Moulton Lava

Moultonic Musings

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Location: New England, United States

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Acknowledgement and Analysis of Sin

When it comes to quixotic quests, perhaps none is more intractable than nudging a hopelessly dysfunctional system in the Bokononic direction of enlightenment.

A few years ago, a correspondent reminded me of Augustine, who is notable for having introduced the term "Original Sin" into the conversation. Of course, being a systems scientist rather than a theologian, I'm more inclined to analyze ''systemic errors'' rather than reckon anything as mortifying as "Original Sin." Still, it occurred to me that Augustine might have been on to something, so I took a closer look at what he was blathering on about with all of that godspeak.

Turns out a few of those pioneering oligarchs (e.g. Solon and Hammurabi, among others) had introduced a tragic logic error into their calculus. Rather than call it "Original Sin," I'd rather call it "Hammurabi's Original Logic Error" or "Humankind's Original Logic Error." Either way, the acronym comes out HOLE, so that one can smirk and say that those who embrace their flawed paradigm have a HOLE in their head.

But I digress. It's difficult to do peer-reviewed original research in the field of Neuro-Mathematical Systems Theology, so one is obliged to follow the lead of Umberto Eco, who said, "Whereof we cannot express a theory, we must narrate a story instead."

And I say, even if we can express a theory, we damn well better present it as a story anyway, since theory tends to make most people's eyes bleed.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Mark of Cain and the Mark of Pain

In the early chapters of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, there is a murder story.  Readers may be vaguely familiar with it.

In this story, there are two brothers who represent the first two occupations of the nascent Agrarian Culture, when humans first took control of the Food Supply.

Cain is the Farmer who tills the fields.  Abel is the Herdsman who tends the flocks.

At the County Fair, Abel's succulent lamb chops take the Blue Ribbon, while Cain's soggy platter of suffering succotash is rudely dissed by the judges.  In a foolish fit of jealousy, Farmer Cain rises up in anger and butchers the Herdsman, Abel.

This unexpected turn of events — the first murder in the nascent Agrarian Culture — is a bit of scandal.  Cain, the surviving murderer now fears retribution by the aggrieved Meat Lovers of the Fertile Crescent.

To forestall a civil war between the Meat Eaters and the Vegetarians, Farmer Cain is obliged to wear a visible sign on his forehead, a stigma known as the Mark of Cain.

The Mark of Cain is a mark of stain, a sign of anguish and remorse.

Today, miscreants in our culture no longer wear stigmatic Marks of Cain on the outside of their skin.  But many who have been stained by haphazard misadventures wear Marks of Pain on the inside.

Can you recognize someone who has been traumatized, stigmatized, or victimized by an unfortunate misadventure?

Can you recognize an anguished Mark of Pain on the soul of a fellow traveler?

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Problem Solving and Problem Creation

When I woke up this morning, I was thinking about a standard method of problem-solving that I have used many times in the course of my professional career.

It's based on studying the exact opposite of problem-solving. It's based on the study of problem creation.

I'll give you two examples.

The first example comes from a branch of mathematics called Chaos Theory. Chaos, as you know, is the opposite of Order. Since the dawn of civilization, human societies have valued Order and disvalued Chaos. To achieve Order, humankind invented Laws. And so we have the cultural concept of Law and Order.

But in the middle of the 20th Century, an MIT researcher working on weather and climate models took up the mathematical problem of creating Chaos. He discovered the roots of Chaos, through which he could create all manner of Chaos on purpose, as easily as possible. He discovered the easiest way to create Chaos is to adopt a rule (known as a Recursion Law) and apply it over and over. Almost all systems of rules are capable of creating Chaos, simply by following the rules without deviation.

So what did Edward Lorenz discover? He accidentally discovered that Law and Order is not only a myth, the adoption of Laws is the single most reliable way to cause Disorder.

The second example comes from a study of collections of seemingly unrelated problems. So, for example, Buddhism is about solving the problem of Suffering. According to Buddhist insight, Attachment is the root of Suffering. Now take the problem of Violence. Most of the violence in our culture takes the form of Vengeance (or Revenge). And so we have Wars and Systems of Justice, both of which answer one kind of violence (Unlawful Violence) with another kind of violence (Lawful Violence). Violence, of course, causes Suffering. As one zooms out, one observes a large collection of inter-related problems, where the common practices adopted to solve one of the problems either backfires and makes it worse, or else causes a fresh instance of one or more of the other problems in the collection.

I'll skip here to the bottom line and give you a list of ten such inter-related problems, where our practices to solve any one of them tends to exacerbate or even cause one or more of the others.

The Ten Big Unsolved Problems in our culture are: Conflict, Violence, Oppression, Injustice, Corruption, Poverty, Ignorance, Alienation, Suffering, and Terrorism.

Now there are plenty of discussion groups focused on Problem Solving. But suppose we study just the opposite. Suppose we study Problem Creation, to discover the easiest and most reliable way to create one or more of the specific problems in the collection of dreadful problems, so as to generate a chain reaction in which we get more and more of each of the specific kinds of problems in the above list.

Here is my sure-fire recipe for generating all manner of intractable problems.

Start with equal measures of Fear and Ignorance. Mix well, and act impulsively or impetuously out of Fear and Ignorance. Voila! You have just created a magnificent chain reaction of all the world's most troubling problems. What could be easier?

But wait. You say you don't want all those problems -- problems of Conflict, Violence, Oppression, Injustice, Corruption, Poverty, Ignorance, Alienation, Suffering, and Terrorism?

Easy. Don't act out of Fear and Ignorance. Instead, openly disclose your Fears. Openly disclose your Ignorance. And then have some faith that others will come forward to allay your fears and cure your ignorance.

But who among us has the Courage to disclose our Fears? Who among us has the Intelligence to disclose our Ignorance?