Center for Strategic Communication

[ By Charles Cameron — the gun issue, complexity, human beings being humans and the world we live in ]

As always, I’m a fence-sitter bridge-builder, not wanting to take sides, preferring to talk with them.

The irritating beauty of these two quotes is that either one taking separately might seem like a “case closed” argument in favor of guns or gun control — but taken together, they show the world to be a dappled place.

Here’s the lead-in to that Vermont quote:

One facet of Vermont life is neither famous nor quaint: Vermonters are armed to the teeth. Guns are absolutely everywhere. Rifles. Pistols. Shotguns. Muzzle-loaders. Semi-automatics. 50 caliber tripod-mount “semi” automatics that could take out aircraft. Every firearm you can possibly imagine. Vermont could be the most armed part of the world per capita, as rife with firearms as Afghanistan, but with trees and cheddar cheese…

Things are weird that way: just when you think you’ve got them figured out, there’s an exception to the rule… a black dot in the white part of the yin-yang symbol… an anomaly that challenges the easy paradigm.

Dappled, as Hopkins puts it.


Pied Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.


The world is complex: scientists using microscopes and a suite of 128 computers recently (and triumphantly) managed to simulate the genome of one of the smallest micro-organisms in the world, Mycoplasma genitalium (neat name, that):

Alexis Madrigal (another neat name, btw) writes:

“Right now, running a simulation for a single cell to divide only one time takes around 10 hours and generates half a gigabyte of data,” lead scientist Covert told the New York Times. “I find this fact completely fascinating, because I don’t know that anyone has ever asked how much data a living thing truly holds.”

One cell. One division. Half a gig of data. Now figure that millions of bacteria could fit on the head of a pin and that many of them are an order of magnitude more complex than M. genitalium.

Yup. So think how complex the world is. No wonder we name things, divide stuff up into categories — use quite a large chunk of our brains for making distinctions.

But then think how complex the humans studying M. genitalium (still like that name, but this’ll be the last time I mention it) themselves must be… As Madrigal (really a nice name, you can almost sing it) goes on to point out:

Or ponder the idea that the human body is made up of 10 trillion (big, complex) human cells, plus about 90 or 100 trillion bacterial cells. That’s about 100,000,000,000,000 cells in total. That’d take a lot of computers to model, eh? If it were possible, that is.


Complexity looks at complexity with a view to modeling it. Simple, you think? Complex, you’d say?

The world’s a subtle place, and I might just go live in Vermont.

But people get shot in Vermont too, from time to time — there’s always a black and bleeding bullet-hole in the white half of the yin yang symbol — this world is hopelessly dappled.

And you know that story Somerset Maugham tells about Samarra?

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

Idries Shah tells a version of the same story as “When Death Came to Baghdad” in his Tales of the Dervishes, but with Samarkand rather than Samarra as the fatal destination.

It just might be the same with Vermont.