The "Just One Thing" paradox

[Contact Me]] | [FAQ]

[Some "Dougisms" Defined]

[About Dickens of a Blog]

Thursday, 30 July 2009

(18:55:52 CDT)

The "Just One Thing" paradox

I can't help but delight a little in the irony of my thoughts. I was thinking, this afternoon, about one thing that tends to make relationships work. A thought not long in following a thought about what makes remakes work, that one thing. Two thoughts, both looking for some indelible quality, some ubiquitous thing, that would solve everything. It's the God Particle. The Universal Equation. It's the sure bet. We all do it, don't we, and we do it so many ways. That one thing that makes us human. That one thing that makes us good. One reason to hate anger. One thing that decides if food is good for us. One thing that could fix our health care problems, or political tempests, stop the violence. Sometimes it is God. Sometimes it is the lack of fats. Sometimes it is greater, or lesser, control. Sometimes it is just to let things run their course. We fight wars against one country, against one policy, against one man and his political party. We ban fats from foods. We ban carbs. Oh, it's exercise that you are looking for. Try this new speedy bike. It's violent video games. It's sex in movies. It's pornography. It's drugs that did it. It's the Republicans' fault. It's because God has abandoned us. Our diets. Our minds. Our reading habits. Our watching habits. Our sense of self worth. Our sense of the value of our relationship. So many times, we try and break it down into just one thing. Sure, many things. But one cornerstone, one lynchpin, one key component upon which the pressure and the value of the other derives.

I can't help but to think, honestly, that is never just one thing. Ever. I mean, except those times that it is just one thing, and those are rare. Mostly it is a mix of things, a web of things, an interaction. It is not give and take. It is not compromise. That implies there are a couple of "one things" working in something like collusion. No, it's a little harder to explain than that.

Take a number. For some reason, the classic example of this uses the number 3, but 16 works just as well. Purely 16, ok? 16.000000000000 and so forth. 16 pebbles on a beach. 16 packs of ramen in your grocery cart. As an unspecified quanity ("There are pebbles on the beach") there is not really much meaning to the number. As a specific quantity ("I need 16 packs of ramen"), though, there is a definite meaning. Sure the number 16 gets its meaning from the number of things there, just like the value of the things gets its meaning by the number 16. In pure number terms, it gets one step more complicated. The entire number line, the very concept of numbers as they exist right, assumes that 16 exists. Every other number, too, but 16 is our focus. 16 requires that the number line exist. There is no number 3 without a number 16. If the number 16 did not exist, you could not have 3 pebbles. Likewise, every other number is required for 16 to exist. The rules of math require the number line to impart meaning to every number (or the set of numbers, if you will) and there is no number line without every number.

What is the meaning of the word "tree"? What are the meaning of all those words? What are the meaning of all those words? This works, I am trying to show, with more than numbers. It works with just about everything. All history is a composite of points in history that requires all other history. All cooking is a composite of recipes that require the concept of other recipes. And we created recipes willingly. History, numbers, words...those things might be beyond us, just a tad, beyond any given one, but recipes are often the brainchild of a single person who then passes it on where it gets translated and adapted some.

What I am getting at is there is a, hmmm, ontological web. Every point requires every other point and the web itself to exist, and the web itself requires every other point. There is also a semantic web where every meaning derives from other meaning and the concept of meaning and so forth. Inside of these webs, certain strands have more weight, more thickness, more branches, but they never are able to unattach to the web. And, really, if there is one good or one bad strand, it is only because there are more good and bad strands. If one thing looks wrong, it is only because in the context of the web, things led to it being wrong.

There is a philosophy in America, possibly Western Europe and others derived from the "Greek" school, that holds that what I am saying is false, that ultimately there are many points, and many strands, and these things work together and create a cloud made up of points. Maybe, there is a chief monad who organizes the other points and directs them. Let's call it Individualism. Individualism has, maybe ironically, grown to become a predominant religious thought. We all suffer our own sins. God, the ultimate individual, makes all the rules. Anything else is relativism and people will have sex with dogs in the street (sex with dogs and sex in streets is somehow trucked out as the ultimate slippery slope twins). It is not without a definite irony that Individualism leads to deontological morality, and living, the idea that meaning derives from a single source (rarely actually the individuals in question) while my networked concept, let's call it Wholism, leads to utilitarian concepts, where meaning is derived from what serves the system. I say ironic because that feels backwards. You put three self-serving individuals on a boat and they will cite reasons why it is best that one or other dies so the other can lives. You put three system-serving individuals on the boat and they work out a compromise. Somehow, it just seems like the self-serving ones should never cite a higher power as justification.

Neither here nor there, because what I am getting at is how the "just one thing" is an extension of our American individualism. It's also an extension of a Western idea that we can get to that God particle, that root cause, that we can analyze and synthesize all meaning because we have assumed, since the time of Plato, that we only have minds because we can be mindful of everything. We think things are meant to be broken down, that understanding comes out of separation, and so we think that the answer will ultimately be an isolated concept. Why do we get fat? It's fat in our foods! Let's go non-fat! Why do we commit crimes? It's because of drugs! Let's come down on drugs! Which political party screwed up the economy? It must be the democrats! What's the greatest threat facing America today? I don't know, Iran? We've reduced ourselves, our foods, our country, our loves, and our meanings to a series of single things in an attempt to get to know them, and we fail so very much. What makes us fat? Our entire life style. Our growing of mass produced and refined foods that have decreased nutrition. Our reducing exercise into something we do on occasion rather than something we live. Our lack of sleep, our improper liquid intake. What threatens our law abiding society? Just about everything. Drugs show up after a system is weakened, and if they take over the system was broken. Criminals show up because of poverty, because of boredom, because of revenge, because, like any good deontologist, they feel that they are justified, because of more reasons than I could list here. What threatens our political system? Just about every single person you pay a crap-ton of money so they can mostly re-run for election, just about every system that assumes zero-tolerance is what we really need, just about every system that thinks it can find that "just one thing" to fix itself. See what I am getting at? What makes a good relationship? Trust? Love? Respect? God, no. A good relationship has those things and it has good sex and angry fights and sometimes people believe the same thing and sometimes they have different beliefs and sometimes it is about a lifetime commitment and sometimes its about having someone right then and there.

Why do I call this post the "just one thing" paradox? Because, as most good Americans, I am putting so much blame on the "just one thing" principle. I've just shown the foolishness of such a thing. That can't be all that is wrong with us, it has to be a systemic need to search for solutions without considering all the options. But, but, it is annoying when I see someone cut out one type of food (allergies excepted, of course) or when I see someone blame one politician for all the bad, or when I see someone say "three things that make up a good relationship". Like they know. They know as much as you do, only they are getting paid to tell you. At least I do it for free. And, as I wrap this up, let's not forget the idiot statement that most billionaires are self-made. There is never, ever, in the history of all this holy planet, a self-made billionaire. That is foolish talk. They are always a product of their times. Hardworking, sure? Earned it? Maybe. But never self-made. That's like saying babies come from a stork.

Si Vales, Valeo


If you wish to comment, please use the form below or contact me in some other way and I'll add it as soon as possible. Thanks!

Where did the comment box go?

Due to most of my friends using alternate means to contact me, and mostly SPAM bots using the comment box method, I have removed it. If you wish to contact me, please feel free to use any human-friendly contact method you wish. Thanks!

Written by Doug Bolden

For those wishing to get in touch, you can contact me in a number of ways

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".

"The hidden is greater than the seen."