Chaos is my enemy

I actually said that recently.  During a job interview, as a matter of fact.

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.

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- but 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 (I’m trying to be succinct, for a change)?  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.’  (Obviously I’m paraphrasing here).  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 is named for the embodiment of chaos herself.  I was thinking along the lines of ‘naming something robs it of its power’.  Didn’t quite work out that way.  My Tiamat is 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 buddy- and 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-) emphasizing of late.  We are letting our 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.

Take the time to weigh all sides/voices/contexts and see that we have, in fact, progressed from the city states/nomadic/monarchic civilizations that came so very long before us.  We have evolved.  In every conceivable way.  And the devolution of society that seems to be happening here and there 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) 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.

I’m always looking for some order- and some New Order never goes amiss either…

‘I like walking in the park
When it gets late at night
I move round in the dark
And leave when it gets light
I sit around by day
Tied up in chains so tight
These crazy words of mine
So wrong they could be right’

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.

There are things beyond our human control.  Yep.  There are indeed.  But the way we react to these incursions of chaos in our lives is completely in OUR HANDS.

I know he’s right.

There’s been enough chaos lately.  We need some great changes right about now.  But they aren’t going to happen all by themselves.

PS- So much for being succinct…

In case you were wondering… the interviewers seemed to both be pretty tickled by my comment regarding chaos.  So much so they offered me the job.  All being well, it’ll be onward to new challenges and a new venue- one that has a mandate for positive change and proactive involvement.  HUGE thanks to you all hereabouts for the support offered as this first realized step in my journey- more meaningful action in my day job.  Here’s hoping it will allow for the continuation of meaningful engagement in all aspects of my life.  If nothing else, it will help me, personally, to balance that foundational dichotomy as best as I can.

Ain’t Gonna Play

This past weekend started off with tonnes o’ summer fun and ended with some heavy reflection.  There was a whole lot going on in the City and on the world stage that took me down some well-travelled paths of both hope and despair.

The 2013 Pride celebrations wrapped up successfully, with all indicators pointing to a good time having been had by all- including the Premier of the Province of Ontario, who participated in most of the events (‘our’ mayor having absented himself once again)- and the excitement is already building for next year’s World Pride Celebration.  A great finish to a week that saw some pretty cool stuff happening- basic human rights-wise– in the US.

Canada Day Spectaculars were held across the country- including in Calgary- where their mayor (a man definitely worth the title) asked his residents to take a day off from the flood clean up and enjoy themselves after all their trials and hard work over the past couple of weeks.  Amazing to see the way that neighbours are helping each other out and moving forward in the face some pretty hefty devastation.

Cmdr. Chris Hadfield sang on Parliament Hill- solidifying his presence as a science celebrity and positive influence for curiosity, education and the arts (not so separate from the sciences it turns out) and bringing smiles to the faces of everyone watching- whether on the Hill or from home (and Metric rocked hard.  As usual).


Egypt is in the middle of crisis (Canada closed its embassy there today), the situation in Syria hasn’t stabilized any, the RCMP stopped a terror plot to blow up the British Columbia legislature…

From genuinely thinking that hey, this world is a pretty great place, back to feeling overwhelmed by power- and hatred-driven craziness.   There was that anomie again, and I was feeling as if attempting to affect change is very much a ‘one step forward, two steps back kind of undertaking.’  Not an ideal way to start the work week.

Add to that the fact that Nelson Mandela has been on my mind- and in the collective thoughts of most of us- I started thinking back to that peculiar period back in the 80’s, when apartheid was still an institutional evil and shameful blemish on the face of the world.

Cruising the YouTube I found this:

(Is that Bono or a leprechaun at 4:28?  And who dances like Peter Wolf?  Ah, memories).

Way back in 1985 I was pretty much oblivious to larger world affairs, including the mounting opposition to the racial segregation that was the institutionalized reality for generations in South Africa.  I was deeply into my books and the music that provided an interesting soundtrack to that period of my life.

I knew that some countries- and the UN- were imposing economic sanctions against the government and growing louder in the condemnation of the system of state-sanctioned racism.

I proudly learned a little piece of Canadian history that noted that Prime Minister Diefenbaker, in 1961, was responsible for breaking the deadlock of Commonwealth leaders regarding whether or not South Africa would remain part of the Commonwealth.  His suggestion that the application not be denied outright, but that racial equality as an important principle of the Commonwealth be emphasized, resulted in South Africa withdrawing its application- a key Canadian contribution to international politics on an important human rights issue.

One would think that the opinions of the West had grown even more opposed to the system of apartheid– the Afrikaans term for ‘a state of being apart’ (there it is again- that irrational fear of the ‘other’)- as the decades of oppression stretched on and the situation grew increasingly violent.  Peaceful protest- by students and labour unions- ended with gunfire and death at the hands of the military powers of the government.

Many strong voices against the government were killed or imprisoned in attempts to silence the opposition and maintain the status quo- even amid increasing international pressures.

The Roman Catholic Church- and its leader Pope John Paul II- stood in solidarity with the chorus against apartheid.  Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu supported the economic boycott of his homeland- despite the hardships it would cause the poorest of the poor.  On the other side, the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa remained committed to the system of apartheid- impeding political reform from within the country.

International sports associations like FIFA banned South Africa from participation in sporting events.  Academic and cultural institutions were encouraged to terminate links with the country as long as racial discrimination continued.

in 1985, (Little) Stevie Van Zandt became involved with the anti-apartheid movement, initially upon hearing that the system was influenced by the American model of Indian reservations.  Since the issues of North America’s First Peoples was a primary focus of Stevie’s interest, the parallels between them and black South Africans struck a particular chord.  While traveling to research his next album, he became particularly upset by the ‘resort’ area, Sun City, a gambling mecca in a bantustan (Bophuthatswana)- a created ‘homeland’- in an impoverished rural area.

He gathered ‘rockers and rappers’ who joined together to speak against the injustice of apartheid and the American government’s official position on South Africa.

As Joey (miss that guy) notes at 2:22- “Constructive engagement (was) Ronald Reagan’s plan.”  Unlike the UN and most of the rest of the Western World, the US government promoted this mandate as an alternative to economic sanctions against South Africa.  (Although Maggie Thatcher echoed the policy during her tenure as British PM).

This political stance meant that only about half of US radio stations played “Sun City”.  But in countries without such resistance to positive and necessary change, the song became a major success- raising awareness and seeking freedom for the entire population of South Africa.

As that awareness continued to grow, the Reagan administration maintained its stance against the ANC and resistance t0 the imposition of trade embargoes and economic sanctions.  But the voices against what Bishop Tutu called “an abomination, an unmitigated disaster” (in a 1984 speech on Capitol Hill) began to increase, even in the conservative US of the 1980’s.

The Republican party turned against its President on this issue, and Congress overrode Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, ending constructive engagement and instituting the imposition of economic sanctions that caused South Africa’s economy to drop to among the lowest in the world.

Between 1990 and 1996 apartheid was systematically abolished.  In April 1994 20,000,000 South Africans cast their votes in the first free elections, and in May of that year Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s President.

At times when we seem to be increasingly divided by our differences, it is extremely valuable to remember that we have worked together to affect positive change and to realize the revocation of significant ideological evils- changes that work for our common good and prosperity.

Regardless of particular story variations or political maneuvering for the sake of greed we CAN work together toward what we know is right.  Even when it seems as though our political leaders are all about economic bottom lines and support of the status quo as a means of maintaining power.

Songs like “Sun City” tap into the popular culture to raise awareness and inform those uninterested in bored jaded by the political posturing that detracts from the real issues of rights and freedoms, as the pundits and talking heads spout policies based in ideologies (and stories) that should be left to history.

Once that awareness grows we can collectively tell our elected leaders just exactly where we ain’t gonna play.  History shows us that if enough of us shout it out they do have to listen.

I realized this morning that I didn’t define my terms very well.  Bad Historian.  ‘Constructive engagement’ sounds nice on the face of it- after all, ‘constructive criticism’ is meant to improve the thing being criticised, right?   And being ‘engaged’- in all senses of the word- is also something positive. 

Reagan advocated using incentives rather than sanctions to encourage South Africa to move away from its institutionalized policy of human rights violations.  The reason?  Political expediency.  In the Cold War of the 1980’s, the Reagan Administration feared the growth of communism in Africa, and viewed the white minority government of South Africa as an ally in its prevention. Ignoring a nation’s human rights record in order to further a particular agenda?  Doesn’t sound at all like the Harper government’s relationship with China and their increasing involvement in oil and gas development and their investment in the oilsands at all.

The parallels can be extended to include the West’s intervention- or lack thereof (depending on self-interest) in the various actions taking place in the Middle East, and right here at home to our Idle No More movement.

As Little Stevie wrote, in 1985, “This quiet diplomacy ain’t nothing but a joke.”  It’s time to get back on the right side of history and follow our own example.  Working together we can begin to solve our collective problems so we can stop being “always on the wrong side.”