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’.

3 thoughts on “Chaos”

  1. ” 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.”

    Perfectly stated.
    Chaos is undervalued and underrated… but it is what has driven us in the past and what will continue to compel us in the future… that desire to maintain a tenuous balance between chaos and the complacency of the status quo.


  2. I recall an article in Scientific American that described how EKGs had a certain chaotic component, and when it disappeared (that is, the EKG became more orderly) it was a sign of an impending heart attack. I suspect as the heartbeat becomes more regular, it’s a sign that alternative electrical pathways in the heart are being occluded for whatever reason, so there are fewer ways for the heart to recover from or route around damage.

    At work, I’ve come to value chaos as an indication that I have more elbow room to work around the next emergency.


  3. Actually, “Eros” is only one side of love (lust is a correct evaluation,) the other side of love being “Agape,” which is essentially the sacrifice you make in putting the needs of someone you love before your own. It is possible for these to exist separately (“Eros” for an evening, “Agape” being a mother’s love for her children,) or they can coexist (as in a marriage, or other stable relationship.)

    However, relationships based on either – or both – principles only work if such is felt both ways. “Eros” must be complementary, and/or Agape must happen both ways (as needed, such as when a husband takes care of his wife after surgery, for instance. Then she takes care of him when he is ill.)

    Shifting gears – “Chaos” is a defining principle of the Universe. Entropy leads to chaos, an attempt to reverse entropy is an attempt to restore order. One may easily add sugar to one’s coffee, but one may not pull sugar cubes out of one’s coffee – entropy has occurred, and it takes significant effort to reverse entropy and extract the sugar from the coffee (and you end up extracting the coffee from the water as well, then you have to separate the sugar from the coffee. Have fun!)

    The /ne/ /plus/ /ultra/ of entropy is the heat death of the Universe, when all has become chaos and there is nothing left for the stars to burn. The universe, by then, would be entirely “condensed matter” – mostly heavy elements – with no sources of light or heat. Fortunately, this is still a few trillion years out, so we’ve got some time to find another Universe, or at access higher dimensions (the equations that physicists are using to define our Universe don’t settle down until they are applied in either TEN or TWENTY-SIX dimensions, instead of merely four. So, where are those other six – or twenty-two – dimensions, and how do we access them? Physics may supply the answer to the age-old question of “Where does God live?” Will those higher dimensions reach heat death at the same time as these basic four? If not, why not? So many questions!)

    But chaos is where everything ends up. Being on the (high end of the) spectrum, there’s a significant part of me that wants things orderly. Doesn’t happen. On my left little finger, I wear a ring similar to this one – – although not sterling. It is to remind me that everything ends up chaotic. My nephew is also on the spectrum, I got him a similar ring, for the same reason. It’s a gentle reminder that the world won’t behave the way we want it to, no matter how much we want it to.


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