Monday, April 28, 2008

Chaos Addiction

Chaos is addictive on a lot of levels. Once you get past the fear and uncertainty it can be kind of fun. The adrenaline rush of surviving, of being the one who walks away, is simultaneously intoxicating and serene and profound. There are few things that give as powerful a sense of accomplishment as going into a situation of deep and dangerous chaos and making it safe and right. There is nothing that makes you feel as special as deliberately advancing on a situation that everyone else is running away from.

Dealing successfully with chaos strokes your ego, increases your awareness, deepens you appreciation of everything and gives a trickle or a dump of neurotransmitters that feel pretty nice. Is there any wonder that there are adrenaline junkies out there?

The downside, of course is the nature of chaos. There is no scalar: "I am 9 units effective and this problem is 8 units bad, therefore I will win." Easy problems or at least things that should have been easy go sideways. You might be a 'ten' but I would reliably bet that you have some skills that are much lower, and you don't get to pick what skills you might need.  If you play the game long enough and hard enough, you will lose.

(And here's the essence of the Chaos Game: potential infinite variety of problem faced by a nearly infinitely complex person. At one level, if skills match problem, fine. But at another level humans can develop skills in extrapolation: "I don't know jack about X, but I'm really good at Z and it's only two letters away. Can I use my Z skill for the X problem? How?" Even though your skills are finite, your ability to play with and mesh and rethink those skills approaches infinity.)

And that skill- adaptability and extrapolation- gets really addictive.  You start to see problems in a different and clearer way. (There is a trap there, because almost every bad decision comes from someone who thought that they were seeing things more clearly than others.)  When you see problems in this way you can solve things in a way that looks effortless.  It feels effortless too  and that is part of the addiction.  It can spiral.  There is a fine line between feeling special and feeling like an outsider.

Some very successful people glitch on that feeling and meld back into the herd or burn out.  Some revel in it, and that can become another reinforcement.

Addiction has some bad connotations in our society.  Rightly so IMO- dependance on anything, whether a drug, a person, or a government program is giving up a piece of your autonomy, what Kai calls agency.  Anything you need from another person, any responsibility for yourself that you voluntarily relinquish is a piece of your soul that you are selling.

Chaos addiction differs because you can't delegate it.  The deeper you go the more you must rely on yourself.  It pushes you to be better.  Depending on the level and type of chaos it forces you to focus and to relax; to be strong and determined and also flexible.  It forces you not only to see your mistakes and weaknesses but to face them and fix them.

In other ways, though, chaos doesn't differ from other addictions.  Like anything else, the better you get at something the more challenging the things you try to take on just like a drug it can take more and more to get the same effect.  It can be hard on you mentally and physically: there are striking similarities between a thoroughly burned-out cop or paramedic and an old alky.  And you can overdose.  Bite off more than you can chew or get surprised when that level three problem goes sideways and it can be your body laying in the alley with half a face missing.

There are other pathologies here: 
  • It is rarer than you would expect, but some few create problems so that they can fix them.  This almost always poisons the agency where they work. 
  • People who fix problems often deal with peaceful times poorly.  Boredom can mimic depression. Alcoholism rates, I was once told, are the highest in cultures with a warrior ethos that are forced into peacetime.
  • Complacency- the one I most battle with- Once you get really good at adaptability/extrapolation it becomes very tempting not to do your homework.  There have been incidents when I had time to research or plan and just walked in trusting I could "wing it".  Successful so far and I never do it when others might get hurt (he tells himself self-righteously, but there is extreme hubris in the presumption that I could know how far the chaos could ripple).


Kai Jones said...

People who fix problems often deal with peaceful times poorly.

That. That right there. I don't know how to live my life now that I don't have to deal with chaos on a weekly basis.

Discovering how to make choices that are not constrained by the possibility of chaos is my most important job right now.

Steve Perry said...

"(There is a trap there, because almost every bad decision comes from someone who thought that they were seeing things more clearly than others.)"

So, do you think the converse is true? That good decisions come from someone who does see things more clearly?

BFG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BFG said...

"Chaos addiction differs because you can't delegate it. The deeper you go the more you must rely on yourself. It pushes you to be better."

That's what I was trying to get at in my chaos post... didn't really come together like this though. Anything and everything can be addictive really - yet I'd imagine that despite the health risks (death, etc) it's a lot better for you than most. I don't have the same problems you, or anyone dealing with violent people has; but I've experienced some chaos, and I find it...refreshing. Gets you away from all the senseless dilettante bullshit that occupies society.

But I don't think it has a limit, I think you just get good at things, and they become easier. Then you can get thrown into an entirely different ocean and though many skills will transfer across to some degree, others will not and it starts again.

"People who fix problems often deal with peaceful times poorly."

The senseless dilettante bullshit of society may be just that - but it is also a (relatively) stable platform from which to live. If I use x much power and eat y much food, then I can be sure that my expenses will be about z dollars, and will stay about the same over time, barring any major incidents, like war or depression. (At which point those who spend their time in chaos will survive better anyway.) Aristotle said something like "He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god." I guess if you get too addicted to chaos you forget how to live in society... and if you forget how society works, maybe that's when you get surprised and die. Maybe society becomes chaotic to you when you don't understand it. Chaos is challenging, but so is stability. Making a jump is chaos, and can be a challenge. Holding a handstand is far removed - but still a challenge.

I've been thinking a lot about a lot recently, and it amazes me how much everything - absolutely everything - has come back to keeping balance.

EDIT: Made it make (some) sense this time

Kai Jones said...

I looked up "agency" in the thesaurus on my word processor. The two options I liked best were "freedom" and "volition."