Many things helplessly produce their own opposites.
– Perkus Tooth, in Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City
This is a throwaway line in the novel but I think it contains a deep truth.
Because the world is connected, because most systems (in the Donella Meadows sense) are composed of many actors with competing goals, because the things we take for granted in the world are often in a stable equilibrium, forces produce opposing forces and are eventually dampened.
Let’s name some example scenarios. This is such a broad claim that it will be helpful to name some of the mechanisms at work, as well.
|The rise of a far-right party will lead to the rise of a far-left party (and vice versa).||Action/reaction|
|A monopoly business will inspire small, nimble competitors.||Forest fire|
|Dams are created to prevent floods, but they will end up causing worse floods when they eventually burst.||Hydraulics|
We can create a partial taxonomy of these mechanisms.
Action/reaction is straightforward: some actor sees an action, determines that it is the wrong direction and purposefully acts to oppose it.
Forest fire describes a force sweeping through a conceptual area, thereby clearing out what was there before and creating new opportunities.
Hydraulics involves trying to bottle up a flow at one point, thereby building up pressure. Imagine holding back a sneeze.
This is a very rough taxonomy – incomplete and undertheorized, but a beginning.