The world seems more different today to some people than it should be. I am speaking of those persons known to share opinions that are a variation of the theme, social values have gone into decline, we are headed into moral decay, and the fabric of society is unraveling. Less stark than this are those thoughts that technology is diminishing the connections between people while destroying individual worth. A far milder sentiment is that our creative and intellectual endeavors are less profound in their noble impact. As someone coming up in the society, I attempted to understand these points of view. I have read various books and research materials that explored this and heard many arguments that make the case that these things are true. I am aware of a different truth now.
I think there is a type of bias what I call Present Bias. It is when interpretations of today, current reality, is based on comparisons with the past. I call it thus because it is a way of describing today based on an incomplete understanding of yesterday. I am subject to this the same as anyone, but I labor to try to stretch a little. Later on, I will explain why that is important. For now, I can only say that few of us can remember every detail of our past lives down to what happened minute to minute. The same can be said of those who chronicle the days.
History is Incomplete
Knowing major events of the past is important. It helps us to build society on the lessons and inspiration of those who came before. I am of the opinion that while we can know that an event happened in the past, the true nature of the event can elude us. What is written about a person’s or people’s motivations is subjective, then as is now. The same can be said of circumstances. Outwardly, a generation of people may have been prosperous and less noted for disorder, but what of the unwritten chronicles of strife and bliss? We cannot know.
Closer to Reality
A statement I have seen in writing and spoken says that people are the same everywhere. I think that is true. I also think that people of the past are the same as people today. The cultural and behavioral practices may differ but the same internal motivations, drives, desires, and concerns are common across all people from the past to the future. We are all the same except for when you compare the sequence of choices between individuals.
Nature Contrary to Chaos
Peace and harmony make up a large part of the natural state of people. It is not a perfect disposition however. Peace gives way to war when interests collide past consensus only to revert peace based on consensus favored by the victor. As a species, we greatly lean towards the path of least resistance. We love convenience, routine, stability, and nurturing conditions that appeal to our whole person. This is the core response of our biology (including both reason and emotion) to external stimuli. The instinct is to act to perpetuate the most favorable condition.
Why We See Chaos
People are alert to things that can undermine an otherwise good situation. It is how we evolved and reactively or proactively, as a living group, sought to get beyond what could end us. Our antenna is remains pitch perfect in noticing disturbance.
A History of Chaos
When we see problems in the world, what we are often saying, I think, is that we do not like the change we see. In business, it takes the form of criticism of organizations. When companies fail to expand profit; fail to retain workers; fail to produce acceptable innovation; or fail in national commitments to community, we may chronicle that in an unfavorable way. A pattern of such failures may be seen across organizations including the governmental kind. As patterns go, look at past events such as the Great Depression and past recessions and the impact on workers from the shift from mass agriculture of the traditional kind to industrialization, then to a service oriented focused. The criticisms, struggles and transformations have the same character then as they do now.
The conversation can get really dark if we spoke about past cultural practices. Noble things emerged out of those times. Great works of science, literature, law, and philosophy among them. The fact that we can count and enumerate the great personalities of those times does not change the fact that at the same time many people were dealing with strife, struggle, and survival. Harsh conditions such as those can breed many unwritten acts of despicable detriment. The difference today is we have technology that reveals more of what was once hidden in terms of public awareness.
What I perceive is that the present society, in the first world at least, is far less ruled by overt physical control to minimize deviant behavior than in times past. Instead, we have shifted from physical control to the natural effects of socializing methods that are showing themselves effective at minimizing individual preference to traditionally unappealing deviant behavior. Others may argue that this simply has resulted in detrimental actions of a more sophisticated kind. The length of that discussion is too long to go into here.
The decline of culture then can be stated as a perception around behaviors criticized in earlier times for their likely ability to create disruption and negatively affect the fortunes of the community. It is an instinctive response around a set of perspectives for living a good life. Although I fully embrace those perspectives in my personal life, I recognize that the larger environment may be one in which they may not apply. I am speaking about conventions in how one wears clothes, speaks, expresses courtesy, considers the needs of others, and fosters respect of others. There has always been groups of people like that and there has always been groups of people who do things in a much more different way. The history of both behavioral groups is complex resulting both good and ill contribution.
Is the World More Chaotic?
The point is there has never been a perfect culture or even one approaching true steadiness and widespread prosperity in terms of the details. Part of the history of people is the quest to get it right. We idealize the good parts of the past and generalize it to that entire society or generation, but this does not really serve as a complete way to judge the present or build the future. The world is no more or less chaotic than previous times. People are the same. We simply know more about the details of more people than we did in the past.
What is the World?
Given what has been said, I have concluded that the world is neither more or less chaotic. I do think that peace, steadiness, growth and prosperity, in the abstract, is the natural state of people. For the reasons I gave earlier, this sometimes leads to strife. World itself, independent of people, is a continuously chaotic place designed to shape and change people who are naturally homeostatic. That is a tension that can often breed a response that aligns with that natural chaos in what we experience as time moves on. It is an act of will and grace to act contrary to that ongoing chaos. The number of individuals working together or separately to push forward despite the natural chaos implied in nature is why the future of society remains an open question.
Why The Discussion on Chaos?
I was inspired to write this based on a series of articles by Greg Satell of Forbes.com who wrote some recent articles on disruption and change. The articles reminded me of discussions that have been going on for decades. Discussions I’ve heard for years. I began to sense that these discussions probably have gone on for many centuries in the past and will likely continue well into the future. That to me was an indication of a broader pattern in who people perceive the world.
Implied in many of our approaches to life is an attempt to quell the natural chaos that exists. Mitigate the chaos that can emerge from others and ourselves. Life is too dynamic to be controlled, too far outside the scope of comprehension to be reduced to a system to be managed. Control really is an illusion though sometimes we get lucky and if you are lucky enough, that luck will last. The real opportunity is to accept that you live in a dynamic situation with periodic stretches of useful order in which you can improve your ability to adapt to change while keeping your values and the nature of your vision intact. Everyone’s collective choices make the difference.