“We live in intelligent times, but not intelligible ones, and intelligibility is its own kind of suffering.” – Alasdair Macintyre
Human health requires equal amounts of order and chaos if we are going to be in balance and in harmony. What I mean by chaos in this sense is positive stress. You can’t just sit and watch TV all day every day and expect to be healthy. The world out there is unpredictable and scary but interacting with the chaotic world is a way to become stronger, build ourselves up, and be healthier. On the other hand though, too much disorder, chaos, uncertainty, and change can leave us feeling stressed out, tired, and unhinged. For example, no regular employment, no sleep, too many moves across the country, or a divorce can each be exceedingly chaotic. Too much order on the other hand can sap the adventure, passion, fun, growth, and energy out of our lives. For example, too much working time with no rest, too much routine, too many rules, and too much time sitting at a work desk indoors create the kind of overly situated dullness that will drain the life out of anyone. So we need a balance between order and chaos to be in harmony.
Our times are certainly paradoxical. When it comes to personal behavior we are pretty much free to do anything we want to do, or so it seems. We can have as much personal chaos as we want to. But we still crave order deep down. Some even said that with all the chaotic “change” that we got under one president, 38/50 states voted in a surprising fashion the other way due to their subconscious craving for more social order. I wouldn’t be surprised, because every action causes a reaction. Too much change creates the need for order. One way or the other, nature will come into alignment.
Since the modern narrative of the secular fundamentalists, evangelical atheists, and other cultural “elites” who run our society is to situate us in a random material world full of random cells, with no meaning, no purpose, and no ends, then as long as we don’t make any waves to the contrary by asserting a specific meaning, then maybe we will get a “good” job, and get to spend the rest of our lives consuming. Thus, here we are, untied from any agreed upon cultural story about how we got here, why we are here, what we’re supposed to do, or where we’re going, but we are free to eat, drink, consume, party, have sex, take drugs, and consume all we want to. Maybe one day, you’ll buy the right house and right brands, and be a “winner.”
Consumed by all this meaningless chaos, we ironically rely on the government to instill order, and on pharmaceutical and technological distractions and addictions to get us through the day, since on the inside we feel chaos and emptiness. As the philosopher Alasdair Macintyre said “we live in intelligent times, but not intelligible ones, and intelligibility is its own kind of suffering.” “We know something isn’t quite right. The rules, contracts, and regulations grow. Our lack of personal order means the government must impose it. This is where the term “Big Brother” comes from – deprived of meaning or order within our own lives, we outsource it to a collective state who we call big brother.
I’d like to see us focus on healthy order- regular exercise, a set of ethics and values, cooking meals, hobbies, education, getting plenty of rest, a religious and spiritual commitment, as well as healthy chaos- leisure time, trying new things, learning and trying new things and meeting new people, setting goals, going to fairs, festivals, holidays, feasts, parties, and celebrations. This sounds like a good balance to me. Let’s try planting a flag right here where we are, claiming these healthy territories of order, but also have the courage to go out there and engage in some healthy chaos.
All stories involve the conflict between chaos and order. Look at Superman versus Lex Luther, Andy Dufrene in Shawshank Redemption, and Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader. In the Hebrew Bible and many ancient religious texts and stories, the ocean represented chaos. By picking out the smallest part of our lives and changing course from chaos to order, we can turn the whole thing around. Take eating for example. Do you have the discipline just to eat a healthy breakfast every day? Possibly even eating the same thing, like an apple, oatmeal, and a yogurt, every morning at 7am. Could this one orderly change make a difference in the rest of our lives? Small changes like this can change who we are. No one is going to force order onto your life anymore, unless it is the government enforcing it with a myriad of rules, laws, and regulations. It’s up to you to find the balance and to get into a healthy harmony.
Too much stress is bad, but no stress at all is just as bad. Positive stress is positive chaos and positive order. Negative stress is negative chaos and negative order. Stay in balance and then step outside of your routine in a planned way so that you can find out what your gifts, talents, and capabilities are, and what you can contribute.
Order means you’re in a state of predictability and routine. Your parasympathetic nervous system is working to help you digest, recover, and repair. You know what’s going to happen and what’s coming next. Too much of this can feel repressive. Without enough of it though, you won’t feel like you have the structure you need for anything to exist at all. Just enough order will allow you to move freely, doing things, achieving things, and then to relax and recharge.
Pure chaos is an unpredictable state, a state or place where uncertainty and unpredictability rules. Your sympathetic nervous system takes over from the parasympathetic and you start producing adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones. Cortisol and adrenaline can wreak havoc on your body and immune system in too large of doses. Chaos exists beyond the blocks of order we put into our lives. It’s the new project you tackle, it’s getting married, it’s making a new commitment, it’s signing up for a race, or moving to a new place. Chaos can be a thrill, but it can also wear you out if it crowds out the order you have created in your life.
Aim for a balance. Use the Motivation Matrix I gave you to do this:
Live by your values.
Take on projects.
Stay in balance, in harmony, and stay ordered with just enough chaos. Inject chaos to increase agency- or the ability to act. This “dialectic” is the dialectic of a meaningful quest, a meaningful journey, one in which the hero (you) gets stronger as the story goes on.
Check out Dr. Jordan Peterson’s videos on Youtube, who is a genius in teaching this stuff.
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