Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Niall Ferguson in Foreign Affairs: "Complexity and Collapse of a Marriage"

Out of Control?
(Image from Daily Mail)

The Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has a new theory on the collapse of marriages, and it goes something like this:
Great marriages are, I would suggest, complex systems, made up of a very large number of interacting components that are asymmetrically organized, which means their construction more resembles a termite hill than an Egyptian pyramid. They operate somewhere between order and disorder -- on "the edge of chaos," in the phrase of the computer scientist Christopher Langton. Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time; they seem to be in equilibrium but are, in fact, constantly adapting. But there comes a moment when complex systems "go critical." A very small trigger can set off a "phase transition" from a benign equilibrium to a crisis -- a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England, or a femme fatale with a fatwa walks into your life and brings about the collapse of your marriage. (Niall Ferguson, "Complexity and Collapse: Marriages on the Edge of Chaos," Foreign Affairs, March/April 2010)
The trigger to Ferguson's own "phase transition" came when he and Ayaan Hirsi Ali met at a Time Magazine party in New York in May last year, as shown in the photo above. But there were signs of disorder already:
It is not the first time that Ferguson has been unfaithful. He has cheated on his wife eight times over the past five years, according to one family friend, and five of these affairs have apparently taken place over the past 18 months. (Katie Nicholl , Miles Goslett, and Caroline Graham, "The history man and fatwa girl," Daily Mail, February 12, 2010)
Obviously, Professor Ferguson's marriage was already at risk of spinning out of control, but there's always a bright side. We now have the man's new application of chaos theory to the collapse of great marriages.

Let that be a lesson to us all . . .

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At 12:32 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

Is this a more academic way of saying he has a sex addiction too?

The public excuses are getting boring. Since these men aren't my husband, I wish they'd shut up.

At 2:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Actually, I was simply ridiculing the man.

He was writing about great empires rather than marriage. I replaced "empire(s)" with "marriage(s)" and added the line about the femme fatale.

I do odd things like this to amuse myself . . . but I agree with you about cheating men who 'repent' in public.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:27 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

I should have read more carefully.

At 7:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that one would probably have to click on the link to discover the original title before actually getting the joke. I'm hoping that some scholar of politics and history will happen to stumble by my blog and laugh his rear off at the joke.

But maybe it's not funny enough . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By no means a history scholar, I have stumbled upon your blog while doing an essay on the original piece, laughed my ass off, and chortle quietly to the above comments.


At 6:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Glad to be of amusement . . . and hope that the plastic surgery for re-attaching your rear doesn't run up too much of a bill.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One liar meets another
so they should fit well together

At 8:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

In human affairs, there are always lies. Ferguson and Ali are likely no worse than the rest of us.

Jeffery Hodges

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