Emotions and control

Dec. 1-3,’16 ~QofDay~ Emotions

How much control do you have over your own emotions?

Perhaps not as much as I’d like to think.
If I can get in ahead of them, and consciously create a context to deliver the emotions I want, then that works mostly.
And if something unexpected happens, then emotions just happen too, and they can be rather overwhelming and difficult to break out of.

Why I would want to control emotions is that it seems clear to me that emotions are heuristics installed by evolution over deep time, and as such are optimised for the conditions experienced over that deep time. Our modern reality is often (not always) very different from the experiences of the past, so emotions are not always appropriate to the current context (and often they are – and when that is so they serve the useful purpose they have evolved to do).

So I like to have the option of consciously choosing to override them if it seems appropriate, and I am not always successful at that.

[followed by]


It’s complex (a phrase that seems to be something very common in my writings these days).

Strong emotions have a series of biochemical pathways that force the brain to eliminate options and reduce situations to models that resolve to simple rapid decisions. That often isn’t appropriate in today’s complex contexts.

Having just had a 7.8 earthquake nearby, and still having no road access for other than emergency vehicles after 3 weeks, I see a lot of things happening in this town right now. If people have a lot of money, they can hire a helicopter and go wherever they want whenever they want. Most people don’t have that option. Medical conditions will get you out and back, but emotional or family reasons don’t count in the current bureaucracy.

When in a heightened state of anxiety (which applies to just about everyone in this town), it is very easy for something as simple as accidentally bumping into someone to turn into something approximating a generational blood feud.

It can take a very long time for individuals to “calm down” after being triggered over some “tipping point” when the general background levels of anxiety are already high.

For many people, they have lost homes and businesses, and many face financial ruin with consequences that will continue for decades.

I see many situations where emotions are entirely understandable, and also entirely inappropriate.

And many of our social systems are equally or even more inappropriate.

It was almost surreal 8 days ago to cycle up the most devastated piece of coastline two weeks after the event and see not a single piece of heavy machinery working on restoration of services.

I kind of understand that the major focus of activity is on the other two possible access roads, and that makes perfect sense, and we do have a lot of heavy machinery in this country that could be bought from elsewhere and employed for a week or so to open single lane emergency access to experienced locals to use (and make available to everyone in need).

As things stand some in our community are likely to be isolated from this community (having only road access northwards to Blenheim) for years (including one of our district councilors).

So yeah – emotions are not always appropriate, and are not always useful – and most often they are.

So it pays to develop secondary systems that allow one to make more reliable assessments of when they are appropriate and when they are not, and to be able to wrest control (influence) as required. And that is not a simple thing, as the whole set of systems is already recursive at about 20 levels before we bring our individual higher level abstractions to the party.

[followed by]


Kaikoura sits on the NE Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

The main road North South goes along the coast – and we are on it.
I live well out on the Peninsular at Kaikoura – ocean on 3 sides, magnificent views.

As you can see in this map – there are two other roads between Blenheim and Christchurch, and both have mountain passes.

The earthquake we just had caused many large landslips.
These slips blocked all three roads in/out of Kaikoura.
Just today the inland road, which sustained much damage, but most concern was for a slip at Whalesback (just on the Kaikoura side of Mt Lyford), was reopened to ordinary traffic, though only in convoy once a day.

We are hopeful the the main road South along the coast will be open to traffic within two more weeks. That will help Kaikoura a lot – we are a tourist town, and without roads, there are very few tourists, and this is coming into our peak season. So much economic hardship present now and for the coming year.

The road north is much worse.
Most of the damage is on the bit north of Kaikoura, between Mangamaunu and Waipapa.

Between us and Rakautara are about 5 major slips (and dozens of small ones), and about 1km of road where half the road has collapsed over a bank. Easy enough to reestablish a one lane road, slow access, but very difficult and time consuming to get it back to full highway status – two lanes capable of carrying 60T rigs at high speed.

North of Rakautara the situation gets much worse.
The rail tunnel at Half Moon Bay has had a fault fracture through the middle of it. It isn’t a large movement, about half a meter both up and sideways, and it will take quite a bit to re-align the tunnel so that trains can get through – they don’t do bumps or sharp corners well.

Just past there things get really nasty.
From the road, they don’t look too bad, but from the air, or out at sea, you can see that one of the slips that has pushed about 100m of track over the road and into where the ocean was last month, actually has about 700m more of material behind it, and what went over the track is just the tiny tip of a monster slip. Everything depends on how stable that thing is likely to be, and how much work needs to be done to give everyone reasonable confidence that the line can be reestablished. Moving the material off the railroad is relatively simple, but same considerations apply to the road, as it is between the rail and the sea. Some of the pictures of my bike trip last weekend show this slip as something big, but seen from the sea (as I did today) it is huge.

There are dozens of small slips up the coast.

The next major one is at Ohau point. That is serious for the road, and minor for the rail.

Just past Ohau point, past Ohau stream, are three significant slips quite close together.
They are moderate size (about 200m high, 100m wide) but the real issue is what is left on the slope they fell from. About 100m above the road is a layer of large boulders loosely embedded in the slope (large being 1-50T each – between car and bus size – dozens of them). Making that safe enough that authorities (including insurance companies) would be willing to consider it safe to use, is not going to be easy.

From Half Moon Bay to about 1km past Paparoa Point the road could quite quickly be returned to one lane operation, but the seaward side of the road will require substantial remedial work for about 5km. That takes time – lots of it, and that can only start after the slips have been cleared, for about half of it.

At Okiwi Bay is another substantial slip.

So it is going to be a very hard call for authorities.
There will be a great deal of pressure to get the road open again before next winter, but I just don’t know if it is actually possible. One lane, certainly – that is doable, but two lanes – for large chunks of it no. So that highway, if it does open next year, will likely take an extra hour or so to travel, with delays at lights for single lane traffic. And without using very smart software to run the lights, it could be much longer delays.

That country is very steep, with few alternatives. That only allows access to these things on a very narrow front.
Make a mistake on one of those big slips and you could have a 50T boulder on top of you, or have your machine roll downhill into the ocean.

Then there is the issue of aftershocks – we know there will be more, some of them quite large.
It is a seriously dangerous work environment.

We have new “Health and Safety” legislation in place in this country, and it is going to make doing some of the work that needs doing almost impossible.

It isn’t necessarily that the work is that dangerous – yes dangerous certainly, but within the sorts of limits that many competent individuals would accept. The issues of responsibility, in case of serious mishap, are just too difficult now. Those further up the chain won’t take the risk.

Everyone down the chain needs to be able to say No, if the risk is more than they are willing to take on.

It is a difficult situation.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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