The Architecture of Karma
One of the best books I ever read: The Architecture of Complexity by Herb Simon, makes a number of stellar points. Three stories that I remember are of the ant, the clockmaker, and the heat dissipation in the building.
As I recall, the story of the ant opens the book. He basically argues that an ant’s behavior seems complex to us partly because we can’t sense the world of the ant. Simon says that what we might attribute to complexity in the ant’s nervous system is actually due to the complexity in its environment. He’s right, of course, though I think he, like most, vastly underestimates the complexity within the ant as well. A single cell is hugely complex. Nonetheless, it is true that what we observe as complex is behavior that is influenced, and perhaps determined, by both the environment and the internal workings of the ant. That is just as much true for us as individuals, for groups, for nations, and for ecosystems as it is for an individual ant.
Ants, in various circumstances, do things that benefit people, or benefit the ecosystem, or do things that we find destructive or inconvenient. In the case of army ants on the move, they can be highly destructive or even lethal. It seems odd, however, to claim that ants are “evil.”ty
Why is that? It seems as though the ant is simply “following its nature” even if it spoils our picnic or herds aphids so as to ruin our roses. It doesn’t do what it does, we suppose, to “hurt us” or to “destroy beauty.”
When it comes to human beings though, it seems that some individuals do engage in destructive behavior, not because they actually gain anything substantive and useful to themselves but merely because they get pleasure out of inflicting pain and death on others. Every society has such thugs. In a healthy society, such individuals end up in jails or psychiatric institutions. At the least, they need to be put in such situations as to minimize the harm they do to other people as well as to other living things. At best, perhaps therapy can stimulate them to restart their stunted emotional growth.
In some cases, such thugs can gain powerful positions in a society. In the worst case, such thugs become dictators. The playbook they use is so old that it is tattered at the edges. It basically consists of playing on the hates and fears of others in their society in order to divide people against each other. Few would fall for such a ploy except that the dick-tater lies and sets up mechanisms to multiply their own lies and prevent people from knowing the truth about things. The dick-tater builds a clumsy but appealing false narrative so that many people will gladly allow the dick-tater to steal wealth, health, life and choice from his victims. I would use the word “evil” to describe what the dick-tater does.
Like the ant, however, what he does is not particularly “brilliant” or “complex” but it can seem so to those on the outside who don’t understand what the dick-tater is doing. For example, most people, in their daily life, use language to coordinate with others, to bond with others, and sometimes, to enrich life (songs, poetry, puns, comedy, drama, etc.). The dictator relates to language in a completely different way. Their purpose is not to “share experiences” or “solve problems together” or to “enrich life.” Their sole purpose is to manipulate others into doing their bidding.
There is a karmic price to pay for a life of misusing language however. A dictator becomes ever more paranoid and ever more cut off from reality. As a result, the dick-tater becomes ever less effective. This makes them even more paranoid and careful about who they surround themselves with. People willing to speak truth to power are fired, killed, jailed, or disappeared. People who surround the dick-tater are ever more cowardly and sycophantic. This means that the dick-tater becomes even more isolated from reality. The orders of the dick-tater become ever worse in terms of the very ecosystem that the dick-tater needs to survive. Their actions become more short-sighted in time and more restricted in scope.
A perfect example is in a concordance I once saw of the Watergate tapes. Months before Nixon resigned, he used the word need in sentences such as:
“What this country needs….”
“What the party needs….”
A week before he was forced to resign, the scope of his interest had narrowed considerably. There was no more talk of what the party needed or what the country needed. It was:
And the day before he resigned, it was:
“I need … “
The ant may have a smaller brain than the dick-tater’s, but the ant is still tethered to her colony mates and to reality. The dictator has no such constraints.
The “beauty” of “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD for short) is that no rational person would start an atomic war with another nation because everyone knows that both sides would lose such a war.
And that’s one of many problems with dick-taters. They are eventually guaranteed to become more irrational over time.
An egomaniacal, cut-off from reality, cut-off from those who would speak truth to power — that is just the sort of person a dick-tater-$hit puts in charge of atomic weapons.
The second story I recall from the book is the story of two clock-makers. Both of the clock-makers made clocks that consisted of a thousand pieces. One of the clock-makers, however, had to arrange all thousand pieces before the result was stable. If someone interrupted the clock-maker when they were half-way through (or even 99% of the way through), and they were interrupted to answer the door, they would have to start all over again.
The second clock-maker constructed the clock by putting together 10 super-assemblies, each of which was made out of 10 sub-assemblies. If that clock-maker happened to get interrupted, they only had to redo that specific assemblage. As a result, the progress of the second clock-maker was much more resilient.
If a country’s decision-making is dependent on getting the okay of a dick-tater, it seems to me that it becomes very “fragile” like the work of the first clock-maker. If the dick-tater, for whatever reason, changes the dictated direction, all the work people had been doing is lost. In fact, it’s worse than that because not only is the work done now useless; the people who had been doing that work will not instantly change direction and begin working on the new priority. First, they will have to cover up the work that they had been doing! That takes time and energy. In the case of a particularly inept dictator, this will happen often. Scapegoats must be found so that blame will not fall on those little sycophantic lieutenants who were pursuing the previously approved (but now no longer approved) projects. The same sort of thing will happen if dictator one is assassinated and replaced by dictator two. The work and many of the workers who were doing what they could for dictator one must now be eliminated. Either way, the results are the same: consolidation of power to the dick-tater’s new whim and lack of sustained progress.
A well-functioning democracy is more like the work of the second clock-maker. Things are done at various levels of government and so long as what the mayor or governor does is consistent with the law, there is no need to trash the work (or the workers) simply because someone new gets elected at a higher level. Of course, sometimes that does happen. But it isn’t a perceived necessity as it is in the case of a dick-tater-$hit.
As a result, dick-tater-$hits are fragile when it comes to getting things done. Of course, people are afraid to fail. That can be motivating. You can build pyramids with the threat of a lash. But you cannot build a robust cyber infrastructure. You cannot bully people into being truly creative. In a regime based on hate and fear, a huge amount of energy is wasted on “covering your a$$” and very little is learned from success or failure. In success, those with relatively more power will take the credit and in failure, those with relatively more power will blame others regardless of what really happened. Moreover, neither failures nor successes are experiences to learn much from. It’s only a question of who gets promoted and who gets “sent to Siberia.”
Dick-tater-$hit is a crappy system for learning, improving, or innovating. It isn’t limited to ill-governed countries. There are people who “run their family” like a dick-tater-$hit and there are people who run their company or club that way as well. If the overall society is a democracy, the most capable people will tend to avoid such companies or families. If the country is a dick-tater-$hit, then, the entire culture will be pushed toward authoritarianism and its attendant ills.
The last story I recall from The Architecture of Complexity is about a building that consists of several rooms. Each of the rooms is subdivided by partitions. Simon points out that if someone brings a space heater into one of the small partitions, it will heat up that partition first. Eventually, the heat will dissipate into the whole room. But in a still longer time frame, extra heat will seep out to all the rooms in the building.
I tend to think of karma as operating in this fashion. In the short term, if you are nicer to the people around you, they will tend to be nicer to you. But people circulate. So, to a lesser extent, if you are nicer to the people around you, they will be nicer to people in general, and eventually, the whole society will be moved toward nicer behavior. That will benefit you, other people, and the entire ecosystem. As a result, you will live in a better world, other things being equal. Even more so, it bodes well for a nicer world for your kids, your grand-kids, and your great grand-kids.
Conversely, if you brutalize those around you, it will be bad for you and what you care about. In fact, since we live in an inter-connected world, brutalizing people anywhere will eventually cause pain to your progeny and the Tree of Life more generally. To brutalize means to harm others without any real material benefit to you. If a surgeon removes a cancerous tumor from their patient, that is not brutalization. If you trim injured or diseased branches off of your rose bush, that is not brutalizing the rose bush. But if you wantonly kill animals, plants, or other innocent humans, you will be wreaking havoc upon yourself.
That is not surprising, because bullies bully, essentially, because they hate and fear their own life. Life is too unpredictable and scary for bullies. They want to control the world and especially control other people. They think that this will make the world safer, but it actually just makes it more dead. The death, destruction, and brutality that a dick-tater inflicts on any part of the world is death, destruction, and brutality that is inflicted everywhere and on everyone. It may well be that it will take longer to feel it in some places than in others.
If you have untreated bone cancer in your arm, it may mainly hurt your arm initially. But, if left untreated, it will eventually kill all of you, not just your arm. Like cancer, the greed for power that a dick-tater feels knows no bounds. Remember: the dick-tater is cut off from reality and is very short-sighted in terms of time and space.
The rot of dick-tater-$hit eventually seeps into every aspect of society. Schools will only teach what the dick-tater wants taught. Books that the dick-tater thinks will make people think or dislike him will be banned. Even people’s love lives will be constrained by what the dick-tater likes. The people who get the top jobs will not be the ablest or most productive but the ones who have ki$$ed the most a$$. Since the dick-tater’s entire life is built on cheating, they will encourage cheating in everything: business, sports, science, art. Anything alive and thriving is a potential threat to a paranoid dick-tater — and they will all eventually become paranoid. Of course, all this rot that the dick-tater has themselves instituted into society will ultimately make the machinery of the dick-tater-$hit slow and decay.
Dick-taters do not see that they are quite literally cutting off their nose to spite their face.
Dick-taters do not see that they are are harming all of life with their brutality.
Dick-taters do not see that they are harming themselves and everything they might care about.
Dick-taters do not see that in their quest for “immortality” they are trying to subvert the very nature of life itself.
Dick-taters surround themselves with cowards who will fail to point out to them the futility and folly of their foul ways.
We must point it out.
We must arrange the architecture of our society so that dick-tater-$hit is impossible and discourage anyone and everyone who believes that they are more important than the entire Tree of Life.
Dick-taters are always bad.
Now they are lethally bad.
The end of humanity doesn’t depend on all dick-taters being insane enough to use atomic or biological weapons.
It only takes one.