’s heads, as well as what the environment does and how society should respond to that. It doesn’t matter what flavor of totalitarian – theocracy, Communist, NSDAP, Fascist, Eco – control, order, and stasis are their end goals.

They missed the lesson of Greek tragedy and the tower of Babel. Hubris begets nemesis. Control begets collapse and chaos.

6 thoughts on “Stability, Stasis, and Comfort Levels

  1. I knew someone, long ago, who would be careful to reiterate that hubris is ‘outrageous arrogance’. Since this was in the Greek context, he would add ‘that offends the gods’.

    Anyway, I’m actually reading two longer form stories now that have Nemesis as a character. One of the stories definitely has themes of arrogance begetting ruin. As for the other, I’m going to need to think about the thematic strengths in Infinite Dendrogram next time I decide to reread, because I had the impression that Nemesis, Baldr, etc., were named in a fairly capricious and arbitrary fashion. As in, there is an obvious reasoning for the choices, but I’m not sure that there is any unusual depth.

  2. Oh so true… And they will continue to push until ‘chaos’ happens and wonder what caused it, because it ‘couldn’t be them’… sigh

Comments are closed.