Friday, May 04, 2007

Running open-loop

I used to work with a professional pessimist. Really. Well, mostly. One of his sayings was, "guaranteed to be broken." He would say this about any device that wasn't tested or testable.

Some argued that he was too pessimistic, but he invoked an illustration something like this:
This mechanism pulls the rods out of the nuclear reactor to prevent a meltdown. Are you telling me it's safe to run the reactor without ever testing this mechanism?
Well, of course it isn't. Now what would happen if a group of people -- a tribe, or a whole country -- wasn't controlled? If there were no "adult supervision"? Golding provided one answer in his classic Lord of the Flies. A similar, older answer comes from the closing chapters of the book of Judges.

In those last few chapters, we see this phrase repeatedly: "In those days Israel had no king" (Judges 19:1). And some atrocity follows: violence (including unprovoked attacks and mass murder), theft, lack of hospitality, idolatry, and so on.

I really don't want to tell you what happened in chapter 19; you'll have to read it yourself. But Israel's other eleven tribes were appalled by what the tribe of Benjamin did, and there was a battle. 22,000 died on the first day, 18,000 on the second, and over 25,000 on the third.

Over 65,000 soldiers died, and the text does not tell us how many civilians.

Without some sort of revelation, some "adult supervision", the natural trajectory of man is not "three steps forward, two steps back"; it's more like five or ten steps backward with an occasional step forward if we're lucky. That's what happens when we run open-loop.

Which makes me think that the very existence of civilization constitutes evidence of God's intervention in history. And when I read the news, I'm glad that he has intervened.

No comments: