From small molehills, big mountains grow. Sometimes. If the feedback is positive, that is—if the mole is rewarded with more food just for digging that molehill, and if his children are likewise rewarded. We’re not moles eating carrots, so how does this relate to us?
Geologists tell us that changes in landforms and oceans are now dominated by human causes. This is the anthropocene epoch. The world is now largely a human world. Most human events—the things intentionally or unintentionally resulting from human actions—have miniscule impact. Your choice of XYZ oat cereal for breakfast this morning probably had miniscule impact. But if, for example, advertising induced you and a thousand others to make the same choice, to the XYZ company (the mole) that’s a signal to expand the advertising (dig harder), increasing the demand for oats, thereby unintentionally altering corporate farming and even corporate political forces (the mountain). The difference between the miniscule and the massive is made by the connections and the amplification. The cereal company is connected to you and others through advertising; and the advertising amplifies the effect of your choice.
Usually, molehills don’t make mountains. Even big molehills. For example, killing 10,000 people every year by drunk driving hasn’t engendered effective control of DWI. However, killing 3,000 people in one day by 9/11 terrorists triggered years (or decades?) of combat in the Middle East. The amplifier was the susceptibility of the Congress and US population to manipulation by fear rather than fact.
Social amplification can happen in positive ways, too. Consider the iPhone, once only a concept, an idea now amplified into a connection device that many people regard as a necessity. Well, I guess that’s positive, at least for Apple.
We are usually unaware of those many amplifiers that lead to expanded technology, population growth, and the planetary impacts of climate, pollution, and earth movement that form the anthropocene. The world’s human population has more than tripled during my lifetime. However, through amplification by the media, a sensational movie gets more attention.
Here’s the point: especially in economics and politics, it pays to be aware of the amplifiers. Those who manipulate the big money and the big politics are aware. They know what will multiply for gain and what will divide the opposition.
In cases of either good fortune or calamity, the outcome depends more on how we are connected and how we react than on what happened. Pay more attention to the multipliers than to the events.