The Butterfly Effect: Countering the Chaos of Washington

Once upon a time, proud citizens might have considered this town to be the brain trust of the nation. Not anymore. Instead, we are confounded by an agglomeration of arrogant, self-serving, and deeply political creatures who we have elected to “guide” and represent us. The belief that Washington could uphold this sacred trust might have been reasonable if we existed in a deterministic system—one where citizens could expect methodical and well considered policies coming out of Capitol Hill. Alas, this is not the case. Instead, our reality is a cadre of elected leaders so preoccupied with satisfying their own interests that our entire system of government drifts closer to the model of a random, nonlinear system where realistic predictions of legislative or executive branch behavior no longer are possible.

A fitting analogy might be the serpentine system of roads that ring the city. If you were to hop into, say, your reliable (and safe) Chevy Caprice to find your way downtown from somewhere out in Virginia, the first thing you’d discover is that whatever road signs you pass dissemble and confuse. Forced to use alarmingly short left hand merge lanes while evading enraged and harassed commuters, you, poor schmo, don’t realize that the signs fail to specify that if you take this exit, the road only runs south for miles, so good luck reversing course and making your way back towards DC. Such manifestations of poor planning and bureaucratic fumbling serve as evidence of a greater problem in our nation’s capital. As one beleaguered driver wryly observed, “The only way out is to get better at recovering from your mistakes and memorizing secret routes.” In other words, there is absolutely no predicting what you will get or where you will go when you find yourself aiming for the Capitol City.

 

Before we continue, a brief science tutorial is necessary:

  1. The mathematical field of study known as Chaos theory examines the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions; this is done in an effort to predict future behavior of the same system. Chaos theory has widespread applications ranging from physics to economics to meteorology and happens to mesh nicely with today’s screed.
  2. Related to chaos theory is a phenomenon known as the Butterfly Effect—you may have heard of it. Basically what the butterfly effect posits is that even a very small, single shift in an initial set of conditions for a deterministic, nonlinear system can create a significantly different end result.
  3. A nonlinear system is one in which output is not directly proportional to input. In other words, A + A does NOT equal 2A in a nonlinear system.

Those with actual scientific knowledge would be able to explain the above much more coherently than I, so proceed with caution.

 

And now, back to our regularly scheduled entertainment:

A nonlinear system is what our politics has become—we cannot accurately predict a final outcome because there are so many butterflies that can impact the ultimate result. This grotesque distortion of the legislative process threatens to up end much of society because nobody can guess with any certainty what is coming out of Washington and how it will impact our lives.

 

Examples of this are manifold. Think legislative language “tweaks” by lobbyists, highly questionable vote jockeying by politicians, or “exceptions to policy” as erratically granted by the White House such as what’s happened with the Affordable Care Act. The Administration declares that the economy is in a “recovery,” except despite their glossy charts touting upticks in x, y, or z measures, anecdotal evidence shows that long term, widespread unemployment remains rampant. How about the opposing avowals regarding the existence of a strategy to the ISIS threat? Considering the chaos coming out of the White House Briefing Room on a regular basis, why would we now have confidence in their assurances as to an effective ebola containment policy? I’m not a paranoid for saying these things and my issues extend far beyond any single administration or branch of government—my objections apply equally to what I’m seeing occur in organized religion, higher education, and the misleading images spit out by Hollywood. As citizens, we’re told one thing and operate accordingly, only to have the rug pulled out from beneath our feet or exceptions to the rules granted to the special, favored few. Images of a naked Emperor or Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole directly apply to you and me as we go about the bumbling business of living our lives. Things in Washington make no sense.

 

For instance, let’s talk building entrances. The National Academy of Sciences has a gorgeous building on Constitution Avenue, replete with carved bronze doors a la Ghiberti and a sculpture of Albert Einstein. It is a magnificent entryway for the repository of some of our nation’s most important breakthroughs. Similarly, the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill which houses offices for our Congressional representatives has giant staircases that were constructed as part of this monument to the glorious legislative process. Except, you can’t enter the NAS building through the bronze doors any more than you can enter the Rayburn Building using these staircases! Fundamental elements that were designed to be beautiful and functional no longer function.

 

What’s wrong with this picture?

 

I don’t understand why the general public is now prohibited from availing ourselves of dedicated public entrances allegedly due to “security concerns” but it’s fine for “them” to use these same areas for their own, much more worthy purposes. If security is an overriding concern, how is it possible that a mad man can sprint past 5 levels of Secret Service, making his way into the White House without so much as a shot being fired at the intruder? To me, this disparity is symptomatic of the crazy, nonlinear system in which we find ourselves. We ignore red lines in Syria but we’re sending “advisers” back to Iraq. Where is the consistency? Where is the rational decision making? What’s going on?

 

Despite herculean efforts, even a society as robust and dynamic as ours cannot thrive when subject to the chaos resulting from the self serving whims of political leadership such as the one that runs back and forth between K Street, Capitol Hill, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. My rant circles back to the Butterfly Effect—we (“the little people”) can influence the outcome by holding these people accountable (you and I may disagree about which people, but that’s ok, that’s what democracy is about—personally, I’d be happy to throw the whole lot out), by thinking critically, by not blindly believing what we are told, by asking ourselves what are they not telling us, what questions haven’t been asked—because the trust factor of “trust and verify” has been so abused that it no longer applies.

Butterfly image

 

 

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