The following is excerpted from The Order-Disorder Paradox by Nathan Schwartz-Salant, published by North Atlantic Books.
In the mainstream of collective life, our attitude toward creating and establishing order is based on rational-scientific consciousness; our science is ruled by causality and a belief in objectivity; our model of time is the ongoing events of historical life; our scientific mode of problem solving initiates and expands a horizon of future problems to be solved.
Through our dominant and particular structures (of consciousness, space, and time), we are caught on a treadmill of becoming, reaching for and thinking about the next thing to do. There is little room for being and reflecting; scientific methodology and the lens of causality is the ever-expanding template for all fields of knowledge. With present-day scientific and technological progress increasing at a near-unfathomable pace, we are at a stage, relative to any previous historical epoch, that dwarfs the possible unknown and dangerous consequences of denying our created disorder.
Writers and philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, adopted the “materialist progressivism” of Beatrice and Sidney Webb, and extolled the virtues of technology and rational-scientific thinking. But more prescient types, notably Martin Heidegger, S.ren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche foresaw and exposed the likely madness of this endeavor as it propels us away from the authentic ground of our existence.
In The Genealogy of Morals, written in 1887, Nietzsche declared:
Ever since Copernicus man has been rolling down an incline, faster and faster,
away from the center—whither? Into the void? Into the piercing sense of
his emptiness?… All science, natural as well as unnatural (by which I mean
the self-scrutiny of the “knower”), is now determined to talk man out of his
former respect for himself, as though that respect had been nothing but a
Created disorder is the shadow side of rational-scientific developments whose marvels continuously dazzle. Could a sensitivity and respect for this disorder guide us back to our center, the self, rather than drive us away from it? Nothing but the integration of our shadow-creation of disorder is likely to have any success. Jung’s remark that “the world hangs on a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche of man” should be a compulsory meditation, like musing on the mystery of a Zen koan, for all of us—especially the titans of industry and government, and the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley.
So-called primitive logic, remarkably uncovered by the French anthropologist Claude L.vi-Strauss, and which also characterized alchemical thinking, creates order in ways at variance with the rational-scientific approach. In that older logic, the rule is not to find a new solution but, through the serious play of metaphor, to seek out an opposite to any event, discovering it metaphorically in mythical structure. The older process requires a diffuse but still focused form of awareness—variously called mythical or lunar in distinction to rational or solar—bridging conscious and unconscious, outer and inner, and sensitive to a causal forms of order that appear, for example, in synchronicity.
The scientific mind understands nature. Storms, earthquakes, unusual cold, heat spells, and so forth, are rationally understood: something has caused them. Such knowledge becomes a powerful defense against disturbing feelings. Science will predict when these environmental conditions will likely end, and so we have the promise of a “good object” to take away the “bad.” We just have to be adult, tolerate frustration, and understand that better days will come. The masthead of science is blazoned with causality and objectivity.
The mythical mind experiences the world differently, letting Nature have a personality whose features appear as events metaphorically correlate to a mythical structure. Thus, a series of dreary days, so oppressive to the rational mind, which remembers pleasanter times, is seen instead as Nature’s disorder impinging on people to absorb or order, allowing her to function more effectively.
Under this paradigm, our own discomfort and moods become meaningful. Too much snow for our convenience is seen as the Germanic Great Mother Frau Holle shaking out her feather quilts, her housecleaning. We partially absorb her overloaded condition so she can act to advantage. Generally, Nature is an alive Being, and we are part of the process in which she creates order and suffers disorder, initiated by her own actions and/or ours.
To survive the disorder accompanying scientific-rational awareness, something new and unique in the history of humanity was wrought: the ego. But this ego has become extremely insensitive to the effects, much less the necessity and usefulness, of its created disorder.
The rational ego has a tendency and capacity to split its ordering acts and products from the disorder required by the second law of thermodynamics. Then the ODP ceases to be noticed, let alone to have an unsettling sense of paradox. Created disorder is split off and projected into other people; into unconscious, organizing structures; and into the environment.
Then the question arises: what is the effect of this disorder? The following list summarizes some previous points, and adds to them.
- Created disorder can turn against a newly established attitude and structure.
This disorder tends to reactively diminish the gain, if not totally destroy the results, of all creative acts in time. These acts can run the spectrum from generating order in near-mindless, repetitive ways, to discoveries that are totally new to the individual and the existing collective consciousness. Along this spectrum, with any order, whether it be the rare occurrence of an emergence of consciousness that sees the world in a fundamentally different way, or the ordinary arranging of information in a ready-made form—a tax return, a to-do list, an outline for a report, filing papers, remembering to set an alarm or take medication, or other such routine, daily actions—disorder is always created.
Generally, the newer and more energy-upgrading the behavior, the greater will be the disorder. That is why the latest structures in development are the least stable. The same applies to the psyche: the latest structures are the least stable, and need to be continually fed by the energy sources that spawned them, until more stability forms.
- Created disorder can result in an internal ferment dissolving resistances and character armoring, releasing not only hidden, creative aspects of the psyche, but also dissociated states often related to trauma.
The dissolving effect of the disorder explains why even the slightest creative effort can feel dangerous to a person suffering from traumatic states: the disorder dissolves defenses and allows the disturbing energies to enter the realm of the ego. Then the creative project is either dismissed, or carried on with manic energy that is a flight from the upsurge of disordered energy. Often a great deal is achieved by the latter, but collateral damage can be severe, as others in the person’s environment are left to absorb the disorder and suffer from the person’s power-driven and inflated behavior that takes their efforts for granted.
Created disorder is a subtle part of interpretation in psychotherapy. Whereas an interpretation adds a new form of order to the patient’s psyche, the created disorder has the power to dissolve defenses inhibiting his or her capacity to associate more freely. As a rule, created disorder is the essential ingredient that allows fresh forms of awareness to actualize in space and time.
This potential value of disorder is completely at odds with collective ideas that only want to produce more and more order and repress disorder. Our own created disorder, if we become sensitive to it, can cause us to pause and consider our attitude and behavior at a particular time. As we have seen from a mythical point of view, doubt or insecurity accompanying creation, common forms of the concomitant disorder, can urge us to go deeper than we had in our previous insights. Disorder can lead us to see what we may have left out, and, if we can tolerate the injury to our narcissism, to care about what we don’t know.
This dimension of a purpose to disorder one that could slow down, stall, or even stop our compulsions for applying what knowledge is available to solving problems and creating profit, in order to reflect on what we don’t yet know, is anathema to today’s rational consciousness. Created disorder is the great limiter. Yet the power drive that easily invades rational-scientific methods tries to overwhelm this fundamental truth.
However, sensitivity to the internal ferment of disorder, learning to sense its existence, and allowing ourselves to be limited by it, can prove an invaluable guide, and perhaps a saving grace from a driven effort that will have unknown but terrible consequences. This sensitivity must be learned, for it flies in the face of collective values and rational problem solving.
- Created disorder can infect other people.
For example, a motivational speaker I know works a twelve- to fifteen-hour day between air travel and speeches, doing “good deeds,” and inspiring people to take better care of their health. He commands a very high fee. But his order-creating activities produce considerable disorder that he brims with, undermining his capacity to concentrate. He is highly dependent on his secretaries for managing the details of his life.
His audiences, the recipients of this man’s wisdom, rarely see this aspect. The greater part of his created disorder appears when he goes home to his wife and children, who suffer from his brittleness and egotism: they are ruled by his implicit demand to order his disordered energy.
Is his ordering-action to be praised because others, outside of his family, gain so much from his wisdom?
Something has to give. Do his family members have to sacrifice their own individuation process in service of helping the “great man,” absorbing his disorder as a mother does for her infant? Or is he called upon to recognize the consequences of the way he is creating order in his life?
Sacrificing anything he does, or how he does it, creates great problems for him. He would have to give up some degree of fame and money and safety, for his compulsion to work provides a “safe territory,” protecting him from his traumatic and dissociated childhood memories. And sacrifice is neither his nor the American way (nor the way being established in other countries now thriving through technology).
This man exemplifies the effects of the rational ego in our modern world. His created disorder, afflicting other people, is like the “elephant in the room” of modern-day life. The subtle, unconscious message is either not to notice it, or to clean it up for the person.
Eventually, anyone afflicted by a partner’s created disorder will rebel. If he or she is strongly ruled by powerful, internalized societal demands for compliance, or is “shut down” in the face of conflict by inner traumatic memories, the rebellion will be a passive withdrawal of interest and enthusiasm. In other instances, the rebellion will be far more active: he or she will grow fed up with being used, and the relationship reaches a breaking point.
- Created disorder may, to a large extent, be internally ordered by the psyche’s endogenous structures, the archetypes.
Archetypes can be viewed as endogenous structures that seek a balance between order and disorder; created disorder can throw them out of equilibrium. How they regain this balance is not well understood, but, along with an innate capacity, there may be input from processes in which order spontaneously emerges from chaos when the archetype is far from equilibrium of order and disorder.
There may also be an input of ordered energy from processes not firmly grasped by physical science, possibly in the same area as the creation of form. There may be an infusion from transcendent levels beyond the unus mundus; or something akin to the great physicist Erwin Schr.dinger’s idea that life “sucks order” out of the environment. Or, highly notable is the mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose’s analysis of the opposition to entropic processes that assure life as resulting from the flow of high-frequency photons and associated low entropic energy arriving to the earth from the sun, and low-frequency photons returning to the sun.
Through such sources of order, or through other, innate processes beyond the understanding of rational science, archetypes would appear to have the capability of seeking, and usually maintaining, a balance of order and disorder.
When these psychic organs are functioning well, the conscious personality will feel that what he or she is doing is meaningful. This is not to suggest that life won’t involve conflict and dissatisfaction and transitory spells of meaninglessness. Extreme anxiety often accompanies an inner individuation demand, for instance, to take risks where we have been too timid. Outer-oriented conflicts will also tend to disrupt a sense of equilibrium. But if the archetypes are in tune, such instability will evoke compensatory tendencies toward equilibrium, and a feeling that one’s life has its own purpose.
- Created disorder may, if too severe, result in archetypal overload.
When archetypes are overloaded, they stop functioning in healthy ways. They no longer create a balance between order and disorder. In the macrocosm, archetypal overload is seen in environmental pollution. In the microcosm, and in the life of the individual, this overload leads to a variety of defensive formations, like repression and dissociation. If such defenses fail, and other people do not absorb one’s disorder, the result is neurotic symptoms, somatization, and, in extreme forms, character disorders or psychosis.
Such phenomena in human life have been seen, in modern times, as a consequence of childhood trauma and problematic mother-infant relations, or, as is the preference du jour, neurological disorders. But we would do well, I believe, to also see such personality issues as an outcome of what I call archetypal overload.
Even beyond these human reactions to archetypal overload, we are a microcosm responding in a mysterious connection—surely not understood causally—to the macrocosm. Our microcosm has a center, the self, that holds us together and nurtures us, analogous to the sun’s ordering energy pervading the physical universe. If the inner self falters in potency because entropic increases take a toll, the macrocosm, whose center is the transcendent Self, might even lose some of its ordering potential.
Without the self, and without cognizance of the damage we do to ourselves and to others minus this guiding center, we have no means of deeply empathizing with other people, or with the plight of the planet. We are reduced to what is presented as scientific fact, or to fierce wars over different interpretations of scientific data.
Rational-scientific consciousness can never fully grasp the whole of pollution’s effects. A finding here and another there demonstrate the genuine value of the rational-scientific mind. But our connection to the self knows intuitively that something calamitous is happening to our environment. Most significantly, this could engender an awareness of the importance of individual actions and care about their unintended, disordering effects.
The mythical level of consciousness is awake to the human effect on the environment, on others, and on the gods. The lifeblood of mythical humans is meaning, not new events. Their identity belongs to the group; a strong sense of individuality is largely nonexistent. For them, creating disorder is a sin that they attempt to undo.
The Pueblo Indians believe that a single misdeed throws the entire cosmos out of order. The Cheyenne believe that only murder has this result, while they also believe that the proper performance of ritual is essential if the universe is to maintain its level of energy. And the ancient Greeks, who celebrated the mysteries of Eleusis for more than fifteen hundred years, expected that the cosmos would be doomed if the mysteries were not enacted: are these the childish ramblings of a nonscientific attitude? Or do they know something we have lost touch with? Do they know that what they do seriously affects the archetypes, which right our disorder, and thus assure our ongoing existence?
But, you may say, even if that is true as a psychic reality, isn’t it bizarre to think of it as a material fact? But is it? Or are we, the ones living in a scientific frame of mind, failing to recognize the serious effects of our actions, living as though our environment is a mother who takes care of all of our needs and mess?
The Inuit in the wilds of Alaska tell the myth of Sedna, the Great Goddess, whose hair becomes fouled with lice and dirt. Enraged, she withholds the animal life of the sea, the Inuit food supply. To appease her, a shaman has to use his imaginal powers to descend into the ocean depths Sedna rules and comb her hair; then she allows the seals to return and be hunted.
We are not shamans; the ego we have created is here to stay, and that ego relates to history, creates history, and befouls Sedna’s hair. Now we must reckon how the ego is involved in the processes that overload the archetypes.
It won’t help much to use only mythical terms and mythical consciousness as our guide. Sedna is a relic of our distant past, and for all their sensitivity to the effects of their actions, some indigenous peoples still despoiled the environment in their relentless search for food and territory. But the ancient myths described action that was wrong, thinking that missed the mark, just as our own dreams attempt to set us on a different course. “Primitive” individuals had group dreams and myths to affect a group mind; we have individual dreams to affect an individual ego, and at times “Big Dreams” arise that speak to the larger community of human beings and give birth to new myths.
Certainly we can become sensitive to our created disorder, to the disordering effects of what we do and don’t do, how we think and don’t think, how we acknowledge larger powers and how we ignore them. We can attempt to stay centered and aligned with the deeper layers of the psyche, recognizing and abiding by the sacredness of relationship, and making use of the compensatory function of the unconscious in terms of dreams. But our modern awareness of the function of created disorder, and a learned capacity to carry the opposites of order and disorder, addresses the issue of psychic balance from a more existential point of view, from living experience of our behavior in the here and now.
Becoming aware of psychic energy changes, we can see our egos as part of a cycle in the creation of order and disorder. These are process opposites, not opposites as “things.” When we split order and disorder, as opposing things, then disorder is the enemy, and is identified with anything that diminishes our energy, our potency, our clarity, or our memory. Alternatively, disorder can be welcomed as part of a process, and not seen as an enemy to be denied or medicated. Instead we can delve into its limitation and mystery, to regenerate archetypal structures that have, for the time being, lost their force.
Top Image: Sebastien Wiertz