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Castle, Linchpin Theory and X-Events

on Mon, 07/02/2012 - 00:00

Castle Pandora
During the season four double-episode installment of the ABC drama Castle entitled “Pandora/Linchpin,” New York Police Detective Kate Beckett and her mystery-writing consulting partner Richard Castle become embroiled in a CIA effort to prevent “a catastrophic event which poses an imminent threat to the country.” Instead of a terrorist attack, however, the incident in question is the assassination of a ten-year-old Chinese girl that would ultimately lead to World War III and “the end of our country as we know it.”

While such a scenario may seem far-fetched, the “linchpin” theory of Dr. Nelson Blakely on Castle that forecasts such an outcome has a corresponding real-world counterpart often referred to as “extreme events” that makes the potential more possible than one might imagine. Renowned systems theorist John L. Casti prefers the moniker X-Events, unforeseen occurrences that rapidly change the political, financial and geographic stability in a dramatic and devastating fashion.

“The X-Events region is one that has been far less scientifically investigated, just because its elements, ranging from asteroid impacts to financial market meltdowns to nuclear attacks, are by their very nature rare and surprising,” Casti writes in the opening pages of X-Events: The Collapse of Everything (William Morrow, 2012). “Science is mostly about the study of repeatable phenomena. X-Events fall outside that category, which is a major reason why at present we have no decent theory for when, how, and why they occur.”

Like John Casti, the fictitious Nelson Blakely on Castle has dedicated a large portion of his life attempting to understand such occurrences. “Blakely designed math-based predictive models for us, models to help create geopolitical change,” a CIA official explains to Kate Beckett and Richard Castle. “The agency would bring him a problem. How can we prevent country A from getting the bomb, or cause regime change in country B? Blakely found solutions using what he called ‘linchpin theory.’ His approach was to find a small event that could trigger a large event. He once said you only needed to knock over one domino, but if it was the right domino, the rest would fall.”

Richard Castle immediately seizes upon the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and how it directly led to World War I as an example of linchpin theory in action. Nelson Blakely’s supposed first linchpin for the CIA is yet another example. “We asked him to develop a non-nuclear military strategy that would bring down the Soviet Union,” it is revealed on Castle. “It turns out all we had to do was outspend them.”

The plot of the “Pandora/Linchpin” double episode likewise has to do with an economic catalyst designed to bring a contemporary superpower to ruins. During the course of their investigation, Kate Beckett and Richard Castle discover a room in Blakely’s apartment that is filled with pictures and index cards on all four walls with colored string connecting them together.

The brief notes spell out “tax riots,” “European economic collapse” and “Iran invades Iraq,” with the end result reading, “August 2017—US Surrenders (Est. 27 million casualties).” The starting point of this interconnecting web of doom is the picture of a young Chinese girl, the linchpin for events that will bring about “the end of our country as we know it.”

It is eventually discovered that the girl in question is the daughter of a Chinese businessman named Xiang Ganghong. “Xiang is a kingmaker,” CIA operative Sophia Turner explains. “He’s extremely influential in shaping his country’s economic policy. He made his first fortune selling Chinese military hardware, sometimes to our enemies but we let him alone because he was supportive of Chinese purchase of US debt. Now if someone were to take out Xiang, not that much would change. But if his daughter were killed in a botched assassination attempt and the Chinese were able to trace it back to the US government? It’s conceivable that Xiang could use his considerable influence to single handedly end China’s purchase of the US debt.”

From there, Kate Beckett and Richard Castle are quickly able to deduce the chain of events that were foretold by Nelson Blakely and his linchpin theory. An inability to borrow money by the deficit-running federal government would lead to austerity measures that would severely affect the ability of the military to meet its international obligations.

Without a US presence in various regions of the world, meanwhile, other countries with conflicting agendas would essentially be free to pursue their own interests. This would inevitably lead to war, and with the United States hampered by a financial crisis, it would quite likely be a war that was not winnable from a US perspective.

How does this example of linchpin theory relate to the X-Events that John Casti explores in X-Events: The Collapse of Everything? “X-Events of the human—rather than nature-caused—variety are the result of too little understanding chasing too much complexity in our human systems,” he writes. “The X-Event, be it a political revolution, a crash of the Internet, or the collapse of a civilization, is human nature’s way of reducing a complexity overload that has become unsustainable.”

In the scenario outlined on Castle, the financial burden of both domestic and foreign policies has resulted in a complexity in regards to the nation’s budget requirements, while the solution is the borrowing of additional funds from China. Take away the ability to borrow, and the United States collapses under the burden of its complex system of overspending that has few options and less freedom to maneuver.

While John Casti would no doubt agree with Nelson Blakely’s scenario regarding the collapse of the United States in theory, he does not concur that the end result would be inevitable. “I do not believe that there is any person or method, living, dead, or yet to be born, that can reliably and consistently forecast specific X-Events,” he maintains in X-Events: The Collapse of Everything. A major reason for this opinion rests with the fact that there is so little data available for accurately predicting X-Events. By definition, after all, an X-Event is a rare occasion, and theoretical models are ultimately based on an abundance of readily available data.

“While probability theorists and statisticians have developed an ingenious array of tools ranging from subjective probability theory to Bayesian analysis to extreme-event statistics to try to circumvent this obstacle, the fact remains that nailing down a probability you can believe in for a rare event to occur is just not possible,” Casti further elaborates.

In addition to discussing the field of X-Events in his book, John Casti offers his own “linchpin theories” in regards to potential catastrophic events that could reshape the landscape of modern day society. Internet failure, food supply shortages, the collapse of globalization, disease pandemics and even the overthrowing of humanity by intelligent robots are all outlined within the pages of X-Events: The Collapse of Everything.

Casti did not write his book as a prediction of world-wide doom, however, but instead as a demonstration that continual reliance on complex systems could potentially lead to Earth-shattering events if left unchecked.

On the ABC drama Castle, Dr. Nelson Blakely is quoted as saying, “You only needed to knock over one domino, but if it was the right domino, the rest would fall.” As John Casti makes clear in X-Events: The Collapse of Everything, there are an overabundance of dominoes in the world that could lead to chaos if the systems to which they are connected are not made less complex.

In many ways, it is an argument that even Kate Beckett of Castle would no doubt agree. At the end of the “Pandora/Linchpin” double episode, Richard Castle asks her, “Do you think Dr. Blakely was right about the linchpin? Do you think we actually saved the world?” Beckett in turn simply replies, “I think that we saved a little girl’s life, and that’s enough for me.”

Anthony Letizia

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