Thursday, February 17, 2005

39. Stability shouldn't be unstable

Nature works through systems of cycles and subsequent states of equilibrium. Chemistry is built upon the stability of its elements; biology is built upon the recycling of energy through the food chain. The process of energy transfer is what supports life on this planet. Similarly, ecology works through species equilibrium. Prey and predators must achieve levels of equilibrium or else the survival of both species will be threatened. Essentially all systems on this planet are cyclical in nature- each working towards states of equilibrium, otherwise known as stability. For humans, agriculture brought a degree of stability, the end of the need for the changing environments of nomadic life- of hunting and gathering.

The theory of human stability states that humans, individually, strive to be in a state of stability. When not in a state of stability, humans endure feelings of, sometimes severe, discomfort that may be either physical or emotional. Subsequently, in times of instability, humans will act accordingly, even violently, often irrationally, to relieve themselves of that discomfort.

For example, when humans are hungry they are in a state of physical discomfort. They desire to eat, following which will quickly return them to a state of stability. Even when not hungry, just the threat of being hungry will invoke feelings of instability. Consider any national threat such as September 11 or the blackout, when individuals immediately, and sometimes fiercely, react by buying water, canned foods- whatever they feel necessary to help them survive the potential danger.

Similarly, under stress, the human body reacts to defend itself from the immediate threat of discomfort, uneasiness or fear. Physiologically, the body reacts and chemicals such as adrenaline are released- at the expense of other systems, such as the immune system (individuals under stress are far more susceptible to illnesses and diseases than those who are not). As an immediate relief to stress, individuals seek comfort through food, cigarettes or alcohol- whatever relives them of their personal anxiety or instability.

The issue is more obvious in matters of the heart. When a relationship ends, one or both partners often enter into a difficult state of instability (in this case, instability is best described as that feeling in the pit of one's stomach). A new relationship or getting back together best relives this feeling- and is why rebound relationships and reconciliations are so popular. Our second president, John Adams, gracefully noted upon the subject that, "A heart agitated with the remains of a former passion is most susceptible to a new one." Conversely, it may be "instability" that is responsible for the "crimes of passion." Revenge, as we will see and despite its consequences, is a powerful tool in the fight against instability.

On a larger scale, religion offers, for many, a sense of stability to their lives. It brings comfort in not only the death of a family member, but also their own life. The thought of an afterlife relieves the anxiety of one's own mortality. For some, this belief brings hope, purpose and a much more peaceful life. The ability to fall back on one's religious beliefs offers considerable stability to both personal crisis and the meaning of life. It provides an explanation when seemingly there are none, and in this way turns away one of our greatest senses of instability while, at the same time, providing us a "rĂ¡ison d'tere."

Since the adoption of human stability, however, nothing challenges our sense of stability more than fear. So comfortable have humans become that fear seems to perpetuate an emotional and almost unreasonable effect on the population. Consider again September 11. The country sat motionlessly glued to their television sets and then, in my opinion, overreacted not to the horrific event itself but to the consequences, fears and emotions of the incident. The country looked to return to stability through revenge, "We must find and kill the terrorists," leaders proclaimed. Then, with revenge seemingly in hand, the next step toward stability is the assurance that this sort of thing will never happen again. With this, Americans adopted The Patriot Act, and created the Department of Homeland Security.

Our government, many will argue, was quick to capitalize on the principle of instability. Understanding this principle, the administration used the fear of the people to fight, what the majority now feel (steadily around 52-54%), was an unjustified war. The country, shivering at the thought of being attacked from those with weapons of mass destruction, approved the invasion of a country that never attacked us, and that has yet to show any evidence of those weapons of mass destruction. Finally, the White House successfully used the fear of the American people as part of the campaign to win four more years- as polled Americans often recited "safety" as a significant factor in their voting decision.

Statistically, the fear of terrorism is unfounded. If the government really cared about protecting this country and its citizens from harm, from the actual causes of death, it would bomb the tobacco fields, level the fast food restaurants and encourage individuals to work out rather than sit in front of the television fretting over the current national security level (orange is what again?) or watching the latest "special report." However, as we have seen, fear, as a measure of instability, can be used to persuade what would otherwise be regarded as an irrational or unfounded agenda. Ask the question, would Americans have approved an invasion of Iraq prior to September 11, given the same claims of weapons of mass destruction?

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