“On the subway, May Kasahara explained how the survey worked. We were to stand on a street corner and count all the bald men (or those with thinning hair) who walked by. We were to classify them according to their degree of baldness: C, for those whose hair had thinned somewhat; B, those who had lost a lot; and A, those who were totally bald.”
Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Patterns are everywhere; found in the most obscure but also the most common of places. Each day we follow a pattern in routine or lifestyle. Patterns hold power in self-identification and even in action.
What do you identify as? A man or woman, are you pretty or ugly, tall or short? Freud used three clear identities which made up the self; the id, the ego and the super ego. The id being our child-like animal responses; flight or fight, hunger and thirst. The ego as the external mediator of the subconscious; our desires, wants and needs. Using rationality and logic, it tries to stem the demands of the id. The super ego being the translation of all this, manifesting itself as personality and action, an internal mediator able to stop actions in the context of the real world using guilt, pride and other motivators. The super ego is what we want to be; the self we visualise.
In recent times epigenetics, the study of the development of personality through genetic inheritance and environmental factors has found some traits to be potentially hereditary. The ego and id may have a genetic tendency, but does the super ego necessarily follow? Do we have to act upon this pattern? The clear answer is no; the super ego, ego and id are decided upon by a number of things; including the environment – the society in which you live where some things are fine and others are frowned upon. It is also dependent on free will; the wild card in the pack. Something unpredictable, like the weather. Depending on motivations and desires, we humans can act in a most capricious manner.
But does the chaos of free will imply a greater pattern? In religious texts, especially in Monotheistic scripture, your acts here and now are free but with a warning.
In science, we use the concept of entropy; how chaos makes a disorderly descent. Even in the most random of situations, for example, Brownian motion – the random movement of particles in a medium, e.g. smoke particles in air depend upon hitting other particles, or a side of a container, otherwise moving randomly until their energy becomes transferred. There’s even a pattern in randomness, the randomness itself.
“First, are you our sort of a person?
Do you wear
A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
A brace or a hook,
Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch”
Sylvia Plath, The Applicant (1962)
People identify in today’s society as an individual; but what makes the pattern of the individual? There’s a case that the wants, needs and desires that translate into the conscious personality, seeks others to share. Groups are formed, some loosely, e.g. fans of comedy; some are more defined, for example, fans of Bill Hicks.
Are groups used to self-identify, are we perhaps not the individual we think we might be, is there a pattern in our behaviour and thought?
There seems to be a trend towards not being an individual, but belonging to a series of groups that we use to define the individual. For example, if I’m 18-35ish, wear a lumberjack shirt, have a gigantic beard and probably tattoos, I may or may not be what’s considered currently a hipster. I’m also like to get told off by my wife for looking like something from the 1800s.
I’m trying the hair, if for no other reason than to cover my thinning pate, for I belong to the unfortunate group of Men with Thinning Crowns.
A series of physical aspects, combined with some personality based ones that create an identity – a conglomeration of groups.
“This called out for some rapid-fire naming whenever a large group of bald heads passed by at once: “CCBABCAACCBBB”.
Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Group psychology is fascinating. In the book, All for One, the Logic of Group Conflict; Russell Hardin talks of how within groups people can be very easily made to go against their own personal principles; i.e. their individualism and morals. When a group feels threatened, either in dominance or in access to positions of power and resources; the overall need of the group can outweigh any personal disagreement with action.
Fear, the prospect of loss or even a lack of communication always come before a conflict, the pattern throughout history, Germany and their humiliation in the Treaty of Versailles to even modern day examples such as the chaos in Iraq. One group loses or perceives a threat and violence occurs even when the normal, everyday person does not agree. That said, I don’t expect those who identify as hipsters to start a revolution, unless it’s a craft ale one.
Perhaps we should consider ourselves less the individual, but more the group. In so far as an individual can change the course of history; for example, Alexander the Great and his conquests, reliance on the individual can have its down sides. For example, Alexander the Great dying on the way home from his conquests and the subsequent fall of all that he achieved.
Groupism, rather than individualism does seem to be the pattern of our society. But the push and pull of each group stretches their concept of the self further and not necessarily for the better.
“Getting up from her bed on the other side of the passageway, the girl with dark glasses moved in the direction of the sobbing with arms outstretched. You’re upset, can I get you anything, she asked as she advanced, and touched the two bodies on the bed with her hands. Discretion demanded that she should withdraw immediately, and this was certainly the order from her brain, but her hands did not obey, they simply made more subtle contact, gently caressing the thick, warm blanket. Can I get you anything, the girl asked once more, and, by now she had removed her hands, raised them until they became lost in that sterile whiteness, helpless.”
Jose Saramago, Blindness
One the features of Picasso’s Guernica that makes it so haunting, isn’t simply the imagery, but the use of colour. Its stark colour important in depicting the dark subject. The first time the Nazis used their terror bombing on a defenseless civilian population. The colours are the pattern; is there a pattern where no colour exists?
In Saramago’s Blindness, the world is overcome by an epidemic of, you guessed it, blindness. Some people go blind earlier than others and the world becomes split into two groups. Before long everyone is blind apart from one woman. The text becomes incoherent as without sight, it becomes hard to distinguish; but the story, the pattern within the incoherency comes through.
Everywhere you go there seems to be a pattern, a blueprint to how something is organised.
Guernica describes a moment in history; another pattern in human life. Our histories are filled with repetitions and recurrences. Beheadings, wars, marriages, great people, infamous people, scientists, soothsayers and prophets.
The Sumerian tale, The Epic of Gilgamesh had themes of death, seduction, journey and doorways among the celestial saga. The ancient Greeks had verse, tragedy, comedy and ultimately drama. Pretty much life as it is then. Stories are there to provide a theme and a journey; destination unknown. Or is it?
“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
Anton Chekhov, In letters and memoirs
Patterns even in creativity and fiction; even the imagination creates a glorious, flowering blossom complete with symmetry. 1Q84 tells the concurrent stories of two people, told in slightly differing realities. Like most Murakami books it has themes of loneliness, solitude, humanity and the touch of the not-so real, magical reality he’s known for. A slight break from the expected, the required pattern. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy his writing so much.
The individual, groups, histories, literature, science, religion, arts and even nature itself follows patterns. However, this does not make it dull nor predictable, but all the more enjoyable for there is much magnificence in patterns and tapestry.
Freud mess amended.