Ordering Chaos

It doesn’t seem like there is anything else on the menu, lately. Everything is in flux and new and different and not in a good and exciting way.

All of us are struggling with the reality of Covid-19 – and the ways in which we deal with the chaos are as myriad as our personalities and life situations.

I tend to like order.  Not to the extreme of stifling creativity or preventing spontaneity, but, overall, I like to have things organized.

I’m not sure that I’m really truly a control freak or anything. I can go with the flow with the best of them. I’ve been known to drop everything and take chances/switch plans/directions at the drop of a hat – proverbial or otherwise (hats HAVE been left behind on occasion).

Before anyone starts thinking that I’m perhaps protesting too much, let me just say that I am well aware that my Virgo-Nature (as one of my BFFs – and fellow-Virgo – terms this propensity) sometimes gets the best of me. I’m eminently self-aware about that little character trait.

I think it’s why, actually, I tend to gravitate to the mythologies of the Ancient Near East and Egypt. The belief systems that came before and heavily influenced the beliefs and the worldview that would be recorded in the bible – those Testaments Old, New and extra-canonical – were based in the foundational dichotomy of the need for maintenance of order to stave off the constant incursions of chaos in the known world.

The myths – and the societies that developed according to the worldviews contained therein – saw the primeval forces of the universe as sourced in chaos. In Mesopotamia this tradition was found in the stories of Tiamat – Mother-goddess of chaos and origin of the world as we know it. As in the world was created out of her defeated carcass. Still, such was her power that even after Marduk’s victory her influence continued to be felt since we – and the planet we rode in on – were carved out of her physical remains.

We like chaos. Or, at the very least, seem to gravitate toward drama and the exaggerated over-turning of societal norms – those same societal norms that were instituted in things like the Code of Hammurabi, those Ten Commandments, or the more numerous and somewhat onerous Levitical Laws. They all served the same purpose: order vs. chaos

But the laws are all about the maintenance of the balance of the two, not the eradication of chaos. That would mean self-destruction, after all, coming as we did from the body of chaos herself. Our rules are set out to ensure the careful manipulation of behaviours so that order can keep it in check.

If the rules aren’t followed the influence of Tiamat comes creeping back in to mess with the nicely ordered society that the gods – and the kings/priests/leaders who act on behalf of the gods- have created. For our own protection, of course. But also for the greater glory of those who hold the earthly power.

I get this – atavistically, and also because it suits my personality. We need rules – be they rules of morality or practicality. We also need to understand that rules are contextual in nature. They are based on specific needs and sourced in specific times/places and, as such, should be subject to change as our context does so.

Somewhere along the line, the order/chaos dichotomy got changed into one of good/evil. I’d argue that came about under strong influences from Zoroastrianism and its dualism, but that’s a discussion for a different day.

Bottom line? Those things associated with order became the rules that described what is good. Acting outside those rules became all about the evil.

Example? That little story about the Garden of Eden and getting kicked out and that whole, much later, Augustinian nonsense about Original Sin? Yahweh gave them one rule – ‘don’t eat from that tree. The one over there. All others are fair game, but leave that one be.’ And what did they do? They violated the prescribed order/rule and ate from that tree.

It’s called a ‘cautionary tale’ for a reason.

Right from the get-go we were being influenced by that crafty Tiamat (or her minions, who were myriad and took the forms of demons, ill-winds and, sometimes, serpents) to break the rules and let her get a little of her own back.

That’s an image of her up there ^^^.  It’s also the image that appears on my homepage underneath the name of the blog. I believe in facing my fears head-on (I’m really not kidding. One of my cats was named for the embodiment of chaos herself.  was thinking along the lines of ‘naming something robs it of its power’. Didn’t quite work out that way.  My Tiamat was pretty chaotic. I blame myself for the misstep). Please note that she looks like a great big snake, herself.

‘What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.’

My fave OT dude wrote that in Ecclesiastes (1.9).

Yep. We are nothing if not a lather, rinse, repeat sort of a species. We beg, borrow and often steal the stuff that came before us and apply it – generally willy-nilly – to our own social contexts. Does that really sound like a remotely rational plan?

Despite my deep-seated appreciation of order, the need to examine from whence our conceptualizations of that order might have come is the very thing I’ve been (over-) thinking about of late. For a long time now we have been letting our community leaders tell us what we should be watching/buying/doing and how we should be thinking/voting/spending our spare time without any sort of examination or thought given to the context from which these prescriptions are coming.

Since we aren’t (last I checked), in fact, a Bronze Age culture trying desperately to assert our national identity among hostile ‘foreigners’ (whose land we’ve come to take) and therefore beholden to any notion of having our actions dictated as we are expected to blindly follow someone’s notion of what is ‘best’ for us, we really have to be looking more closely at these things.

We have so much opportunity and access to information that we HAVE TO make our decisions based in this cultural/social context rather than one that had its day more than 2000 years ago, half a world away.

That doesn’t mean that some of the rules – and the lessons contained within the rules and the stories that support them – mightn’t reflect universal truths and maintain some validity. I’m not saying that at all.

But c’mon. Too many of the people who want to make the rules (especially in that country to the south of us) are basing them on interpretations of those ancient documents in complete disregard of their – or our – cultural and historical contexts.

If we take the time to weigh all sides/voices/contexts we can see that we have, in fact, progressed from the city states/nomadic/monarchic civilizations that came so very long before us. We have evolved.

There is a devolution of society that seems to be happening here and there that is beyond distressing in the face of this reality.

We need a paradigm shift. Bigtime. Let’s forget about the whole externalizing/personification of evil/assumption of the existence of absolute good that we’ve inherited from later iterations of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian worldviews. Time to let go of childish things – like devils and demons and primordial gods (although not the cats who bear their names – two of my current feline besties are named for Canaanite deities) and take responsibility for our role in the balancing act that is life in the 21st century.

The maintenance of order is important.  It balances the chaos – of our own natures and of those things IN Nature over which we can exert no control.

And, unlike evil – and the way in which we tend to pass the buck by labeling and externalizing actions/people as such –  chaos will always remain a part of the world and its perpetual motion. We can stop with the evil. It is a purely human construct.

There are things beyond our human control and creation. Yep. There are indeed. The way we react to these incursions of chaos in our lives is completely in our hands.

In citing the historical tradition of leaders who created laws as a function of control, please don’t think that I’m saying that there aren’t leaders who make rules for the preservation of their people then or now.

We are in a period that is completely outside of our usual experience – most of us in the West, anyway. Rules have been put in place in efforts to keep us – as individuals, families and societies – safe and healthy, and to keep us from overwhelming our health care systems. Most of us seem to understand the origin of and continuing emphasis on the need to maintain physical distancing. These conditional rules have an origin and purpose that should be pretty easy to comprehend.

Unfortunately most is not all. There are ongoing murmurings – which are getting louder the longer this goes on – regarding the need to reopen the economy and get everyone back to work and producing and consuming at pre-pandemic levels.

I get the concern. Except that there can be no economy without society – and we are still in the process of ensuring the maintenance of that last part. The narrative of the ‘need’ to get back to working/living as ‘normal’ is being dictated by those who have financial mandates – rather than ones having to do with moral or ethical considerations. As has always been the case – in spite of how far removed we might be from the Bronze Age Near East – the most adamant supporters of movements dedicated to opening it all up right now are from the privileged strata of society, and those they persuade (or pay) to wave their flags of consume consume consume.

Sacrificing those in the most tenuous economic positions is a tactic that is much much older than capitalism, to be sure. It’s at play right now, though and it’s a manoeuvre that the kings and priests of the Ancient Near East would recognize and applaud.

We have the unique opportunity to create right order through all of this. We are recognizing the gaps that could lead to the failure of all of society – something that some of the powers that be seem to be willfully ignoring for the purposes of financial expediency.

Public health care, accessible education, fair wages for those who provide us with our food and safety, support for those who keep us entertained and informed. The struggles of these groups (and many others, of course) are demonstrations of the innate failure of capitalism as an equitable societal model.

The tension between doing what we’re told for our own safety and that of others and being forced back into dangerous situations under threat of not being able to eat, or pay rent, or provide the basics of living, requires a great deal of balancing between the dichotomous actualities of our present-day order and chaos.

Messages about continued vigilance and new statuses quo for the foreseeable future are daunting and, frankly, depressing for those of us (all of us) who want to be back out in our communities, supporting our neighbours and contributing responsibly to the economic health of our shared society. When placed beside the narratives coming from people who seek to gain all while sacrificing nothing themselves through forcing a premature return to previous states of consumerism, the former need to be our ongoing priority.

We have to trust in the people using educated and evidence-based forecasting to set the rules which will keep the chaos in check for us all. Listening to those who want the bucks off the backs of the rest of us will lead to a complete disruption of the order that comes with society.

We have no control over what is happening right now – and that is really really hard for a lot of people. Me, for one (see above, re. Virgo-Nature). We, here, are fortunate (for the most part, there are outliers, to be sure, and don’t get me started on the embodiment/s of chaos in the States) that the rules around vigilance are the ones that are being enforced – and, as hard as it has been (and it’s not getting easier by any stretch of the imagination) are the responsible, human response to the situation at hand. It is not our natural state to live in isolation – we are social beings and the entirety of our societal interactions and institutions are structured based on that reality. But we are also rational, thinking beings – and we are able to weigh the necessities of the current situation against the sometimes-bigger voices who are shouting for their own benefit to the detriment of those of us not part of the 1%.

Those who would rather we rush to open in spite of the subsequent chaos such orders will produce might want to consider the source/s of those directives and ask if they are, really, suggesting such steps for anything other than their own mandates and for their own selfish desires.

Order happens when choices are made – and we are having to make some that are really hard right now. There is much to be weighed and measured in order to strike the best balance possible. We have the unique opportunity right now to make the choices that can reframe our society in ways that lead to more equity, equality and inclusion. The voices of chaos might be louder – and they might be persuasive – but we have the power to ensure that our leadership is listening to the rest of us as we work together to get through this crisis and figure out how we go on living together once we can truly be together again. We can change the menu to one that is more varied and palatable for the entirety of our community.