Disorder is expected

Disorder is expected. We all ‘know’ this but it rarely seems that we factor it into our lives, or into the life of the planet – we expect order and smooth transition. We even pretend that our messes are ordered, and condemn the messes of others.

What we label as ‘disorder’ arises because of the complexity and unpredictability which is embedded in the interactive processes of the cosmos. Biology increases the complexity effects. We might say “the more something is alive, the more unpredictable its behaviour will be”.

This again we know, but we still act as if we expect people and events will be predictable.

I would suggest that in the West this arises because of propositions which appear theological, but can be held in a slightly different form by atheists as well:

1) As there is one God, there is only one fixed order, and that is right and good.

2) If God only makes order, then the devil and disobedient or ignorant humans, make the chaos we observe.

Neither of these propositions seems correct. If there is a God, then that God appears to make complexity (complex systems), and that complexity ensures unpredictability in detail. If so, then God is not a dictator, enables free will, almost guarantees that events will escape human control, and welcomes surprise (within limits).

The idea that God makes order and the devil makes chaos reinforces the false dichotomy between order and chaos, and the idea that what we perceive as order is good and what we perceive as chaos is bad. It also implies that if you think you know what the correct order, or correct good, is, then you are entitled to impose that order and goodness upon reality. It ignores the probability that your orders may have unintended consequences because complex reality escapes your understanding and control, when that is normal.

In this view, the normal disorders of the natural world, or the disorderly results of well intentioned actions, are evidence of ungodly threat and hostility to virtue, rather than something which must be taken into account. People in this mindset frequently seem to argue that as the order they want is good, then if their actions do not produce the results they want there must a conspiracy against them, and the order must be imposed with even more thoroughness and the conspirators suppressed or scapegoated.

To exaggerate slightly, for such people, the only safe nature seems to be one that is concreted over, dead, or heavily polluted, marked by fences and neat rows, as that is nature with human order imposed as rigorously as possible.

The contrary view implies that human knowledge is limited and that we cannot live in complete control or complete certainty; unintended consequences and disruptions are normal. This means our actions have to be experimental; that is we perform them and see what happens and then adjust. We have to attend to reality.

In the old view failure is punishment or the active work of evil beings, in the newer view, failure and correcting that failure – as best as we can – is how we learn.

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