The Universal Principle

By which I mean, of course, change.

Change has been much on my mind of late, for reasons both good and bad. New responsibilities in my day job. A beloved aunt passes away. Some friends and family members experience good fortune, while others struggle with depression or lose their homes to fire. And beyond the small circle within which my own eyes can see, larger currents are at work, manifesting everywhere from the exciting experiments in on-line journalism to the “hollowing-out” of the job market as automation & technology consume the middle-skill tier of jobs. New discoveries come hand in hand with the re-awakenings of ancient hatreds. We all get older, and entropy inexorably has its way with our bodies, and sometimes our minds.

Change is inevitable.

Change, by its very nature, disrupts; and people being people, some handle it better than others. And it is true that for some, a given change can be negative in its impact. It’s hard to find the upside to losing one’s home, or a parent, or your means of livelihood. Yes, yes, silver linings can sometimes be found, but there are times when all that change serves up to you is a giant helping of Suck.

But sometimes, what some feel as a negative impact is actually to the greater good. Power shifting from the hands of the few to the previously powerless is a good thing, whether that’s the fall of a kleptocrat in Ukraine to a segment of people no longer being able to deny basic rights to a minority.

It is important to distinguish between these two, I think, to understand the difference between the unequivocally bad, and the bad-to-some which is really good. To recognize that losing your ability to dictate to others that they must believe as you do is not persecution. That being forced from the position of a singular voice to being one voice of many may, in fact, be more just than the prior state of affairs.

It’s also important to recognize that those larger currents at work can render the solutions of yesteryear invalid, and that rather than insisting on dogmatically applying them, we need to look at the facts of actual practice. The economic solutions to the problems of the 1970s may not apply today, for example; when we see austerity failing dramatically overseas, perhaps it’s time we put it back in the box.

Change throws us around and disorients us, which makes it all the more important that we face the facts, assess the evidence. The pace of change is accelerating, at least for now, and we will need to examine closely our old attitudes and responses to see if they will help or harm. For example: if we do indeed reach a point at which the work of maintaining our society only requires 20% of our population – something more conservative than the most extreme predictions of those forecasting the rise of automation call for – what do we do about conflation of work with moral worth in this country? If there  simply aren’t jobs for eight of ten people seeking them, are those two in ten truly superior? Or only superior in fortune, of birth or otherwise?

Dealing with those who cannot handle change well is something I’ve had to think about lately. This has ranged from “How do I support this struggling friend, wrestling with a True Bad Thing?” to “How do I engage these people refusing to acknowledge the changing landscape of technology and business so I can protect my employer and our customers?” to “Do I dare respond to this person expressing a view which angers me regarding a social issue I care about, knowing that he or she has no clue that they’re talking about a world that no longer exists, or never really existed in the first place?” My search for answers continues.

Roger Zelazny once wrote that universe constantly throws bricks at us, and that sometimes the pace at which the bricks are thrown speeds up for a time. We seem clearly to be in one of those periods now. May we all weather the brick shower, coming out better on the other side.