Sunday, February 20, 2011

 Still Life 1

Still life 2

Ordnung ist nicht alles, aber ohne Ordnung ist alles nichts. Order isn’t everything, but without it, you have nothing. This teutonic proverb probably rings most true with junior high school teachers. I’ve experienced it myself, of course, wrestling with restless, acned teenagers who had no interest whatsoever in knowing the easy method for finding the square root of a number.

I could, of course, blame my frustration with the disorder that surrounds me on my Germanic genes, but that would be an excuse. The establishment and maintenance of order in the world has been a preoccupation of western civilization generally since who knows when. The Teutons, maybe?

In a piece of fiction I’ve been working on, a decent and idealistic young man is felled by a stray bullet. His parents agonize over the reasons behind such a meaningless event as parents will naturally do but the conclusions they will come to are as yet unclear. It’s wrestling with the chaos of possibilities that’s preoccupying me at the moment.

And that’s led me to read a bit about chaos theory. By definition, it’s "the branch of mathematics that deals with complex systems whose behaviour is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences." A junior high school classroom is a complex system and it takes little to set it off, so it’s unpredictable. But so is the weather, a church congregation, an ocean, a nation, humanity itself, you name it.

The classic paradigm in chaos theory is the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Tibet setting off a chain reaction that changes the course of a tornado in Texas. Somebody farts in a junior high classroom and you may as well pack up and call it a day. A man in Tunisia posts a photo on the internet and the Middle East erupts into rebellion.

 It’s a tough problem, knowing when and how necessary order is to be established and maintained. Important as “orderliness skills” may be, though, it seems much more urgent that we learn how to live well in a universe that was created to be chaotic, that we learn to remain real and genuine when the world displays its “disorderly” side.

Ordnung ist nicht alles, aber ohne Ordnung ist alles nichts. This is not wisdom; it’s the expression of a pernicious neurosis. A neurosis that manifests itself in the lust for power and control . . . and will in the end be overthrown at great cost by the fanning of butterfly wings in a far country.

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