You, the Butterfly Effect, and Nonlinear Systems

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Lester A. Knibbs aka Doctor Hakeem

In ancient times, people believed that anyone who accomplished something significant was at least partially divine or the offspring of a divine being — unlike the rest of us ordinary people. We ordinary people are not like Galileo or Newton or Einstein or Bach or Beethoven or Brahms. What ordinary people do does not affect the world, so we think. Or so we have been conditioned to think.

Years ago, the man who came to tune my piano saw my picture on the front page of the local newspaper. I was about to perform a Bach concerto with the local orchestra. He said to me, “I didn’t know who you were!” I laughed and replied, “You know who I am. The people who read that article don’t know who I am.” But, on seeing my image in the newspaper he began to think of me as someone other than an ordinary person.

Re-think yourself. What you do affects the world.

In modern times, millions of African people were transported from their own civilized African nations across the ocean to serve the needs of European people. Those European people had fled across the same ocean in order to escape the horrid conditions of their own barbaric nations. Without the help of the African people (enslaved or not), the Europeans would not have been able to settle in the western lands, conquer and exterminate the original inhabitants, build their own powerful nation, develop advanced technology, and conquer the world. All of this was made possible, not by slave labor, but by African labor — because the Africans were the progeny of civilized nations. Neither European servitude nor native servitude could have enabled the emigrants from the failed nations of Europe to accomplish so much.

As a reward for their service, the European (“white”) overlords convinced the offspring of their African slaves that they were inherently inferior beings who were incapable of any noble accomplishment in the world and that any attempt on their part to achieve a noble accomplishment was a criminal act. Virtually all us, we African Americans, have inherited these ideas and believe them consciously and unconsciously in the marrow of our bones. Nothing we do will accomplish anything worthwhile in the world, and it is criminal for us to make such an attempt, or even to think that we might be a Galileo or a Newton or an Einstein or a Bach or a Beethoven or a Brahms. This is what we have been conditioned to think.

We must re-think ourselves. What we do affects the world.

When we learn that Napoleon conquered most of Europe, we should realize that Napoleon conquered nothing. Napoleon sat on his butt (on a horse or a throne) and barked orders. Napoleon and those who followed him conquered most of Europe. What Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and everyone else of any ethnicity, gender, or nationality anywhere in the world accomplished, they accomplished with the help of others.

Einstein, for example, was working as a clerk in the Swiss patent office when he studied and wrote articles proposing answers to problems in physics and astronomy. He sent those articles to professional publications. When physicists and astronomers read those articles, they were impressed. As a result of people reading what he wrote, Einstein became an influential person. Einstein did not suddenly pop up and influence the world. He influenced the world with the help of many other people.

(Young Einstein was three years old before anyone had heard him speak. His parents worried that he might be retarded. One day at dinner, he said — in German, of course — “The soup is too hot.” His astonished parents asked him why he hadn’t spoken before then. Young Einstein replied, “Up until now, everything was fine.”)

Re-think yourself. What you do affects the world.

We African Americans have been conditioned to withhold support, or even to oppose each other’s efforts. We watch Jamaicans from the Caribbean and Guineans from West Africa come into our neighborhoods in the Bronx, in Brooklyn, and in Harlem, and within a few years open up their own businesses. We invent spurious or even insane explanations for how they do in a few years what African Americans have failed to do in three or four generations.

There are major exceptions to this, especially before so-called “integration” (as a result of which we lost many businesses), and also as a result of violent attacks on our people in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898, and in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921, and in several other locations, as well as the thousands (yes, thousands) of violent expulsions of African Americans from towns and counties throughout the United States in the early 20th century, causing loss of homes, businesses, and land. Self-respect and mutual love require that we come together in the face of what constitutes a state of warfare.

We need thousands of hours of face-to-face (non-electronic) conversation. We need to seek out, respect, and cherish the words of our African American brothers and sisters — especially those ordinary, flawed, living human beings that we encounter in our everyday lives. Beyond the special semi-deified personages that we see or hear in the media. Ordinary people. Let’s talk. Real talk. About our personal lives, our families and family history, as well as about current events, history and the nature of reality. Let’s get real. Honesty and sincerity improve the world. Dishonesty and insincerity undermine society. Sensitivity and compassion are necessary for human life. Insensitivity and lack of compassion destroy society.

We must re-think ourselves. What we do affects the world.

There is a phenomenon called “the butterfly effect” in which one little thing — the breath of air from the flutter of a butterfly’s wing — causes an effect which cascades into a major event, possibly even a hurricane. This results from nonlinear systems being vulnerable to effects disproportionate to the original cause.

You may think that what you write, say, or do is a little thing with little effect. But it may cascade into a phenomenon that overthrows governments and replaces nation with nation. As has been said — “The ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr.” (attributed to Muhammad) and “The pen is mightier than the sword.” and “One honest man can overthrow a tyrant.” (attributed to Solzhenitsyn)

My fellow African Americans, I urge you to prepare yourselves to govern this society. It is clearly being governed badly — to the point of self-destruction — by those who currently govern it. We do not need to take over. We do not need revolution. We need reform — yes, we need to begin this process by reforming ourselves. Self-reform is the biggest step — and the crucial step — in proper government.

We need to remember the example of Jonah — and hope and pray that we are living his story — in which Jonah repented and accepted the mission that was given to him, surrendered to the Almighty, and called upon the mighty empire, that had conquered and enslaved his people, to repent, and they repented and were saved from destruction. Unlike the people of Noah, who were destroyed, or the people of Lot, who were destroyed, or the people of Pharaoh, who were destroyed — the people that Jonah was sent to were saved from destruction. We live here. We should pray that this nation, built by the sweat, blood, and tears of our forebears, is not destroyed, and carry out the mission of urging repentance, reform, and salvation.

Even the most evil and powerful nation can be destroyed by a word, by a mere breath of air. Or saved.

Re-think yourself. What you do affects the world.


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