David Hines
December 27, 2012
Shifting into the sheer
By David Hines

The turn of the year is a time of traditions. One is that many government laws and regulations take effect. This year the talk has been about the dreaded "fiscal cliff," as if the problems suddenly appeared and hadn't been developing for decades.

Another tradition is the New Year's Resolution. People start out with high hopes that what they didn't change about themselves last year, they will this year. Most resolutions don't last days, let alone weeks. "The sheer" quickly mimics "lash cheer"; reform is deferred until "necks cheer."

We are creatures of habit. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Habits are what worked for us in the past. If we had to constantly think about every action of every day, we would have no time for any further development; each day would be a maze of baffling tasks. Alzheimer's wouldn't be considered quite such an anomaly.

It's during "black swan events" that habits become most destructive. Conditions change, but our adaptations to them don't. There is a strong desire to return to the status quo ante, though that status quo is no longer tenable. In such cases psychic homeostasis is not our friend.

Black swan events necessitate a paradigm shift. The world never looks quite the same. The alcoholic who hits rock bottom changes his thinking about virtually everything if he's going to get sober. The executive whose business plan has been obviated by changing conditions will not see the market the same way; if his view doesn't change, he goes broke.

Even when the black swan appears, the tendency is always toward homeostasis. Voters seek a return to conditions that ceased to exist decades ago. Many want the status quo of steadily increasing government spending — the "baseline budget." Analysts want a return of economic indicators to a particular range of numbers with which they were once familiar. Congress formerly enacted sequestration, in order to avoid a paradigm change for the time being. Now that their enacted sequestration is imminent, they seek a compromise to evade it, and avoid a paradigm shift once again.

We humans heroically resist changing our thinking. People find easy excuses to put off that resolve until tomorrow. But procrastination — not deciding — is a decision itself, with consequences. In the public realm, for example, to keep numbers such as unemployment within range and government spending on its customary trajectory, quantitative easing (money printing) to infinity creates its own problems — its own threats to the status quo.

Why are new year resolutions so ephemeral? Habits die hard; without a shift in thinking they seldom die at all. Resolutions usually seek to change only one thing, leaving all else in stasis. The old, undesired habit is part and parcel of the old way of thinking. Without a paradigm shift — a fresh approach to the world — the undesirable behavior shall re-emerge.

Change is eternal. It's imagined stasis that is alien to the real world. We need not embrace change for its own sake, but reason demands that we view change with a bit of savoir faire, not with fear and trepidation.

© David Hines


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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)


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