In my last post, I tossed out a few thoughts about negotiating randomness in our lives. Now I want to do a little haphazard theorizing (which is only fitting, considering the topic), accompanied by a bit of back-of-the-envelope illustrating.
Right up front, let me state my reason for theory leaping in this post: I want to know what people think about this topic, and will—I promise you—enjoy your feedback. I’ll even enjoy it if it starts with a statement like, “Dear theory dabbling jerkoff…” I’m not encouraging that approach, but if you must, you must.
Back to the topic. The core element of my theory is that how someone reacts to randomness directly correlates with the degree to which they externalize and impose their beliefs. The theory rests on the assumption that the hypothetical person is reacting to randomness even if she denies its existence (i.e. believes that everything is part of a higher order). The denial itself is part of the reaction.
The graphic below is my back-of-the-envelope attempt at explaining this visually. On the left are reactions to randomness, ranging from those with a fairly loose, or what I’m calling “low demand for control” disposition to those with a tightly structured, high demand for control disposition. Along the bottom are degrees of external imposition of beliefs/positions.
The curved line shows that the higher the demand for control a belief position requires, the greater is the need to externalize and impose it.
Where the dotted lines meet, I’m showing the vector between the highest control position (for which “Almighty God” is the source of control) and the highest degree of externalization. At this point, the perceived threat to the source of control is the greatest, because if others do not endorse that source of control, then randomness retains power to not be controlled (in the mind of the person holding the high control position).
Another way to say this is that the more we draw from external power sources to deal with our dread of randomness, the greater is our need for others to agree. For them not to agree, or worse to posit alternative positions that give randomness credence, is threatening to the external source of power.
On the far other end of the spectrum (bottom corner of the graphic), we have those whose reaction to randomness is self-contained. They acknowledge the randomness of living and try to assert whatever limited control they can to stay on the happier side of the statistical horizon. Since they are not drawing on an external source of power to exert control over randomness, they don’t perceive a threat from others who don’t agree with their position, which they acknowledge is subjective. As shown in the graphic, their need to externalize and impose their position is extremely low, because the perceived threat is low or nonexistent.
Somewhere in the fluffier middle are those who draw on nondescript sources of control over randomness–which might be external or internal depending on the specific belief. For example, someone who believes that the “universe” is the source of power is pointing to something that encompasses everything else, so it’s both external and internal. The threat from others to this belief position is moderate, chiefly because its ambiguity allows it to slip past concrete arguments for or against.
You can come up with an entire range of belief positions that fall up and down this graphic, but the main point stays the same: how people face the randomness of existence strongly influences their perceived threat from others of differing positions and their need to externalize and impose their beliefs.
The conclusion I’m coming around to is probably obvious by now. Attempting to defeat the power of randomness in our lives by appealing to an external source of power invariably leads to conflict. We react defensively to perceived threats to the power we believe is lifting us up over the chaos. And we feel compelled to externalize our belief to eliminate threats and reinforce our position. The more successful this externalization is, the more psychological reinforcement we experience–and on and on the cycle goes.