Reality avoidance

September 15, 2006

Sonja Blignaut brought my attention to an article from TIME on conspiracy theory. One of the most interesting assertions is that 36% of Americans consider it ‘very likely’ or ‘somewhat likely’ that government officials either allowed the attacks to be carried out or carried out the attacks themselves. The article offers the explanation that humans have a need

to have the magnitude of any given effect be balanced by the magnitude of the cause behind it. A world in which tiny causes can have huge consequences feels scary and unreliable

This desire for there to be a external reason behind things allows people to absolve themselves of responsibility and is a dangerous aspect of human behaviour. In psychology people talk about fundamental attribution error and from complexity theory we have the phrase retrospective coherence. If we say that there is a reason why things went wrong in the past that we can attribute to someone else, then we can forget about and assume it will not happen again. Worse we seem to like ascribing a fatalistic approach to the future: predestination, Quetzalcoatl’s return, any of a myriad of conspiracy theories, end of the world nutters, salvation by mysterious forces or even as yet unknown science. Again its a way of avoiding responsibility and we can say with Euripides: Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad

In the mean time while energy is going into this sort of nonsense London and many other areas of the world face being under sea level in 70 years unless someone gets round to doing something within the next decade.

You get the same thing in organisations. After something has gone wrong, everyone can find someone or something to blame. If the future is uncertain then some idealistic approach will be taken involving consultants, layoffs and a new system design on the basis that now everything will be OK in the future when we get the new system. While all this is going on, client facing staff and the back office struggle to keep things going. The other approach is to change the leader. Something which is now happening with such frequency that we may soon return to an ancient tradition where a leader was elected every year, given absolute power until at the end of the year when they are ritually slaughtered to ensure good crops in the future.

Maybe its time we stopped ascribing cause without reason, withdrawing into a fatalistic shell or praying for salvation and just got stuck in to try and make things better?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


< Prev

The virtual and the real

An ambiguous posting from David Tebbutt a couple of days ago got me thinking. He ...

More posts

Next >

Reality intrudes, but with difficulty …

I’ve been finishing off Rockwell’s Neither Brain nor Ghost which offers an interesting third way ...

More posts

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram