Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dealing With Chaos

Billi Gordon, a doctor of neuroscience, says humans must satisfy,"…basic neurochemical needs to promote the sense of control over the sense of threat in life; for some this is religion, for others science, others self-reliance…"

This explains a lot regarding our behavior; more specifically how we deal with the relative chaos of everyday life. Most mature, rational people prefer a modicum of order and routine in their lives. For example, they organize the flatware drawer, they put keys on a rack, they organize their clothing, they keep an address book. All pretty basic stuff. They're not thrown into a cocked hat by minor surprises and changes in schedule. They go with the flow and roll with the punches. They adapt and move on. But for a lot of people, life can just be overwhelming, and I'm not talking about living in an actual war zone. Some folks have more of an obsession about maintaining a sense of control, and that fixation can manifest itself in many ways.

Most of us have heard of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).  About 1% of Americans suffer from this, but that's still a lot of people - about 2.2 million, or enough to populate Houston, TX.  One of the most common OCD activities is "checking."  They become anxious that they forgot to turn off a toaster or lock a door.  A nagging inner voice keeps asking,"What if…what if?"  And so, through the activity of constant verification and organization, they create a sense of order and security.

Security is an easy segue to the world of guns and home security. Just owning a firearm doesn't make you borderline neurotic, but at some point, there's a dividing line between sensible and beyond all reason. Just as some educated suburbanites might drive a Prius and other more wealthy suburbanites might drive a Lexus, a man with a holstered gun walks into a Starbucks or Walmart or a pub, not to deter crime, but to summon our deference. It is a badge of virtue, but more than that, guns give men power and power is status.

Look at the ads on TV for home security systems. There are five major companies vying for your fear money and ADT boasts $240 million a month in revenues. That's a lot of scared people.  "What if…what if?"

And even technology itself has become an instrument of order and security. At one point, we just had mobile phones. Then, cell phones became smart phones and we could carry a computer with us wherever we went, as if we needed a computer everywhere we went. Next, there was an app for connecting that device with our home security systems, so we could turn off a light or lock a door from anywhere on the planet.  As long as you had service.

There is disagreement whether hoarding is connected to OCD, but 25-40% of OCD people suffer from it.  Hoarders often believe they're building a sort of safety net; they might need those items some day. They can't throw anything away. 

And of course, both religion and science can be taken to extremes in the need to ascribe order, from our personal lives to the world at large.  "Jesus said" or "the Bible says" are convenient ready-references to what some people should or shouldn't do. I don't mean to devalue religion. In ALL of the major religions of the world, you're instructed to do several things. The big similarities are:  keep promises, don't lie, don't steal, and help people. That's not bad advice, by any means. But from that point, things begin to get progressively weirder for a lot of people. I can understand the concept of a priest blessing a fishing fleet; asking that fathers and husbands be delivered safe from the sea. But blessing motorcycles? I've seen a picture of an orthodox priest blessing a pile of rifles.

Now, inside my Jeep are 1) a fire extinguisher, 2) a tow strap, and 3) a first-aid kit; three things that are actually basic necessities if you're going to venture off the main road, into the outback. And frequently, this is not done alone, but like scuba diving, in a buddy system.  But, I don't carry a firearm, or emergency rations.  In my canoe, I carry a spare paddle. That's no different than a spare tire. But, I don't carry an extra flotation device, a GPS, or a flare gun.

Much of the extreme conservative politics you see in the southern U.S. is to a large degree an attempt to prevent change and initiate damage control over a sense of uncertainty. Change = uncertainty = fear and some will do anything, no matter how bizarre, to try to maintain stasis.


  1. I believe in balance, I preach balance, I seek balance, but that doesn't always mean balance is possible. It's a goal more than anything, something to aim for. Many people not only don't seek it, they don't even consider it. Extremism isn't necessarily seen as a problem.

    It's a known phenomenon around the world and throughout history that humans respond to the feeling of insecurity by seeking authoritarian government, and in the absence of that, by becoming more and more conservative and intolerant.

    1. Good comment and observation. I always value your input. Thanks.