Friday, April 27, 2012

The Illusion of Control

I was pondering the illusion of control while playing solitaire on the computer.  Solitaire is a game that can easily give one the illusion of at least some control because there is a pinch of strategy and a dash of skill involved.  It’s just enough to give the player the illusion of control over the outcome.  Moreover, failure to complete the game, losing, is easily explained away with an ‘if only I’d played that instead of this’.  It can be further ameliorated by claiming partial victory based on how far toward completion one has got.  
For all of that, the game is ruled by the random order of the deal over which the player has no control.  The player’s sense of control is an illusion.  
Life is a lot that way.  Having control over one’s own life, one’s own destiny seems to be a human obsession.  Controlling the lives of others, controlling one’s environment, controlling the variables leading to success or failure, having control, being in control is all symbolic of both mental health and mental illness, maturity and immaturity.  
The facts are that, however responsible we are for the consequences of our own decisions, the outcomes of those decisions can only be partially predicted, and the very popular law of unintended consequences is always in operation.  Someone once said that good luck favors the well prepared, and that is no doubt true, but luck, good or bad, is just shorthand for randomness that lies outside the realm of human control.
That, if nothing else, should be an antidote for inappropriate pride, hubris, haughtiness and the like, but it’s not.  Some of us treasure the illusion of control so much that we actually believe we are in control of our lives, able to exercise control over others, and are completely responsible for the good fortune that is ours by rights through our hard work, skill and cleverness.
On the other hand, some of us are so overcome by the randomness of events that we give up all sense of control, losing the greater part of our own self-worth, and taking up residence as permanent victims.  There is a certain perverse kind of hubris in that also.  
It seems to me that a spiritually and emotionally healthy person is one who can comfortably live in the in between of a world in which randomness and control struggle in creative tension, and where control, as exercised by each person, accumulates in the aggregate to create conditions of justice, injustice, increased randomness and marginally coordinated movement away from randomness.
OK, enough of that.  Time for lunch.

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