Chaos or Business as Usual?

Back in the early 90s when James Gleick’s big chaos theory book came out I was completely captivated. I hung fractal calendars on my wall for a couple of years and read the book from cover to cover a more than once. When my dog, Ariel, finally chewed up the book, it had already lost the front cover and there was writing all through it.

This morning, looking at the word for the Rag Tag Daily Prompt I couldn’t immediately remember what fractals even are. For a moment that disturbed me, but then I considered the completely wild trajectory my life took a couple years later. It was probably predicted by Gleick’s theory, but I don’t know how. I don’t see any pattern at all. But would I? Inside the chaos what would anyone see?

I am no longer even sure about the word “chaos.” Back then I was teaching at the international school, living in the hood, walking or biking to and from school (8 miles round trip) every day. I was concerned about stuff like keeping my job, how I could make my marriage work, the fact that I kept getting crushes on people, “What am I doing with my life?”, hanging out with the boys on bikes. It was a strange life, as I look back on it, and I knew I was lost. I had NO idea the catapult it would take to get me “found.”

Very basically (thanks Dr. Google), “Chaos theory describes the qualities of the point at which stability moves to instability or order moves to disorder. For example, unlike the behavior of a pendulum, which adheres to a predictable pattern a chaotic system does not settle into a predictable pattern due to its nonlinear processes.” (Science Direct)

Back then all I could see was the beautiful frost-like, repeating pattern of fractals, and through that beauty, believed chaos had a high value for me. It’s pretty easy for a person with a mind like mine to romanticize things. I’ll do that even if I don’t want to. I think of the nearby rock formation — Elephant Rocks — and I see the giant beasts of the Ice Age scratching their backs on the huge rocks. There’s nothing linear about my thinking except what I learned from years and years of teaching logic. It was as if the whacked and random fates said, “You really need this, Sweet Cheeks, so you’re going to teach it for 20 years, this same book, over and over and over and you know what? It’s ALWAYS going to be new to you!”

The question that propelled my personal descent into chaos was, “What’s real, anyway?” I sincerely wanted to know. The distinction between objective and subjective reality matters. If reality is only a “matter of opinion” we’re basically fucked.

I’m grateful for the experience. It was transformational and important. I was right to seek it and to follow the rabbit into the dark maelstrom of revelation.

When I look around at my country now I see it on the verge of a breakdown. It won’t be pretty — it hasn’t been so far. The trick with these things is to go as far as necessary without dying. That’s all. It can be pretty ugly in there and terrifying. But, as in my case, it came down to the necessity of resolving the conflict between blind belief and objective reality, the question of “things as they are” remains THE question.

I thought of that last night when I looked at my Facebook memories from 2020 and saw a bit of news I’d clipped, that many of TFG’s followers believed — truly — that Covid 19 was a fake conspiracy by the deep state to destroy TFG’s popularity. I’d forgotten that. In its total absurdity, it hadn’t found a place in my mind, but there it was.

It is doubt that challenges and redeems reality, and doubt is so very very uncomfortable.

I’m afraid we’re in for a wild ride.

12 thoughts on “Chaos or Business as Usual?

  1. I’m afraid you’re right and all we can do is keep marching ahead, doing the best we can to survive and thrive, and let the past fall behind us

  2. I loved this pondering. I think that we are all points of chaos or in chaos. But it is just perspective. Like the pointillism art -standing too close you see nothing but random dots. Perhaps our lives require a 100,000 foot view…

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