Better Questions is supported by readers like you. If you get value from my writing, consider becoming a supporting member. Exclusive content, weekly deep-dives, free beta-access to future courses and more. Thanks.
There are three demons behind most things that go wrong.
Three forces of chaos, of disorder, of catastrophe.
The first is variability.
Everything's in motion, nothing stands still. Given time, all out puts fluctuate: up and down, depending on that moment's intersection of random change, biological modulation, the actions we've taken (or not).
We don't show up every day and produce exactly as we produced the day before. The traffic on the way to work was light yesterday, but heavy today. It'll rain tomorrow, but it's been dry all summer. A devastating war follows decades of piece.
The second demon is dependency.
Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything affects everything else. Everything we desire requires something else to happen first.
This means that every action, no matter how small, stretches infinitely backwards into the time stream. In order to kiss that person we like we first need to be there, and they need to like us back, and for that to happen we need to act a certain way, which requires us to be raised in a certain way, which requires our parents to behave in a certain way, which requires them to be raised in a certain way....
...and on, and on, until we decide not to think about it anymore.
These two demons - variability and dependency - interact.
Without variability, the world would be predictable. What happened yesterday would happen today.
Without dependency, the world would be mostly predictable. We'd have a range of possibilities to choose from, but events would be isolated, and change would be localized.
With both variability and dependency, all bets are off. Reality emerges from the interplay between the two.
Even the simplest possible arrangements lead to complex results.
An example: traffic jams spontaneously emerge from a line of cars moving at roughly the same speed in a circle.
All drivers are given the same instructions, and all have the same goal.
Variability in the ability of the drivers to maintain a steady speed, combined with...
Dependency of the cars (since no car can move faster than the car in front of them)...
Produces complexity (cars bunch up, creating a "shock wave" that moves around the circle).
The final demon is bias.
Bias is what prevents us from noticing and expecting variability and dependency.
Instead of seeing the systems around us as a whole, as networks with numerous interactions...
We see events as isolated in time.
We see our actions fail and immediately blame ourselves, our incompetence, our failure.
We see the unexplainable actions of others and attribute them to malice, or stupidity.
We try to fix what we can't...
And ignore what we can.
We miss the simple steps we can take to make our lives more resilient, reliable, and enjoyable.
We feel helpless when we should act...
And feel empowered when we should not.
once you learn to see them, you will see them everywhere.
And that's the first step towards doing something about it.
COOL STUFF TO READ:
Worth a read, even if only to put into words why you disagree.
Better Questions Newsletter
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.