Little Black Boxes

August 3, 2009

Recently I’ve been exploring my hypersensitivity to being controlled. I used feel guilty about it. When I examine the past, in situations where this has led to a negative outcome, that negative outcome has been the destruction or compromise of a relationship with the other person. The thing they were trying to force me to do was rarely, or poorly done if at all.

I was not able to satisfactorily articulate my considerable distaste for external control, and my preference for comprehension. I’ve been asking “why” my entire life, and have hit a wall many times because of people feeling threatened. It’s a challenge to ask people to reformulate their orders into an expression of needs.

My brain likes pattern matching, and is near-constantly trying to reconcile the multiple inputs it receives. For better or worse, I call it systemic algebra. When it receives new input that doesn’t match the pattern of the increasingly complex model of the world in my head, it adjusts the model.

In this sense, getting older has had an overarching theme of both increased comprehension and decreased comprehension. There are parts of the system which I will not understand, perhaps ever. Those black boxes are unpredictable, and that the only reasonable thing I can predict is that they’ll resolve with whatever needs to happen.

Or more concretely: I trust that people will do the right thing for them, given their worldview.

I think some people would argue with this idea, saying it leaves no room for altruism; that a martyr acts “selflessly” to further the needs of the community. I think motive is inherently selfish—not in a pejorative sense, but that needs are ultimately part of the individual. A person’s actions are a function of attempting to meet the need which is immediately strongest.

Fasting, asceticism, self-inflicted injury, suicide, workaholism or similar behavior are fulfilling an unmet need for control or power. I think prayer is probably the most simple behavior a human can engage in that fills a power need. The idea is seductive—that by talking (in your head) to someone or something that’s listening can have a material effect on the real world. This is incredibly powerful.

This is still a thought in progress.