Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tipping Points

I'm considering the world from a different viewpoint these days. Do you ever thing about tipping points?

A woman at work loaned me this book.
The Tipping Point
She said I should read it because she considers me a "Connector". That's a good thing, apparently, and it's defined in this book as someone who makes many connections which then create the opportunities for inter-connections for the people in that group. In other words, I know a lot of people and I like to introduce them to other folks.

But what I'm also getting out of this is a realization that we're surrounded by tipping points. I tend to think of events as gradually building to a crescendo, but in reality, things build to a certain point, then they tumble madly together into an event.

The attack in Arizona: vitriolic rhetoric has been building since the Bush Administration - partisan anger reached a crisis point, and then tipped into violence. One sad, unbalanced, pitiful kid has destroyed his life and many others because he apparently bought into the zeitgeist. He came to believe that he had the right, maybe even the obligation, to kill.

This is not the start of a new day of peace and love. It's not over. The anger at Sarah Palin, the anger FROM Sarah Palin, it's there and building again. I read a thread on Facebook this morning that left my jaw hanging. The initial post called for reflection on the violence and the part that partisan rhetoric played in it - and specifically called for his friends in the Tea Party to find some middle ground with what he called the Bleeding Heart liberals.

The replies were astounding. The debate was played out right there, one comment after another, with escalating anger on both sides, accusation and the obligatory comments by someone who seemed, as we used to say, a few bricks short of a load. It was honestly scary.

Apply tipping points to anything - computers. They got small...a few folks got them, a few more...then everyone had them. Cellphones? Same. Fame? Most celebrities are "overnight sensations" - not because they suddenly started doing work, but because years of work hit a tipping point and suddenly everyone noticed. (The exception to this would be the fake celebrities of reality TV, of course.)

I don't have any wise conclusions on this - I'm honestly just surprised that I never thought of things this way. And once you see it, nothing looks quite the same again.
It certainly gives you a sense that you can see what's coming.


Reya Mellicker said...

I looked at this book a little bit but admit I didn't read the whole thing because it probably could have been an article in the New Yorker. Sometimes I think agents and/or editors encourage writers to make books out of ideas that could be conveyed more concisely.

I agree - every moment is an intersection at which everything could shift. I do get his idea, though, that there are fulcrum moments when the balance shifts.

Happy Tuesday!

JamaGenie said...

Considering how many years it's taken to make the eliminationist rhetoric of the Palins and Becks "acceptable" fare on the airways and in print, I'm not surprised the voices of their followers haven't yet been silenced or taken a more civilized tone.

However, I can't remember a single preventable tragedy after 9/11 that has generated as much soul-searching and genuinely thoughtful discussion as the one in Tucson. So perhaps it will be the tipping point that returns sanity to America.

Jo said...

Thanks for some very astute observations, Susan.

Every time I think we have come to the tipping point in American politics, I'm proven wrong. I do hope that people will soon 'get it.' Anger begets anger, hatred begets hatred.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that." MLK, Jr.

Anonymous said...

While finding connections can be very satisfying, having as it may an explanatory power there is a danger in seeking connections too avidly: you start seeing them where, in fact there are none at all. Sadly your post, as has so much of the "analysis" by the media of the recent Tucson shooting.

You say, "One sad, unbalanced, pitiful kid has destroyed his life and many others because he apparently bought into the zeitgeist." "Apparently"?? Apparent to whom? On what basis is it "apparent"? According to all the evidence I've seen and heard Jared Loughner was a psychotic young man who his friends say never watched TV and never listened to political talk radio. There is not one scintilla of evidence that his murderous rampage was triggered by anything other than his own unbalanced mind. There is not a single objective face that he ever watched Fox News (MSNBC either for that matter), ever listened to or even knows who Rush Limbaugh might be.

Due to the lack of any objective evidence to draw connections between his actions and the incivility of the zeitgeist really tells us nothing about the tenor of the times but strikes me as being more of a Rorshalk Test for those drawing said connections. Those who find the "zeitgeist" scary may find it to blame. I suppose that those who are preoccupied with UFOs will probably find them responsible somehow.

The really sad part of giving credence to these baseless connections is that they draw light away from real problems. I've worked with mentally ill people for close to 20 years and more attention needs to be focussed on how to get treatment for them, how to stop them from falling through the cracks how to identify those who are potentially dangerous.

The best way to deal with any situation is to do so honestly based, not on our own psychological needs, but the facts as the actually present themselves.

Susan said...


Anonymous said...

Nice column column about civility by Brooks but nowhere does he make any kind of real connection between civil public discourse and Jaren Loughner's behavior. He mentions Obama's speech and then goes off to talk about civility. For no apparent reason you he and you seem to think that this shooting should then be followed by a discussion about civility. His column and your post are non sequitors, following as they do a discussion of the Tucson shootings.

I'm all in favor of civility, by the way. I just don't think it has ANYTHING to do with a young man whose brain is not functioning correctly.

Brooks and you both could just have easily used Loughner's rampage as a reason to start talking about the need for better math education in schools. That too would be a good thing but is utterly unconnected to Loughner as well.

Nothing here alters a single point that my original comment makes.

Susan said...

As the sick young man's target was a politician at a political event, it is hard to argue that politics had nothing to do with it, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

And if his target had been a baker and he'd shot him in a bakery would that mean that baking had something to do with his behavior? Sorry, I just find your rationale for believing incivility is a cause is far too inelegant and tortured for me to find credible.

I think the problem here is that you first came to a conclusion about what motivated him and when pressed to find some support for your conclusion you're finding that you have no real evidence. This often happens when conclusions precede evidence.

Susan said...

That would be an issue for me if I was trying to convince you. I am not.