Monday, September 3, 2007

XIII. Sensitivity to Initial Conditions in Iranian-Israeli Relations

The individual variation described in the last post in this series has huge potential significance because slight changes in initial conditions related to an individual can much later lead to fundamental changes in system behavior. Not only do our actions affect our opponents’ behavior but even slight actions on our part may ultimately have major impacts on the behavior of others. Thoughtful people intuitively sneer at hubris; this is the theoretical justification for such sneers.

Sensitivity to initial conditions explains how current conditions are likely to lead to widely divergent future possibilities: rather than waking up to find the world changed, it is more likely that slight variations in initial conditions will lead to a slow shift in the dominance of underlying causal dynamics. The first step on the road from "Victory for al Qua’ida," which so strikingly resembles current trends, to "Respect" might be as simple as ignoring a hostile comment by some Iranian politician and responding positively to a conciliatory comment by another Iranian politician. Small steps incrementally modify perceptions and lead to large cumulative changes in the behavior of an actor. These small steps can also start a trend:

Once a terrorist gang gets away with a few car bombings, then car bombings become all the rage among wanna-be infamous thugs everywhere;

Once a few irresponsible leaders get away with loose talk about voluntarily igniting nuclear war as a rational policy option, then power-hungry extremists everywhere lose their moral inhibitions.

No comments: