So last semester I took a class called “Spacecraft Control.” In this course, I was supposed to be learning the details of control theory as it relates to spacecraft flying through…wait for it…space. It had to do with all sorts of interesting things such as aerodynamic braking, outgassing (spacecraft flatulence), spin, wobble, differential equations, and all sorts of fun things. I should note here that this class is the sequel to a class called “Spacecraft Attitude Dynamics,” which makes the acronym, SAD. This is appropriate, because while I’m sure the professor was actually talking about spacecraft control things, my classmates and I had no clue what he was talking about, and managed to pass the class by bullshitting our way through the final presentation. Sad, huh?
This is only relevent because of what I want to talk about here today. I was recently asked in another class to think about all the different ways that I am being controlled in my life. Whoa. None, right? I am a free spirit, independent of outside influence, fighting the good fight atop the mound of mindless sheep out there that make up most of America. Well, actually…no. It’s naive and frankly, quite stupid to believe that.
The truth is, we are constantly being controlled. Every day. When you drive your car, you are controlled by traffic laws, stop signs, traffic lights, the slow car in front of you, the speed limit, traffic cops. You don’t have to listen to any of those things, I know. But when you break the laws there are penalties, and if you don’t pay, there are repercussions. More control. When you get to your destination you are being controlled to. At school, you have to go to class, you have to behave a certain way, you have to dress a certain way. At work, you’re controlled by your boss. If you don’t conform to this controlling power, you get fired. Before you go to school or get a job, you’re controlled by your parents. They are the be all end all of your life. They control what you eat, when you sleep, what you where. Not all control is bad. Babies would be pretty much screwed without it. But as we get older we start to realize that our bosses have control over us, our professors have control over us, and so on. So we take control of the things we can to compensate for it.
We do this in all sorts of ways. The picture you have at your desk. The watch you wear. The crazy socks, the colorful clothes. What you eat. The cross pendant or David’s star that’s hanging around your neck, or the little Buddha that you keep with you. The car you drive. All these things are freedoms you get to take into your own control. But how free does this really make you? Not all that much.
You see, even these freedoms are controlling you. You need to eat healthy foods to be, well, healthy. Or you can be unhealthy, but then you won’t live as long, and you are controlled by a primal need to matter to people, rapidly. You may wear a fun watch, but it will still control you because the very nature of time is controlling. Be here at this time, time is always passing, your time might come at any second, tick tock tick tock. You have a freedom of religion, but religions control you too. There’s rules to follow and places to be on Sunday and things to wear and the like. And in religions that are focused inward, like Buddhism and Confucianism, there’s self control. This might be one of the better types; if you’re going to be controlled, you might as well control the controlling.
But there’s still hope for you, you might think. What if you’re an individual who controls other people? What if you have power? What if you have a lot of power? Well, good for you. But, you are controlled by the people over whom you reside. Unless you’re a dictator. But even then, you are no doubt controlled in part by a small group of aids who you trust, some who you actually should, and some who are actually out to get you. What if, by chance, you are a dictator who is above the control of your aids? What if, by chance, you are in control of all the people of the world, and noone is in control of you.
Wow. This is an interesting (and completely hypothetical) scenario. I won’t keep you in suspense. You are still being controlled. You are on a planet in a solar system in a galaxy in a cluster (who knew?) in the universe. Your planet has a magnetic feild, and a gravitational field. You can’t jump as high as you want. You can’t drive a hypothetical car with unlimited power as fast as you want because your speed will be aerodynamically limited. Even if you have power over all the earth, you can still be locked in a room, because you can’t walk through walls. You’re controlled by your DNA. You’re limited because you’re a human. The vastness of space is such that you could never master it all because you physically couldn’t handle it. You could have power over all the earth and still get hit by a bus and be smushed like a bug. You are controlled by the neurons in your brain. There are things out there that you can not wrap your head around because of the way your brain works. Things you can not imagine because of the world you live on. If you had control over all the people of the earth, you would be in control of a fraction of a pixel in a picture of a fraction of a solar system in a galaxy in a cluster in the universe. There’s probably more things you don’t know are controlling you than you could ever imagine. Which is simultanousely awe inspiring, incredible, utterly terrifying, and most importantly, terribly true.
So, after thinking through this, the answer is, you’re always going to be controlled. Whether it’s by social norms, other people, the laws of physics, or the shear fact of your insignificance in the universe, you’ll always be controlled by something. And I will too. We can’t escape it. We can just be aware of it, take control of the things we can, and let the rest be as it may. Thanks for reading. See you soon.