In fantasy there has long been a trope that the forces of “law” and “chaos” are ever in conflict with law being associated with “good” and “chaos” with “evil.” This is reflected in some tabletop roll playing games with alignments of “law” and “chaos” replacing good and evil.
The truth, however, is more complicated. Law, structure, order and chaos, disorder, change are more orthogonal concepts to “good” and “evil”. Interestingly enough, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons reflected that with its two-dimensional alignment system with law and chaos on separate axes. Thus “Lawful Good,” “Chaotic Good,” “Lawful Evil,” and “Chaotic Evil” with various “Neutrals” filling in the gaps between. Mind you, in my experience players and DMs tended to still associate law and chaos with good and evil so that “lawful good” was “more good” than “chaotic good”.
Digging deeper into mythology, however, we see another side of chaos. Chaos is a force for change or the potential for existence. In Greek Myth Chaos was the first progenitor, the original from which the first three primordial gods–Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (the Underworld), and Eros (Love, or perhaps lust; the two tend to be indistinguishable in much early writing)–arose. As a side note, I find it interesting that Eros is here put on the same footing as the Earth and the Underworld. From Chaos also came Erebus (darkness) and Nyx (night).
In this system, everything had its origin in Chaos.
Metaphorically speaking, there is much truth to that. Every change, for good or ill, involves disruption, involves uncertainty, involves chaos. Just like birth is not without pain, so too is change even for the best without its uncomfortable, even painful aspects.
This, of course, is used to justify all sorts of things. “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” is an expression of that principle. However, this does not mean that all changes, all disruptions, and all proposed final results are equal. I have noticed a lot of those egg breaking claims don’t end up in an omelet. Indeed, that’s one of the reasons many people shy away from chaos and uncertainty. These failed omelets add up to a lot of human misery. And so people look for certainty, for order, for a lack of chaos.
The problem is, freedom is naturally chaotic. People being free to choose how to live their own lives, to direct their own future. All men are created equal only in that they are all created unequal (which is why they need to be equal before the law but that’s another story). And when all that gets together no one can predict the outcome. In the short term, in some things folk can make guesses that are often right, but go farther out? Nope. Can’t do it.
But from that uncertainty, that chaos, is where progress and the improvement of the human condition comes. People had been wishing for the ability to fly since the dawn of mankind. They had been working for it and striving for it. Nobody predicted that two self-taught bicycle mechanics would change the face of the world forever with the first heavier than air aircraft to take off under its own power, fly, and land successfully. And nobody predicted the effect that would have on the world in commerce, travel, and war. Some folk may have foreseen the effect the self propelled carriage might have had in delivering goods to market, but who foresaw the utter transformation of living patterns (the rise of suburbs) and the change in courtship and sexual behavior? And so on.
Some of these changes have been for the worse, perhaps, at least as some people see them. Others for the better. I look around at my life and the lives of people who lived before me and it seems pretty clear that overall it’s for the better.
We are now in a period of great change. The rise of the Internet enables the ability of individuals and small groups to bypass the huge media conglomerates in the spread of information. No longer do we have to rely on “the most trusted man in America” who can, therefore, lie with impunity with no one to gainsay him. Commerce is no longer limited to what the local stores choose to carry. Selection that dwarfs the old Montgomery Ward mail order catalogs combined with speedy shipping that lead to scarce a delay in receiving goods compared to a local store make a greater variety of goods and services available to me than ever before. We are rolling in the riches of Midas and most don’t even recognize it.
But that’s only the very beginning. With 3D printing and other rapid prototyping technologies just starting to become available to the masses people won’t even need to order what they want. In many cases they’ll be able to make what they want, customized to exactly fit their needs and preferences. The effect that will have on society, on people’s lives, is impossible to predict except that it will very likely be profound, at least as profound as the widespread introduction of the automobile.
I will make one loose prediction. People being less dependent on larger organizations, both business and governmental, will lead to both a rise in interest in individual liberty, and a pushback against that rise. The results of that conflict, however, I do not know. I simply know which side I’m on.
Whatever the actual outcomes, however, the times, they are a changin’.