Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Patterns

I went home sick from work this morning. 

I knew when I woke up that something wasn't right, but I thought I would power through, because it's a personal point of pride for me to almost never call in sick for work. Which, of course, is why the few sick days I do take usually begin about an hour after I get to my office. Today, Juneau's latest stomach bug got the better of me, and I was not fit for polite company. 

After a nap and some dry toast, I jumped, startled, when I heard the sound of avalanche work being done somewhere in the distance behind our house, and I began to think about patterns big and small.

After more than a decade in Juneau, I certainly know the sound of an avalanche bomb when I hear it, but each time I do, it startles me. On the rare occasions that I'm not feeling well and go to work anyway, I know I'm going to have to come home, but I always try to make it through the day. 

I never seem to learn. It's a pattern. 

Patterns occur in nature, mathematics, politics, history, and in human relationships and interactions, which comprise both politics and history. The problem with patterns among humans is that our own egos always push us toward the goal of exemption, which can be futile and dangerous.

What I mean by that is that everyone wants to think they are exempt from somebody else's pattern. It's one of the most compelling fantasies there is, and it prevents us from protecting ourselves and leaves us vulnerable.

Think about it. Every great romance involves being the one man or woman (usually woman) to win the heart of a hopelessly-hard-to-pin-down love interest. It's the suitor's ego that insists they will be "the one" to crack the target's emotional code. 

The same is true of friends who gossip incessantly or always have a gripe about someone. We listen, and we think we're immune, but we're not. They're talking about us, too. And of course, the same is true on a more global scale, with world leaders, all of whom are flawed human beings, and polities, all of which are composed only of more flawed human beings.

Certain types of leaders, like the one we just elected President, have autocratic tendencies: delicate egos and overreaction to criticism; a related clamping down on free thought and free press; an incurious intellect; greed; willingness to exploit fear of "otherness"; militarization of their rule. And people, predictably, follow a pattern of falling into line. 

This is the pattern of fascism. It's only our own collective ego of "American Exceptionalism" that convinces us we are exempt from patterns that centuries of human history have laid bare for anyone who is willing to see the forest despite the proverbial trees.

When we set aside our own egos and look at that forest though--look for the patterns--it's easier to plan. It's easier to accept what we are seeing and experiencing. It's easier to remember the last time this happened, whatever "this" happens to be. 

See, patterns are by definition predictable, and predictability is a pattern's greatest flaw and our greatest asset. Once you accept the reality that you're in the woods, you can use the powerful knowledge of patterns to find your way out again.

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