Universal Principle of Variety

Couple of years ago, on one of those very rare moments, I actually learned something in class. The lecture was on the differences between engineered wood and natural wood. The teacher went on explaining what makes natural wood generally superior to engineered wood.

He elaborated that the natural wood’s fibers, that are arranged in an organic fashion (meaning they go every whichever way), make the wood so strong, and therefore more valuable. Once cured properly, natural woods are more weather resistant, sturdier, heavier, and definitely, much longer lasting.

Engineered wood, among many recipes, are often made of wood cast-offs like wood-dust or wood particles, mixed in with some kind of binding agent, like resins. This concoction makes engineered wood lighter, easier to mold into shapes by turning or laser cutting, but hollower, or even fragile- therefore of poorer quality.

The fact, that the natural wood fiber pattern, laid out in an organic fashion, makes it so strong, immediately reminded me of the concept of society in general.

I might often think, albeit in a lazy framework, that it’d be nice if we all could think alike. There would be no arguments, fights, protests. But when plopped on the natural wood template , I can assume, just like the natural wood, a heterogeneous society- with its varied point of views, beliefs, values and rituals- is strong and resilient. Paired with tolerance, it efficiently deconstructs every debate and then come up with a unique solution. A society, filled with variegated opinion and point of view, is safe against extremism of any manner. On a nuclear level of a society, a multi-generational home is much more conducive to mental health, happiness and learning than a homogeneous one.

This obvious parallel made me realize that there are overarching concepts that apply to most things. These concepts help us make sense of things that we don’t quite understand; the softer, more complicated concepts- like society, education, or economic system. Obviously, once this was in my mind, I saw the same principle at work everywhere.


I read about the overall importance of agricultural and wild biodiversity. In terms of gardening; a varied food patch lessens, even eliminates, the dependence on pesticide, fungicide or fertilizer.

In the realm of industrial agriculture: monoculture is bad for the soil, for the environment, where crop rotation replenishes one season’s depleted nutrient level, over next season.

Monsanto’s mutant crops completely demolish variety, and now GMO crops are being linked to the alarmingly high rate of autism.

In terms of public health: a rainbow diet boosts immune system of the consumer, where a monochrome one ushers in a slew of health issues.

A heap of uniform tomatoes only means that a ton has been thrown away, all the variety has been carefully tweaked out, to fit the assembly line and packing crates.

On an economic level, as I have discussed on another post, local economies, that are small and diverse, are resilient, and sustainable than their monolithic corporate counterpart, governed by the chosen few.

On a casual thought, we may blurt out that the antidote to racism is a unique race, a mash up of all the races. Yet, if we still resemble anything close to nature- we could imagine- without a degree in genetics- how it may significantly compromise the survival of the human race.


I always felt uncomfortable, or misled even, by the current education/school system. Then- the life changing book “The Element” by modern educator ,and extremely witty, Sir Ken Robinson, and the universal principle of variety- helped me understand the reason(s) behind my discomfort. It seems, the education system is designed to churn out a class of people that think alike, live alike, and perhaps most importantly, consume alike. The prevalent system slots only the math whiz as a worthy use of space, yet as Sir Robinson confirms, there is more than one definition of intelligence. He argues that intelligence is diverse, dynamic and distinct; curiosity is naturally variegated, so is talent. Then there is the concept of specialization in higher education, where some argue, students learn more and more about less and less. Perhaps this is why there are so many doctors who are nutrition novice, or economists who are ecology illiterate.

Drawing parallel from the industrial agriculture, Helena Norberg-Hodge refers to the same education system as human monoculture, that pummels humans, across countries and cultures, to essentially the same person. Just like the engineered wood, that can be turned and bent without resistance, a monoculture humanity can also be shaped, turned and perhaps bow to the same brands, so there’s CocaCola consumers on little Tibet.

Children learn even better when they learn or play in a group heterogeneous by age or culture. How has a system, with so many debatable aspects, been solidified as norm? Perhaps, because of the lack of variety of thoughts at the top. As Sir Robinson also clarifies, the whole system of education was to support the need of the era of industrialism, which is, not surprisingly, all about uniformity.

There is a clause on the rule of variety- when variety does not enliven us on a human level, either because it is unnatural, or not a true variety. Sweetened beverages are not an organic part of the universe, they have tremendous amount of waste, upstream and downstream, to prove it; which is why a large variety in the sweetened beverage shelf does nothing but causing decision fatigue. Lack of true variety is the reason why an array of 100 TV channels makes us feel acutely anxious, instead of empowered- since the total US media is own, run, governed by a total of six corporations. This clause may help us make lifestyle choices that make use more content, and bring in more clarity.

Universal principles themselves are diverse. There are principles of routine, limit, balance, and definitely many more. Hopefully someday I’m able to map out all those.