06/28/07 - systems and anarchy

In today's encore excerpt - John Steinbeck and his biologist friend Ed Ricketts muse on the subjects of systems and anarchy in the shadow of World War II:

"We thought that perhaps our species thrives best and most creatively in a state of semi-anarchy, governed by loose rules and half-practiced mores. To this we add the premise that over-integration in human groups might parallel the law in paleontology that over-armor and over-ornamentation are symptoms of decay and disappearance. Indeed, we thought, over-integration might be the symptom of human decay. We thought: there is no creative unit in the human save the individual working alone. In pure creativeness, in art, in music, in mathematics. ... The creative principle is a lonely and individual matter. Groups can correlate, investigate, and build, but we could not think of any group that has ever created or invented anything. Indeed, the first impulse of the group seems to be to destroy the creation and the creator. ...

"Consider, we would say, the Third Reich or the Politburo-controlled Soviet. The sudden removal of twenty-five key men from either system could cripple it so thoroughly that it would take a long time to recover, if it ever could. To preserve itself in safety such a system must destroy or remove all opposition as a danger to itself. But opposition is creative and restriction is non-creative. The force that feeds growth is therefore cut off. ... Thought and art must be forced to disappear and a weighty traditionalism take its place. ... A too greatly integrated system or society is in danger of destruction since the removal of one unit may cripple the whole.

"Consider the blundering anarchic system of the United States, the stupidity of some of its lawmakers, the violent reaction, the slowness of its ability to change. Twenty-five key men destroyed could make the Soviet Union stagger, but we could lose our congress, our president and our general staff and nothing much would have happened. We would go right on. In fact, we might be better for it. ..."


John Steinbeck


The Log From the Sea of Cortez


Penguin Books


Copyright John Steinbeck, 1951


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