I’m not a control freak. Or at least I don’t think I am. I’m not trying to control everyone and everything. If I’m trying to do anything at all, I’m trying to understand everyone and everything. Because I’m puzzled about this world in which I find myself. I’m puzzled about almost everything. I’m even puzzled how water trickling down the side of a bathtub snakes around like a winding river (why does it do that, eh?). And occasionally I get to understand one or two things a bit. I think I’ll die puzzled. Puzzled about the headlights coming from the side rather the front, and wondering why the road markings have all vanished.
I tend to go with the flow of things. And it ‘s reminded me of when I learned to ride a bicycle. My grandfather taught me to ride a bike. He did it by walking along behind me, out of my sight, holding the saddle with one hand, and then letting go when he thought I wouldn’t notice. Except that I almost always did notice. And as soon as his hand lifted off the saddle, I’d panic and try to gain control and start wobbling and within a few seconds I’d be sprawling on the ground again.
The real trick of riding a bicycle is going with the flow. A rolling bicycle will more or less stay upright of its own accord, unlike a stationary one. It’s when cyclists learn this rather counter-intuitive behaviour of moving bicycles, as opposed to stationary ones, that they learn to ride bikes, and let the moving bikes do their own thing, while making fractional adjustments to the steering and brakes. Because bikes will keep on going in the same direction, pretty much like rolling balls or coins or frisbees keep rolling in the same direction.
I’d guess that birds probably learn to fly the same way. One day they fall off a branch, and spread their wings instinctively, and find that they just keep going in pretty much the same direction, and only a fractional adjustment of a wingtip is needed to effortlessly curve them left or right. Birds probably learn more or less everything about flying on their very first flight. They learn to go with the flow.
Control freaks are people who haven’t learned to go with the flow. They’re like learner cyclists (or drivers) fighting to control something with whose flow they haven’t learned to go. They’re too frightened to just let things happen: they demand complete control. And they demand complete control because they think that if everything isn’t under complete control, the only outcome can be chaos and disorder.
And yet it could be said that the secret of life is learning to go with the flow, let things happen, surf the wave. Because more or less nothing in our world is under control. We are, after all, on a little planet spinning around a star, and neither the star nor the planet is under anyone’s control. There isn’t a captain of Spaceship Earth, to keep it on course and going at the right speed. Nor is there a Sun Management Authority, to turn up or turn down the solar wick, and pour in more paraffin now and then.
Nor is there anyone controlling the weather and the tides on our little spinning planet, as it gets pulled this way and that by other out-of-control objects (like the Moon), and baked on one side while the other side freezes.
Nor is there anyone controlling the Earth’s crustal movements, as it shakes around and generates surface tremors.
Nothing is under control.
And for control freaks, this is utterly terrifying. Nobody is in control of anything. And since everything is clearly out of control, they conclude that the inevitable outcome must be chaos and disorder. And so, in this emergency, they set out to take control. And they set out to take total control of everything. Just like a learner cyclist fighting with his bicycle. And just like a learner cyclist, they always end up sprawling on the ground. And they’ll keep on ending up on the floor until they’ve learned to go with the flow.
Because even if nothing is under human control, everything has its own internal logic, its own direction and pattern of flow, just like a moving bicycle or rolling ball. The sun has its own inner logic, and so do the planets spinning round it, and so do tides and storms and earthquakes and everything else. Humans will never be able to control any of these things: but they can go with the flow of them, like sailors tacking before and against the wind.
Control freaks just haven’t learned to ride bicycles, and just let things happen of their own accord, with minimal adjustments.
Even economic systems have their own inner logic, their own patterns and cycles of ebb and flow. Adam Smith was right when he said there was a “hidden hand” that guides them, a bit like my grandfather’s hidden hand guided me on my bicycle. But control freaks can’t see the hidden hand, and can’t see what guides economic processes, or indeed if anything guides them at all. And so, as ever, they panic and set out to take control of economies, and bring them under state control using central planning. And the result is invariably worse than if they’d just left things alone, just like it is when riding bicycles.
If there is a veritable plague of control freaks these days – an epidemic – it may be because our human world has been changing rapidly in recent decades and centuries, what with trains and cars and airplanes and radio and TV and all the rest. Our world has been changing rapidly in all sorts of unforeseen and unplanned ways – i.e. out of control ways. And this frightens a lot of people. And these frightened people become the Hitlers and Stalins and Pol Pots who set out to take complete control, largely with the encouragement and support of lots of other frightened people. And they always end up making a terrible and bloody mess of everything, because none of them really know what they’re doing: they’re just desperate to take control, but it’s a control that they don’t know how to exercise.