Pendulum Swings

I recall a physics class where the teacher demonstrated the behavior of a pendulum and the effect that gravity/air resistance had.  If you dropped (not pushed) it would never reach it’s starting point – each pass would get progressively shorter.  The beauty here is that physics are a constant – the math is consistent and the results always match the math.

In the sci-fi series Foundation (from the 50s!) the concept of psychohistory is pushed, where mathematical models are applied to sociology.  The core concept that an individual can be an unknown, but that large masses can be predicted.  The larger the mass, the more accurate the prediction.  Over the series, the books explore the creation of this class of mathematics, and the centuries of effort to refine it.  The point here is that the first book is entirely based on the mathematical predictions, and how people deal with the concepts of fate/control.  This is over large spans of time – each crisis takes over a couple generations to appear.

In today’s word, we seem to be encountering a new crisis every couple weeks.  2020 has been a hell of a year.  I mean, it started with most of a continent on fire and has somehow managed to go downhill from there.

The pendulum keeps swinging.  Instead of resistance, there’s a larger force pushing the swing forward.  That force has always existed, but it’s been limited in power/reach.  It used to be that you had to physically meet people to sway their ideas.  Then radio gave a voice to it.  TV put a face to it (the Nixon/Kennedy debate is a key turning point).  The hindrance here was time – you needed to be ready to take the message when it appeared.

Social media removes the concept of time.  Some countries have weaponized this platform either through moderation (China) or deception (Russia).  If they control the medium, they control the message.  Other countries aren’t a whole lot better.  POTUS tweets on average 20 times a day,.  It doesn’t matter the validity of the message, simply that the message exists and is amplified.  Credit where due – these groups have found an opportunity and exploited it.  Where at the ethical level, most people wouldn’t think that deception would be consistent, these groups focus almost entirely on changing the narrative.  They are not targeting the majority – they are simply targeting a vocal minority.  Smart.

Again, this is consistent with social modeling.  People that acquire and maintain power must control the message.  People’s acceptance of that message is like an elastic – it can stretch for quite some time.  Finding the right balance of stressing that elastic and then easing is key.  (There’s a longer conversation as to the people of China who have enjoyed unheard of prosperity this generation, and what they’ve gladly traded for it.  Golden chains, as it were.)  Very few people in power are able to maintain that balance, as it changes as society itself changes.  Eventually, the systems themselves become unmanageable and they topple.  There are no exceptions to this rule – they all eventually fail.  The difference is in how long that takes – and who’s in charge when the decline picks up steam.

It’s not like there’s one factor, or one actor that we can point to.  It’s simply the stress on the elastic that gives out and cascade impacts occur.  No one who lived during the fall of the Roman Empire ever saw the fall occur – it took a long while.  They saw the pendulum swing, but never really saw it pivot.  In today’s hyper-connected world, we are seeing very large swings at the micro level.  Brazil might have a buffoon as a president, but at the aggregate, Brazil has had corrupt leaders for a long time.  It seems like a swing, but it’s just a speedbump in the larger arc.

It’s too early to say that we’re in a change of arc.  It certainly can feel that way, but usually a change is countered in short order.  We’re still having debates/laws pushed about abortion – a discussion that should have been closed a generation ago.  People feel that racism doesn’t impact them, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  There’s a whole lot of “the rules sound great, but don’t apply the to me!” – which, if history is any indicator, is a trigger for large scale change.

I do have faith in the outcome.  It’s not like we’re staring at the dark ages again (1200 years!).  I really don’t think that people in charge are smart enough to do enough lasting damage – cause the people themselves simply won’t accept it.  They’ll accept a lot.  They have already.  But when that elastic does break, a new one will show up within a short time.  Always has.  Just wonder what it will look like.

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