We Live in The Age of the Dragon King. You Can't Predict Anything Anymore.

The unlikely was never the impossible.

We Live in The Age of the Dragon King. You Can't Predict Anything Anymore.

It came out of nowhere.

A tornado hit my house when I was eight years old. My parents woke me up in the middle of the night and rushed me downstairs. The tornado downed every tree in our yard and several more across the neighborhood. These weren't small trees. They were big, old pines. It ripped shingles off our roof. It bent our neighbor's basketball pole upside down.

Scientists are always shocked now.

Have you noticed?

They're baffled by disease behavior. They're caught off guard by the latest climate disaster, whether it's a flash drought or an epic flood. It's not their fault. They can predict that terrible things are in store for us, but they can't tell us exactly when or where they're going to happen.

That's the point of breakdown and collapse. Stable, predictable systems become unstable and unpredictable.

Just ask the farmers.

Most of us are just looking for something to latch on to, something that can at least help us understand what's going on a little better. We want some kind of framework. We don't do well with chaos. But the unlikely was never the impossible. We just assumed it was. That comfort has become obsolete.

It's time to let it go.

In Chinese mythology, the dragon king commands oceans, lakes, rivers, and rain. He controls dragons and sea creatures.

You could call him the god of chaos.

This mythological creature inspired a systems theorist named Didier Sornette. In the early 2000s, he proposed the dragon king as a way of explaining what experts miss when they assume the steady, predictable behavior of systems. They ignore anomalies and rare events.

As Sornette explains, dragon kings frame catastrophic transitions. They're the small, overlooked aspects of complex, nonlinear systems like feedback loops and tipping points. Most experts don't pay attention to them, or even see them, until it's too late. But they were there the whole time.

A dragon king is that tiny detail that amplifies a given disaster exponentially. It's the micro elements that make a wildfire or a hurricane far worse. It's the random viral mutation or recombination that nobody thought could happen, the one that starts a new pandemic.

Dragon kings are possibility on steroids.

Our friends and families don't want to admit this, but we're living in the 2050s now. That's the story of the last year. All those things we thought we had time to prevent or mitigate, they're happening now. They're happening with fires and floods. They're happening with diseases. It's rippling through society and making everyone act even crazier than we anticipated. I mean, did any of us expect influencers and outrage farmers to milk (pun intended) the uncertainty and fear surrounding avian flu?

I didn't.

I've been trying to wrap my head around the articles coming out of the press and scientific journals alike. Everyone keeps trying to predict what's going to happen next, but nobody really knows.

We only know one thing:

We're standing at the beginning of a catastrophic transition. We're entering an unstable system where unlikely events will happen more often. They'll happen with greater speed and velocity. We'll have less time to prepare. We'll have less time to hedge and hope.

For the last century, people have relied on predictive fallacy to make plans for the future. They could rely on past events to make reasonable assumptions about oncoming decades. You could more or less plan on going to college or a trade school and finding a good job. You could invest in the stock market. You could work hard and make a decent living. You could retire.

Your kids could do the same thing.

Life doesn't work like that anymore. It works like this: Will an artificial intelligence take your job? When? Will widespread corruption ruin your future? When will inflation end, if ever? Will you find a home? If so, how will you insure it? What rights and freedoms will you have to fight to protect next? How bad will the next crop failure be? When will the next deadly disease strike? How much longer will democracy survive?

We live in the age of the dragon king now.

It's okay.

It takes some time to adjust, but you can learn to live in this age. You just have to let go of your need for assurances and certainties.

They no longer exist.

Ultimately, we'll have no choice but to adapt to this new age. Agriculture will have to transform. Farmers will have to plant crops more resilient against the elements. They'll have to move indoors. Governments will have to fund it. The alternative is the collapse of our food systems. Society will have to get used to air purifiers and masks. The alternative is constant sickness and shorter lives. Billionaires and their fan club will have to give up endless profits.

I know, I know.

There's a sliver of a chance these things will happen. It's far more likely that global civilizations will fail to adapt, but only because they refuse. The elite will take down a large chunk of the population with them.

I've tried to give up. I've tried to stop caring.

I can't.

Our problem is that we still live in a society that conditions everyone to cross their fingers instead of making actual plans. We have a motto, "Hope for the best but plan for the worst." The ironic part is that nobody really listens to that, even if they go around repeating it. They don't plan for the worst. Anyone who tries to plan for the worst faces endless ridicule.

Even if we give up on politics and focus exclusively on our local communities, we'll have to pay attention to the dragon kings. We'll have to plan for those little details that trigger unlikely, catastrophic events.

That's what normal is now.

Normal means assuming the unlikely thing will happen. Normal means planning for it. You can even panic, as long as you work through it and don't give into a full-blown meltdown that gets people killed.

If you look around, you see a lot of people pretending they aren't scared. Of course, they're so scared they don't even want to face reality. They're scared because their old certainties are slipping away. They don't know how to process a world where unlikely events happen almost every day. They don't have any tools or mental frameworks to deal with that.

For some of us, our lives have been filled with unlikely events. We had to develop a true sense of resilience and grit to handle them, not the versions dreamed up by self-help writers and goop peddlers. Grit doesn't always make you a millionaire. It's just how you get through the day.

It's possible to live in an unstable, unpredictable system. You just have to stop crossing your fingers and hoping the unlikely thing won't happen. You can function. You can wake up and feel good.

It's even possible to be happy.

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