Sunday, October 26, 2014

Diversity and Control

A very simple way to look at many of our world's problems is in terms of 'control'. There are plenty of people out there that want to control others. Some people allow this, but often many do not. When control issue arise, both sides feel justifed in their agenda, both put significant effort into the brewing conflict.

Sometimes control issues are justified. We live in large collective groups for which we need to abide by a common set of principle and rules. This benefits all of us, but not everyone realizes it. So we'll always need to have people in a controlling position to enforce the rules and deal with those who go against them. It is easy to understand that for an issue like 'murder' this is a very good thing. 

Sometimes control issues are are problematic. Some people think that things would get better if they personally had even more control. If they could just control the little things, keep all of the people in line, then our world would be a happier place. 

One of the most interesting things about 'opinions' is you can pretty much count on someone, somewhere, to have any possible opinion. Some opinions are more reasonable than others, but all of the possibilites are held by at least one person. Not only that, but pretty much most of the combinations of opinions, whether they clash or not, are also held by someone. 

This relates back to control, because it means that pretty much for any level of control, someone out there believes it is reasonable, but there is also at least one person out there that does not. As the lines of control constantly shift in our societies, there are always at least two groups that are activily engaged in that process. One tries to push it further down, the other ties to push it upwards. Both believe that what they are doing is for the benefit of all. Both, relative to their own opinions, believe they are right.

Over the last few decades, due to our realization that our behaviour has a real impact on the world around us, we have closely studied our planet and understood that it is a somewhat volatile place. Our lifespans have been short, so we've mostly lived with the myth that our world is static, unchanging. We used to see things like the little ice age as anomalies, but a closer look has shown that our planet is an ever-changing, and sometimes unfriendly landscape. Coupled with our learning more of our vast history, we have been slowly converging on an understanding that in order to survive in such a volatile environment, our strongest asset is diversity. That is, if we were all identical clones that thought identically, our static nature would make us far more susceptable to the wild mood swings of the planet. If we are diverse, and scattered, then although those changes are devistating, we are able to rebuild and move on. Our diversity is not only a strength, but a necessity of our environment. It's no accident that we all have different opinions, that we see things so differently.

That diversity is a core strength of our species means that to continue we absolutely must preserve it. It isn't optional. But interestingly enough, one of the side-effects of diversity is that someone out there will always have the opinion that diversity is bad, that if they personally had more control they could wipe it out and make the world a better place where everyone behaves identically. So what is necessary for us to adapt to our world is also the seeds of the desire to bring us down. 

As people struggle for control around the world, the diversity issue often gets caught in between. We must preserve our diversity, but in doing so we allow those who don't want it to continue to pursue their agendas. We can't just wipe them out since if we did we'll just be following a variation of their agenda. At times this doesn't seem to make sense, and the world looks to be a crazy place that never gets better, but it's not. Conflicts are inevitable, and both sides will always believe that they are right, but in the backdrop we do gradually expand our knowledge and refine our behaviour. As we continue with those larger trends, we have learned how to expect and preserve our diverse range of thinking, and have hopefully learned less destructive ways of mediating the inevitable conflicts. It might be nicer if we weren't always clashing so hard, but that friction is a byproduct of the paradox from which we were spawned.


  1. A question in my mind is what creates the desire for the kind of control you describe? I found an interesting article in Reason Magazine that claims one source for this is both a sense among people that scientific progress is inadequate to the challenge of "environmental challenges and natural threats," and that rapid scientific progress is rapidly changing what's known, and the rules everyone thought they knew.

    A popular new psychological model, compensatory control theory, argues that people are highly motivated to perceive the world as meaningful, orderly, and structured. When people perceive the world as being less orderly, Meijers and Rutjens explain, they strive to compensate for the anxiety and stress this produces. Often this entails attempting to achieve personal or external control. With personal control, Meijers and Rutjens write, “it is the feeling that people are able to influence their environment that provides them with the notion of an orderly and navigable world.” With external control, “it is the feeling that an external source (e.g. an intervening God or a powerful government) exerts influence over their environments and the world in general that provides similar perceptions of an orderly world.”

    A threat to one source of order boosts the motivation to affirm the other. Instability in government, for example, produces more efforts to achieve personal control.


    A reasonable reading of these results is that a lot of environmentalists experience many aspects of the modern world as chaotic and thus seek to compensate for their perceptions of disorder by engaging in ritual behaviors that make them feel like they are exerting more personal control. It is not much of a leap to conclude that by imposing those rituals on others, some environmentalists seek to reduce their dread of disorder even more.

    1. Hi Mark,

      I've attempted to post a couple of replies, but strange things are happening, maybe this one will work...


    2. I think they have an interesting idea, but it doesn't fit with my understanding of introverts and extroverts. Introverts tend to be more sensitive to the chaos in the world, while extroverts tend to seek positions of control. My guess is that it is related to how we naturally want to rank ourselves. A way of showing you have a higher rank is by controlling those below you. At some point it seems as if the control is totally irrational and there for its own sake.

      Just a guess...


    3. I think what this study was looking at was what I'd call "citizen behavior." They weren't looking at people who were potential leaders, but rather voters and potential activists who would support leaders' efforts. So these would not be those who control, but support those who do.