The Control Freaks
My Eyes Are Open
Four years ago I was flying out from Los Angeles and back to New York. There was nothing out of the ordinary about this flight; a typical land-hop from west coast to east coast. No boarding issues, no luggage mishaps, no terrorist activity whatsoever. Yet despite the mundane, I remember having a provoking thought as the plane was curving back east over the Pacific.
As I sat there watching the clouds go by out the window, I watched and felt as the plane tilted over to change its course. Something about seeing it out the window felt more insecure than just feeling it on the plane while watching a movie. Then some turbulence buffeted the plane for five minutes, shaking the cabin. I have flown before so this shouldn’t have bothered me, but this day it did and I decided to stay focused on the inside of the cabin rather than out the window being, reminded that I was 5,000 feet above the Earth!
Minutes later, the flight had stabilized itself. I wondered why something so routine would unnerve me that much. The day wasn’t bad and there wasn’t bad news awaiting me back in New York. Then, as I watched people get up from their seats to go get food or go to the, it struck me.
I looked out the window, watching the now peaceful clouds roll by beneath me, and then back again at people walking on the plane. What had scared me was the realization of just how little control I actually had in life and had been laboring under the illusion that I had it to begin with.
The flight had become a metaphor of how we humans relate to life. In Western society, our gods are our freedom and independence. The amount of jealousy which we guard our ability to make choices and our privacy can be quite amazing, arguably even rating it higher than we would the lives of other people, depending on circumstance.
Humanity has always had a dynamic relationship with nature that ranged from peaceful co-existence to outright conflict. From the time we first formed languages and societies, and started to think in higher levels than just surviving day by day, we wanted to understand the world we lived in. Whether it was through migrations, religions, or even science, we wanted to know what kind of world we were living in.
Then it changed, as we continued to experience nature’s wide breath of emotion as one day it would give us what we needed and the next it was trying to kill us. This bi-polar relationship was best expressed through how the ancient Egyptians related to the Nile River. Without the Nile, there would be no Egypt, but it was also notoriously unpredictable, at just the right levels one time of the year, and flooding out the land during another killing many people. Then in 1970, the Aswan Dam was opened up, for the first time giving humans the ability to control the longtime-uncontrollable Nile River.
We changed from wanting to understand nature and our lives in it, to wanting to control it for our needs and biases. Spells and rituals were one form of trying to dictate how events and life played out. For a very long time and even today, social behavior was thought to be a determining factor as well when cultures primarily understood nature as their relationship with their gods. The argument has been made that science and modern progress have freed us from these superstitions, and yet we how do we use our progressiveness? Maintaining and increasing control of our lives.
Medicine developed as a need to cure sicknesses that were quite common to all life. Fire, stoves, and later microwaves help us to cook foods that we would otherwise have to take our chances with our health if we wanted to survive. This trend even extends into our relationships with other people and other nations; we become hostile when an outside person or source tries to in steer us in a direction that is not our will. We don’t want to be controlled, even if we want to control others and life itself.
Freeing My Mind
Is this some sort species-wide narcissism? No, I would say not. It is simply the evolution of a desire to not have our lives harmed by means outside our control. That is what makes us creatures of habit, where as many other animals have to adapt to the changing circumstances. They adapt, but never try to control, save for trying to escape predation.
The flight from LA to New York was a metaphor for how we want to see our lives and how our lives really are. We want to feel like we have control and our thus safe, so we walk along the plane like we were on the ground or trying to take the ground with us up into the sky. And we distract and entertain ourselves in the same manner.
However, the reality sits right outside our window with only a long glance and some turbulence to remind us of the truth. We were at the mercy of the airways, or the pilots flying the plane, or how well the mechanics did their jobs, or for that matter that something wasn’t going to shot at us. The plane would just half to turn right or left, climb or dive to remind us that we are not on the ground, but 5000 feet above it.
The same still applies even when on the ground. Our homes are dependent on keeping up with taxes or that someone is going to choose not to rob us. Our security lies in the endless amount of medical and finical systems we have in place. And the ground beneath has never, ever been stable, hurdling through space at 67,107 miles per hour in a tug of war with our sun and several other planets in our system. We fly through space hoping that an asteroid or solar flare will miss us and saves from becoming as extinct as the dinosaurs; a species that was unable to adapt when massive change was forced onto them.
A Glass Half Full
I did not find this terrifying or upsetting when I stumbled on to this. I found it humbling; humbling because we spend so much energy trying to maintain an illusion that is so fragile that it feels as if all nature or fate or God has to do is sneeze and our lives are forever changed. It allowed me to instead to deploy that energy to other areas in life where it can be better served, and hopefully, put me in a better mind frame of being prepared for whatever may come and be able to adapt if need be.
I do understand that others will not find this truth as liberating. We are creatures of habit and we don’t like to adapt to changes forced upon us. A professor said to me once in college that if the ancients didn’t develop religions to explain the chaos of their lives, they would’ve gone insane at the profound insecurity. But whether we choose to acknowledge this or not, it still will not change the fact that in our lives, we will never have the certainty of absolute control.