Systemic Decisions

Breaking the lock It's been a rough week in more ways than one, but I think it's time to switch off the media machine and attempt to refocus on sanity. The mourning will go on for some time, as it must, but to paraphrase the forensic psychiatrist, I can certainly keep madness from having its own morning show. I'm fortunate not to have lost my child in an insane rampage, but I have some idea of how it might feel. I'm fortunate, also, that my daughter wasn't the object of demeaning remarks delivered by a careless commentator during her college basketball game, but I have some idea of how that might feel, too. Still, any pain or anger I feel in connection with either event is more sympathetic than empathetic, which isn't at all the same thing.

But fortunate doesn't necessarily mean forgetful, and moving on doesn't have to be synonymous with acceptance. These events are symptomatic; they're results, not causes. Although it would be absurd to compare the magnitudes of the results, there are certain commonalities in their origins, and those things can't be forgotten, much less accepted. Cultural shortcomings may be at fault for allowing certain symptoms to persist—and in some cases may actively propagate the larger syndrome—but culture is, after all, a subset of humanity. If systemic failure is to blame, it may be worthwhile to examine the larger system that spawns every culture, past, present, and future.

I think every generation—once it reaches a certain collective age—considers its present a time of madness. I have a different idea. I don't believe humanity has been accumulating insanity so much as allowing the insane minority a disproportionate share of the decisionmaking process. Ambivalence is silent, but the voice can be restored. On the other hand, those who believe the basket has already arrived at the gates of hell aren't likely to devote any effort whatsoever to a cause they consider lost. In that case, the silence is forever.

In the end, we all play a crucial role in determining the shape of society, and what symptoms our particular culture might present. Every personal decision affects the whole, and moves humanity one click forward, or back, while the absence of any decision allows others to determine how things will be. The solitary individual never dictates to humanity; it's just the cumulative indecision of its members that allows it to seem so.


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