The butterfly effect and Dr. Ben Carson

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday April 17 2013 in Opinion
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Why do we sometimes choose not to act, when we know we should and can?


In too many instances we do not take action we see needed because we think our efforts might be wasted. However, if we were to consider how many times we were the beneficiaries of these efforts by others, we might rethink our inactions.


We might also not act because we underestimate the impact we have for good or ill. We underestimate how our actions, initially “insignificant”, can create results of much significance. We forget that each of us was created with the ability and responsibility to change the world; that is, wherever our shadow falls and our influence is felt. Preferably for the good.


These seemingly insignificant actions which can initiate vast and unpredictable changes have a domino effect to them. They form the basis for “the chaos theory”, or in other terms, “the butterfly effect”. However, how is chaos theory valuable in trying to address the issue of Black on Black violence and what is it?


According to authorities, it was first described in literature by Henri Poincaré, a 19th century French physicist, mathematician and philosopher of science. He proposed that the effects of this theory might best be applicable to meteorology and weather forecasting. This field of study in mathematics was later applied in disciplines as physics, engineering, economics, biology and philosophy.


At its most elemental, the theory describes how initial actions, seemingly insignificant, but deterministic and dynamic, could initiate results and/or consequences initially unexpected or unpredictable. Yes, elemental!


But what about social situations; those in which models applicable to areas as mathematics might be less applicable, or more difficult to assess?


Can it be said that the initial enslavement of millions of Africans by European merchants, missionaries, and mercenaries…all in the service of empire, initiated titanic forces which today continue to create global conditions, increasingly uncontrollable, of poverty, death, wealth accumulations, and global warming?


A later article will list individuals and corporations initially paid “reparations for releasing their slaves”. In one instance, paid reparations equalling one-third of the then treasury of an empire.


And what about Black communities wracked by violence? Violence, the primary victims and perpetrators of which are Black males, aged between 14 and 34? Can solutions stemming from these come for the most part from within our communities?


These questions are not merely decorative. They are in hot pursuit of credible answers, which remain elusive. Hopefully, better answers might come, as they usually do, from good questions. One set of answers clearly results from community initiatives. Another set might come from our better understanding the benefits of what is called “social wealth”, or the social solidarity of a community.


Some examples come from Toronto, others from Detroit, Michigan. The latter is about the world’s leading neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson. His life story, chronicled in the movie, Gifted Hands, is in my opinion, among the most striking examples of how these voluntary, insignificant acts can change an individual and through that individual, the world.


Dr. Carson, or Benjamin Solomon Carson, Sr., is an American neurosurgeon and the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Among other surgical innovations, Dr. Carson did pioneering work on the successful separation of conjoined twins joined at the head. He was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.


He was the child of a single mother who was unable to read or write. She insisted that her two sons go to the local library, read books and write reports on them. She “read” these reports, or Carson initially thought she did, learning later that she was illiterate. Carson’s other possibilities, played out in the lives of too many other young Black males, could have been very different.


In fact, on one occasion, he stabbed another student in the stomach. He did so with such force and rage that the blade of the knife snapped. Fortunately for him and the other student, the blade jammed against the large belt buckle worn by the victim. Ben went home, realized that he had an uncontrolled, anger-management crisis…and prayed.


The other example of how seemingly insignificant actions can create conditions, eventually global, was the 1988 creation in Toronto of the Black Action Defence Committee, (BADC). Two years later, the Ontario government would accede to the BADC’s demand for an independent, civilian-controlled organization to determine the circumstances of any police actions in which a civilian was hurt or killed.


The initial creation of the BADC was relatively insignificant. Back then, no big names in Toronto’s Black community, elected or appointed would be associated with it. Its members were, for the most part, the “radicals” – agitators who took to the streets, seemingly on a whim.


The growth from the insignificance of the BADC’s founding to its later unique and historic impact can be seen and assessed in two areas. One is that wherever in the English-speaking world that such actions occur between police and civilians; be they from Melbourne, Australia; to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) blueprint, established first in Canada, Ontario and Toronto, is the cornerstone. Who would have predicted such significance from such insignificance?


The other example – more personal and less institutional – of the butterfly effect and the BADC occurred during the funeral of Dudley Laws, the iconic voice, beret, and Chair of the BADC. Without being judgemental, many BADC members – numbering from 30 to 50 – were bemused at the numbers of “leading lights” in the Black community for whom “Dudley Laws spoke”. Ironically, Dudley’s voice spoke for more in death than he did in life.


Something else that occurred at his funeral was of even more significance given his lifetime of run-ins with the police. For example, Dudley couldn’t drive fast or slow enough to avoid getting a speeding ticket. One small joke was that he’d even gotten a speeding ticket while in a carwash…walking.


On the day of his burial, when his coffin reached the cemetery, a number of Toronto police officers formed a Guard of Honour on both sides of the cemetery entrance. Many who knew of Dudley’s sorrows with Toronto’s Police wept. In short, the butterfly effect can create not only hurricanes, but tears, too. Can it also stop the tears of Black mothers from flowing by stopping the violence in our communities?


Finally, in order to save our youth, among other concepts which might prove useful is that of social wealth. In a recent conference on this, Dr. James K. Boyce at the University of Massachusetts, addressed the significance of this concept. His discussion, very useful, can be accessed under the title, “What is Social Wealth”? He defines this as “wealth that is controlled, neither by private, nor public sector corporations”. By whom then is it controlled? What power does it have? Can the voluntary work done by the “activists” in the BADC be listed in this category of wealth and be an example of how we might go about tackling the plague of Black on Black violence?


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