The Limits of Intervention

Why does history always seem to repeat itself: because perceived threat makes it easy to adopt behavior loops that leads to same behaviors

Carol works in disaster relief/prevention in the Pacific Northwest. I follow the Burma-Shave-like series of Tweets she sends out each day that unfold into a narrative, somewhere between stream-of-consciousness and long-form essay. She seems to be always warning us of the hazards lurking within our most recent psychologically induced errors of judgment.

There’s a significant overlap in our concerns. I’ve also felt the pull of behavioral traps and a counter-tug from something quite deep in my earliest childhood that sensitized me to these things.

All this points at another limit to our interventions, to the illusions we have of control over events. One of the most pervasive of these stereotypical behavioral loops is the illusion of control itself and the way it is grounded in the misperception that we are rational and can see and therefore act on this basis.

Anyone expending energy in the pursuit of changing how we go about things is both within this problematic as much as attempting to take us beyond it. The one thing we tend to ignore as a hard limit is this unstable slope where the momentum of crises takes us into an inexorable slide down this path Carol points to. Any effective change has to occur before or after these moments. During such times, we are in a different regime.

Then again, these are always going on in a shimmer of overlapping and out-of-phase dynamics. As one aspect of the Enormity comes to the fore and enters a period of strong socio/emotional momentum, some other aspect recedes from view and may actually be amenable to action. There is a dance to responding to these shifts and ebbs and flows. Another instance where what is required is not the sort of brittle rigidity that characterizes reactions we might refer to as panic.

Panic, the mythic force, akin to Nemesis – as opposed to the Hollywood inspired term-of-art excuse for yet another police riot – is a helpful way to look at it. It embodies the force-of-nature quality of what it is too easy to consider as either blanket “human nature” or some internal quirk amenable to self-help pablum.

One of the deepest lairs within the pervasive civic religion of Progress in which we are mired is made visible when we consider this mechanism of Panic taken in its widest sense. It is the source of so many of our least pleasant unintended consequences. The kind of things we resort to when we give in to, “You have to do something!”

Proprioception. It’s obvious… funny, never thought of this before…. Proprioception translates as know thyself.

This is one of those instances. We can, by suspending reaction and attending to proprioception discover a loosening of this compulsion to react. While Ego shouts-on insisting that we must react the strength arises to resist and recognize that we do not have to.

And this is the instant when things change…

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