November 10, 2008

Society is a very fragile thing.

We are a tightly-knit network of trust. We trust that the car in the other lane will continue to do more or less as it has been doing. We trust that clocks and calendars are objectively relevant. We trust that our neighbours will not suddenly vote us off the island. We trust that currency represents more than its weight in fuel, and that we ourselves are worth more than our weight as a food animal. We trust that a more abstract level of cognition has more value than the raw instincts of survival. We trust that the sun will rise in the morning, and that this will continue to matter to us.

In short, we trust that things will continue pretty much as they always have within the short span of memory that is our only real "now". We assume a vaguely positive inertia, while making no allowance for entropy.

Yet there is no social structure so structurally sound that it has no key logs. There is no social structure so resiliant that it is immune to a basic loss of trust.

This is why calling it like it is has never been a popular thing.

In the best of times, why look at all at which things could still be improved? instead of only at what is already beneficial? Why do anything other than continue to exist within the structure as just another cheerleader? In the worst of times, if you are lucky you are only a fearmonger; while at worst, you are accused of having caused the breakdown in trust. We have utter faith only in our own individual power. At the same time, we seem determined to see ourselves as utterly powerless as individuals.

Yet society holds no substance which is not grounded in the individual, and so it is only as individuals that we can build something greater. In doing so, we cede the strength inherent in an isolated girder, to exchange it for the far greater strength of the resulting bridge. Once the bridge exists, to pull out individual girders is to compromise the integrity of the bridge -- yet to cling blindly to an eroding bridge is to fall with it.

Regular maintenance and an objective self-examination may discover those potential weaknesses in time to repair, and perhaps to rebuild. If we are willing, the only cost may be the acknowledgement that we can have aspects that could stand repair or rebuilding. Surely our sense of self-worth is strong enough to withstand that?

Every key log gives way in time. If we are willing to be aware of that fact, we can build contingencies into the structure, limit the collapse to something painful rather than utterly catastrophic ... and just maybe, next time, we might be willing to build differently, less in defiance of entropy, more in harmony with the cycles of the tides.

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