Thursday, 9 July 2015

Law versus Chaos, and Balance of Things as an alternative modern morality

There is an alternative morality - or anti-morality - that I have come across; and which seems to reflect a genuine modern alternative to the traditional morality of good and evil; this is the idea of a Balance of Things.

The idea is that there is no good and evil - or rather than good is one-sided, and in order for society and a person to be in a proper state, there needs to be a mixture of what-used-to-be called-good with what-used-to-be-called-evil. Both sides (good and evil - light & dark) need to be represented.

I think the idea may have come from Nietzsche, and it was prominent in Jung's ideas about the  light and shadow aspects of a person, the crown of his tree needing support from the roots; the need to know your 'shadow'. acknowledge it, give it its due...

The notion is that personal development, integration or growth, may entail doing things that are 'traditionally' discouraged or forbidden - in the name of Balance.


But the most influential version of this is that there ought to be a balance - both in society and in persons - between order and disorder; between Law and Chaos.

This has become a staple of much modern 'alternative' literature and narrative - I first came across it explicitly in Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius Quartet (published from the nineteen sixties counter culture) and related books - which have a pervasive anti-moral-morality in which nothing is forbidden and anything may be good or necessary, according the the contextual need for 'balance'.

However, although The Balance is supposed to be the goal, in practice chaos is the most positively regarded - presumably because the baseline is seen as the crushing tyranny of Law (The Establishment, The Bourgeoisie).

The same basic idea seems to have received much wider circulation and approval from the Dungeons and Dragons alignments Lawful versus Chaotic , with the implication that a balance of the two is necessary in the desirable society - and again there is a pervasive preference for chaos.

The idea here is that a good character can be either chaotic or lawful (or neutral); and so can an evil character. As such this does not challenge the polarity of good and evil, but in practice the effect has been to popularize the 'chaotic' character whose behaviour, and morality, is unpredictable, may be selfish and short-termist, is unpredictable, unfaithful and random - yet who may nonethless be 'good' in the sense of morally-approved.


The matter of balance was memorably, albeit indirectly, dissected by Mencius Moldbug (the old pseudonym of Curtis Yarvin) when he concluded that there was in reality no such thing as 'chaotic good', and that this idea was subversive of good - especially subversive of the possibility of a good society.

But Moldbug was writing from a secular perspective, and the Law and Order versus Chaos polarity comes from a necessarily secular perspective - in particular it comes from the perspective which sees Law as merely man-made, expedient at best, and often arbitrary and corrupt.


To break Law when Law is considered to be an arbitrary (and to some degree corrupt) system of man-made rules; and to behave in a chaotic fashion can be seen as a necessity - and indeed a matter of freedom.

Even sheer destruction is justifiable, when that which is destroyed has no intrinsic validity, but is just one among many possible and 'equally valid' alternatives.

From such a perspective; Law and order are stasis, and intrinsically totalitarian; The Balance requires destruction in order to achieve dynamism, energy, and to create hope. 'Evil' is a necessary part of 'good'.

At root it is a matter of psychology - Law and Order are seen as merely Weber's Iron Cage of bureaucracy, The System, The Establishment -- rule by the rich and powerful and successfully selfish - in such a context, random acts of defiance, rebellion, destruction - even sheer selfishness, sexuality and greed - become 'desirable'; especially from non-establishment people.


It is as if since there is no intrinsically-good Lawful-order, but only exploitation of one set of humans by another; then 'at least' the 'balance' of perpetual disorder (chaos) gives as many people as possible a chance to take a turn at being the exploiters.

And, this is 'at least' more interesting that a static society of docile rule-followers trudging through futile and meaningless observances that merely serve to justify the status quo.

When order is man-made and for men's purposes, it cannot be more than merely expedient.


As I say, these inferences come from a secular perspective; a world where God is dead, and where psychological satisfactions are the bottom line.

Mencius Moldbug's argument for the superiority of Law over Chaos is utilitarian; that Law is to be preferred over Chaos because a Lawful society allows more people to have more pleasure and to suffer less - especially the latter: Law minimizes human suffering - that is Moldbug's primary argument and assertion.

This perspective has become the basis of the Neo-reactionary movement - the assertion that Order is necessary and Law is good - and the focus is on developing a system which maximizes Law and Order; with society regarded as a problem of engineering (esp. computer engineering), and the task being to engineer an optimal system; (to reiterate) 'optimal' being defined in terms primarily of minimizing human suffering, then secondarily of enabling human fulfillment.


What this or any other secular perspective does not tell us is why the suffering of 'other people', most of whom we do not know or know only via the mass media, ought-to concern us.

(And if it does concern us, why it is not easier to treat that concern rather than treating its cause. So if I am feeling bad because of other people's suffering, maybe I ought to be more selfish and could train myself to be so; or maybe I could take a tranquillizer - then I will no longer feel concerned about other people. Problem solved!)

When social law and order are seen as merely expedients, means to an end, for producing states of mind; why should anybody care about the well-being of 'society' - which is long term, remote and may never happen - when it conflicts with our own happiness (or pleasure, or avoidance of some degree of suffering) immediately and in the short term.

Indeed, it seems to be impossible to operationalize utilitarianism in any objectively valid - or even merely publicly agreed - way, because there is insufficient consensus about measuring and summating the degree of suffering or happiness of other people.

In practice, the ruling elite merely make assertions concerning whose suffering is to be regarded as the most significant and severe; and whose suffering is to be disregarded, minimized or mocked.

These assertions are then coercively-imposed on the population - enforced by laws (such as hate crime legislation), regulations and rules (such as those about equality and diversity), backed by propaganda from the mass media and officialdom.


There is, of course, no secular reason why anybody should care about anything other than their own current state of mind. Life necessarily becomes expediency.

At bottom, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky were correct when they simply observed that in modernity God is Dead, and without God Anything is Permitted. The thesis can be elaborated to any degree desired, but that is the plain fact of the matter.


So the Law versus Chaos distinction should be seen as a false antithesis deriving from secularism. Properly, Law is a means, not an end - and when Law is treated as an end it leads to the demand for Chaos - and the false ethic of goodness as a matter of Balance between Law and Chaos.


Clearly, although Chaos would indeed be evil from a religious perspective, Law would only be good if it was consistent with God's Law. For a Christian, Law and Order that operates (on average, net) to subvert, destroy or invert Christianity - is evil Law and Order. It would be crazy for Christians to support a system of anti-Christian laws merely because they are Laws!

For a Christian, a well-ordered and obedient society which adhered to evil laws would itself be evil. Not wholly evil, of course, because order is a good - but Law is only a partial good, not good-in-itself; but such a society would be mainly evil; and if its Laws were mostly aimed at destruction of good (i.e. destruction of truth/ promotion of untruth; destruction of beauty/ promotion of ugliness; destruction of virtue/ promotion of sin) - then the society would be systematically evil.

This is already, and increasingly, the case.


In sum, religion trumps law; and if this is properly understood, it is not a matter of preference, but a matter of logic.  Law without a basis in religion, Man's Law that is not God's Law, Law as an end-in-iteself is merely arbitrary and expedient - and not necessarily nor always preferable to more-chaos.

(More chaos may lead to a better situation when Law is evil.)

When secular Law becomes oppressive, or itself destructive by subversion and inversion (i.e. the current situation), and a human mind feels crushed and demotivated, then there is compelling reason from the secular perspective not to want 'a bit of chaos', to 'liven things up' and 'give other people - especially, ahem, 'myself ' (i.e. the subjective individual) - a chance'


In sum, the whole Law/ Order versus Chaos/ Revolution analysis is flawed, because secular - and because secular, purposeless. Secularism offers no basis for Law concerning which state of affairs is preferable, or what a desirable 'balance' might be, except for assertions concerning optimal psychological states; and in practice these will be enforced top-down elite preferences concerning the significance of these imputed states of mind, and decisions on whose (supposed) states of mind are primary and whose may be ignored.



Nicholas Fulford said...

It is as if since there is no intrinsically-good Lawful-order, but only exploitation of one set of humans by another; then 'at least' the 'balance' of perpetual disorder (chaos) gives as many people as possible a chance to take a turn at being the exploiters.

And, this is 'at least' more interesting that a static society of docile rule-followers trudging through futile and meaningless observances that merely serve to justify the status quo.

When order is man-made and for men's purposes, it cannot be more than merely expedient.

There is Natural Law, and none can break that. Simply it is the basis upon which the universe exists and works. We do our best to understand it, and the practice of empiricism is the best tool in the toolbox - though it is often through moments of intuition where the seed of a new theory is revealed.

Human law is social, and so it furthers social ends; whether it be to maintain the king upon his throne or to enshrine the power of the citizenry, and the forms of the judiciary and government. Chaos or anarchy is always a temporary state in a society that is in transition. Where it lasts longer than a brief span of years it is because warring factions are attempting to become the new alpha, and once that has been established, law - right or wrong - emerges once again. If it is in the hands of a dictator such as Kim Jong Un then it is a brutal law of whatever the top says is so. That is the law of "Might makes Right", and it is always tentative because the king will not always be mighty, and when he is not, then either some other will overthrow him, or a new form of government and law will displace the naked power that is embodied in "Might makes Right".

There are times when the moral man is compelled to bring down the ossified structures that inhibit rather than promote the common weal. Indeed, in the Christian narrative there is an element of breaking the outward forms of tradition and law to bring about a flowering of a very basic revelation.

Consider Matthew 22:37-39 (KJB)
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

The meta-law of Christianity seems to be encompassed in this, and the overthrow of the surfaces of law may temporarily bring about chaos to enable something new to surface and flower.

Chaos in thinking is also sometimes a necessary part of transition from being bound within an imaginary prison to finding a greater freedom. Another word for this is 'creativity'. Creative expression may require a stone of law to push against to sharpen itself. In that regard law may be the midwife of creativity through opposition. I think that both are necessary, and that good law facilitates civility and progress, just as bad law maintains the power of a dictator

JP said...

In the Moorcock books, despite the so-called "balance" it is pretty clear Moorcock likes Chaos better and wants the reader to like it better, too.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Yes, but how does the existence of one more Being with his own psychological states and preferences -- in a world already full of such beings -- solve the problem? This is what I just don't get, and most religious people apparently find it so obvious as to need no explaining. How would the existence of God solve the problem of nihilism?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I suppose it depends on what you would regard as providing personal involvement with meaning and purpose - including the growth and maturation of children to adulthood and the creativity of what families do. For me the experience of the best of family life is my experience of having this problem solved (albeit temporarily), Therefore I think the reality of God the Father solves the problem because by him we are bound together into a loving, growing, creating family.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - Indeed. And that is nonsense, of course - except as a temporary expedient for those who want to exploit others for gratification, and believe themselves capable of doing so. Which pretty much describes Moorcock's universe.